x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Spa-Francorchamps: a circuit which is full of history

Formula One drivers love Spa-Francorchamps. The venue for this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix is almost everyone's favourite race track.

When you do crash in Belgium it tends to be a big impact, as was the case of Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren-Mercedes during last year's race at Spa-Francorchamps.
When you do crash in Belgium it tends to be a big impact, as was the case of Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren-Mercedes during last year's race at Spa-Francorchamps.

Formula One drivers love Spa-Francorchamps. The venue for this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix is almost everyone's favourite race track. "I don't think there's a driver on the grid who doesn't look forward it," said Mark Webber, the Red Bull-Renault driver who leads the world championship points standings. The circuit might cut a shorter swathe through the Ardennes Forest than it used to, but the modern circuit retains the fast, challenging characteristics of its distinguished predecessor.

Motorsport's pioneers competed in events that ran from city to city on the public highway, but it was in southern Belgium that the sport began to take the form we know today. From 1902 until 1907, the Circuit des Ardennes was an annual event on sweeping, tree-lined roads, but competitors started and finished in the same place. The sport returned to the region in the early 1920s, on a 15-kilometre road circuit that linked a series of villages close to the town of Spa. Within a couple of years, however, the circuit became established and several parts of that original layout remain in use today.

As the sport became more technologically advanced, speeds escalated and drivers came to regard Spa's many natural hazards as too dangerous. The 1969 Belgian Grand Prix was cancelled when drivers boycotted the circuit on safety grounds. There were more guardrails in place when they returned the following year, but the Mexican driver Pedro Rodriguez's winning average speed - 241.308kph - underlined the circuit's nature, and there were still things to hit.

Never again would the full Spa circuit host the Belgian race. The grand prix finally returned in 1983, a state of affairs that has been permanent since 1985 (although the race has twice been dropped for political reasons). Red Bull, the winners of six of this season's first 12 races, should be a factor this weekend - the quick, sweeping curves suit the RB6 chassis's renowned aerodynamic balance - but the circuit's long, uphill straights favour the top-end performance of McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari.

Following controversy over the eligibility of Red Bull's front wing - which some rival teams believe to be too flexible, an aerodynamic benefit at speed - the FIA, the sport's governing body is expected to introduce more stringent technical checks this weekend. Red Bull are confident, however, that they will pass. sports@thenational.ae