Belgian Grand Prix 2014: 10 Key Facts About Spa-Francorchamps
After a month-long break, Formula One is back! Even better, the first race after the summer break is the fan—and driver—favourite Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
La Source, Eau Rouge, Les Combes, Blanchimont—Spa has plenty of exciting corners that push the drivers to the limit. And with the new cars providing more power and less downforce than in previous years, no one is quite sure what to expect. The only thing we do know is that it should be a great show.
Here are 10 key facts about the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps to help get you ready for the race.
Another Neutered Classic
Like Hockenheim and the Nurburgring, Spa used to be a much longer track. Although the Belgian Grand Prix has been held at Spa on-and-off since 1925, the classic configuration (seen above) was not used until 1947.
That layout was just over 14 kilometres long and a lap took more than three minutes to complete. It was a very fast circuit and, by the late 1960s, too dangerous.
In 1969, the drivers boycotted the race, and after 1970, the Belgian Grand Prix moved to Nivelles and Zolder until 1983. That season, Spa returned in revised form. The new lap was approximately half the length of the original, but, unlike the two German tracks, the redesigned Spa managed to retain the high-speed, challenging nature of the original.
At 7.004 kilometres in length, even the revised Spa is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar.
The Ultimate Driver's Circuit
Because of its numerous high-speed corners, even the redesigned Spa has a reputation as the ultimate test for drivers. Nearly every driver used the word "love" or "best" in the preview quotes collected by the official F1 website for this year's race.
With the drivers at or near the limit on so many corners, Sauber's head of track engineering Giampaolo Dall'Ara said, "the circuit is one of those where brave driving can still shave a few tenths off the lap times," in the team's race preview.
Location, Location, Location
Despite being ubiquitously referred to as Spa, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is actually within a triangle formed by the towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot. Spa is slightly to the northwest.
The circuit is located in eastern Belgium, in the Ardennes forest, near the German border. Liege is the closest large city, about 35 kilometres to the northwest of the track.
Rain is never far from the mind at the Belgian Grand Prix. The circuit's location in the Ardennes means that rain showers can spring up almost out of nowhere, and the track's length means that it can be raining in one section and dry elsewhere.
There has not been a completely dry race weekend in Belgium since 2007. Don't expect this year to buck that trend, with the BBC's weather forecast currently calling for rain on Saturday.
Most Successful Drivers and Teams
Unsurprisingly, Michael Schumacher holds the record with six victories at Spa. Next on the list is Ayrton Senna, who won the race five times between 1985 and 1991. Meanwhile, Jim Clark won four straight races on the old Spa layout from 1962 to 1965.
Of the current drivers, Kimi Raikkonen has the most victories, matching Clark's total. He last won at Spa in 2009, but based on his and Ferrari's current form, he looks unlikely to add to that total this year.
Sebastian Vettel is the only other multiple winner on the grid, taking the 2011 and 2013 Belgian Grands Prix.
Ferrari and McLaren are the most successful teams at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps with 12 victories each. Williams is next among the teams currently on the grid with three wins, while Red Bull has the aforementioned two from Vettel.
No Home Wins
A Belgian driver has never won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa or elsewhere. Jacky Ickx, the country's most successful driver, came closest, finishing third in 1968, 40 seconds behind the winner, Bruce McLaren.
In 1960, Olivier Gendebien also finished third, one lap off the pace. More recently, in 1988, Thierry Boutsen made it onto the bottom step of the podium as well, but was later disqualified for using illegal fuel.
There are no Belgian drivers on the grid this season, so that disappointing home record is not about to change.
Spa, the Original Spa
The village of Spa has been popular since at least the ninth century, per The Independent's Cathy Pryor, for the supposed healing properties of its water. Eventually, the small Belgian community became synonymous with healing waters, and now there are spas around the world, taking their name from the original.
According to the Belgium Tourist Office, Spa is also home to the oldest casino in the world, which began construction in 1763.
Eau Rouge Flat Out?
One of the great challenges of the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps has always been to take the Eau Rouge-Radillon left-right-left sequence without lifting off the throttle.
In recent years, with the increased downforce produced by the cars, this has became easier to do. This season, though, with the cars producing less downforce and more torque, the corner should once again prove a big challenge for the drivers.
In the Force India race preview, Sergio Perez said, "It will be interesting to see how these cars cope with Eau Rouge this year and whether we can still take it flat." Meanwhile, Sauber reserve driver Giedo van der Garde said, "I think Eau Rouge and Blanchimont will still be flat out," according to the Sauber website.
The Importance of Qualifying
On a circuit with plenty of overtaking opportunities, qualifying on pole is not essential. In the last 10 races at Spa, the winner has come from pole on just four occasions.
In 2004, Raikkonen won from 10th on the grid for the second victory of his career. However, Schumacher finished second in the race, clinching his seventh and final drivers' championship.
On the Chopping Block?
The Belgian Grand Prix is safe at least through 2015, but longtime F1 journalist Joe Saward reported last year that the race lost money in 2011 and 2012, and was expected to again in 2013. The government subsidizes the race organisers, but if the politicians ever lost interest, Spa could be in trouble.
The race was already cancelled in 2003 due to a ban on tobacco advertising and in 2006 for repairs and construction work to be completed on the circuit. Later, there was a tentative deal in place to alternate the French and Belgian Grands Prix each year, although that fell through.
When asked for the team's race preview how important races like Spa are for F1, Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi said:
In my opinion it is vital. These tracks are the lifeblood of F1. There wouldn’t be a tennis season without Wimbledon or a golf season without the Masters at Augusta. These circuits need to be maintained in F1 because the fans identify with them so much and they nearly always create excitement.
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