Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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This weekend, Formula One returns to the legendary Spa-Franchorchamps circuit which hosts the Belgian Grand Prix, round 13 of the 2018 World Championship Season.

The Spa race track is one of the most challenging and famous race tracks in the world. Next to the F1 Grand Prix, it hosts the Spa 24 Hours and the 1000 km Spa endurance races. It is also home to the all Volkswagen club event, 25 Hours of Spa and to other races of various GT, sports car and junior single-seater categories.

The Spa region has held 73 Grand Prix races so far since 1925 and was the fifth round of the inaugural Formula One Championship season in 1950. Since then, this stunning location has been a fixture on the race calendar with only a handful of interruptions. The field has missed the venue only six times, more recently in 2006. The first ever race of Spa in 1925 was held by Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Ascari, the father of the famous double world champion Alberto Ascari while the first ever championship race in 1950 saw the domination of Alfa Romeo’s Juan Manuel Fangio.

History

The Spa-Francorchamps race track was designed by the chevalier Jules de Thier in 1920 who wanted to revive the La Meuse Cup, a car race which was run before the World War One. The site for the circuit was marked in a triangle formed by the routes 32, 23 and 440 connecting Spa-Francorchamps to Malmedy and Stavelot.

The first race was cancelled because there was only one entrant. The next event which became the first ever race on the 15.820km long track was visited by 23 motorbikes.

In 1922, the Royal Automobile Club of Beligum organized the first ever race for cars on the track which was an endurance race. The first ever GP was held in 1925 which was won by Alfa Romeo’s Alberto Ascari.

Three years later, tarmac was laid down to avoid stones being thrown up. 1939 saw a big change in the layout of the track. The old Customs bend was removed and replaced by the high-speed turn baptised Raidillon. It resulted in the creation of the corner complex of Eau Rouge and Raidillion which are connected by a steep uphill section of an incline of 17 per cent. It contributed to the international fame and reputation of the circuit.

In 1951, the track was enlarged and the Stavelot bend was created. In 1963, the first safety rails were installed to the high-speed circuit. In 1979, a shorter layout was created in a length of 6.9km. 2007 saw the last major overhaul of the track. The famous, but problematic bus stop chicane was removed and the run-off area at many fast corners have been extended.

Most successful drivers and teams

Debut race in Spa, first victory in Spa. It is no miracle that Michael Schumacher is the monarch of the Spa-Franchorchamps track. The German won an astonishing six times. Aytron Senna is hot on his heel with his five victories. Jim Clark and Kimi Räikkönen stand on the lowest step of the rostrum with four victories apiece. Among the three-time Belgian Grand Prix victors are Juan Manuel Fangio, Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton.

Of the team, Ferrari reins the track located in the Ardennes. The fabled Italian team took victory on 16 occasions, two times more than the second most successful team McLaren. Lotus occupies the third place with its tally of eight triumphs. Mercedes and Williams have four victories apiece. Red Bull won three times on the fast track while Benetton and Alfa Romeo both claimed victories twice.

Track layout

The Spa track have gone through several reconstruction work over its history, the current layout has a length of 7.004km. It makes the fabulous track the longest one on the current Formula One calendar. It may well maintain this role as promoters and organizers long for shorter tracks to enable fans to see cars roaring around the track more times.

The distance from the pole position up to the apex point of the first bend is only 270.8m, however start crashed are not unusual in the extremely tight corner. The pit lane is 385.m long where driver musn’t exceed the speed limit of 80 kph, resulting in a time loss of 17.36s without a tyre change.

The track with the picturesque backdrop has 19 corners, of them 10 are left-handed ones. The highest lateral force 4.6 which is much higher than for example in Monza where drivers reach a maxmim of 3.1. It is the consequence of the track characteristics which is infamously quick.

The first sector is dominates by the tip of the start-finish straight, followed by the first slow hairpin-esque corner. It then proceeds with the longest full-throttle section which is cut into two halves by the iconic Eau Rouge corner. In this section, drivers push the throttle to the floor for an astonishing 22 seconds.

The middle part of the track is characterized by middle- and high-speed bends which cry for aerodynamic downforce. The last sector mimics the first one with a curved section where drivers once again use the acceleration pedal to its maximum for almost 18 seconds. The lap then ends in a brutally slow duo of corners.

The are only six braking actions, of which three are significant ones. In the middle part of the track, drivers can forget almost totally about the brake pedal. Sebastian Vettel is the record-holder around the Spa track. The German clocked a 1:46.577 in last year’s Grand Prix which has been the fastest race lap so far.