Mist comes naturally to Spa-Francorchamps. It is almost impossible to experience a weekend at the circuit without low cover of some description.
One could argue the mist adds an allure or a mystique to Spa-Francorchamps that most other circuits will never possess, but Friday morning of the Belgian Grand Prix isn’t just misty; it’s turning plain damp.
And as twenty-six GP3 cars exit the pitlane for their sole practice session, the rain appears determined to hang in the air.
First and foremost is the distinctive sound – and it is distinctive. Lacking the scream of its elders, the 2.0 litre Renault I4 engine that power the current GP3 cars hangs low in the air.
Its sound tingles slightly and not in the most pleasant of ways. Like a rumbling pack of bees its penetrative hum crawls upon the surface of the skin, itching away at the surface – and just like that it sweeps through.
Brushing the mist aside, the early Friday morning runners brave the cold climes of Spa-Francorchamps, absorbing as much of the famed circuit as they can in the conditions.
The intensity of the buzz does not last for too long. Completing their opening runs, the loose pack begins to deform and break apart – some go back to the pits, a few continue with longer programmes, while others make a gap to concentrate on qualifying simulations.
One thing is for certain – Spa’s inelegant weather makes for a trying session for drivers and engineers alike. And with that comes an inevitable frustration for a few.
“There’s just no speed. No speed at all…”
Words were unnecessary. The body language expressed by Alex Brundle, Carlin’s 22-year-old challenger, says it all. “It’s just wrong. We’ve gone for too much downforce. Everyone else just has so much more speed on the straights. In the middle sector, I’m setting purples, but I’m losing too much on the straights.”
And here lies the difficulty for drivers and engineers alike. With only one practice session on early Friday morning, the set-ups have to be on the button if a driver is to have any chance in qualifying.
“We can take a chance. Maybe pull the wing back, but…”
Frowns, too, permeated in one side of the garage at Status Grand Prix. Alice Powell’s tough first season in GP3 continued with the Oxford native lamenting mechanical issues of her own.
As the practice session draws to a close, Powell finds herself some 7.6 seconds shy of the top spot. “It won’t reach sixth gear,” says the 19-year-old. “I can reach fifth, but can’t seem to pull the revs to take sixth. We’re looking into it.”
Status GP would eventually solve the issue, but for Powell, it appeared to be a lost session.
It’s not all disappointment in the ranks though. Marussia Manor’s Tio Ellinas headed the dreary session amongst the forests and the smile across lightly stubbled face says everything. “It feels good. The balance is there, it’s good. There’s a few things we need to work on, but so far, it’s good.”
For Ellinas, the session represented a nice confidence booster. ‘The Flying Cypriot’ has regularly featured in the higher echelons of the points this season, but is still awaiting that first precious GP3 win. One feels it may be soon…
Lotus’ Conor Daly also enjoyed a good practice run, ending up 4th, two-tenths shy of Ellinas. Confident in his surroundings, the American is laid back, delighting in his surroundings. “It’s the same for everyone,” says Daly with his now trademark wry smile. After a short breath, Daly draws some final thoughts: “We have the same track, the same conditions as everyone else. But what a track!”
Indeed Conor, indeed.