Spa of course takes its name from the healing waters that have been renowned for centuries. Salus per aquam – healthy by water – is what the ancient Romans used to say, having taken the concept of their famous baths even to the remotest outposts of the empire. That feeling of wellbeing and relaxation can be felt all around the Ardennes hills that surround the circuit, not far from Liege and the border with Germany and Luxembourg. But on the track at Spa, there’s little room for respite.
Spa-Francorchamps is a veritable circuit of champions. The list of previous winners says it all: four successes from Jim Clark, five wins from Ayrton Senna, and six wins courtesy of Michael Schumacher. But the 7.004 kilometres of the circuit also spell it out emphatically: the longest lap of the season as well as being the most difficult and varied. Analysing and interpreting it into some sort of technical sense, knowing exactly what to do and when behind the wheel – that’s the biggest challenge of all. With some rapid straights and a wide range of different corners, some of them with big lateral loads, the layout is unique and lends itself to a multiplicity of different race strategies: numerous attack and defence tactics, helped by the fact that – unlike many circuits – it’s possible to overtake more or less anywhere. The continual changes in elevation leads to some unparalleled views; with even the drivers aware of the dark greens of the forest contrasting with the blue of the sky. It’s not blue always, of course: in reality leaden skies and dark grey clouds are a constant risk, having formed a dramatic feature of several races at Spa in the past.