After a month-long summer break, Formula One reconvenes this weekend at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix. The track, at just over 7 kilometers long, is steeped in history – having first hosted a Grand Prix in 1925 – and is one of the few “classics” on the calendar, an old style circuit that rewards commitment and skill and around which only the best succeed. Cutting through forests and rolling up hills and down into valleys, the circuit is a firm favourite of fans and drivers alike. Here we look at some stats and take you on a flying lap of the epic track.
Laps – 44
Track length – 7.004 km
Race first held – 1925
Most wins – Michael Schumacher (1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002)
2012 pole position – Jenson Button 1:47.573
2012 race winner – Jenson Button
2012 fastest lap – Bruno Senna 1:52.822
Flying lap of Spa-Francorchamps
A good exit out of the excruciatingly slow final chicane, getting on the throttle early but feathering it to avoid too much wheelspin, is crucial to build up as much speed as you can on the short blast down the start-finish straight to La Source, a tight second gear hairpin.
Entry speed can be sacrificed here but it is critical to get on the power early and get a tidy exit as you head down towards the legendary Eau Rouge. The corner, part of motor-racing folklore, has been reprofiled in recent years and is not as challenging as it used to be.
But even though Eau Rouge is “easy-flat” in a modern day Formula One car, it is taken at over 300 kilometers an hour and getting the racing line just right as you jink left before immediately turning right up the hill and then left again at the crest into Raidillon is absolutely crucial as that will determine how much you load the car up. You want to keep the steering wheel as straight as possible and avoid scrubbing off too much speed as you carry that momentum on to the long Kemmel straight.
Scrub off too much speed through Eau Rouge and you will be a sitting duck for the car behind, losing time all the way as you head up the long run to the Les Combes corner.
You need to get the braking absolutely right for this third-gear right-left corner as, if you brake too late, you’re going to miss the first apex which will cost you important tenths and compromise the speed you carry through the corner.
Les Combes marks the start of the second sector of the lap made up of medium and high speed corners where cars generating good downforce, like the Red Bull, will shine.
A quick right hander follows immediately as you exit Les Combes. Dab on the brakes slightly, shift down a gear, get on the power before the apex and you swing onto the short run down to Rivage. It’s very easy to lock up as you brake downhill into this long, second-gear right-hander and you have to be patient on the throttle otherwise you will end up running wide and having to come off the power to get the car to turn in again.
A quick left-hander at Malmedy follows where, again, it’s important to use the throttle all the way around the corner so you carry enough speed on the run to the high-speed Pouhon. With Eau Rouge easy flat these days, Pouhon is now the most challenging corner at Spa.
Taken in fifth gear at over 250 kilometers an hour, there is only the one line through this double-apex corner and precision, especially on turn in, is key. Turn in too early and Pouhon will spit you out over the exit kerb mid-corner. Turn in too late and you seriously compromise your entry speed as you fight the understeer that kicks in.
After Pouhon you head into Fagnes, a right-left section for which you brake late, third gear on entry, late turn in, before shifting up to fourth as you change direction. Swing over to the left hand side of the track once you exit Fagnes to take your line for Stavelot, a third-gear right hander, followed by another right hander through which you lift only a tad bit before nailing it onto the long flat out stretch that takes you through the left-hander at Blanchimont and up to the extremely tight final chicane.
You have to brake hard into this corner from well over 300 kilometers an hour to about 70 kilometers an hour but without locking up; clip the kerb as you turn right, apply a burst of throttle mid-corner, dab on the brakes, flick the car left and ease the power back on as you turn onto the start-finish straight and accelerate across the finish line.
Images courtesy Octane Photographic