This weekend F1 makes its annual pilgrimage to the Ardennes Forest and the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix.

One of the greatest racetracks anywhere in the world, Spa is home to some of motorsport's most famous corners and one of the must-visit races for any hardcore F1 fan.

History

It is also the longest track on the calendar measuring 4.3 miles (7km) and is in fact so vast, some parts are in the town of Spa with the rest in neighbouring Francorchamps.

Yet, despite being the longest circuit, the modern Spa is actually a mere go-kart track compared to the original triangular shaped design, which at the time was the nearest rival to the formidable Nordschleife track at the Nurburgring in Germany.

This old track included many of the famous corners that remain today, Eau Rouge, La Source and Blanchimont to name a few with the start/finish line located on the run down to Eau Rouge.

Other corners on the old track include the infamous Masta Kink which was a very fast chicane and with no barriers in those days many drivers crashed into surrounding buildings, indeed Jackie Stewart crashed into a farmhouse going through the corner.

So as the stride for greater safety began in the late 1970's, the original layout had to go so while the track was being shortened the race went to Zolder, the only time the Belgian race was not held at Spa.

Today’s track dates back to 1979 and, as was the case for most altered classic circuits, initially found it hard to live up to the reputation of its predecessor, however, as the memories faded away the new circuit began to build the reputation it has today as one of the most challenging circuits in the world.

Legend of Eau Rouge 

The most famous corner on the circuit is the Eau Rouge section, one of the most recognisable sights on the calendar.

After the La Source hairpin the cars plunge downhill building speed up to over 180 mph as the steep uphill climb appears to stand awaiting your arrival. The cars dart left through the kink of Eau Rouge and then sweep right uphill through Radillion. Such is the change in elevation it is the only time a driver incurs negative G-forces on the calendar.

The corner didn’t exist until 1939 when it was introduced to shortcut the road onto the Kemmel straight. While the challenge of Eau Rouge may have lessened thanks to higher downforce, the section still plays a key part as a good run can give you a slipstream to then overtake into Les Combes at the end of the following straight. 

Detailed lap

While Eau Rouge maybe the one we all talk about, the whole Spa circuit is full of corners that challenge the cars and drivers like few others around the world so lets look in more detail at what makes the Belgian track so special.

For all the high-speed action the La Source hairpin is one of the most difficult corners to get right.

A tight right hander, judging the braking point along the short pit straight and not running too wide on the exit has always been tricky, while overtaking isn't as easy as before good traction is needed as the corner leads onto the long straight through Eau Rouge and along the Kemmel straight to Les Combes.

Easily passing the 200mph barrier climbing the hill, the best overtaking area is into this chicane at the highest part of the track. This is where Mika Hakkinen pulled what most regard as the greatest overtake ever on Michael Schumacher in 2000 and is where the circuit leaves the original layout and into the twistier part of the track.

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The sweep through Malmedy and the drop down the hill through Rivage and Liege lead onto what most see as the biggest challenge for modern F1 cars at Pouhon.

Approaching at over 180 mph the driver barely lifts using a downshift to slow the car down through the first left before easily accelerating through the second apex, a truly awesome corner.

Then the climb back uphill begins through the Fagner chicane and the right hander of Stavelot where the circuit rejoins the old roads for the run up through another great corner at Blanchimont, where current downforce levels have taken away the challenge, and the final Bus Stop chicane.

Bus Stop chicane

This chicane has dramatically changed from the former lay-by it used to be and is now a rather awkward right, left chicane leading onto the pit straight to complete a lap of Spa-Francorhamps.

That completes my look at the wonder that is Spa and with the championship battle set to heat up between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg I for one can't wait to see what twists and turns this magical place in the Ardennes Forest will conjure up for us this year.

Topics:
Formula 1