Spa Francorchamps: The Ultimate Track Guide

Situated in the heart of the Ardennes Forest, the ferocious Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is one of Formula 1’s legendary tracks. The longest circuit on the calendar, with its own micro-climate and massive elevation changes, means the Belgian Grand Prix is always unpredictable.


FIRST F1 RACE 1950
TRACK LENGTH 4.352 miles
NUMBER OF LAPS 44
NUMBER OF TURNS 19
MOST POLES Lewis Hamilton (5)
MOST WINS Michael Schumacher (6)

Spa-Francorchamps is one of the original racing circuits, as racing moved from city to city races to racing around circuits. The original nine mile circuit linked the towns of Malmedy, Stavelot and Francorchamps in a triangular shaped course. The track, which incorporated public roads, was designed in 1920 by Jules de Thier and Henri Langlois Van Ophem and held its first race soon after. For the first years of its existence, the track held only motorcycle races, until – following the success of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race – Spa held its own day long race for cars.

The first Belgian Grand Prix was held in 1925, and was won by Antonio Ascari, the father of future Formula One World Champion Alberto Ascari. Further Grands Prix were held here from 1930 onwards, with the iconic Radillion and Eau Rouge corners being added to the track in 1939. The 1939 race itself was held in treacherous conditions, and led to the death of Richard Seamen, who crashed out from the lead. The 1939 event was the last held before the onslaught of World War II. The area around the circuit played a role in the war. The Battle of the Bulge, which was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front, took place in the Ardennes forest. The battle saw over 20,000 deaths, including around 3,000 cilvilians.

Racing returned to Spa in 1947 on a slightly alternated track, which saw the average speed increase. The track held a round of the inaugural F1 World Championship in 1950, and hosted the Belgian Grand Prix annually each year until 1957, when the Suez Crisis and the increased price of fuel led to a lack of funds for the race to be held. For 1958, the race returned with a resurfaced track and some new facilities – though the dangerous nature of the circuit was noted by drivers and fans alike. After a year off in 1959, the Belgian Grand Prix returned once again in 1960, but it was to be one of the darkest weekends in Formula One’s history. Stirling Moss suffered one of the worst crashes of his career during practice, which would put him out of action for much of the rest of the year. Mike Taylor then suffered a career-ending accident, as he crashed into the trees. Two drivers suffered fatal accidents during the Grand Prix itself – Chris Bristow, whose lack of experience saw him crash into an embankment and suffer fatal injuries and Alan Stacey, who was hit in the face by a bird in the same area of track just five laps later. The incident caused him to lose control of his car, and he crashed into a field 25 feet lower than the track. The Grand Prix continued despite the incidents and Jack Brabham eventually took the win.

No change was made to the track following the crashes, with the race continuing without serious injuries for the next years. Jim Clark won the race four years in a row between 1962 and 1965, despite being terrified of the track after witnessing the aftermath of Bristow’s accident. Some safety barriers were added in 1963, but this did little to appease the drivers. Jackie Stewart’s crash in the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix saw the start of a drivers revolt for more safety. Stewart suffered a huge accident at the Masta Kink – one of the legendary sections of the old track. The Scottish driver survived the impact of travelling through a hut and hitting a telegraph pole, but was trapped in his fuel soaked car for over half an hour. His situation was helped only by two fellow drivers who had to take spanners from spectators in order to help him escape his precarious predicament. The following year, still with no changes to the track’s safety, Mike Parkes had a career-ending crash which left him in a coma for a week. In 1968, Bruce McLaren took the first ever victory for McLaren but there was further trouble. Brian Redman crashed into a stationary car, which caused him serious injuries.

By 1969, the drivers had finally had enough. Jackie Stewart visited the track and campaigned for better safety ahead of that year’s event, but the organisers were not willing to pay for the work to be carried out. The race was cancelled due to this. For one final time in 1970, F1 took to the full 14km track, with added barriers and a chicane designed to slow the cars down. The situation was untenable though, and the cars had simply become too fast for the track. The Belgian Grand Prix relocated to Nivelles and Zolder, with the latter hosting the majority of Belgian Grands Prix in the 1970s.
Formula One eventually returned to Spa in 1983. The track had undergone a major overhaul, which saw the length of the course shorted to 4.3 miles. The circuit had better internal access in case of emergencies, and also kept some of the iconic corners from the old layout. The first race was a success, and the track was well received by drivers and fans. After one last visit to Zolder in 1984, Spa-Francorchamps became the permanent home of the Belgian Grand Prix in 1985.

The 1985 event wasn’t without controversy, though, as the newly laid track surface began to break up after Second Practice, leading to the abandonment of the rest of the race weekend. The Grand Prix was eventually re-scheduled for three months later. Ayrton Senna won four races in a row at Spa between 1988 and 1991. Following Senna’s fatal accident at the Imola track in 1994, and also as a result of Alex Zanardi’s huge accident here in 1993, a chicane was added at the bottom of the Eau Rouge complex. The chicane was then removed ahead of the 1995 race. The racing continued at Spa with some memorable and highly dramatic moments in the late nineties. Up until 2000, parts of the circuit remained public roads, though the circuit is now a fully permanent facility.

As a result of tobacco advertising being banned in F1 due to European law, the 2003 race was left off the calendar, but the sport soon returned to Belgium in 2004. The track had changed slightly, with the bus stop chicane toward the end of the track being revised. In 2006, renovation work led to the race being taken off the final calendar, as it wouldn’t be ready in time due to the event organisers going bankrupt. The race returned in 2007, with thanks to funding from the Wallonia government, and hasn’t been off the calendar since. For 2007, there was a new pit-lane and paddock complex with the final turn and the first hairpin being moved slightly to allow extra room for the new facilities.

It was announced in June 2018 that the circuit would remain the host of the Belgian Grand Prix until at least 2021.


🇧🇪 2019 RACE RECAP

A sombre weekend at Spa Francorchamps saw Charles Leclerc take his maiden Formula 1 victory.

A rare mistake for Lewis Hamilton saw him crash out in Free Practice 3; but his car was repaired in time for qualifying. There were two engines failures in the qualifying hour – Robert Kubica pulled over with smoke billowing from his Williams, while Antonio Giovinazzi came to a halt with similar issues. Charles Leclerc took the third pole position of his career, with team-mate Sebastian Vettel over seven tenths slower alongside him on the front row. Following qualifying, Anthoine Hubert died as a result of injuries sustained in the Formula 2 Feature Race. Tributes were paid to the Frenchman ahead of the Grand Prix with a minutes silence. At the race start, Leclerc maintained his lead into Turn 1, as Max Verstappen collided with Kimi Raikkonen, ending the Red Bull driver’s de facto home race. Hamilton had made it past Vettel on the first lap, but the Ferrari driver re-took the position at the end of the Kemmel Straight. It took until Lap 32 for Hamilton to overtake Vettel once again. With Vettel cleared, Hamilton began to close in on race leader Leclerc; but his charge came to a premature end, as a heavy crash for Antonio Giovinazzi brought out the yellow flags. Leclerc claimed his first victory ahead of Vettel, dedicating his win to Hubert. Valtteri Bottas completed the podium. Lando Norris was on course for a fifth place finish, but an engine failure just before the finish line saw him classified only eleventh. With an engine penalty in his first race with Red Bull, Alex Albon diced through the field, even pulling off an impressive overtake on Daniel Ricciardo, leading him to an eventual fifth place finish.


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FAST FACTS

  • It takes around 22 seconds to drive through the pits here.
  • There is an 80% chance of a Safety Car during the Belgian Grand Prix. The 1997 Belgian Grand Prix was the first time that a Formula One race began under a safety car.
  • In the early days of F1, the field was smaller for this Grand Prix than it was at others due to the track’s reputation. Some drivers did not like racing at the track and many, including Jim Clark, feared the track.
  • 214mph is the highest speed achieved here, on the run to Turn Five.
  • Michael Schumacher, who made his F1 début at Spa, has the most number of wins here with six.
  • 60% of the lap is spent on full throttle.
  • Although the track is named ‘Spa-Francorchamps’, the track is not actually situated in Spa but rather in the vicinity of Francorchamps. The entire track is situated within the municipality of Stavelot – which is, of course, the name of Turn 15.
  • In the race, the drivers will perform 2112 gear changes each. There are 49 gear changes around a lap of Spa.
  • The average speed of a lap of Spa is 146mph – one of the fastest on the calendar.
  • The run to the La Source hairpin, the first corner, from the grid is the shortest of the season, hence why there’s usually first corner contact.
  • The track is the longest of the season, but has the lowest capacity, with 70,000 spectators able to attend on race day.
  • Spa is known for its unpredictability. At one point there was a string of 20 Belgian Grands Prix which were affected by rain.

🇧🇪 SPA GRAND PRIX WINNERS AND POLESITTERS

YearPolesitterTeam On PoleWinnerWinning Team
1950Nino FarinaAlfa RomeoJuan Manuel FangioAlfa Romeo
1951Juan Manuel FangioAlfa RomeoGiuseppe FarinaAlfa Romeo
1952Alberto AscariFerrariAlberto AscariFerrari
1953Juan Manuel FangioMaseratiAlberto AscariFerrari
1954Juan Manuel FangioMaseratiJuan Manuel FangioMaserati
1955Eugenio CastellottiLanciaJuan Manuel FangioMercedes
1956Juan Manuel FangioFerrariPeter CollinsFerrari
1958Mike HawthornFerrariTony BrooksVanwall
1960Jack BrabhamCooperJack BrabhamCooper
1961Phil HillFerrariPhil HillFerrari
1962Graham HillBRMJim ClarkLotus
1963Graham HillBRMJim ClarkLotus
1964Dan GurneyBrabhamJim ClarkLotus
1965Graham HillBRMJim ClarkLotus
1966John SurteesFerrariJohn SurteesFerrari
1967Jim ClarkLotusDan GurneyEagle
1968Chris AmonFerrariBruce McLarenMcLaren
1970Jackie StewartMarchPedro RodríguezBRM
1983Alain ProstRenaultAlain ProstRenault
1985Alain ProstMcLarenAyrton SennaLotus
1986Nelson PiquetWilliamsNigel MansellWilliams
1987Nigel MansellWilliamsAlain ProstMcLaren
1988Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1989Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1990Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1991Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1992Nigel MansellWilliamsMichael SchumacherBenetton
1993Alain ProstWilliamsDamon HillWilliams
1994Rubens BarrichelloJordanDamon HillWilliams
1995Gerhard BergerFerrariMichael SchumacherBenetton
1996Jacques VilleneuveWilliamsMichael SchumacherFerrari
1997Jacques VilleneuveWilliamsMichael SchumacherFerrari
1998Mika HäkkinenMcLarenDamon HillJordan
1999Mika HäkkinenMcLarenDavid CoulthardMcLaren
2000Mika HäkkinenMcLarenMika HäkkinenMcLaren
2001Juan Pablo MontoyaWilliamsMichael SchumacherFerrari
2002Michael SchumacherFerrariMichael SchumacherFerrari
2004Jarno TrulliRenaultKimi RäikkönenMcLaren
2005Juan Pablo MontoyaMcLarenKimi RäikkönenMcLaren
2007Kimi RäikkönenFerrariKimi RäikkönenFerrari
2008Lewis HamiltonMcLarenFelipe MassaFerrari
2009Giancarlo FisichellaForce IndiaKimi RäikkönenFerrari
2010Mark WebberRed BullLewis HamiltonMcLaren
2011Sebastian VettelRed BullSebastian VettelRed Bull
2012Jenson ButtonMcLarenJenson ButtonMcLaren
2013Lewis HamiltonMercedesSebastian VettelRed Bull
2014Nico RosbergMercedesDaniel RicciardoRed Bull
2015Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2016Nico RosbergMercedesNico RosbergMercedes
2017Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2018Lewis HamiltonMercedesSebastian VettelFerrari
2019Charles LeclercFerrariCharles LeclercFerrari