The summer break is finally over, and to celebrate Formula 1 is treating its drivers to a Spa weekend. This isn’t any ordinary spa weekend though. Here, treatments include 200mph straights, flat-out corners and a track so long that different corners can have different weather conditions.
Welcome to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
At 4.352 miles, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is the longest on the Formula 1 calendar, and with a total elevation change of 102.2 metres, it’s also the most undulating.
It’s also one of the most fearsome.
Spa is often regarded as a true driver’s track, and one of a dying breed. With little to no run-off, devastating climbs and some of the most notorious corners in the whole of motorsport, this certainly isn’t another Tilkedrome. Anyone who makes a mistake at Spa knows about it, and knows about it quickly.
One of the most memorable examples of this was in 1998, when David Coulthard lost control of his car on the exit of the first corner and hit the wall. His crash took out a further eleven drivers.
Just last year we witnessed Kevin Magnussen fall foul of Eau Rouge; losing it at the top of the 35 metre incline, Magnussen speared across the track and into a tyre barrier with such force that it ripped the headrest from his car.
Spa is a track where anything can, and will, happen, and is a fitting return for the sport following its summer break.
Max Verstappen and a Sold-Out Spa
Belgium shares borders with France, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and with no races scheduled to take place in any of those countries this year, it’s become a somewhat adopted home track.
Fans are flocking to Spa this year, with the track expecting crowds of up to 250,000. Stoffel Vandoorne will be the first Belgian driver to compete in the Belgian Grand Prix since Jerome d’Ambrosio in 2012, whilst Dutchman Max Verstappen is being credited with helping to sell out the seats. The prospect of catching a Red Bull flying up Eau Rouge is too much to pass up for many Dutch Formula 1 fans.
Verstappen has never been one to shy away from creating headlines at Spa. In his rookie year in 2015 he made a legendary overtake on Felipe Nasr – driving around the outside of him on the 200 mph, flat-out Blanchimont.
The story would be much different the next year though, as 2016 saw Verstappen have a collision with both Scuderia Ferrari drivers in the first turn. He took this personally, and sought out revenge at every opportunity.
The ensuing race saw Verstappen make some questionable, though ultimately clean, moves on Kimi Raikkonen, with the two taking to team radio to lambast each others’ driving.
Will we see more of that this year? I certainly hope so.
How’s the Championship Looking?
Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team entered the summer break in the lead, though on the back foot. Drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were both bested by Scuderia Ferrari at the Hungarian Grand Prix, with the pair taking third and fourth. Nevertheless, Mercedes resume the season with a thirty nine point lead.
Scuderia Ferrari sit second in the Constructors’ Championship, though their driver Sebastian Vettel currently occupies the top spot in the Driver’s Championship. Vettel has a fourteen point lead over Hamilton, but an eighty eight point lead over teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Red Bull Racing are third in the Constructors’, some 134 points behind Ferrari. Their championship hopes have been hindered by a total of eight non-finishes – the same number as the considerably worse-off McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team. Drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen are fourth and sixth in the championship respectively.
Perhaps one of the most surprising revelations this year has been the Sahara Force India F1 Team. They’re fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, and to date have only had one retirement this season. That, along with Mercedes, is the lowest of any team so far this year.
Williams Martini Racing have had a mixed year thus far, with rookie Lance Stroll still getting up to speed. His third-place finish in Baku, along with teammate Felipe Massa’s consistency, has helped the team to clinch fifth place coming out of the break.
Scuderia Toro Rosso will be hoping that torpedo Daniil Kvyat can keep it clean in the notoriously tricky first corner, as he faces a one-race ban for any more infringements. Both he and Carlos Sainz Jr. have helped the team accrue thirty nine points this season, putting the team into sixth.
Both Haas F1 Team drivers have a history of immense crashes at Spa. Romain Grosjean caused a multi-car shunt in 2012 that saw him pick up an immediate one-race ban, whilst Magnussen was the victim of the crash seen above. Haas will be hoping they can both keep it out of the barriers this weekend, as they have just a three point lead over eighth place.
Renault Sport Formula 1 Team have Nico Hulkenberg to thank for their points tally this season, with perpetually luckless Jolyon Palmer unfortunately unable to score points this season so far. The Brit will be hoping to pick up his first points this weekend – especially with Renault’s test with Robert Kubica having gone so well.
The McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team had an incredible Hungarian Grand Prix, with both drivers scoring points for the first time this season. Fernando Alonso’s sixth place (and fastest lap), along with Stoffel Vandoorne’s tenth place, was enough to bring the team up to ninth in the Constructors’.
Sauber F1 Team are at the bottom of the table on just five points – all of which have been contributed by Pascal Wehrlein.
Should you watch it?
The Belgian Grand Prix takes no prisoners. It’s a track that demands as much of the cars as it does of the drivers, and the slightest lapse in concentration can see a driver’s race come to an immediate end. It’s also open to the elements, with rain featuring very regularly and always making it interesting.
With the British Grand Prix under threat and tracks with miles of run-off and no gravel becoming more commonplace, Spa offers drivers and fans alike the chance to see real racing once more. The question isn’t should you watch it – the real question is how could you not?