Formula 1

Belgian Grand Prix: The legend of Spa-Francorchamps

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Few places in motorsport get the adrenaline going more than Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

This iconic venue dates back to 1929 though the current 7km layout was only built in 1979. This legendary racetrack offers one of the greatest challenges in the world and has produced some of F1's greatest moments.

The original track measured just over 14km using public roads and was one of the fastest, most dangerous circuits ever raced on. A challenger for Nurburgring's iconic Nordschleife, Spa sorted the men from the boys with long stretches blasting through the countryside and some iconic corners that remain on the current layout.

The most unforgiving challenge on the original design was the Masta Kink, a high-speed chicane between the houses where many crashes would result in serious injury if not death, Jackie Stewart famously crashed into a farmhouse at this corner as the track entered it's later years and as safety became a bigger issue in the early 1970's the 'triangle' was dropped from the calendar.

F1 remained in Belgium for the 13 years between the final race on the old layout before moving back to the current design which built in 1979 but not used in F1 until 1983. For those 13 years F1 alternated between Zolder and Nivelles.

The big differences between the new, shorter Spa and the new, shorter Nurburgring that was introduced at around the same time, was that Spa managed to keep some of the old layout in the new design.

As a result much of the new Spa kept the character of the original even some of the iconic parts of the old track had gone. One corner that did remain however from the original and remains one of the greatest corners in Formula 1 is Eau Rouge.

Introduced in 1936 to take out the Duoanne hairpin, Eau Rouge and Raidillon is a severely uphill left, right, left combination. The cars run downhill from the La Source hairpin before sweeping left at Eau Rouge and heading uphill through the right of Raidillon a left hand kink at the top leads onto the Kemmel Straight.

Because of the long straight that follows, carrying as much speed through Eau Rouge has always been important and as the cars got faster with better aerodynamics the thrill of taking F1's version of a roller-coaster flat-out made you a hero or resulted in a horrific accident.

Former F1 driver Stefan Bellof lost his life at Eau Rouge in 1985 driving in a Porsche sports car race after crashing into the barrier. In 1999 both BAR driver's Ricardo Zonta and Jacques Villeneuve crashed at Eau Rouge during qualifying, by this time a gravel trap was on the outside of the corner but it did not help. Afterwards Zonta described it as "my best ever crash".

Over the years safety at Eau Rouge has improved, originally lined with barriers on both sides, it is now a wide open area with tarmac run-off areas where drivers can try and lose some speed before crashing.

The unique location of Spa in the Ardennes Forest means the micro-climate can often produce rain that a weather radar never picks up, wet races at Spa are fairly common the most famous being the 1998 race held in terrible conditions.

A huge 13 car pile-up at the start is one of the events this race is most popular for, but it was also known for Michael Schumacher crashing into the back of David Coulthard while leading and the final win for Damon Hill who took Jordan's first grand prix win with team-mate Ralf Schumacher second.

Spa was the scene for one of the sports greatest overtakes in 2000 when Mika Hakkinen closed down Michael Schumacher in the closing laps and passed the German with the BAR on Zonta in-between them on the run into Les Combes.

The current master of Spa is Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn has won four-times around this iconic venue the last of which came in 2009 and he will be right up there again this weekend.

Most F1 fans and drivers have Spa as their favourite venue on the calendar claiming a trip or a win at Spa as one of the most important achievements in the sport. Be sure to watch this weekend's race if you want to sample the legend that is Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps.


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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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