F1: The magic of Spa-Francorchamps
How do you even begin to describe the beauty of Spa-Francorchamps? It is home to the Belgian Grand Prix and has history undulating on every slope, with straights that have witnessed ferocious battles and curves that flow to a magical rhythm.
Like all epics, it is long and challenging, but extremely satisfying and rewarding at the end. It is thrillingly fast, an old-school track that has a legitimate claim to being the greatest circuit of all-time whenever a discussion about the subject is broached.
It is aesthetically pleasing, cradled by coniferous foliage which lends its own character to the longest Formula 1 track of the calendar. Not for nothing is Spa a fan and driver favourite.
The only certainty of Spa-Francorchamps is the uncertainty of its weather. At one point in time, it had rained at the Belgian Grand Prix for 20 consecutive years on race day. Spitting rain, pounding rain, passing rain, but rain nonetheless.
The clouds of the Ardennes mountains also do their bit to try and spice up the Grand Prix. They play hide and seek - drivers often report a stretch of tarmac to be slippery while the pit-crew radars report the opposite.
The circuit is a driver favourite, with elevation changes that need complete car control, difficult sections that test the mettle of the drivers and overtaking opportunities that present themselves at frequent intervals.
It is the circuit remembered for Mika Hakkinen’s stunning pass of Michael Schumacher using the backmarker Ricardo Zonta of BAR-Honda and for the multiple car crash-pile in the splashing downpour of 1998.
It is the circuit where Fernando Alonso’s superlative 2012 campaign took a tragic turn, where Kimi Raikkonen has the most wins of his cool career (4), and where Ayrton Senna jumped out of his car, ran and saved Erik Comas’s life as he sat motionless in his Ligier after a heavy crash into the guard rails. The track is littered with Formula 1 stories.
First commissioned in 1925, it is an evergreen, challenging classic with legendary corners like Pouhon, the high-speed left-hand turn - Blanchimont, the Kemmel straight, and of course the Eau Rogue- Radillon - the most instantly recognisable corner in the sport about which double world champion Fernando Alonso once said:
“You come into the corner downhill, have a sudden change [of direction] at the bottom and then go very steep uphill. From the cockpit, you cannot see the exit and as you come over the crest, you don't know where you will land.
"It is a crucial corner for the timed lap, and also in the race, because you have a long uphill straight afterwards where you can lose a lot of time if you make a mistake. But it is also an important corner for the driver's feeling. It makes a special impression every lap, because you also have a compression in your body as you go through the bottom of the corner. It is very strange – but good fun as well”.
Most wins by a driver: Michael Schumacher (6)
Most wins by a constructor: Ferrari (17)
Circuit Length: 7.004 km