Belgian Grand Prix
Belgian Grand Prix
The Belgian Grand Prix is a popular and regular event in the Formula One calendar year and is held at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, German and French. The Belgian Grand Prix circuit is mostly referred to as Spa-Francorchamps.
The race is called Grote Prijs van België in Dutch, Grand Prix de Belgique in French and Großer Preis von Belgien in German. Throughout this article, the race will be referred to as the Belgian Grand Prix and the circuit as Spa-Francorchamps.
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit was designed by Jules de Thier and Henry Langlois Van Ophem in 1920. It was a sprawling 14.981 km circuit using mostly public roads connecting the towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot and was triangular in shape.
A race was planned on the circuit but the entrance of a lone competitor saw the race getting cancelled. The first motor car race was held in 1922. The famous 24 hours of Spa-Francorchamps was first held in 1924 and took place 22–25 October 2020.
The first Belgian Grand Prix was held in 1925 at Francorchamps. The contest was won by the Italian driver, Antonio Ascari in an Alfa Romeo. Antonio Ascari died in an accident at the 1925 French Grand Prix, the very next race after winning the Belgian Grand Prix.
The race was next held in 1930 when the Monegasque, Louis Chiron won the race in a Bugatti. In 1931, William Grover-Williams, a Brish driver and the Italian, Caberto Connelli shared the honours of the Belgian Grand Prix. Both drivers were driving Bugattis.
The Belgian Grand Prix was held five times between 1933 and 1939 before motor racing in Belgium was interrupted by World War II. After the war, the Belgian Grand Prix was first held in 1946. It was held till 1949, with the exception of 1948 before the World Drivers’ Championship was introduced.
Spa-Francorchamps: Circuit Details
Lap Length: 7.004 km
No of laps: 44
Race distance: 308.052 km
Race direction: Clockwise
Race lap record: 1’46.286, Valtteri Botas, 2018, Mercedes
Fastest lap : 1’41.252 Lewis Hamilton, 2020, Mercedes W11
When was the Belgian Grand Prix first held?
The Belgian Grand Prix was chosen as one of the six European Grands Prix, along with Indianapolis 500 for the inaugural World Drivers’ Championship in 1950. Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina won the event in 1950 driving an Alfa Romeo.
Nino Farina, who came in second in the inaugural race, won the following year. Alberto Ascaris was the son of Antonio Ascaris, the driver who won the first Belgian Grand Prix in 1925 and died in the next Grand Prix in France. Alberto won the coveted Grand Prix successively in 1952 and 1953.
Juan Manuel Fangio won in 1954 and 1955 taking his Belgian Grand Prix tally to three trophies. Peter Collins of Great Britain won the 1956 event driving a Ferrari. The 1957 event was cancelled because of the very high prices of fuel in Belgian and in the Netherlands.
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit had gained notoriety of being a mentally very challenging and an unforgiving circuit. Even after resurfacing the circuit and new facilities built in 1957, the 1958 event saw far fewer entries than normal. There was no margin for error and drivers did not want to risk racing on the circuit.
Tony Brooks, the British driver, won the 1958 Grand Prix and the 1959 event was cancelled. The 1960 Belgian Grand Prix was a disaster. Sterling Moss crashed heavily at the Burnenville corner and broke both his legs, three vertebrae and several ribs. He survived.
Mike Taylor, another Briton, crashed into some trees at Stavelot. He suffered severe head and neck injuries ending his racing career. Chris Bairstow, a Briton again, touched wheels with Willy Mairese and was thrown from his car. He was decapitated by some barbed wire fencing.
During the race, Alan Stacey lost control of his car when he was hit by a bird. The car flew over the embankment, went to some Bushes and crashed in a field some 25 ft. below. The car caught fire and Alan Stacey died. It was not known whether he died before the fire or after.
In 1961 Phill Hill won the Belgian Grand Prix driving a Ferrari and the car manufacturer won the first four places in the race. 1962 saw Jim Clark win of the four races he would win in a row at Spa-Francorchamps. The subsequent race was rain-soaked but Jim Clark prevailed.
The FIA increased the capacity of engines from 1.5 litres to 3.0 litres in 1966. But a rainstorm hit the track halfway during the first lap causing seven cars to hydroplane. Jim Stewart’s car went through a hut, hit a pole and landed in a field some 30ft below the track.
Stewart was stuck in the bent car with the ruptured fuel tank drenching him with inflammable fuel. The lack of safety precautions in the day saw his teammates Graham Hill struggled with spanners borrowed from a spectator. He was rescued from the wreck after 30 minutes. That is what inspired Stewart’s crusade for safety.
In 1967, Briton Mike Parkes crashed heavily after slipping on some spilt oil. The Ferrari driver was thrown out of his car and was in a coma for a week with severe leg and head injuries. That crash ended his racing career while American Dan Gurney won the race.
The FIA introduced aerodynamics in F1 racing for the first time in 1968. Wings were introduced to increase the down force as well as decrease the drag experienced by cars. Bruce McLaren, the designer and founder of McLaren, won the first race for his car.
But the 1968 race saw another serious accident. Brian Redman, a British driver, drove his Cooper into a parked Ford Cortina road car. His car caught fire and he escaped from the car, badly burnt and with a badly broken right arm. He did not race again that year.
With safety issues mounting at the Spa-Francorchamps, the Grand Prix Drivers Association, in 1969, demanded that certain safety features be incorporated on the circuit. The owners refused to comply with the requirements and with several teams withdrawing from the competition; they had to cancel the event.
The owners of the circuit made some temporary safety arrangements on the circuit which included a chicane at the Malmedy Corner. But the track was still dangerous for racing. The 1970 event was cancelled because the circuit did not comply with the FIA’s safety specifications.
When did the Belgian Grand Prix move to Zolder and Nivelles
Following the disagreement between the FIA and the owners of Spa-Francorchamps, the Belgians decided to hold the Grand Prix at different venues. The Nivelles circuit was close to Brussels while Zolder was in northern Belgium.
Nivelles hosted the race in 1972 which was won by the Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi. Zolder hosted the Belgian Grand Prix the next year, won by Jackie Stewart. In 1974 the race returned to Nivelles where Fittipaldi won.
The Nivelles circuit was not favoured by most of the F1 drivers and the manufacturers. The organisers also expressed their inability to finance the Grand Prix. In view of the developments, the FIA decided to hold the event at Zolder for the next 9 years.
While Niki Lauda won the race in 1975 and 1975, Gunnar Nilsson earned his only Grand Prix victory in 1977. Mario Andretti celebrated with a victorious Lotus team in 1978 and Jodi Schekkler drove to victory in 1979. Didier Pironi urged his Ligier to a first time win in 1980.
The 1981 event was a mess with a mechanic run over in the pit lane. The mechanic died in a hospital the next day and the F1 drivers went on a strike protesting the poor track conditions. The race was started much behind the scheduled time.
On the starting grid, Riccardo Patrese stalled his Arrows and called for a mechanic. Siegfried Stohr, the other Arrows driver, saw the go signal and barged into Patrese’s back, where the mechanic was standing. The whole field came to a stop only on the third lap.
In 1982, the Canadian legend Gilles Villeneuve lost his life in an accident during practice in a collision with Jochen mass. His Ferrari flipped several times and Villeneuve was thrown out of the car. Villeneuve was severely injured and died in a hospital that night. McLaren scored another win with John Watson driving.
When did the Belgian Grand Prix return to Spa-Francorchamps?
After the debacles of 1981 and 1982 at Zolder, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit was completely redesigned. The circuit was reduced to 7 km, from 14.981 km. It was a circuit dedicated to racing, cutting out the portions that swept past towns in the countryside.
A new series of turns were introduced before the Les Combes corner. The newly constructed track joined the old on the straight at Stavelet leading up to Blanchemont. The track was immediately appreciated by all involved with the sport and Alain Prost of France won the event in 1983.
The World Championship Grand Prix returned to Zolder in 1984 for one last sojourn. Michele Alberoto of Italy won the race in a Ferrari. To their embarrassment, the organisers found out that the newly laid surface at Spa-Francorchamps, to counter the rains, had cracked up badly in the hot summer sun in 1985.
The race was postponed from early June to mid-September. The Brazilian Ayrton Senna won the first of the five Belgian Grand Prix he would win in a Lotus. Nigel Mansell of the UK won the 1986 event while he and Senna both retired after clashing in the 1987 Grand Prix.
Senna literally made the Belgian Grand Prix event his own, winning the next four races. In 1988, the event was rescheduled from May/June to late August to early September. That is the schedule the event has stuck to date. The 1990 race had to be stopped twice after two accidents on the circuit.
Michael Schumacher made his World Championship debut at Spa-Francorchamps in 1991. In 1992 he returned to claim the first of his Grand Prix record 91 Grand Prix victories on the circuit in a Benetton. Damon Hill won a battle with Senna and Schumacher to claim victory in 1993.
In 1994, Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger died at Imola. The tragedy saw a chicane introduced at the bottom of Eau Rouge. But 1995 saw the chicane vanish and Michael Schumacher won the Grand Prix for three years in a row.
1998 also saw an accident involving 13 cars at the first corner at the start of the race. It was raining torrentially and visibility was poor. Michael Schumacher ran into the back of David Coulthard’s car. Schumacher confronted Coulthard in the latter’s garage whereupon Coulthard admitted that the mistake was his.
Only ten cars were classified as finishers and Damon hill won the race in 1998. Michael Schumacher equalled Alain Prost’s record of 51 Grand Prix wins at the Spa-Francorchamps in 2001. In 2004 Schumacher won his seventh World championship at the Spa. The record was equalled by Lewis Hamilton at the Turkish Grand Prix in 2020.
Belgian tobacco advertising law pre-empted the 2003 event to be held. In 2005, the FIA announced that the Belgian Grand Prix would not be held because of the repair works being carried out on the track. When the event returned in 2007, Kimi Raikkonen won his third Belgian Grand Prix.
In 2008 Hamilton spun once in his McLaren and retook the lead he had lost to Kimi Raikkonen with two laps remaining and it started to rain. Hamilton spun again but took the lead anew and won the race but a 25 seconds penalty imposed saw him finishing third.
Bernie Eccelstone proposed that the Belgian Grand Prix rotate with Nürburgring rather than with Hockenheimring in Germany in 2009. But the idea was dropped and Spa-Francorchamps is contracted to hold the event till 2022.
Since 2009, Lewis Hamilton has four Belgian Grands Prix victories under his belt. His recent win in 2020 was his 89th Grand Prix victory. Sebastian Vettel has secured 3 wins during the same period. By winning the 2009 event Kimi Raikkonen has taken his tally of the trophy to four.
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is now considered safe by the FIA safety standards. It still remains a challenging circuit that demands all of the driver’s attention. But the spectators enjoy watching the races and drivers are happy to participate in a race on the circuit.
While Michael leads drivers with six Belgian Grand Prix wins, Alain Prost comes second with five wins including four wins in a row. Jim Clark also won the Grand Prix four times in a row much before Kimi Raikonnen.
Why go to the Belgian Grand Prix?
Most beautiful venue in the world
Spa-Francorchamps is located in the Ardennes, among one of the best-preserved forests in Belgium and is one of the most beautiful circuits in the world. At the end of summer and the beginning of fall, the greenery around the circuit looks spectacular.
Bright sunny days and mildly cold evenings mean the temperatures are perfect for a holiday. Don’t ever discount a shower. The track skirts the coniferous forest and goes off into the natural beauty of the Ardennes.
Most challenging track loved by drivers and fans
Since its conception a century ago, Spa-Francorchamps has been a notoriously dangerous circuit. It is also a very technical circuit that requires a high level of concentration from the drivers from the start.
Despite all the changes made to the track including reducing its length to half, it still remains the longest circuit in the world. Drivers love it for the challenges it poses and the fans love it for the entertainment it doles out.
The unpredictable weather
The rains in the Ardennes are very unpredictable. It rained for twenty consecutive years during the Belgian Grand Prix in the past. The intensity of rain also varies from mild showers to torrential rain to no rain at all. This makes the circuit more dangerous and interesting.
This makes it hard on the drivers on deciding what type of tyres they are going to use as well as when to take a pit stop for a change of tyres. The southern part one the circuit could be bone dry while the northern part of the track is drenched.
Great fans and atmosphere
Usually, there are just two Formula One races in Europe including the Belgian Grand Prix before teams go to other continents. Spa-Francorchamps, therefore, draws fans from many nationalities. Fans from Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands grab the chance to visit the iconic venue.
The advent of Max Verstappen in F1 racing saw a deluge of Dutch fans invading Spa-Francorchamps. Verstappen’s mother is from Belgium. Dutch fans usually wear orange and are a boisterous lot. Along with the other fans wanting to make themselves heard, the atmosphere at the circuit is festive.
Great outdoor accommodation facilities
Spa is a small town and the rates of accommodation skyrocket during the race weekend. Most fans prefer clamping or glamping. You couldn’t choose a better site to camp outdoors than in the Ardennes. Given the great crowd, the experience is on in a lifetime.
Glamping facilities offered at Spa-Francorchamps are five-star. Pre-installed tents along with bacon sandwiches and wi-fi make glamping around the venue enjoyable. Staying in nearby cities and hiring a car is also an option. The roads are good and are not crowded even during race weekends.
How much are tickets for the Belgian Grand Prix?
Spa-Francorchamps is a circuit that has the most stunning views of any of the circuits on the Formula One calendar. It is set in a truly rural area where nature is undisturbed and flourishing. It is worth visiting if not for the excitement of the race itself, for just a holiday in the Ardennes in the best climatic conditions.
The General Admission areas are a good place to watch the Belgium Grand Prix from at Spa-Francorchamps. If you don’t mind walking a lot, opt for a Bronze ticket. If you have come unprepared for rain, which it often does in the Ardennes, opt for a covered grandstand.
Notes on tickets for the Belgian Grand Prix
- Avoid buying tickets for the race day only because they are available. All race day tickets either cost the same or more than a weekend ticket. Book a ticket online for the race day before you go to the venue if only on the race day.
- All Gold Grandstands, except Grandstands 4 & 5 are covered. Silver 4 Grandstand is the only covered grandstand in the category. It rains at Spa-Francorchamps more often than not during the racing weekend. So either go prepared for rain or book a ticket in a covered grandstand.
- Parking tickets are available for € 20 for Green, Yellow and Red parking zones. Green zone is closest to most of the Gold Grandstands and Eau Rouge/Source.
Where should I watch the Belgian Grand Prix from?
Gold 1 Grandstand
This is one of the permanent grandstands on the Main Straight on the circuit opposite the pits and the Start/finish line. You will get to see the action in the pits, the start and finish of the race and the podium ceremonies. If you want to see some real action there are other grandstands to choose from.
Gold 2 Grandstand
This is also a permanent grandstand and is covered. You will get a view of the old pit stops and a distant view of the Eau Rouge turns.
Gold 3 Grandstand
This grandstand gives the best views of the action on the Eau Rouge turns. You will also get to see the section of the track leading to the turns. The elevated Grandstand is at the top of the hill and some distance away from the parking zone.
Gold 4 Grandstand
This is an uncovered Grandstand a bit far off the track with not much great views. Make sure you are prepared for rain if you have a seat booked in this grandstand.
Gold 6 Grandstand
Located on the Bus Stop chicane, this grandstand is sure to get you views of some action more than once during the race. A small covered grandstand, the tickets to this grandstand are sold out almost immediately upon release.
Gold 7 Grandstand
A covered grandstand, it is located where cars leave the La Source hairpin. Its angle does not permit a spectator to get great views of the hairpin. Gold 8 Grandstand is a better option.
Gold 8 Grandstand
The grandstand is located right outside the La Source hairpin. The spectator also gets views of the start/finish line and is in a great position to click some photographs. Tickets to this grandstand also get sold out well in advance.
Gold 9 Grandstand
The grandstand is a temporary grandstand located just after the Gold 1 Grandstand after the start-finish line. The spectator can get a view of cars going around Turn 1. It is not the greatest grandstands to watch the race from.
Silver 1 Grandstand
Seats in this grandstand are numbered but do not come with a backrest. It is between La Source and Eau Rouge. Spectators in the lower seats in the grandstand will have their view obstructed by the catch fencing.
Silver 2 Grandstand
Although priced the same as the Silver 2 grandstand, this grandstand is closer to Eau Rouge. Food and Drink stalls are close to this grandstand and so is the Fan Zone.
Silver 4 Grandstand
This grandstand overlooks the Bruxelles corner. Although the grandstand has seats with backrests, spectators seated in the lower seats will have their views obstructed by the catch fencing.
General Admission Areas
The General admission areas are sprawling and afford some of the best views on any circuit on the Formula One calendar. Spectators must be fit though if they intend to explore all the general admission areas and be prepared for rains.
The general admission area around the Eau Rouge is one of the best spots to watch the race from. An iconic spot, it gives a view of the cars as they race up the slope. Food and drinks are close by and other general admission areas are accessible via an underpass.
The area around the Radillon/Kemmel Straight is also a good place to see the action. The cars exit from the Eau Rouge turns as the race up the Kemmel straight. Les Combes is the corner to be close to as many passes take place there.
Bruxelles/Ravage area is a good spot to see cars close by and take some close-ups. Cars slow down as they negotiate around Turn 10. As the spot is at the top of the hill, the spectator will get a view of Turn 11 as well. Be early if you want a good spot on race day.
Pouhon Corner is one of the favourite general admission areas of spectators coming to Spa-Francorchamps. As it is a large area, fans crowd there in their thousands. Food and drink stalls abound, and the atmosphere in the area is great.
How do I get to Spa-Francorchamps?
Obviously, Monsieurs Thier and Van Ophem did not pay much attention to how Formula One fans will get to the circuit. They were in a hurry to get the circuit functional and get the Grand Prix going. And Formula One was not yet conceived.
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is one of the very few circuits located in a truly rural setting. That makes getting to the track inconvenient but not difficult. The international airports surrounding the circuit are all more than 100 km away. It makes sense to hire a car and drive to the circuit.
Brussels Airport (BRU) is one of the largest international hubs in the region. It is 140 km to the west of Spa-Francorchamps. It serves airlines from all over Europe as well as others from the Gulf states and the United States.
Luxembourg Airport (LUX) caters to Luxembourg’s flag carrier Luxair, as well as to British airways and KLM and TAP. It is 110 km distant from Spa-Francorchamps and is to the south. The Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN) caters to a large number of airlines offering discounted fares and is 140 km east of Spa-Francorchamps.
Düsseldorf Airport (DUS), 155 km to the east of the circuit is also a large international hub. It is connected to flights to the Gulf states as well as all countries in Europe. Maastricht Aachen Airport is the closest airport to the circuit but is only connected to cities like Barcelona, Bari and Alicante.
City Shuttle services have been launched from major cities around the circuit to the venue by the organisers. Aachen, Amsterdam, Brussels, Charleroi, Düsseldorf, Maastritch, Eindhoven, Liège, Lille, Mons and Namur are some of the cities covered by the service among others.
The fares for the shuttles are €35 to €55 depending on the distance. But travelling by a shuttle from Amsterdam could take more than 3 hours on a race day. But the shuttle services are available on all race days.
Trains are a convenient mode of travelling from close by cities to Spa-Francorchamps. Buy a ticket to Verviers, the closest station to Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Busses from there run frequently to the venue during the racing weekend.
Another way to get to the circuit is to hire a car and drive to the venue. The roads are good and the traffic is not heavy even on racing weekends. Make sure you have a GPS in the car or use your smartphone to navigate.
Where should I stay at the Belgian Grand Prix?
Very little accommodation is available around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Spa and other towns within a few kilometres are too small to cater to the hundreds of thousands of fans who throng the venue. Those that are available are exorbitantly priced.
Larger cities are within driving distance all around the circuit. These cities offer accommodation for all budgets. Which city you choose will determine the time that you take to drive to the circuit. Once you get on the motorway you can drive unhindered to the venue.
Aachen, Liège, Luxembourg, and Maastricht are cities within reasonable driving distance from the venue of the Belgian Grand Prix. It is cheaper and more convenient to drive to the circuit than to pay the high prices for accommodation close to the venue.
Camping at Spa-Francorchamps
In autumn, the weather in the Ardennes is very unpredictable and it rains often. Despite that, a majority of the fans that come to SPA-Francorchamps, prefer to camp around the circuit. That is because accommodation within short distances from the venue is exorbitantly priced during the racing weekend.
There are several camping sites at Spa-Francorchamps. Among them is the Green Zone, the closest to the camp. The Yellow Zone is 880 metres to the west while Young Village is 1.5 km away from the circuit. Young Village is for fans with only tents and not trailers.
The camping facilities are temporary and only built for the racing weekend. While basic temporary facilities are available, electricity is not. Food stalls and bars abound around the sites. The camping sites are noisy with fans getting drunk at night.
Camping pitches are 40 meters square and allow for one tent and parking for one car. A maximum of 5 occupants are permitted in each tent. The prices for the camping pitches range from €70 per day to €180 for the weekend.
Glamping sites are also available close to the circuit. If you don’t want to dirty your hand pitching a tent you can reach out to Elephant, Spa D’Or or Eau Rouge. Food stalls and bars are available as well as electricity and wi-fi along with pre-pitched tents and good facilities.