Spa-Francorchamps remains one of the iconic circuits on the Formula 1 calendar, even though its character has changed considerably over the years. The original layout was a 14.9-kilometre epic, made up of the public roads linking the towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot. The modern layout is half the length, at just over seven kilometres, but that still makes it the longest track visited by Formula 1 today. It’s also one of the most demanding, even with further modifications being introduced for 2022.
As well as being popular with the drivers, Spa’s combination of quick corners and flat-out sections helps to produce some great racing. The most famous part of the track, Eau Rouge and Raidillon, plays a central role with a quick run through the uphill left-right-left sequence being key to reaching top speed on the long Kemmel straight that follows: the best overtaking opportunity on the circuit.
The other thing Spa is famous for is its weather. The shortened 2021 race took that to extremes. But the scale of the circuit and the localised nature of the weather in the Ardennes region means it’s not uncommon for one part of the track to be completely wet and another to be totally dry.
Spa ranks highly among many drivers’ favourite circuits, and it’s easy to see why. Eau Rouge and Raidillon are evidence of the undulating, rollercoaster nature of the track, and the full lap subjects heavy forces on the tyres from just about every direction. Car setup is a tricky compromise as well between optimising straight-line speed and having as much downforce as possible in the corners.
Significant changes were made to Spa over the winter to improve safety, primarily to allow motorcycle racing to return. But they could also actually increase the challenge for Formula 1 drivers.
At Raidillon, the barriers on the left-hand side have been moved back to increase the run-off space and reduce the chance of errant cars rebounding onto the racing line. Elsewhere, such as at La Source, Les Combes and Pouhon, existing asphalt run-off areas have been partly or entirely replaced by gravel traps.
That should ensure a more natural deterrent against exceeding track limits, punish mistakes more harshly and make a perfect lap of the track even more rewarding for the drivers, returning some of the character that has made Spa so legendary.
The Ardennes region is known for skiing in the winter – Belgium’s only ski resort is not far from the Spa-Francorchamps circuit – while in the summer the most popular diversions are hiking and cycling. But at the end of August, it’s all about motor racing: bring an umbrella though, as good weather is far from guaranteed (as last year’s washout proved).
Spa-Francorchamps enjoys a somewhat isolated location, with the nearest big city being the bustling university town of Liege – but it’s not exactly next door. Instead, most race fans head towards the town of Spa itself, which certainly knows how to enjoy itself as the home to the oldest Casino in Europe. Belgium is all about beer, and during the grand prix weekend the bars and restaurants are always bustling: you won’t have to go far to find a good time. Or even a decent moules-frites, which is the country’s national dish. A particularly good example is served at L'Auberge in the Place Royale.
Other well-known villages in the area, which have given their names to different parts of the circuit, include Stavelot and Malmedy – each with their own unique character. Don't forget to visit the Spa-Francorchamps racing museum, surreally located in the abbey at Stavelot, and if you want a museum that’s a bit more quirky then the washing museum at Spa is clearly for you, complete with an unrivalled collection of vintage washing machines.
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