The new Spa-Francorchamps circuit in south-east Belgium, near the German frontier, may be only half the length of the old original one that dated back to 1922, but it has lost none of the character, presenting a high speed challenge on public roads, albeit of a very high standard of construction. Grand Prix racing in the grand manner amid the forests of the Haute-Fagnes in the Ardennes, returned on Sunday May 22nd and saw a battle of the giants as Renault and Ferrari got to grips in a very serious manner. Friday practice in fine weather saw Prost take pole position for Renault from Tarnbay’s Ferrari, and Saturday’s practice in pouring rain saw no change in the situation.
Race day was warm and dry and after a false start caused by Laffite, Surer and de Angelis stalling their engines as the red starting light came on, the race was reduced from 42 laps to 40.
The second start saw de Cesaris storm off into the lead from the second row hotly pursued by Prost, Tambay, Arnoux, Piquet and Winkelhock with the tenacious Rosberg hanging on to seventh place. On the first lap Patrese retired when his BMW engine blew up and the race was a clear cut battle between the big manufacturers Renault, Ferrari, BMW and Alfa Romeo. They all made pit stops for new tyres and petrol and the Renault team’s slick work gave Prost the advantage which de Cesaris could not retrieve. In trying desperately hard his Alfa Romeo engine succumbed leaving Prost to an untroubled victory. Piquet had to relinquish second place to Tambay’s Ferrari and then Cheever’s Renault when his Brabham gearbox broke fifth gear, a very important ratio on this fast circuit, and once again Rosberg drove his heart out to hang on to the factory cars and came home fifth, followed more discreetly by his Williams team-mate Laffite in sixth place.
For a change both Toleman-Hart cars ran faultlessly throughout the race and finished seventh and eighth, Warwick passing Giacomelli on the last lap when the Italian had a mild spin while trying to challenge Laffite. After stopping at the pits to have a broken fuel injection nozzle replaced Winkelhock had a narrow escape when a rear wheel broke up. Arnoux went out with a broken engine and neither the Team Lotus cars nor the McLaren cars were ever in the picture.
The result of this first Grand Prix at Francorchamps since 1970 must surely augur well for the future of Grand Prix racing in Belgium, and Europe for that matter. — D.S.J.
N.B. A detailed review of the race will appear in the July Motor Sport.