Summer break is over! To celebrate the return of Formula 1 to the track, we’re previewing Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps – the home of the Belgian Grand Prize. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is a fan-favorite circuit and highlight on the calendar. We’re going to review some highs and lows of Spa’s motorsports history that have made the Belgian Grand Prix a fan favorite for decades.
In its current iteration, one lap of Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is 20 turns over 4.352 miles (7.004 km). The current race lap record holder is Valtteri Bottas, who set a 1:46.286 in the 2018 World Constructors’ Championship winning Mercedes W-09.
In the Beginning
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps first opened in August 1921, hosting its first Grand Prix in the 1925 World Manufacturers’ Championship. One lap around Spa in 1925 was 9.31 miles (14.98 km). The 1925 Belgian Grand Prix raced over 54 laps for an unbelievable distance of 502.73 miles (809.06 km). Twelve cars began the Grand Prix, but only two drivers from one entrant survived to finish: Alfa Romero’s Antonio Ascari and Guisepee Campari.
Ascari won the race and set the fastest lap time at 6:51.2. Parts of the old circuit that are not a part of the current Grand Prix configuration are public roads used daily.
Eau Rouge and Raidillon: Flat-out, Breathtaking, and Dangerous
Spa-Francorchamps is an old-school track where the turns have names. Eau Rouge (turn 3) and Radillion (turn 4) are one of the most breathtaking and famous complexes in Formula 1. Cars fly flat-out uphill, carrying incredible speed across a blind apex at the crest of the hill. Formula 1 broadcast producers often use a breathtaking angle of the cars cresting the hill throughout the Grand Prix, demonstrating Spa’s long-held reputation as one of the fastest circuits on the calendar.
After describing the challenge of Eau Rouge/Radillon, a young Fernando Alonso concluded that Eau Rogue “is very strange, but good fun as well.”
Eau Rouge and Raidillon are simultaneously breathtaking and terrifying. Spa has a long history of motorsports, filled with a long history of accidents. Formula 1 drivers were among drivers in many series who opted against racing at Spa in the 1970s for safety concerns. In fact, the entire grid boycotted the 1969 Belgian Grand Prix.
The high-speed nature of the track, paired with the region’s wet climate, has led to many memorable performances and many significant crashes. There have been numerous calls for safety, with the newest safety upgrades at Spa-Francorchamps making their debut in 2022.
Spa’s Fatal History
Unfortunately, fast tracks are accompanied by major accidents. During the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, Stirling Moss was severely injured during practice, and Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey were killed 15 minutes into the race (Stacey’s accident was due to an encounter with a bird). Drivers, marshals, and animals have all been killed on track at Spa. Recent incidents have prompted increased safety measures in car design and resurfacing the way.
In 2019, a significant incident at the Eau Rouge-Radillon complex involving four cars resulted in severe injuries for Juan Manuel Correa and the fatality of Antoine Hubert. In 2021, Jack Aitken broke his collarbone in a crash at Raidillon in the 24 Hours of Spa. A month later, during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, the W series had a six-car incident at Radillon after rain began falling. Lando Norris had a significant crash in qualifying, hydroplaning into the tire barrier at Radillon, spinning back across the track and racing line.
Singing in the Rain: Masterful Performances at Spa-Francorchamps in Wet Conditions
Spa-Francorchamps is known for its unpredictable weather and features some of the most famous and infamous wet weather performances in Formula 1 history. The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix featured a collection of the most incredible wet-weather incidents in Formula 1 history. Damon Hill won Jordan its first Gran Prix, managing his way to victory in a wild Grand Prix where only eight (of 20) cars finished the Grand Prix. The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix is one of the many incredible races that have added Spa-Francorchamps’s reputation as a fan favorite.
Conditions began to change late in the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, proving George Russell the opportunity to put in a qualifying lap of a lifetime in a Williams. George Russell’s perfect lap placed his Williams second on the grid. Russell finished second in the controversial, rain-shortened 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, but his mega lap in changing conditions remains amongst the most impressive performances at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.