Eau Rouge or Raidillon?
This page is dedicated to the most famous corner of Spa-Francorchamps, the Raidillon, by mistake often called Eau Rouge. In this article I tell you about the construction of the corner and the confusion about the name. Also information about the temporary chicane from 1994.
The World famous corner
The Raidillon is the steep fast right-hand corner which is cutting off the l'Ancienne Douane section since 1939. In the thirties there was a competition between the circuit owners to have the fastest track. Francorchamps didn't want to stay back so they decided to construct this artificial corner. The corner has a gradiënt of 17% and an elevation of 134 Feet (40.8 Meters).
The Raidillon became one of the most beloved and feared corners in the world. While accelerating from the La Source hairpin down the straight you see these massive mountain in front of you which looks very intimidating!
While touring cars enter the Raidillon about 200 km/h (125 Mph), Formula one cars do almost 300 km/h (185 Mph) at this point. With a well-trimmed car the bravest drivers will take this corner flat out! That's very important because after this corner comes the long Kemmel straight.
Eau Rouge... Raidillon? The name confusion
A mondegreen is the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it a new meaning. There is a big misunderstanding about the name of the Raidillon which is called Eau Rouge by many people. You can call that a mondegreen too.
Just in front of the Raidillon flows the Brooke Eau Rouge underneath the track. At this point was the original left-hand corner leading into the l'Ancienne Douane section. This corner was called Eau Rouge.
Some sources tell that Raidillon is the name of the left-hand corner on top of the series. But this is not right! The one and only Raidillon was introduced in 1939 and is the steep shortcut between the Eau Rouge corner and the left-hander leading to the Kemmel section, since 1979 a straight, therefore a series of fast kinks. Moreover, Raidillon is French for steep road, so there should be no doubt which corner is meanth with this name.
This is the real Eau Rouge!
From the original left-hand corner the Eau Rouge is just a part still in use. Because the Raidillon is attached to the Eau Rouge in Belgium they speak also from the "Raidillon on the Eau Rouge".
Original there was a short straight between the Raidillon and the left-hander with no name. Over the years the Raidillon was modified a few times and moved closer to the next corner. The fact that you see the names Eau Rouge and Raidillon close together on the map is also contributing to the misunderstanding.
Because journalists, reporters and even drivers parroting each other without having to delve into the facts, most people will believe that the name of the Raidillon is Eau Rouge. That's how the misunderstanding remains intact. A misunderstanding that has adopted world wide proportions!
On this picture above (click to enlarge), made in Musée du Circuit at Stavelot, you see the old l'Ancienne Douane section and a little story about the construction of the Raidillon. Because the texts are in French and Dutch here an English translation: Aerial view of the circuit from the corner "La Source" to the bank to Burnenville. The long hairpin of "l'Ancienne Douane" is clearly visible. He was cut off in 1939 by the famous "Raidillon".
A funny Video about the name confusion of the world's most famous corner.
De chicane in the Raidillon on the Eau Rouge in 1994
It was the tragic year 1994. In the third race weekend of the season, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, Austrian Roland Ratzenberger crashed during qualifyingin in the fast Villeneuve Corner and died. It was the first fatality in a Formula One event since 1982 (NB: In 1986 Elio de Angelis died during tests at Paul Cicard in France).
After the initial shock came the first relativization, "motorsport is dangerous". But the next day the Formula One was in a much deeper schock when the legendary Ayrton Senna crashed in the also very fast Tamburello Corner and died the same day in the hospital. Now the sport was in deep mourning and hardly knew how to respond.
During an emotional meeting they decided to re-establish the Grand Prix Drivers Association to engage in the safety of the drivers. New security requirements were imposed on the circuits, which actually meant that a lot of fast corners should disappear. Ferrari driver Jean Alesi was the first who brought up the Raidillon. He declared that he would not compete at Spa-Francorchamps unless drastic security measures would be taken...
The result was the construction of a temporary chicane that started in the Eau Rouge (the bottom kink) and made a sharp turn parallel to the Raidillon. For the next year they increased the run of area and the chicane was not used anymore. Most drivers were satisfied that the Raidillon was restored, but there was also criticism. "Drivers so wrong about Raidillon" wrote BBC commentator Murray Walker in his preview. In his opinion, the Raidillon is one of the most dangerous corners in the world. The enthusiasm of the drivers about this corner should come from a kind of romantic view.
A weak link in the safety of the Raidillon was the big concrete grandstand on the outside. To maximize the run-off area it was partially extended around the stand. The result was the grandstand standing with one vertex in the run-off area! To protect drivers for this they placed a huge amount of tyre stacks in front of it. Later the grandstand was demolished and replaced by a new one, outside the run-off area. The run-off area itself is now paved with asphalt.
© Text & photos: Herman Liesemeijer