Spa-Francorchamps, one of the most beautiful circuits!
This page tells the history of the beautiful circuit of Spa-Francorchamps. A classic on the Formula One calendar and beloved for its elevations and blazing fast corners...
Back in 1896 there where races in the Belgian Ardennes and from 1902 they raced at a closed part of the public road. This also was the first time a public road get closed for motor racing!
In this time they drove year by year at different lay outs and the longest was 118,1 km (73.8 Miles)!
In the early twenties the "La Meuse" newspaper owner Jules de Thier and chairman of the Royal Automobile Club Belgium Langlois van Ophem came at the idea to use the triangle Francorchamps - Malmedy - Stavelot for motor racing. The circuit of Spa-Francorchamps was born.
On this satellite photo you see above the current circuit very clear. If you follow the Kemmel Straight you enter the old circuit and you can recognize the classic triangle. Click here for a lap on the old track.
The first ever car race that should take place in 1921 at the 14,982 km (9.31 Miles) long circuit was cancelled because there was a lack of competitors, just one registration! The first race that took place was a motorcycle race in 1922.
In 1924 the first edition of the 24 hours of Francorchamps took place one year after le Mans. And in 1925 the first Grand Prix was held, the GP of Europe, which was won by Antonio Ascari, the father of Alberto.
In 1939 a new spectacular new corner was constructed with the goal to make Francorchamps one of the fastest circuits in Europe, the Raidillon.
This horrendous fast and very steep corner cut off the old l'Ancienne Douane hairpin. Because the Raidillon is "attached" to the Eau-Rouge, the lefthander which was originally the connection to the l'Ancienne Douane, many people call the Raidillon the Eau-Rouge by mistake.
During World War Two there where no races at Francorchamps. But from December 1944 to January 1945 the circuit was in the middle of the Ardennes Offensive.
The first post war races have been held in 1947. The lay out was changed a little bit from that year, because the intersection at Stavelot was cut off by a new fast and slightly banked corner.
The pre war trend to make Francorchamps one of the fastest circuits was continued with this modification.
The new banked corner near Stavelot.
Since 1950 the Belgian Grand Prix was counting for the Formula one World Championship which was introduced hat year. Until 1970, except in 1957, it was held at the old Spa-Fracorchamps circuit.
Like usual, beautiful circuits are mostly dangerous circuits. The most exuberant parties in Formula one where after the Belgian Grand Prix if everyone had survived the race at Spa-Francorchamps!
But after some grave incidents the track was found too dangerous by the drivers and the Belgian Grand Prix was moved to Zolder and Nivelles.
The only way for Spa-Francorchamps to get the Belgian Grand Prix back was to build a new circuit. Different proposal lay outs where designed. The goal was to preserve the old character of the track while the most dangerous sections should disappear.
They opted for a new section between Les Combes and Blanchimont, which reduces the length to almost 7 kilometres. Moreover, the Kemmel section, which originally contained a series of fast kinks, was straightened making it the famous Kemmel Straight. The new circuit opened in 1979 and in 1983 the Formula one came back to Spa-Francorchamps.
One of the most beloved section of the new circuit is the double left hander Pouhon. Here during the Grand Prix in 1997.
The aim was to alternate the Belgian Grand Prix between the Flemish Zolder and the Walloon Spa-Francorchamps just like between Zolder and Nivelles in the early seventies. But since 1985 the Grand Prix stayed at the new Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
Since 2000 the new part is a permanent circuit. To make this possible a new traffic road was constructed around the circuit.
The old part is still accessible and is almost in original state. Only the Masta Straight is now interrupted by a small detour to connect to a roundabout.
The dead end section from Stavelot to Blanchimont was neglected and in a very bad condition for years. But nowadays it serves as a gateway to the kart track and the infield of the current circuit, and has a brand new surface.
© Text & photos: Herman Liesemeijer Satellite photo: Google Maps