Spa Circuit - a Mythical Place of World's Motorsport
Spa circuit, officially named Le Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, is one of the most famous racing circuits in the world. Located in Belgium, near the village of Francorchamps, designed and opened in the early 1920s as a fast, 15-km long road track, Spa-Francorchamps is one of the most recognizable, engaging and downright dangerous tracks in the world.
Most known as a Formula One Grand Prix circuit, the track is also hosting many other motorsport disciplines and racing series, including two famous endurance races – 6 hours or 1000 km of Spa for sports cars and 24 Hours of Spa for GT cars. The 24-hour race took part at Spa circuit for the first time in 1924, just a year after inaugural 24 hours of Le Mans.
The original track was the 15-km long triangle
Although the circuit is named Spa-Francorchamps, the race track is not in Spa but lies near the village of Francorchamps, completely within the boundaries of the municipality of Stavelot. The original race track was opened in 1921. The triangle-shaped track was a 14.9-km long and it used public roads between towns of Spa-Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot.
The idea came from Jules de Thier, owner of the Liege newspaper La Meuse, who was looking for a site to revive the La Meuse Cup, a car race which was held before World War I. Following a meeting with the Baron Joseph de Crawhez (mayor of Spa) and the racing driver Henri Langlois van Ophem, it was decided that the triangle between Spa-Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot is ideal for the racing circuit.
Motorcyclists opened the circuit in 1921
The inaugural car race was planned for August of 1921, but since there was only one contestant, the event was replaced by the motorcycle race. The cars came for the first time in 1922. The winner of the first Belgian Grand Prix, organized by the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium (RACB), was Baron de Tornaco-Bruyere in an Imperia-Abadal, with an average speed of 88.90 km/h.
In 1924, a first 24 Hours of Spa endurance race took place, just a year after a similar race on the similar race track was held in France, at Circuit de la Sarthe. In 1925, Spa-Francorchamps had its first Grand Prix race, at that time as a part of the European championship. The first Grand Prix winner was Antonio Ascari with Alfa Romeo. Sadly, after winning the Belgian race, Antonio Ascari (father of future star Alberto) was killed in his next race at the 1925 French Grand Prix.
Eau Rouge – Raidillon combination since 1939
The Grand Prix race returned to Spa-Francorchamps in 1930, after the circuit was modified for the first time, with a bypass at Malmedy chicane. The race was won by Louis Chiron. The Malmedy chicane was reinstalled in 1934. Some of the famous winners in the pre-World War II period were Tazio Nuvolari, Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang.
In 1939, the famous Raidillon corner was born. Prior to that, there was a U-turn called Ancienne Douane. The track was shortened to 14.5 kilometers. The combination two corners, the Eau Rouge and Raidillon, became one of the most famous and the most dangerous parts in all race tracks in the world. Unfortunately, the 1939 Grand Prix race had its fatal victim. It was a British driver Richard ‘Dick’ Seaman, who hit a tree at Clubhouse section and suffered fatal injuries in a burning Mercedes.
Circuit was modified after World War II
World War II stopped all racing activities. Race cars returned to the Spa-Francorchamps in 1947. The circuit was slightly modified, with bypassing the Malmedy chicane and cutting the turn near the Stavelot, so the whole circuit was shortened to 14.1 km. There were no more changes in the circuit length in the next 33 years.
In that period, Spa-Francorchamps proved to be the fastest track in Europe and certainly one of the most dangerous, according to fatality numbers. On of the reasons for many accidents were unpredictable weather conditions in that area.
Jacky Stewart started safety campaign after 1966 crash
In 1958, Archie Scott-Brown has killed in the same place where Seaman lost his life 19 years ago. In the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey fatally crashed within 15 minutes and Stirling Moss was severely injured after a crash at Burnenville turn during practice. Some other victims were Tony Hegbourne (1965), Eric de Keyn and Wil Loos (1967) and Leon Dernier (1969).
One of the milestone moments in a history of Spa-Francorchamps was Jackie Stewart’s crash at 1966 Grand Prix race when his BRM ended upside-down in the cellar of the farmhouse on the outside of Masta Kink corner. After that, Jackie Stewart became an active campaigner for greater attention to safety in general. In 1969, the drivers weren’t satisfied with the safety and they boycotted the race.
The current layout after major rebuilding project in 2007
Despite the changes and improvements, the circuit had much more victims in the following years , taking eight lives between 1971 and 1975. The solution came in 1979 when the circuit was converted to a permanent race track and shortened to 6.9 kilometers.
In the following years, the circuit was improving and changing, with an installation of the Bus Stop Corner, new pit facilities and new chicanes. In 1994, the chicane was inserted to the Eau Rouge, but next year it was moved. The Bus Stop area was modified few times and the current layout is constructed in 2007. It was a year of big improvements because Formula One dropped Belgian Grand Prix from 2006 calendar, so Wallonian government stepped in to finance 15-million Euro project of the radical rebuilding of the pit facilities for 2007 season. Since then, Spa-Francorchamps’ circuit, now 7,004 meters long, is again the regular venue of the Formula One races.
Sebastian Vettel and Henri Pescarolo were fastest at Spa
The record holder on the current track is Sebastien Vettel, who lapped around a track for 1 minute 47.263 seconds. He set the fastest time in 2009. Prior to that, Kimi Raikkonen made a lap record 1.45.108 on the slightly shorter track (6974m) in 2004.
On the original Spa circuit (14.9km) record holder was Hermann Lang with a lap time 5.04.1, while Henri Pescarolo was the fastest man on the 14.1-km configuration. In 1973, he drove a lap with Matra prototype for 3 minutes 13.4 seconds.
Unfortunately, some famous drivers were among fatal victims of Spa-Francorchamps. The most famous of all was Stefan Bellof, who was killed on September 1, 1985, during the 1000 km Spa race. In total, 48 drivers and four race officials lost their lives at Spa-Francorchamps. The last fatal accident happened in June 2013, in the Classic F3 race during Spa Summer Classic event.
Spa is one of four original F1 circuit still in calendar
The main racing events at Spa-Francorchamps are Formula One, 24 hours of Spa (as a part of the Blancpain GT Series) and 6 hours of Spa (as a part of the World Endurance Championship), but many other notable racing series in Europe has its event on the famous Belgian race track. In 2016, those competitions are European Le Mans Series, International GT Open, TCR International Series, Formula 3 European Championship, Formula V8 3,5, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup, British GT Championship…
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is one of the seven historic racing circuits included in the inaugural Formula One season in 1950. The other were Silverstone, Monte-Carlo, Indianapolis, Bremgarten, Reims-Gueux and Monza. Just four of them are still on the Formula One calendar.
Juan Manuel Fangio was the first F1 Grand Prix winner
The first winner of the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix was Juan Manuel Fangio. He won two more times in 1954 and 1955. Giuseppe Farina was the winner in 1951 while Alberto Ascari triumphed in 1952 and 1953.
The new names on the winners list were Peter Collins in 1956 and Tony Brooks in 1958. In 1957 and 1959, Spa wasn’t on the F1 calendar. Jack Brabham was the first winner in the 1960s, followed by Phil Hill, Jim Clark (4 times in a row), John Surtees, Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren. After 1969 boycott, Grand Prix race was organized one more time in 1970, with Pedro Rodriguez as the last winner on the old long circuit.
Michael Schumacher won six times at Spa Francorchamps
The F1 drivers’ association then declared that Spa-Francorchamps was too dangerous and impracticable, so Formula One returned in 1983 when the new circuit was already in use. The 1983 winner was Alain Prost. In 1984, Zolder was one more time a host of the Belgian Grand Prix, and since 1985 Spa-Francorchamps was the only host of the event.
Ayrton Senna recorded five wins, including four consecutive celebrations between 1988 and 1991. Nigel Mansell was the winner in 1986 and Alain Prost triumphed one more time, in 1987. In 1992, Michael Schumacher won for the first time. He added five more wins between 1995 and 2002, to become the all-time record holder with six victories. Damon Hill won three times, David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen celebrated one time each.
In 2003, the race was canceled because of the prohibition on tobacco advertising. In 2004, Kimi Raikkonen became the master of Spa circuit, winning four times between 2004 and 2009. Felipe Massa signed his name to the winners list in 2008. In recent years, winners were Lewis Hamilton (2010 and 2015), Sebastian Vettel (2011 and 2013), Jenson Button (2012) and Daniel Ricciardo (2014).
24 hours of Spa, just a year after inaugural Le Mans race
An another great race, 24 hours of Spa, was organized for the first time in 1924, by the same people who created the circuit, Jules de Thier and Henri Langlois Van Ophem. The first ever winners were Henri Springuel and Maurice Becquet in the Bignan 2L car. Until 1939, the most wins were achieved with Alfa Romeo cars.
After the World War II, the 23-hour race resumed in 1948, with a victory of John Horsfall and Leslie Johnson in the Aston Martin. The race was held just two more times before eleven years hiatus between 1953 and 1964. The winners in 1949 were Luigi Chinetti and Jean Lucas (Ferrari 166MM). In 1953, the race was for the only time part of the World Sportscar Championship. The winners were Giuseppe Farina and Mike Hawthorn, who were driving Ferrari 375MM.
In 1964, the 24 hours of Spa became the race for touring car and since 1966 it was included into the European Touring Car Championship. Some of the famous winners were Jacky Ickx and Hubert Hahne (1966, BMW 2000ti), Jochen Mass and Hans-Joachim Stuck (1972, Ford Capri RS 2600), Toine Hezemans and Dieter Quester (1973, BMW 3.0 CSL).
Eric van de Poele won five times in 24-hour race
In 1979, for the first time on the shortened circuit, the winners of the 24-hour race were Jean-Michel Martin and Philippe Martin, with Ford Capri 3.0S. In the following years, the race was mostly part of the European Touring Car Championship, one time part of the World Endurance Championship and one time part of the World Touring Car Championship.
Many famous drivers triumphed at Spa in that period, such were Tom Walkinshaw, Hans Heyer, Roberto Ravaglia, Gerhard Berger, Dieter Quester, Bernd Schneider, Johnny Cecotto, Christian Fittipaldi, Joachim Winkelhock… In 1992, Jean-Michel Martin was a record holder with four wins until 2008, when Eric van de Poele scored his fifth victory.
Since 2001, 24-hour race is for GT cars only
In 2000, the last race for touring cars was held, since 2001 the 24-hour race was the part of the FIA GT Championship. First winners in the GT cars era were Marc Duez, Jean-Philippe Belloc and Christophe Bouchut,with Larbre Competition’s Chrysler Viper GTS-R.
In 2004, Lilian Bryner became the first women to win 24 hours of Spa. She was driving Ferrari 550 Maranello for the BMS Scuderia Italia. In 2010, the race was a part of the FIA GT2 European Cup and since 2011 it was included in the calendar of the Blancpain GT Series.
First 1000-km race organized in 1966
The third big race at Spa, 1000 km of Spa or 6 hours of Spa, has its origins in the non-championship endurance race for sports cars which was organized for the first time in 1953. Olivier Gendebien had won, driving the Ferrari 166MM. In 1963, the 500-km race became the part of the World Sportscar Championship. Willy Mairese was the winner with Ferrari 250 GTO.
The first 1000-km race was held in 1966. The winners were Mike Parkes and Ludovico Scarfiotti with Ferrari 330 P3. In 1967 and 1968, Jacky Ickx won two times in a row, first time with Mirage M1-Ford and the second time with Ford GT40. His partners were Dick Thompson (1967) and Brian Redman (1968).
Brian Redman won two more times, as a co-driver of Jo Siffert in 1969 and 1970. They competed with Porsche 908LH and Porsche 917K. Redman’s fourth victory followed in 1972, with Arturo Merzario in the Ferrari 312PB.
Jacky Ickx was the most successful at Spa Francorchamps
The last winners of the 1000-km race at long Spa circuit were Henri Pescarolo and Derek Bell in 1975, with Alfa Romeo 33TT12. After a new shortened circuit was opened, the 1000-km race was organized again in 1982. Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass were the winners in 1982 and 1983, driving the Porsche 956, so Ickx increased the number of his wins to record holding five!
Ickx was one of two drivers who won both on the old and new circuit. The other was Derek Bell, who won on the new circuit in 1984, alongside Stefan Bellof. In the 1985 race, Bellof lost his life in an accident at Eau Rouge corner, after his car collided with Ickx’s car.
1000-km race was revived in 2003
During the 1980s, Mauro Baldi recorded three wins at Spa. In 1989 and 1990, the race was shortened to 300 miles (480 km). Between 1991 and 1998, no races were organized. In 1999, sports cars returned to Spa, but in the shorter format of two and a half hours race (about 450 km). In 2003, the distance was again 1000 km and the winners were Tom Kristensen and Seiji Ara in Audi R8.
In 2004, the race became the part of the Le Mans Endurance Series and finally, since 2012, it was a part of the World Endurance Championship. Current format is a 6-hour race. In that time the distance of the fastest cars is between 1100 and 1200 km. The record was set in 2015, when the Audi R18 e-tron quattro, driven by Benoit Treluyer, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler, ran the distance of 1232 km.
Must-to-come place for every driver and racing fan
All in all, famous names, impressive numbers and never forgotten victims are proof that Spa-Francorchamps circuit is a true mythical place of the world’s motorsport and a must-visit place for every racing driver or fan.
YoutTube Video : Onboard lap with Sebastian Vettel
Address: Le Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Route du Circuit 55, 4970 Francorchamps
Phone: +32 (0)87 29 37 00
Official Website: www.spa-francorchamps.be