Set in 300 acres of forest in the beautiful Ardennes region of Belgium, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is one of F1®’s most challenging and historic race tracks. This year marks the 51st running of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
Fast, frightening and often fatally dangerous, the original 15km Spa-Francorchamps layout was the ultimate test of a driver’s skills and nerve. Using local public roads and featuring fast straights, sweeping corners and lots of elevation changes, the picturesque circuit was first used for Grand Prix racing in 1925. Juan Manuel Fangio won the first Belgian Grand Prix of the modern era at Spa-Francorchamps in 1950 and took two further wins in 1954-55. The circuit remained on the calendar through the 1960s, a period dominated by Jim Clark, but the writing was already on the wall for the original high-speed layout. A safety campaign launched by Jackie Stewart highlighted the safety shortcomings of the circuit, and the race was cancelled in 1969. The Belgian Grand Prix found new homes at Nivelles and Zolder in the 1970s before a safer 7km layout of Spa-Francorchamps was introduced in 1979. Formula 1® returned to the circuit in 1983, and Spa-Francorchamps has maintained a regular place on the calendar since.
With six wins between 1992-2002, Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver in the Belgium Grand Prix. Ayrton Senna triumphed five times at Spa-Francorchamps, including four victories in succession with McLaren-Honda from 1988-1991. On the current grid, Kimi Räikkönen is the most successful driver in Belgium with four wins. Lewis Hamilton has won three times at Spa-Francorchamps and Sebastian Vettel twice. The most successful constructor is Ferrari, which has taken the chequered flag sixteen times in Belgium.
A star is born
In 1991, Michael Schumacher was drafted into the Jordan team for the Belgian Grand Prix after regular driver Bertrand Gachot ended up in jail following an altercation with a London taxi driver. The young German qualified in a sensational seventh place and was quickly snapped up by rival team Benetton. One year later, Schumacher recorded his maiden Grand Prix win at the same circuit.
McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne is the only current F1® driver from Belgium, though Max Verstappen does have a strong local connection, having been born in Belgium to a Belgian mother! More than 20 Belgian drivers have completed in Formula 1® since the advent of the World Championship in 1950. The most successful was Jacky Ickx, who won eight races in the late 1960s and early 1970s for Ferrari and Brabham. Belgian’s only other race winner was Thierry Boutsen, a noted wet-weather specialist who won three races for Williams in 1989-1990.
- At 7.004km, Spa-Francorchamps is the longest circuit on the current Formula 1® calendar. Comprised of 9 left-hand corners and 10 right-hand corners, it also has the highest elevation change of any current circuit, with 102.2 metres between the lowest and highest points.
- Spa-Francorchamps is one of four current F1® tracks to have also featured on the inaugural 1950 World Championship calendar. The others are Monaco, Silverstone and Monza.
- Spa-Francorchamps features arguably the most famous corner in all of Formula 1®, Eau Rouge. Though technically a series of corners including Raidillon, this iconic section of Spa-Francorchamps features a downhill left-hand turn followed by a sharp uphill section and right-left combination with a blind summit that the best drivers take flat out.
- The Ardennes region, where Spa-Francorchamps is located, experiences the highest annual rainfall of anywhere in Belgium. At one stage, it rained at the Belgian Grand Prix for twenty years in a row.
- The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, which began under very wet conditions, is best remembered for a massive first-lap crash involving thirteen cars. Click here to watch the highlights.