The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is one of the classic Grand Prix circuits of the world, in an elite class of circuits that include Silverstone, Monaco, Monza, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Le Mans with corners that are household names like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont.
Located in the hilly Ardennes Forest section of Belgium, the circuit was first opened in 1921 and has been through six major changes, starting as a 14.982 km circuit and is currently 7.004 km.
The original Spa-Francorchamps circuits was mapped out by Jules de Thier and Henri Langlois Van Ophem in 1920, measuring 9.31 miles and was a triangular shaped road circuit which took cars between the towns of Francorchamps, Malmendy and Stavelot through the Belgian forests. It was first used for GP in 1925 and hosted races in this guise until 1939.
The circuit was extremely fast and dangerous, with the roads making their way through trees, past houses and barns, and featuring corners like Eau Rouge, Radillon, Blanchimont, Les Combes and the Masta Kink.
The track has gone through six different incarnations, the most notably were when the track became the modern circuit used today in 1981, and then 2000 when the track became a permanent circuit and no longer made up in part of public roads.
The track was made yet faster in 1947, and was loved by spectators, but was a very dangerous circuit, according to British racer Jackie Oliver and winner of the Le Mans 24 Hour, "If you went off you didn't know what you were going to hit." One such example was in the 1966 race, Jackie Stewart crashed his BRM at the Masta Kink and ended upside down in a barn, trapped in his car with fuel gushing all over him. Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant stopped their cars and removed the steering wheel so that Jackie could escape. They then undressed Jackie as the fuel was burning his skin, and they were found in the barn by a couple of nuns.
Stewart was luckier than others, Spa-Francorchamps had claimed the life of 10 Formula 1 drivers over the 1960s, in addition to a number of marshals and spectators. In 1969, the race was boycotted by the drivers due to the dangers, and they lobbied, led by Stewart, that ARMCO barriers should be added to the circuit. The race was held again in 1970, but as the circuit had not been brought up to the safety standards expected by 1971, the Belgian Grand Prix was moved to Nivelles and Zolder until the 1980s.
The track was still used for major competition, however, and during the annual Spa 24 Hours, in 1972, a particularly gruesome event happened. During a routine driver change at night, Hans-Joachim Stuck told his teammate Jochen Mass to be careful at the Masta Kink and look out for the body parts. Mass arrived at the kink expecting to find bits of car everywhere, but was horrified to find the body of a marshal on track.
Jim Clark was very successful at the Belgium circuit, but hated the place. Another former World Champion, Denny Hulme, said of the circuit: "I went back there recently and it was unreal, unbelievable that we ever raced there. I couldn't believe that bit of banking at Stavelot. Sure it was nice to drive, really high speed; but dangerous, so dangerous. I had a big one at Spa one year in the wet. It was raining and I was puttering back to the pits. I knew the leaders were coming so I just parked the car, got out and waved them by .... I wasn't going to be going slowly on the track with all those lunatics going by in the spray."
When the track was redesigned and shortened in 1979 to a more modern 4.33 mile circuit, the Masta Kink was dropped, and a new feature was the Bus Stop Chicane. Formula 1 returned in 1983, missed 1984, and has been the permanent home of the Belgian Grand Prix since 1985, but the track was still fast, dangerous and full of character. Upon its opening, Keke Rosberg said, "It is the perfect track!"
The incredibly fast Eau Rouge and Radillon sections remained a feature of the circuit, and would claim the life of the then reigning World Sports Car champion Stefan Bellof when his Porsche 962C left the circuit here. Other notable incidents at the new track include Ayrton Senna parking his car on the Kemmel straight to help the crashed Érik Comas out of his car in 1992, the huge first lap pile-up in 1998, followed by a huge crash between the slowing David Coulthard and the charging Michael Schumacher which resulted in a pit lane confrontation in the McLaren garage after the restart of the same race, the amazing overtaking move by Mika Häkkinen on Schumacher as both passed either side of the lapped Ricardo Zonta in 2000, and the incredible battle into Eau Rouge between Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber in 2011. The track is also famous for first corner crashes, Romain Grosjean with his particularly optimistic attempt on Lewis Hamilton and the resulting mayhem that would give the Frenchman a race ban in 2012. 2014 was also memorable for a clash between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Hamilton, which resulted in a puncture for Hamilton and eventually retiring from the race with a damaged car floor.
After the First World War, the citizens of Belgium decided that they wanted a race track of their own. A track was laid out on existing public roads. The original layout was on a downhill section between La Source and Eau Rouge, on the road between small towns of Francorchamps and Malmedy. The Eau Rouge corner gets its name from the small river that flows through here down to the town of Stavelot. In 1921, the road made a sharp 90° left turn near the river, proceeded northwest about 1⁄2 km to the bridge, which took the form of a sharp right of almost 180° (known as Virage l'Ancienne Douanne, for the old German customs house located there), then back to the softer left of the Raidillon. The road then climbed up a straight with several slight bends (a section known as Kemmel) until reaching a tricky left known as Les Combes. After a slight S bend at Haut de la Cote, the track goes into a wide, downhill sweeper known as Burnenville, leading into the Amblève river valley. This was followed by a tight, right-left chicane by the bridge that leads away to the actual town of Malmedy, about one km north.
The track then heads southeast on the Masta straight, a three km long adrenaline rush that frequently passed within meters of houses and barns. About halfway along, the cars hit the Masta kink, a very mild left-right kink taken flat out, and notable for stone walls at different locations right next to the track. At the end of the straight, several small bends alerted drivers to an upcoming 160° tight righthander, just outside of the actual town of Stavelot. The track then headed uphill and roughly due west, away from the town, through some slight bends until a double righthander known as La Carrierre. This sent the track headed northwest on a one km straight, towards the start complex. A quick double left, known as Blanchimont, and a quick right-left (the latter called Clubhouse) put the track directly behind the pits. A final 160° righthander, known as La Source, put the cars onto the short start-finish straight.
In 1930, a short road link was built, bypassing the Malmedy chicane. The track now measured 14.863 km/9.236 miles, and meant noticeably higher speeds, especially on the Masta straight. Unfortunately, the higher speeds meant more accidents, and the chicane was restored in 1934. Due to minor road work in several locations, the "original" circuit now measured 14.950 km/9.290 miles.
For 1939, a new bridge was built across the river Eau Rouge. Cars now went further down the hill after the start, then made a softer left over the bridge, followed by an immediate sharp right heading back uphill to the left hand kink at Raidillon. The lap distance was cut to 14.500 km/9.010 miles, and lap times immediately dropped by over 20 seconds. Unfortunately, this new circuit was only used once, as a mere weeks after the new section opened, the war moved through.
The war was hard on the track, as the Battle of the Bulge was fought in the vicinity, so racing did not resume until 1947. The major change to the track was bypassing the town of Stavelot with a new, sweeping banked right. This, and the removal of the Malmedy chicane, dramatically increased the average speed of the track. It now measured 14.1 km/8.762 miles, and is regarded as the "classic" layout of the old circuit, and remained unchanged for more than 20 years.
The Belgian Grand Prix had been canceled in 1969, due to the organizer's refusal to upgrade the circuit with Armco barriers. for the Belgian Grand Prix, the organizers had complied, only to find that the track was being granted only a temporary reprieve. The race was run, with a smaller chicane than previously used at Malmedy, but this was the last Grand Prix at the old circuit. The Belgian race was held at Nivelles-Baulers and Circuit Zolder until 1983.
After the loss of the Grand Prix, the 1,000 km endurance race was next to go, so the track was basically left to touring car racing. In 1975, a 'bus-stop' style of chicane was built at the Masta Kink, but the chicane was judged to be even more dangerous than the original curves, and was never used.
Various levels of authorities had started making noises about ending use of the track permanently. The solution was to chop off much of the old circuit, creating a shorter but safer circuit, but attempt to maintain the feel and challenge of the old circuit.
A new circuit of not quite seven km was unveiled in 1979. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The new circuit turned right down into the valley at the end of the Kemmel Straight, just before Les Combes. A series of somewhat technical corners, but still following the landform, took the track to rejoin the old circuit on the straight between La Carriere and Blanchimont. It was fast, but outrageously so. The classic corners of La Source, Eau Rouge, Raidillon and Blanchimont were still in use. The track had been saved.
The new circuit now measured 6.947 km/4.317 miles.
With the new configuration getting a warm reception, the talk soon turned to Formula 1. One set of changes was discussed in advance, that of finding a starting location on relatively level ground, along with an upgrade to the pits and paddock. Another was the fact that F1 and endurance racers were still approaching La Source at close to 320 km/h (200 mph). The latter issue was given a not-quite satisfactory solution by the creation of a bus-stop chicane just before the Clubhouse Corner. This was used for racing, starting in 1981. The other revisions would take longer to implement. With some other minor adjustments to the track here and there, the listed length actually shrank slightly, to 6.940 km/4.321 miles.
For 1983, the track had a brand new pit complex, along with a new start/finish straight, between Clubhouse and La Source. It was as level as one could get, and the Formula 1 Circus returned after 13 years.
The panic that affected most tracks after the events of the San Marino Grand Prix hit at Spa, too. Plans to rebuild the corner at Eau Rouge underwent a review, to ensure sufficient safety modifications, which was a good thing. But the organizers put in a temporary chicane, made of tire bundles, for that year's race, which was generally agreed to be a mistake. The track also added an entrance to the pit lane just before the Bus Stop, which greatly improved access. With the new chicane, and some other detail changes, the track length was now officially 7.001 km/4.350 miles.
1995 saw a return to the old configuration at Eau Rouge, but with substantial upgrades to runoff areas and safety in general. Over the next few years, the track also added a number of escape roads, and access points for safety vehicles, but there were no real changes to the track itself. Removal of the chicane shortened the track length to 6.968 km/4.330 miles.
Rising speeds again necessitated a modification to slow the cars down before the start/finish straight. The entrance to the Bus Stop was moved a few meters to the right, which made the cars slow down substantially in that section. In addition, the pit entrance was moved to inside the Bus Stop, because it was felt that drivers could shortcut the whole section through the pits and gain time. The track grew slightly in length to 6.976 km/4.335 miles.
2007 saw a complete re-think of the Clubhouse corner section. The Bus Stop chicane vanished, and in it's place was now a tight right-left chicane, with a short straight between the corners, and the pit entrance on the outside of the left-hander. Most competitors felt that this was an improvement. The front straight grew almost 50 meters in length, and overall the track was now 7.004 km/4.352 miles long. Fun fact: According to F1.com, Spa-Francorchamps has the highest difference between its high and low points - 102.2 meters.
Originally the last corner of the circuit.
Originally the first corner, this difficult corner sees the cars travel uphill flat out while negotiating a few kinks.
Also known as Rivage.
Also known as the "corner with no name".
Courbe Paul FrèreEdit
Previously the "Bus Stop Chicane" in a prior configuration, but now just called the "Chicane".
Situated after the Eau Rouge/Raidillon section.
Haut de la ColeEdit
The old circuit went left at Les Combes (unlike the current circuit, which goes right).
Legendary high-speed and very gentle left-right bend. Cars were already taking this flat-out in the 1960s. This was the scene of Jackie Stewart's infamous 1966 crash, where he flew off the road and across a gap, before landing upside-down in a barn. The remnants of a proposed bus-stop style chicane, built in 1975, can still be seen on driver's right, just past the left apex.
The following is a list of Formula One World Championship events held at the Spa circuit:
|V T E||Belgian Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Spa-Francorchamps (1950 - 1970, 1983, 1985 - Present), Nivelles (1972, 1974), Zolder (1973, 1975 - 1982, 1984)|
|Races||1950 • 1951 • 1952 • 1953 • 1954 • 1955 • 1956 • 1957 • 1958 • 1959 • 1960 • 1961 • 1962 • 1963 • 1964 • 1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 • 1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009 • 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020|
|Pre-1950 races||1925 • 1930 • 1931 • 1933 • 1934 • 1935 • 1937 • 1939 • 1946 • 1947 • 1949|
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