Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Simran Kanthi
With the Belgian Grand Prix weekend not too far away, what better time would it be to look back at why the track is adored by one and all from the Formula 1 community. The track length stands at just over 7 km (4.3 mi), winding through the Ardennes Forests. Sweeping corners, a mix of fast and slow ones, coupled with the changes in elevation throughout the track, all make a great combination to provide excellent racing throughout a race weekend.
The track characteristics are certainly those that favour close racing, although there are other reasons too for which the circuit is loved by the fans. Read on to know more about them.
The track characteristics
The hallmark of a great F1 circuit is to have spectacular corners, linked by straight sections, sometimes enhanced by elevation changes too, throughout a lap. And Spa-Francorchamps satisfies all these criteria. At 7.04 km (4.352 mi) long, it is the longest track on the calendar. The highest point on this track is Turn 6, the first part of the Les Combes chicane, which sits at 470m above sea level. The lowest point on the track is Turn 15, Stavelot, at 373m above sea level. This is the highest elevation change of any track on the F1 calendar. These elevation changes also make for a photographer’s delight, allowing them to capture some stunning shots of the cars and the track.
The track has nine corners to the left and ten to the right. The track has slow corners, such as La Source, Bus Stop Chicane and Bruxelles; medium speed ones such as Les Combes, Jacky Ickx corner, the Fagnes Chicane, Corbe Paul Frere, and Stavelot; and high speed corners such as Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Pouhon, and Blanchimont. The mix of all types of corners can really test a driver’s skill and racecraft, and make for an interesting debate for the teams and drivers, regarding the setups to be put to the car for the race weekend.
The iconic corners
And coming to the corners on the track, they are all iconic, and have seen many great moments of action through the decades. La Source has seen many incidents, with lap one accidents taking place at the corner. The incidents from the races in 2012, 2016, 2018, and 2019 are the most notable ones in the recent decade. The corner tightens up on entry, which has tended to cause these incidents, as all the cars go into the corner at the same time.
The run down to Eau Rouge and Raidillon can either be an opportunity to make a spectacular overtake, or the scene of a hideous accident. The melee at the start of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix took place on the run down to Eau Rouge and Raidillon. Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon came to blows on this straight too, at the 2017 Belgian Grand Prix. On the contrary, this stretch has seen the likes of Mark Webber, Valtteri Bottas, and Pierre Gasly pulling off spectacular overtakes on their rivals through the years, much to the awe of the fans watching the race.
The Eau Rouge-Raidillon corners have been the centre of attention for a considerable amount of time, with crashes of various degrees having taken place at the corner. Thankfully, changes have been made to the track in order to prevent such crashes from taking place in the future.
The straight up to Les Combes has seen many conventional overtakes, and DRS (Drag Reduction System) assisted passes through the decades. The 2000 Belgian Grand Prix saw Mika Hakkinen make an exciting move on Michael Schumacher into Les Combes, as they went either side of Ricardo Zonta while battling for the position. The 2018 Belgian Grand Prix saw Sebastian Vettel overtake Lewis Hamilton for the lead on this straight, much to the cheers of the crowd watching on.
Another extremely challenging section of the track is the left-hander at Pouhon. This sweeping corner is taken at dizzying speeds upwards of 280 kmph (173 mph) during qualifying sessions, and it is a true test of the driver’s courage to take the corner as fast as possible during qualifying and the main race.
Finally, the last sector of the track is a scintillating, high-speed stretch off Stavelot corner till the Bus Stop chicane. Roughly 1.5 km (0.9 mi) in length, with a couple of kinks to the left, this section is a true test for the raw power of the car’s engine, as there is no DRS used in this section of the track. Max Verstappen made an amazing overtake around the outside of Marcus Ericsson during the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix through this challenging section of the track.
These iconic corners and the action generated at these zones are one of the reasons for F1 fans, and the motorsport community in general, to love Spa-Francorchamps.
The timing of the race weekend
The Belgian Grand Prix is held in late August and is usually the first race to take place after the F1 paddock returns from its four-week summer break. This creates even more hype for the race weekend, as fans are excited to watch their favourite drivers and stars battle it out once again. The teams resume their rivalries, and championship battles too. Battle lines are drawn, and the drivers are fresh from their summer break and are raring to go for the win once again at one of the best tracks on the calendar.
History and tradition of the track
Spa-Francorchamps is one of the four tracks still on the calendar today, to have hosted a race in the inaugural season of the sport in 1950, alongside Silverstone, Monza, and Monaco. These are the cornerstones of the Formula 1 calendar, and without them, an F1 season usually feels incomplete. The original race was hosted on a different track layout, though, which spanned 14 km (8.6 mi) on a track that wound through denser patches of the Ardennes Forests. The average speed on this high-speed track was a whopping 240 kph (150 mph) in 1970 - which was very quick for the cars of those times.
However, with the high average speeds on the track, and barely any safety features, the track saw some extremely high-speed crashes, most notably Jackie Stewart’s crash at the infamous Masta kink in 1969. The safety issues came to a head, and the track was removed from the F1 calendar. It returned in 1983, in the current configuration. Even so, the new layout has plenty of history to boast of: Michael Schumacher making his F1 debut in 1991 at the track; Ayrton Senna stopping to help Erik Comas after Comas’ crash in 1992; the melee at the start of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, and Schumacher crashing into David Coulthard while lapping him, and furiously going to the McLaren garage to take on Coulthard; Kimi Raikkonen’s four wins at Spa being some of the moments of history which the fans will remember for a long time to come.
The elevation changes and the vast expanse over which the Spa-Francorchamps is built, can contribute to the track being extremely tricky to judge during inclement weather. A situation can arise when one part of the track is bone dry, whereas the other is wet, thereby making it tricky to judge the right tyre to choose for the situation. These situations can throw up some thrilling races, such as the 2010 Belgian Grand Prix. Although, the conditions of extreme rain can stop the race from getting underway, due to the low-hanging clouds at the highest points on the track. That was the case in the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix.
Now, these are only some of the reasons why the F1 community loves Spa- Francorchamps. Would you agree with these reasons? Or are there any other reasons which made you adore this racetrack?