The Belgian Grand Prix has been part of the Formula One calendar since the championship’s inception in 1950, and this year the circuit de Spa-Francorchamps will host its forty-ninth race, with only Monza, Monaco and Silverstone having held more.
Three different locations have been the host venue of the Belgian Grand Prix throughout its history, which include the current Spa-Francorchamps (48), Zolder (10) and Nivelles (2).
The original circuit de Spa-Francorchamps was double the size we recognise today, a whopping 14.1km that ran through the Ardennes Forest and public roads around the towns of Spa and Francorchamps. Despite the fact it has been dramatically reduced in size however, it still remains the longest track on the F1 calendar at 7.004km.
The circuit features one of the most well-known and exciting corners on the F1 calendar – Eau Rouge. This fast uphill turn is always a challenge and one the drivers will relish being able to take flat-out once again this year.
Michael Schumacher has taken the most victories on Belgian soil with six wins, narrowly eclipsing Ayrton Senna with five, four of which were achieved in succession between 1988 and 1991. Not far behind those legendary names is Kimi Raikkonen, by far the most successful of the current drivers at the Spa-Francorchamps track with four victories, having taken a fifth of his F1 wins at the circuit.
The Scuderia Ferrari team is the most successful squad to compete in the Belgian race, with sixteen wins, just ahead of the McLaren F1 team who have fourteen.
This popular and legendary track is steeped in history, but here are a few interesting moments and facts from Belgian Grand Prix gone by:
Rather surprisingly perhaps, Spa is one of the few tracks that Fernando Alonso has yet to claim a victory at during his illustrious F1 career, but it is true. The Belgian Grand Prix has so far kept the mercurial Spaniard, who is usually considered the master of all challenges that come his way, at bay to date, having recorded five DNF’s amongst his eleven starts.
The McLaren-Honda driver has made in onto the lower steps of the podium on three occasions (in 2005, 2007 and 2013), but the top step has eluded him thus far, and it is unlikely that the double world champion will break that duck this year, though the rather unpredictable climate experienced in the Belgian countryside, can sometimes throw up a few surprises…so you never know!
Starting on pole does not necessarily guarantee victory at Spa, in fact of Michael Schumacher’s six victories there, only one was achieved from pole position. Similarly, Jim Clark’s four wins all came when starting lower than the top position on the grid.
Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna hold the record for most pole positions at Spa with four a piece. If Lewis Hamilton can take top spot this weekend however, he will equal that tally. The Brit is the only current driver to have taken more than one pole position in Belgium.
Just sixteen of the last forty-eight races at Spa have been won from pole, with the lowest start position of sixteenth place being the furthest back position to take victory. A feat accomplished by…
Yes you’ve guessed it, Michael Schumacher in 1995!
First lap pile up
The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix saw a first lap pile up like no other, which saw thirteen of the twenty-two cars that started the race see their hopes of a strong result that weekend, shattered in seconds!
It was raining heavily as the race began, with spray making visibility difficult for many of the drivers. Although they all managed to expertly negotiate the first corner, the tight proximity of the cars meant a slight error by any of them could create chaos.
And that is just what happened as David Coulthard lost control of his McLaren-Mercedes from fourth position, after clipping a drain cover, as the pack headed towards Eau Rouge. The hit sent him spinning wildly to the inside wall, the high-speed impact catapulting back onto the track and the oncoming pack.
With the view of many of the drivers unsighted, they were unable to avoid a collision with not only Coulthard but also each other, as one after the other they ploughed into the wreckage. Miraculously, despite some serious impacts and debris and tyres flying left, right and centre, no one was injured in the incident.
The race was immediately red flagged and although everyone involved rushed to collect spare cars for the re-start, it took over an hour to get back underway, and only eighteen machines made it back to the grid for the second attempt.
It was a nightmare scenario for many of the squads on that day, but not for the Jordan F1 team. Drivers Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher, who had been right behind Coulthard as he careered sideways off the track, were the only drivers to avoid any damage in the accident, and not only that they manged to come home in first and second place!
The race having re-started amidst the continuing heavy rain, saw car after car finding itself either off track, in the barriers or connecting with another driver, including race leader Michael Schumacher who collided with Coulthard whilst trying to lap the Scot, gifting Hill the win, with only eight drivers eventually making it the end of the race.
I think I’ll pass…
Some truly spectacular passes have produced some iconic moments at Spa, the pass Mika Hakkinen made on Schumacher whilst also negotiating a backmarker at the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, Hamilton and Raikkonen’s battle in 2008, and Mark Webber‘s pass on Alonso at Eau Rouge in 2011 showing plenty of trust and even more bottle from the Aussie great!
There are plenty of overtaking opportunities at this circuit which is still considered an ultimate test of a driver’s ability, allowing numerous chances for more iconic moments to be forged this weekend.
Not a home favourite
No Belgian driver has every managed to win his home grand prix, though Jacky Ickx and Thierry Boutsen gave it a good try, of the twenty that have started a race. The aforementioned two were the country’s most successful racers, with Ickx coming out on top, amassing eight grand prix wins during his career, compared to Boutsen’s three.
Ickx did manage to make it onto the podium when he took third place at the 1968 event whilst driving for Ferrari, with Boutsen’s best result a fourth place at both the 1989 and 1990 grand prix.
There are no Belgian drivers currently making up the F1 grid, although Max Verstappen was born there, but chose to race under the Dutch flag, emulating his father Jos.
Stoffel Vandoorne is the country’s next upcoming talent and could wave the flag for Belgium in 2017. The McLaren protégé has already proved his credentials by scoring the Woking based squad’s first point of the season in Bahrain, when standing in for an injured Alonso. Will we see the 24-year-old racing next year? It is a question on everyone’s lips…and if we do, with which team will it be?
The 2016 Race weekend
Going into the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix this weekend, Mercedes AMG PETRONAS driver Hamilton leads the way in the championship from team-mate Nico Rosberg following the lengthy summer break. Will the time out have blown away enough cobwebs to see the German bring a rejuvenated fight to his British team-mate? Or will it just be business as usual for the Brackley based squad’s drivers?
Prior to the summer holiday Red Bull Racing had stolen a charge on rivals Ferrari, but will that edge still be apparent in Spa? Can the Williams Martini Racing team improve on their lack lustre early season performance and begin to pose a real threat once again to the front runners?
Who will have made the most of their time off, and come out all guns blazing? As always a great spectacle awaits us…