This weekend, Formula 1 travels to one of the most classic circuits in all the sport. It certainly is not one of the fastest circuits (that record goes to Monza in Italy), but it is one of the longest. In fact, it is the longest on the calendar, with the total distance just over seven kilometers. This track has everything for the spectator in addition to the drivers. So why is this circuit one of the toughest and most dangerous?
You must remember that at one time, this circuit, when it had no protected guardrails. It was 12 kilometers long and when a driver had an accident, it was unpredictable where that driver was going to end up. In someone’s backyard, or even in a part of farmland that would take hours to get the driver back to the pits.
Now, the circuit has been moved down to half the distance, and despite this change, it is still a dangerous circuit, even with the layout that has plenty of history around it. The long, narrow and beautiful trees that make this Ardennes Forest historical both with the invasion by the Nazis in 1940 and the liberation of the country in 1944 with the American army in the famous “Battle of the Bulge”.
Even with this historical history, the circuit has many famous names, mainly the villages that the circuit passes. Stavelot is where the circuit is located, and of course, Spa, which is the main name for the track, famous for its mineral water and health spa.
So, after all this travelog, to this day, the circuit still is in existence on the Formula 1 calendar, and recently, the track was reconstructed with longer run off areas, to make the drivers avoid heavy crashes when they happen. The cost for all of this was 20.7 million Euros and still drivers who are coming this weekend to race will still protest having to make more changes, so the racing at this Belgian track can be safer.
But there is a valid reason for this. Even if the sport in this category has not had a fatal accident, other formulas have, and with the loss of Antoine Hubert a couple of years back, and recently, Delano Van’t Hoff, has sparked additional troubles.
Moving this circuit to another venue like Zolder has been done before, but the legacy of Spa keeps returning, and this circuit seems to be on the agenda every year. And to augment this, the organizers have signed for a few more seasons to host the race.
So, with the famous names of Le Source, Kemmel, Les Combes, Puchon, Bus Stop and Blanchiment are part of the circuit, the part of the track that has the most controversy is right after you come down the hill from Le Source, and that is Eau Rouge, an uphill sweeping left and quick right that has plenty of G-force to take your beath away before you can continue on. This is where Hubert and Van’t Hoff met their demise, and the problems will continue as the drivers will make demands for changes. Finally, Spa is famous for one more thing: weather. It can be clear at one end of the circuit, and it could be a deluge in another. However, if it is dry, it is a great challenge for the drivers considering the dangers involved.
And this is what the drivers will have to endure this weekend. And to top it off, there is a sprint race involved in addition to the feature race on Sunday. As expected, it won’t be easy for the drivers there.
By Mark Gero