Belgian Grand Prix

Belgian Grand Prix

The Belgian Grand Prix is an automobile race that belongs to Formula One championship calendar. It runs for 308.052 km (191.398 mi) on its 7.004 km (4.352 mi) circuit Spa-Francorchamps.

When was the first Belgian Grand Prix?

The first Belgian national race was held in 1925 at Spa (a town located in the province of Liege) race course, a place famous for motor sport since its early years of competition. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps was built in 1921 to accommodate Grand Prix races. It was only used for motorcycle racing until 1924 after the success of the new 24-hour Le Mans in France. A counterpart 24-hour endurance race ran on the Spa circuit – Spa 24 Hours.

The track has been known for its unpredictable weather since its races was held. At an instance in its history, it was recorded that it had rained at the Belgian Grand Prix for twenty years straight. On many occasions competitors deal with a part of the track that is clear and bright while another stretch is rainy and slippery.

Between 1925 and 1973, the Belgian GP was labelled the European Grand Prix six times. This is an honorary designation given annually to one Grand Prix race in Europe. Because of it being scenic and historical, the Spa-Francorchamps became a favorite of drivers and fans. It is now one of the most popular races on the Formula One calendar.

Belgian Grand Prix: Then and Now

The Pre-World War II Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and Bois de la Cambre

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The 9-mile Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Ardennes region of eastern Belguim saw the first Belgian Grand Prix in 1925. The race was won by Antonio Ascari of Italy’s Alfa Romeo – who died later at the 1925 French Grand Prix. The Belgian GP did not resume until 1930. The same year saw a modification on the circuit that it has bypassed the Malmedy chicane and its race was won by Monegasque driver, Louis Chiro. The following race in 1931 seemed to be an endurance race that was won by Briton William Grover-Williams and Caberto Conelli. The lead was followed by Rudolf Caracciola in 1935 in his Mercedes; a time where Malmedy chicane was re-installed. Another modification took place in the circuit in 1939 where the newly installed Raidillon corner bypassed the Ancienne Douane section.

The situations were awful, and the race was stained by the death of British driver Richard “Dick” Seaman while on the lead. Seaman was dashing fast towards the Clubhouse corner; he slipped the wet road (it was raining that time), crashed to a tree and set his Mercedes ablaze. The British driver suffered high degree burns, and he passed away due to his injuries later in hospital. Hermann Lang, the latter’s teammate, won the race. World War II was set fire, and the Belgian Grand Prix did not resume until June 1946. French driver Eugène Chaboud in a Delage won the race during the 2 to 4.5 litres race at the Bois de la Cambre  park in the Belgian capital of Brussels.

Post World War II Spa-Francorchamps

The circuit was shortened to 8.7 miles (14.1 km) to make it faster. Corners that will slow the race was removed. As a result, La Source corner was the only one which is not ultra-high speed. During this time, the circuit became known as one of the most thrilling, challenging and fearsome circuits in motorsports history.

In 1950 Formula One World Championship was introduced and the first race was won by Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio and Italian Nino Farina in their Alfa Romeos.

In 1956, just six years after the inauguration of first F1 race in Spa, the championship event was held on its wet roads. The British Peter Collins of Ferrari won.

The 1957 race was postponed due to the lack of funds for the race to be staged, fuel prices in Belgium and the Netherlands has sky-rocketed because of the Suez crisis.

New facilities have emerged in 1958. The track was resurfaced and the pit straight was widened. Ever since the time, it has been known for the Spa to be thrilling, extremely dangerous and challenging plus the weather is unpredictable. In some instances, the half part of the track has sunshine and dry and the other is soaking wet.  Any error in this circuit might cause the drivers his victory or his place. The 1958 race was won by a British driver Tony Brooks in a Vanwall.

There was no race in 1959, but the 1960 race is really disastrous. It was the birth of newly designed mid-engine F1 cars. With these cars untested in Spa prior the final release, no one knew how those cars will perform there and it resulted into multiple accidents – with some, fatal. This is also due to the lack of cars safety features until 1961.

Prior to 1969 GP scheduled on June 8, safety issues are still a concern. The circuit has an average speed of 240 km/h (150mph) but had no visible safety features. Grand Prix Drivers’ Association as represented by Jackie Stewart, insisted lots of development and modifications to safety barriers and road surfaces, to make the track safer. The British, French and Italian teams withdrew from the event as the track owners didn’t want to cooperate and abide with the demands, therefore resulting to exclusion of Belgian GP in the F1 schedule.

The 1970 race was still dangerous despite the modifications such as emplacement of temporary chicanes. It did not stop the cars from reaching 240 km/h (150mph). Because of this, the Spa still being dangerous, the Belgian GP was cancelled for 1971. The track did not meet FIA’s safety standards. The event was relocated

Zolder and Nivelles

The Belgians came up with the decision to alternate the GP between Zolder located in northern Belgium and the circuit at Nivelles-Baulers just near Brussels. The 1972 resumption of GP was held at Nivelles that was won by Emerson Fittipaldi. 1973 was in Zolder then alternated by Circuit in Nivelles in 1974. The late-mentioned circuit was unpopular among the Formula One event and so it was removed from the following events making Zolder the sole venue for the upcoming GP’s until 1984.

1981 GP was in chaos as it is embraced between feuds involving FISA and FOCA plus the Zolder circuit’s poor condition. An overwhelming number of accidents happened including a death of an Osella mechanic, who was run over in the pitlane.

1982 saw the death of Gilles Villenueve. He died during the practice at the circuit after a collision accident with Jochen Mass.

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Return to Spa-Francorchamps

The old circuit of Belgium was shortened to 7 KM (4.3 miles) in 1979. Obstructions and unnecessary parts were removed and new sequence of corners were installed. The first race in the modified version of the circuit was won by Alain Prost, a French driver. The circuit immediately went popular with the drivers, manufacturers and fans.

The Belgian GP was rerun at Zolder in 1984. This was the last Formula One race staged at the circuit and was won with a Ferrari driven by Michele Alboreto.

The event didn’t push in 1985. A newly resurfaced road made of asphalt was laid to supposedly help the drivers to perform better during the rain but to everyone’s surprise, the weather was scorching hot and the track broke up so bad that it became unusable for the drivers. The race was then rescheduled in June to September. Ayrton Senna won the race in a Lotus that year then the next was won by Nigel Mansell then Ayrton Senna again in 1987.

For the first time ever, the 1988 GP was held between late August to Early September instead of the usual May or June. It was like this until this until today.

In 1994, a chicane was placed at the lower part of Eau Rouge in response to the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola that year. The chicane was removed the following year (1995). Schumacher won the race and the next two Belgian GP. The 1998 race ran in severe conditions. The race was stopped after multiple mishaps involving thirteen of the twenty-two runners at the first corner. Heavy rain poured after the restart which caused low visibility and caused another accident between Schumacher and David Coulthard.

The Belgian Grand Prix was postponed in 2003 due to country’s tobacco advertising laws. In 2006, the FIA declared the Belgian GP will be once more dropped from the calendar. This is because due to incomplete major repair work at Spa-Francorchamps prior the the September race. The Belgian Grand Prix resumed in 2007.

Bernie Ecclestone in 2009 said in an interview that he prefers the Belgian Grand Prix to switch with a Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, than having the Nürburgring switching with the Hockenheimring.This alternation did no happened and as of June 2020 the Belgian GP is contracted to be held until 2022.

What does Spa-Francorchamps look like today?

Spa is among Formula 1 drivers’ most loved tracks, with its mix of long straights and challenging fast corners allowing them to push their cars to the edge of their capabilities – if it’s dry, that is. The size of the track and the nature of Belgian weather means it can sometimes be raining on one part of the track and dry on another, meaning grip can vary from one corner to the next. Keep an eye on the thrilling Eau Rouge, arguably the most famous sequence of corners in the world, as the drivers flick left, right and then up the hill through Raidillon.

Below are Spa’s current numbers:

Length                              7.004 km (4.352 mi)

Turns                                19

Race lap record             1:46.286 ( Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2018)

How to go to Belgian Grand Prix?

Spa-Francorchamps is located in a spot-on rural location. It has considerable distance from the closest major cities. And because of this, it would be better to stay near the circuit – like camping. Driving should get you to the circuit in a convenient manner but busses and trains are also in service.

The closest airports to Spa-Francorchamps

  • Maastricht Aachen Airport (MST): 80 KM
  • Luxembourg Airport (LUX): 110km south of Spa:
  • Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN): 140km east of Spa
  • Brussels Airport (BRU): 140km west of Spa
  • Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL): 140km west of Spa
  • Dusseldorf Airport (DUS): 155km east of Spa

City Shuttle to the Belgian Grand Prix

The organizers have launched City Shuttle service in 2018 which caters transportation for fans from major regional cities going to Spa Circuit for 3 days covering the dates of the GP Weekend.

The following cities are covered by the service. The daily to and fro fare range betwen €35-55, depending on the distance:

  • Aachen (Aix-La-Chapelle)
  • Amsterdam
  • Anver
  • Bruxelles-Midi
  • Bruxelles-Nord
  • Charleroi
  • Düsseldorf
  • Eindhoven
  • Gand
  • Liège
  • Lille
  • Luxembourg
  • Maastricht
  • Mons
  • Namur.

Bear in mind that some of these cities (e.g. Amsterdam) are distant from the circuit and could take up to 3-4 hours’ time of travel, especially on race daywhen the traffic is heavier.

Getting to the Belgian Grand Prix by Train/Bus

Opting to stay in one of the larger regional cities and go to the track by train daily, Verviers Central station will be your stop, the closest major train station to Spa Francorchamps. Shuttle buses from Verviers to Spa (bus 294 or 395) are regularly available to take you on the circuit on race weekend which takes 45 minutes’ travel time. Trains from Luxembourg stop at the Trois Ponts station, from there, you can take the 294 bus to the circuit.

Driving to the Belgian Grand Prix

It is essential to have a GPS on your smart phone. The Spa Francorchamps is near the E42 motorway, which leads to the major cities in the region. The minor roads near the track are well labelled and it’s hard to get lost. Traffic becomes heavier as the race days’ progresses and it’s best to not to drive at peak hours. Buying parking sticker in advance will give you an advantage of parking in one of the main carparks of the circuit.

What to prepare when going to the Belgian Grand Prix?

Belgium is a small country located in northwest Europe that is divided into 2 major regions; Flanders in the Northern part (speaks Flemish) and Wallonia (speaks French) in the southern part. The capital of Brussels the center of international politics. This is home to the main institutions of the European Union and NATO (National Atlantic Treaty Organization).

Required Visas

Belgium belongs Schengen area, a family of 26 European with a common visa policy and no internal borders. Coming from the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, or the UK, will grant you a visa-free entry (good for 90 days) when you arrive.

Safety

Belgium is generally a safe country. But just like going any place, you need to be more mindful of your possessions and surroundings on public places. It’s safe at Spa Francorchamps, but still you are responsible of yourself and your belongings.

Circuit Weather

It’s rainy in Belgium, particularly in the Ardennes region where the Spa Francorchamps circuit is situated. The weather here is really unpredictable so there will be a need for you secure a rain gear. However, because the weather changes a lot, the weather can also be very sunny and warm in the late European summer, with temperatures reaching around 77- 86ºF (25-30ºC).

Quick Guide to Belgium Travel

Belgium’s currency is EURO. Spa is not that affordable considering the ticket prices and other side expenses like accommodation and trackside spending. Bills for restaurants & taxis include a service charge so tipping is not so common but it’s still good to give a small merit for anyone’s effort.

Excellent healthcare. This is always present for a first world country like Belgium. You can get yourself an EHIC card if you are a European. This will give you access to local health services if the need arises. Travel insurance is of essence, in case of an emergency.

Spa Francorchamps is situated at Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium, though Dutch, German and English are also widely spoken, especially at the circuit.

Belgium is on Central European Summer Time when the Grand Prix is held in late August which is equivalent to GMT +1 hour (or UTC + 2 hours)

Type E power plugs (230 V / 50 Hz) is widely used in Belgium. You will need an adapter if you are travelling from the UK, Australia or USA.

Tap water in Belgium is clean and safe to drink. This is an advantage if you want to save €3 from buying a small bottled water at the circuit.

In case of an emergency, the main number to dial in Belgium is 112. Operators can accommodate you with French, Dutch or English (sometimes German) languages. You can also dial 100 for medical emergencies and fire or 101 for the police.

Where is the best place to watch the Belgian Grand Prix?

Champions Club

Champions Club Silver is a new place for 2021! This is just located outside the track and is next to the Fan Zone and Eau Rouge. Here, you’ll be able to have a view of the action from dedicated grandstand seats. You may also go inside the Champions Club Silver hospitality tent to have yourself stadium-style meals, beer, wine & soft drinks. And of course, you may also have an Exclusive Pit Lane Walk and F1 Celebrity Appearance.

Champions Club Gold. This one is also new for 2021, Champions Club Platinum Packages is inclusive of a seat in the Gold 5 Grandstand in Eau Rouge/Raidillon with added premium hospitality service throughout the race weekend. This also features a guided tour of the F1 Paddock, grid walk and trophy photo op and F1 legend or current driver appearance.

Champions Club Platinum will return in 2021! Setup with 3 levels that offers excellent trackside vantage point from both indoor and outdoor spaces, Champions Club Gold packages features gourmet hospitality and open bars with benefits like from Champions Club Gold and Silver package.

Formula 1 Paddock Club™

Located right on top of the team garages, guests experience the finest hospitality in place that comprises open bars and gourmet cuisine, Daily Pit Lane Walks and many more.  Legend Ticket Packages offers a one-day paddock pass and priority access to the post-race podium! Premier Ticket, Paddock Club Ticket Packages & Legend Ticket Packages features access to the Paddock Club.

Gold 2 Grandstand

This roofed Gold 2 Grandstand is placed between the stretch of La Source and Eau Rouge at the start of the circuit’s lap. This is a great choice to remain protected from Spa’s harsh unpredictable climate. This grandstand is also well located for the best trackside ambience in the nearby F1 Fanzone. Gold 2 seating features Hero Ticket Packages.

Gold 4 Grandstand

This grandstand offers a great view of the iconic Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners. This raised grandstand offers panoramic views from La Source through to Raidillon, and the uphill S-bend of Eau Rouge. The F1 Fanzone is also near this grandstand. Gold 4 seating is included with Premier Ticket Packages & Trophy Ticket Packages.

Silver 3 Grandstand

This is placed on the Pouhon corner (Turn 12). This grandstand is a well-known place to witness the action at Spa-Francorchamps and has some of the best trackside ambience. Pouhon is a fast, downhill left-hander that is taken almost flat out. this is a great place to watch the cars on its peak performance. Silver 3 Grandstand seat features Starter Ticket Packages.

General Admission

If you have booked in one of the circuits, it still recommended that you take a walk to the General Admission. Eau Rouge & Raidillon, Kemmel Straight and Blanchimont are woth checking out. The inside of Bruxelles offers a closer views of the cars and Rivage for a wider view of the track. Friday is the best day to explore the place for it is less crowded and access will be a lot easier.