Changing tracks: Spa-Francorchamps

2010 Belgian Grand Prix

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Spa-Francorchamps, 2009

For the 13th round of this gruelling 19-race calendar the F1 teams head to one of the sport’s great historic venues.

Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium is one of four tracks on the current Formula 1 calendar which also featured in the first world championship in 1950.

The track may be half the length it once was but it still retains much of the character of the original circuit.

Spa-Francorchamps: 1950

Length: 14.12km (8.773 miles)

Spa as we know it today only really has three corners in common with the circuit that was raced on at the dawn of the world championship: the fast Blanchimont sweep, the La Source hairpin and the famed Eau Rouge.

Even the location of the start line and pits has moved – the F1 cars now start the race before La Source instead of on the drop downhill after it.

Beyond the climb through Eau Rouge and Radillion the cars used to take a tour of the roads around the towns of Spa and Francorchamps. It covered twice the distance today’s track does.

It took in such famous corners as Burnenville and the Masta Kink – the latter a terrifyingly fast left-right kink in the middle of the southernmost straight (zoom in on the map above to see it).

In 1958 Jean Behra spun at 150mph through the kink, coming to a halt without hitting anything too substantial. Unnerved by the experience, he retired six laps into the race, complaining of a fault his mechanics couldn’t trace.

But he was one of the lucky ones: tackling 150mph corners bordered by trees, lamp posts, ditches and houses meant fatalities were not uncommon.

In 1960 Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey were both killed during the race. Jim Clark, who conquered the race four times, had to swerve to avoid Bristow’s decapitated body, and forever hated the circuit thereafter.

When it was last used in 1970 Chris Amon set the fastest lap of the race at an average speed of 244.7kph (152mph). If the old circuit were used today, who knows what terrifying speed modern F1 cars could lap it in.

Spa-Francorchamps: 2010

Length: 7.004km (4.352 miles)

Spa-Francorchamps returned to the Formula 1 calendar in 1983. It was significantly cut down in length and much safer, though it retained the use of public roads in some sections.

It was considered an instant classic and was vastly preferred to Zolder, which had held many of the Belgian races in the meantime, and was never used again for F1 after 1984. This despite an embarrassing cock-up in 1985, when the Grand Prix had to be postponed from June to September, after the newly-laid track surface disintegrated.

Instead of turning left towards Burnenville the cars now headed right onto a purpose-built section winding through the Ardennes forest. This introduced the fast downhill double-left of Pouhon, the quick right-left Fagnes chicane and the new Stavelot corner, before returning the cars onto their previous route.

A further addition was the “bus stop” chicane to slow the cars before the pits. This has been altered several times since, with new versions appearing in 2002, 2004 and finally in 2007. The latter treatment came as the circuit’s infrastructure received a significant upgrade, widening the start/finish line.

But this current version of the chicane is dreadful – an awkwardly slow double-hairpin that would look bad at Bahrain or Yas Island, never mind inflicted upon a circuit as majestic as Spa.

To borrow a phrase, it is a monstrous carbuncle, utterly at odds with what is otherwise rightly considered the best track in Formula 1.

Spa-Francorchamps, 2010 Belgian Grand Prix

Spa-Francorchamps, 2010 Belgian Grand Prix

2010 Belgian Grand Prix

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66 comments on Changing tracks: Spa-Francorchamps

  1. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 25th August 2010, 7:31

    At least the chicane offers an overtaking point. If you get up alongside the other guy, it’s practically yours; under the old layout, all the other guy had to do was stay on the racing lines and there was little you could do to stop him.

    • David B said on 25th August 2010, 8:25

      They could set an overtaking spot even with a funnier corner. Now it is too slow.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 25th August 2010, 8:55

        It has long been established that a heavy braking zone at the end of a high-speed section is conductive to overtaking. You can find examples on both the Nurburgring-Nordscheliefe and La Sarthe. Now, I’m not saying that the chicane at Spa is perfect, but it is neccessary. Otherwise, the pit entrance would be far too dangerous.

        • David B said on 25th August 2010, 10:19

          You’re right about pit entrance.
          One idea I had was to make easier the last corner before starting line and avoid any chicane at all. La Source would have been an incredible overtaking spot.

        • DaveW said on 25th August 2010, 14:56

          I haven’t scoured YouTube it is not my impression that the new McChicane creates more passing than the bus stop chicane did. I can recall some great passes and dust ups there in the old form. The bus stop was a somewhat complicated little thing and if you did not get it right you were going to crawl down to La Source, or, hit the wall on left side just past the grass. And, accordingly, there was none of this new business of brazenly shoving people off the road—or racing on the runoff. Yes, the old pit entrance was insane but there could have been other fixes.

          • I agree, the pit entrance was not safe, not by a long shot, but what they did to the corner was not much better for the track.

            The difference between tracks like Spa and Tilkedromes is that they are tricky, and if you make a mistake half the time your in the wall or on the grass.

            Tracks are meant to test the drivers Mr I do not like your design work Tilke…..

            But you have probably read my rants before…

    • Cube said on 26th August 2010, 1:13

      It would have to be a bit faster to be a good overtaking spot. It’s too slow.

  2. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 25th August 2010, 7:41

    ” Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium is one of four tracks one the current Formula 1 calendar which also featured in the first world championship in 1950″

    The other two been Monza & Monaco, which is the fourth one??

    • BasCB said on 25th August 2010, 7:52

      That would be Silverstone, where the very first GP for the Formula1 world championship was held, WasiF1!

      • Lustigson said on 25th August 2010, 8:04

        I regularly advocate here and on other fora, that Formula One should cherish its links to pre-World War II Grand Prix racing, by maintaining the Grands Épreuves of old on the calendar: France (1906), Italy (’21), Belgium (’25), Great Britain (’26), Spain (’27), Germany (’31), Monaco (’33), and, although that’s a bit too late, now, Switzerland (’35).

        • GeeMac said on 25th August 2010, 8:27

          It would be a bit diffcult to maintain the Swiss GP seeing as motor racing is banned by law, but I do agree with you, we should never forget the pre war heroes like Caracciola, Nuvolari and co.

        • Dipak T said on 25th August 2010, 16:09

          Personally I think that if the Grand Eprueaves classification were to some back, it should become a clissification across formulae, to include all the great races of the world.

          So the French, British, Belgian, German and the Monaco GP would be Grands Eprueves, to honour that tradition, but events such as the Dakar Rally, the Indy 500 and the 24 hours of Le Mans should also gain that status.

        • bag0 (@bag0) said on 25th August 2012, 18:21

          @Lustigson
          You could include Hungary 1936, it was held at Budapest, Népliget, a 5 Km long steetcourse with 22 corners, 11 right and 11 lefthander, their radiuses varying from 12-450 meters, and the road with varying form 8 to 14 meters. The results were not counted in the Grand Prix championship.

          Tazio Nuvolari a former italian motor racer won in an Alfa Romeo 14 seconds ahead of pole sitter Bernd Rosemeyer’s Auto Union. From the 16 entrants only 7 finished, with third placed Achille Varzi 2 laps down to teammate Tazio.

          You can see the original layout here

          • Lustigson (@lustigson) said on 20th August 2013, 12:45

            I would like to, but after the 1936 edition, the Hungarian Grand Prix was not held until 49 years later. Therefor I don’t think it’s considered to be a Grande Épreuve.

      • demos12 said on 25th August 2010, 11:05

        yes it was silverstone, the first world championship race. but due it switching with brand hatch, belgium switching with zolder & early races at monza being run on the oval, the oldest unchanged track is monaco!

        • LewisC said on 25th August 2010, 13:35

          It’s not *quite* unchanged – the swimming pool / Tabac / Rascasse area has been tweaked a lot recently. If you look at the old videos it used to be just a tree-lined avenue.

          The “tunnel” never used to exist either ;)

      • wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 26th August 2010, 3:37

        How on earth did I miss Silverstone? Is my memory that BAD.

  3. BasCB said on 25th August 2010, 7:51

    This is such a great track, but how long will it withstand the push by Bernie to go everywhere someone is willing to pay up.

    If the French were not able to keep up their historic race, and Silverstone only narrowly escaped, how on earth will the cash struck Wallonian Belgian government be able to hold on to this?

    Please FOTA, FIA and GDPA do everything in your power to keep it on the calendar. It is a sell out almost every year with Germans, French, British and Dutch swarming in as well as Fans from countries further away.

    • Agreed! Spa needs to be kept on the calendar. In my mind it along with Monaco and Silverstone are races that simply cannot be touched.

    • Deurmat said on 25th August 2010, 8:23

      I’m from Belgium and they make a loss every year for some years now and they do certainly not sell all their tickets !They have sold around 40.000 tickets a week ago and they need to sell 60.000 to break even…

      • Indeed, I think only Silverstone and Monaco sell out regularly with Silverstone practically selling out on all three days. However 40,000-60,000 people gathering in one place must surely be a big boost for the regions economy each year. Bernies demands put too much strain on all the circuits, if there is one place F1 needs to tighten its pockets then it is the money that the circuits get charged.

        I agree with those above that Spa, Silverstone, Monaco and Monza should never be taken off the calendar (Apart from short term swaps for circuit improvements etc) as they are legendary circuits that define F1 both from a fan and driver point of view.

        I am lucky enough to be making my way from the UK to Spa for this weekends GP. Lots of Waffles, Good Lager and Great racing, can weekends get much better?

        • Bernie never said they need to tighten his pockets, just the teams expenses…

          • Joey-Poey said on 25th August 2010, 16:05

            Yeah, funny how his prices are exempt from this fear of the world economy going sour.

          • Yeah, there’s no question, Bernie’s all heart, and CVC Capital Partners are the qworlds best non-profit cultural sponsor…

            And I am the king of Narnia…

        • LordHesketh said on 25th August 2010, 16:58

          Don’t forget Montreal. It is frequently a sell out as well.

          • Ahh, yes, I can’t believe I forgot about that especially after I got so angry about it being axed for that very reason!

  4. Calum said on 25th August 2010, 7:56

    Peple say part of Spa is public road, which bit?

    Anyone else think new spa looks like a handgun ;)

    • Hamish said on 25th August 2010, 8:10

      More a hot-glue gun

    • Deurmat said on 25th August 2010, 8:24

      There was a part in the past that was public road but not anymore, I’m not sure what part, my dad knows ^^

    • Ads21 (@ads21) said on 25th August 2010, 8:25

      Most of it reamained public roads until the early 2000s when they built a bypass and it became a permanant race track. All the way from Stavelot to Les Combes remained public roads I think, you can still see the road marking on videos of races from the 90s.

      • David B said on 25th August 2010, 10:16

        Correct, I was there in 2006. Now the track is no more public, but it used to be from Stavelot to Les Combes.
        I also drove some of the older track. Amazing.

      • Antifia said on 25th August 2010, 11:16

        They changed it in 2002. Up to that time you could enter the circuit at La Source (if you got to it from Francochamps) and go down to the Eau Rouge. The road would leave the modern circuit at Les Combes and return to it at Stavelot, with the added joy of going through the Bus Stop chicane a little later – a real bus stop. This way, you would do the complete lap of the old circuit with the small exception of a road intersection in the begining of the straight leading to the Alsa Masta (an awesome kink – it is stil there and it is still part of the public roads!). It is a real pitty that the part that links the village of Stavelot to the curve with the same name in the circuit is kind of falling apart – after the formely public bit of the modern circuit became private, that piece of road is not used much since now it goes nowhere… together with the demise of the bus stop, this is a real heart breaker for the romantics.

        • J.A. Brown said on 26th August 2010, 12:36

          Yes, it is. =( I would love to have been a bus driver driving a bus around there…

          Then again, I used to go on holidays to the Ardennes a lot as a child, and there’s plenty of beautiful spots on public roads that would make fine circuit sections!

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 25th August 2010, 8:36

      I was going to say that the public section was from Blanchimont to La Source, but I no longer think it is.
      Quite a few years ago, I took a detour – long detour – driving back from Strasbourg to see the old track. I was astounded at the Masta Kink on what is now the N68. A quick left-right flick between the hedges before hurtling through the village between the cafes and the farmhouse. Definitely not for the fainthearted at 150+.

  5. The start/finish straight into La Source and out of it with the run down to Eau Rouge always used to add some excitement as the drives took different lines in and out of La Source then drag raced down to Eau Rouge – but they’ve neutralised it by attempting to stop the drivers running wide out of La Source – which I think has ruined it :(

    • Hamish said on 25th August 2010, 10:36

      Well one of the main reasons behind changing where the start/finish line used to be (between La Source and Eau Rouge) was because drivers used to go very deep into La Source, use the run off area in order to start their lap with the greatest possible speed.

  6. Antifia said on 25th August 2010, 11:54

    Hey Keith, I would say that rather than using the roads around Spa and Francochamps, the old circuit used the roads around Francochamps, Malmedy and Stavelot. Spa is situated a good 20kms way from any part of the circuit. In fact, it always pussled me that it is called Spa-Francochamps at all.

    • Thats what I was thinking when I was there a couple of years back. We arrived at Spa train station and all collectively went

      “Err……. Its not really in Spa is it?”

  7. This is by far my favourite circuit on the calender. People suggest that you can only overtake at the bus stop but having sat at Les Combres last year, this is a fantastic spot for overtaking (albeit accidents also). Plenty of great races at this circuit with its unpredictable weather.

  8. Rahim RG said on 25th August 2010, 12:06

    Spa-Francorchamps the Track of Kimi Raikkonen…..Loved him seeing here…..
    He once said that he could race on this track for the whole year…..He loved it that much…..No matter what i will always miss him for his Spa Drives…..

  9. BliNnk said on 25th August 2010, 12:12

    Vitaly Petrov looks a bit like Daniel Craig

  10. Kevin said on 25th August 2010, 13:29

    “To borrow a phrase, it is a monstrous carbuncle, utterly at odds with what is otherwise rightly considered the best track in Formula 1″

    This is so true

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 25th August 2010, 18:31

      Who are you quoting there Keith?

      • HounslowBusGarage said on 25th August 2010, 21:24

        Actually that was Prince Charles commenting on the plans for the extension to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square in London.
        I think the full quote was “It is like the appearance of a monstrous carbuncle on the nose of an old and beloved friend”.
        Not sure of the actual plans being commented on, but the Sainsbury Wing subsequently built about fifteen years ago matches the Square perfectly. Looks great and is definitely worth visiting.

  11. JT19 (@jt19) said on 25th August 2010, 14:19

    5 things to expect at the weekend of Spa-Francorchamps:

    1. Button making an excuse just after qualifying

    2. a ferrari going wide on the first lap at la source and using the run-off area

    3. at least 3 cars cutting the chicane on the first lap at les combes

    4. hamilton 2tenths quicker in 1st sector, read bull 8tenths quicker 2nd sector, hamilton 3tenths quicker 3rd sector in qualifying

    5. Vettel on pole but losing 1st place on the first lap (I hope!!)

    • You forgot Liuzzi banging on about traffic.

    • Antifia said on 25th August 2010, 16:18

      On the first one I think I can be even more specific: He will complain that there is a lack of grip….then EJ will come around and remind us what a great champion he is and how he is unbeatable when the car behaves exactly they way he wants it to, but that he strugles when it doens’t…..eh!
      People say that it is a 5 way fight to the title, but does anybody really believe that if the Mclarens improve to the point of producing this year’s champion, that guy will be Button instead of Lewis?

      • dragon said on 26th August 2010, 1:15

        If the McLaren becomes faster and LESS twitchy, then yes, I think Button has a real chance. If it stays just slightly hard to manage, he won’t be able to touch Lewis.

    • bag0 (@bag0) said on 25th August 2012, 18:29

      With Buttons records at Spa, you could expect he will either have a DNF caused by GRO or VET, a mechanical failure, or scoring some points, but you should never expect him to win it.

  12. Bartholomew said on 25th August 2010, 14:31

    I wish there was the possibility of readers sending in a sketch with a retouch of the track propposal. I can think of several retouche sof the track that would make it better.
    By the way, is there any onboard footage of the old long track ?

  13. brookliner said on 25th August 2010, 15:54

    Not footage really, but the movie “Grand Prix” has some scenes from the old circuit…

  14. Obster said on 25th August 2010, 20:25

    You can see the old circuit on the Google Map you included.
    For a feel of the old track, try it on the Grand Prix Legends Sim.

  15. Rob R. said on 26th August 2010, 5:13

    The chicane really is putrid. If it had never been built, we would surely never have had that stupid “incident” in 2008…?

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