The longest circuit on the calendar, the Circuit du Spa-Francorchamps is a longstanding favourite of drivers and Formula One aficionados alike. The historic and fast track, located deep amongst the trees of the Ardennes forest, is famed for its mixture of long straights and challenging, fast corners; coupled with its picturesque bucolic setting, it is renowned as a motor racing paradise for many.
The race is often described as Belgium’s largest annual sporting event and this year sees Spa-Francorchamps host its 48th Grand Prix.
Like many historic European venues the Belgium Grand Prix has been plagued by funding issues and regional political wrangling, to the extent that Bernie Ecclestone had originally planned to have Spa on rotation with the Nürburgring, rather than the current rotation between the Nürburgring and the Hockenheimring.
Concerns have been allayed since 2015, when the economy minister of the Walloon Government Jean-Claude Marcourt, confirmed a three year contract extension to host the Belgian Grand Prix race at Spa Francorchamps, meaning the event will be held at Spa Francorchamps until the 2018 season at the least.
Locally, the Formula One race is organised by an entity called Spa Grand Prix, run by Andre Maes. Spa Grand Prix effectively hires the circuit for three weeks of the year from its sister firm, public company Le Circuit du Spa Francorchamps, which is responsible for running the circuit for the rest of the year. The affection held for the timeworn venue is high but Spa often has to sail close to the wind financially during race weekend, mainly because of the maintenance of the vast track and large site. In 2014, for example, the organisers registered an €8 million loss.
Fans still flock to the 7km track and drivers, in the modern safer but slower era of Formula One, often talk of their relish at returning to something touching the exhilarating old school speeds and wheel to wheel racing of the past.
Despite the venue’s name, the circuit is not in Spa but lies in the vicinity of the town of Francorchamps, on the boundaries of the municipality of Stavelot.
A highlight, positioned at the end of the European season, Spa-Francorchamps’ micro climatic weather is notoriously changeable. During a race it can often be simultaneously raining on one part of the track and dry on another, which makes for variable and stirring races. A race steeped in Formula One of a bygone time, Nigel Geach considers it a stalwart of the schedule. “It’s very popular,” he says. “It’s a beautiful circuit, where it is, I think it would be a shame if it ever came out of the calendar.”