Eau Rouge is the most famous, but is it the most demanding?
93 years and still going strong, Spa-Francorchamps is the granddaddy of the current Formula 1 circuits, as well as being the longest at over seven kilometres. However, by comparison with the original circuit, inaugurated in 1924, it pales into insignificance, the older one being an altogether bigger beast and almost fifteen kilometres in length. Apart from a few modifications, the current layout has been in use since 1979 and the Ardennes track has hosted nearly all the Belgian Grands Prix, right back to the Twenties and then from 1950, the first year of the Formula 1 World Championship, although there were a couple of exceptions held at Nivelles and Zolder between 1970 and ’80. When it comes to Zolder, one cannot help but recall that it was here in 1982 that Gilles Villeneuve left us. The much less well known Nivelles circuit, not far from the Belgian capital, Brussels, was less than four kilometres long.
For all drivers, Spa is something of a right of passage. It’s one of the tracks where a driver can “make the difference,” which might explain why Michael Schumacher won here six times and Ayrton Senna five. Kimi Raikkonen has won at Spa four times and two of those victories, in 2007 and 2009, were with Scuderia Ferrari. Mention Spa and thoughts immediately turn to Eau Rouge and Raidillon, the brutal vertical compression to which driver and car are subjected, as the incline changes. However, maybe not everyone is aware that, these days, the most demanding corners, also from a physical point of view, are Pouhon and Blanchimont. These two “kinks” actually produce the highest lateral forces of the whole season. And this year, with the new aerodynamic rules and wider tyres, one can expect to see staggering figures. On the subject of tyres, the use of the softest ones in the range – Soft, Supersoft and Ultrasoft – should add another interesting element to a race that, thanks to its setting and atmosphere, is one of the absolute highlights of the sport.