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All of yesterday has gone in getting to this circuit, takes energy to get from Brussels to Brussels Noord and then to Vervier and a further shuttle to Francorchamps . Arriving at the circuit with the most beautiful backdrop, the weather, view etc is overwhelming indeed. However the downside : It is a pain getting around this 7 km circuit and its various entry points, and Flemish and French are’nt too helpful.. All I’ve been retorting since yesterday is “English.. English plzzz”.  Since the weather is sunny in Spa the standard GP rule applies in terms of accessorizing which is ‘Never forget your shades to a GP’ and for now a relief from rain ponchos.

On my first day at the media center here @ Circuit de Francorchamps, had an interview with Monisha Kaltenborn (shall post it later), a stroll through the Porsche Motorsport Padddock (in an attempt to spot Patrick Dempsey a.k.a McDreamy), and attended the FIA technical Directors’ Press Conference.

The weather at the circuit has been sunny unlike last year or the year before, there has been no rain so far, although race day forecast does indicate rain. On one of the longest circuits on the calendar, the nature of the track is demanding on the drivers with its uphill and downhill conditions. If there’s no rain, the race outcome will get influenced.

Most teams have arrived with engine and powertrain upgrades, and the newer addition in the rules to the race in the second half of the season are going to be for the starts. There have been new rules on the pit radio where now teams have been silenced and its left to the driver to make a good start.

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In the Technical Directors’ Press Conference on Friday Pat Fry an James Allison explained how they are managing this ‘new  start rule’ as it stops them from assisting drivers with simple issues such as the two clutches in the car used for the start, etc. The take away from this is that now its left to the drivers to use their magic there, where the experienced ones will getaway with it but drivers who need a bit of aide from the team might face difficulties. (Shall post excerpts of the conference below).

Practice Sessions today saw 3 incidents one with Pastor Maldonado, a freak tyre burst for Nico Rosberg who was the fastest and spin-off into the rubble for Marcus Ericsson. Rosberg’s tyre incident is being investigated by Pirelli, and the atmosphere here did make the drivers take up the issue with Charlie Whiting in the drivers’ meeting. However Pat Fry said in the media conference that the team is as clueless about what happened to the tyre and only Pirelli can provide an explanation. Nevertheless, Rosberg was lucky that he spun off at the corner before Blanchimont, or it would have been a bad crash if the tyre would have best anywhere else on the circuit.

A point to note in the sessions for Ferrari was Kimi’s good pace and straightline speed, however for Vettel practice was’nt too good in terms of timesheets due to all the yellow flags on the track.

McLaren’ s woes: Well McLaren did arrive with an engine upgrade to Belgium but soon after we heard Jenson complain about power on the pit-radio. A result of a poor practice session was them using a new engine for both drivers. The first notice came in about Jenson Button using a his 8th Turbo Charger and MGU-H, and a  7th Internal Combustion Engine and MGU-K unit. Fernando Alonso will be using a 7th Internal Combustion Engine , MGU-H, MGU-K and a 6th Combustion Engine. Well overall they have crossed a century in penalties taking the total to a 105 penalties from the start of the 2015 season, a world record as per se.

One can only look forward to qualifying tommorrow to see how the drivers place themselves on the starting grid for the 2015 Belgian GP at Circuit de Francorchamps. In the end Spa is pretty old-school in terms of the nature of the circuit and it is going to take some fine racecraft for the drivers to get a decent result in qualifying and on race day.

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FIA Friday Press Conference Excerpts

James Allison’s explanation on the new starts :

Q: (Mike Doodson – Grand Prix Week) I’ve been very puzzled by the clutch stories we’ve been told. We haven’t been given a lot of information about what the procedure was and I wondered, now that it’s no longer what it was, whether one of you could explain to an ignorant journalist exactly how these clutch procedures worked. I understand there are two clutches, you give advice to the driver over the radio, you’re not allowed to do that any more. Could I ask for a volunteer from the front row to go through the procedure just for me?

JA: The overall procedure is fairly long and tedious so I will try and shortcut it a bit. When you go with the car from stop to going, there’s a certain amount of grip available on the track. The tyre has a certain amount of grip, the track has a certain amount of grip, you want to go as close to that available grip as possible but not over it and you don’t want to go under it otherwise you’re not making as much performance as there is available. Now if you were super duper skilful you might have fingers that could judge exactly where that grip is but it all happens very very fast so a perfect start is one where you can just let go of the clutch, let go of it and it closes to the perfect point where it delivers exactly the right amount of torque, such that the tyre doesn’t light up and spin, but neither does it give less torque to the road than the road is capable of taking. So our job, during the weekend, is to try to judge exactly how much grip is available and to adjust our clutches so that when the driver says go, the clutch closes the perfect amount to deliver the perfect amount of torque to the road and then off it goes. And that’s something that happens without the driver adjusting stuff, he doesn’t fiddle around with his fingers. The way that we used to do that in the past was there’s two clutch paddles, one which he holds all the way in, keeping the clutch fully open and the other which he holds in a partially closed and open position. We then, as engineers, adjust the clutch so that this partially closed and open position is at exactly the right point to get this magic start. And then when the light goes green, he lets go of the first clutch and the clutch closes to the point that is being held by the second paddle. Off the car goes.

All that’s changed is that now we‘re not allowed to advise or make any adjustments to that biting point between when the car’s on the grid preparing for the start of the race and when the driver actually does it so the parade lap start and the real start is done all by the driver and if he thinks it’s not closed enough or too open, he has to make his own judgement about that and make the calls. We can be sitting in the garage going ‘no, don’t do that’  but we don’t have any power to stop him.

Q: (Mike Doodson – Grand Prix Week) I understand what you say but you could, from the pits, via telemetry, actually adjust the clutch? You could, or you couldn’t?

JA: No, we can’t. All we can do is instruct the driver to change a map that he himself has to do with his fingers but we can judge what he should do. Now we can’t say anything. We can still judge but all we can do is go ‘no!’ or ‘hooray!’

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