After a month-long break, Formula 1 returns this weekend to the famous Spa circuit in Belgium.
The first half of the season has been filled with explosive drama on and off the track but one clear championship contender has emerged in Max Verstappen.
The beginning of the year, it looked as if Verstappen was going to be in fierce competition with his former karting rival, Charles Leclerc.
However, as the season has progressed and Red Bull have advanced, Ferrari have dropped the ball with their strategies coming under serious fire.
While the recent break will have given all teams a forced holiday for at least two weeks, the other remaining time will have been spent improving not just strategies but consistency on the car, which will become pivotal when the new tracks are experienced in Belgium.
Since the Spa Grand Prix in 2021, the Belgian track has undergone serious renovations and while some parts will remain familiar, there will be a vast majority that has changed in accordance with latest guidelines and directives.
So what are all the latest changes and how will it affect the teams?
What is Porpoising?
Porpoising has been a deeply problematic issue since the new guidelines this season.
Essentially, it is an aerodynamic phenomenon F1 cars have faced since the new ‘ground effect’ philosophy (where air is sucked under the car to pull it down onto the track at high speed, rather than over the car)
However, the faster the car goes, the faster it wants to be sucked to the floor and if it gets too close, it can cause the airflow to stop meaning the downforce suddenly drops and the car starts springing upwards.
Once the car’s floor is clear of the ground, the airflow kicks in again and the car gets sucked downwards once more - this aggressive bouncing is Porpoising.
What are the latest changes at Spa-Francorchamps?
Many fans will consider this to be a much overdue change that has come into play but the technical directive to help combat flexible floors will finally be implemented for this weekend’s race.
The directive had initially been put into place after Lewis Hamilton struggled to get out of his Mercedes cockpit at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix due to the severe porpoising he endured.
As the FIA began their investitationg, they found that some teams had been exploiting the regulations to some degree and consequently the rules have been tightened up.
From Spa, the FIA now have a metric in place in order for all 10 teams to meet updated parameters relating to plank wear and skid stiffness.
In addition to the new directive changes, Spa has also updated areas around its track, notably the infamous Eau Rouge corner.
The famous area of track has now been opened up a lot more with a new grandstand added. These changes are to help with the safety of what can often be a dangerous race but the corner itself remains unchanged.
Additionally, three other corners will see a new gravel trap which is set to punish any mistakes drivers make in those corners and much of the track has been resurfaced impacting the grip once more.
Who will these changes affect the most?
The changes around the track are not set to dramatically affect one team more than any other.
The more careful and precise drivers will have little fear regarding overstepping into the gravel trap but this may well come down to the weather and alternate factors outside of the driver’s own ability.
However, it was noted in the FIA technical directive investigation that Red Bull and Ferrari were the two teams manipulating the rules the most regarding porpoising and are therefore set to suffer more than most.
On the other hand, Mercedes will reap the benefits from the new directive as they have famously (and loudly) suffered more than any other side.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner has however remained adamant that the new changes will barely affect his team’s performance.
What will affect the performance is whether the new implementations allow Mercedes to rediscover their brilliance which has been lacking so far this season.
If Hamilton and fellow Mercedes driver George Russell are able to monopolise on the new rules, the season’s competition will heat up once more, with three franchises then in the mix for both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship.
The Belgian Grand Prix takes place this Sunday 28 August 2022 with the race starting at 2pm BST.