There has been plenty said since the decision to stage a two-lap event in order to award points and officially stage a championship round, but there is one elephant in the corner still being ignored: is it time for F1 to say goodbye to Spa?
This is far from the first time Spa-Francorchamps has been questioned as being a viable Formula 1 circuit. Jackie Stewart and Motor Sport’s Denis Jenkinson infamously traded barbs back and forth. ‘Jenks’ maintained the Belgian venue was more than suitable while the Scot was steadfast in his pursuit of safer conditions for the drivers, an endeavour he was eventually successful in.
They are not the only ones to have differing views on the venue though. Jim Clark grew to hate Spa following the deaths of Archie Scott-Brown and Chris Bristow in 1958 and 1960 respectively at the track despite his numerous victories.
As Paul Fearnley put it: “He fought hard and well, witness his four consecutive Belgian GP triumphs here, yet it stalked him always, spooked him even: the trees, the speed; the anomalies, the omens.”
There has of course been plenty done since Clark’s successes at Spa to improve safety, including a reworking of the layout to fit modern grand prix standards. In recent years though, there have been plenty of omens that motor sport might be out-growing the famed forests.
It has been an extremely tough year for those in charge of the famous Belgian circuit. Back in June, floods caused by a burst river bank meant that sections of the track leading to Eau Rouge had to be resurfaced while infrastructure such as service roads and tunnels had to be rebuilt in time for the F1 fraternity’s arrival in August. More recently, CEO of the circuit Nathalie Maillet tragically died at the age of 61.
She had overseen the redevelopment and modernisation of the circuit to become a grand prix venue fitting of the 2021 calendar, but the speed at which F1 has moved with development may have out-paced those efforts.
The last major redevelopment of the circuit occurred back in 2006. The old bus stop chicane was moved closer to Blanchimont while La Source was moved further down the circuit to lengthen the start/finish straight. All told, the work totalled around €19 million.
New development plans have been announced in the hopes of staging motorcycle racing in the future. Plans for the reintroduction of gravel traps around the circuit have so far met praise from drivers.
The much-criticised Radillon run-off area is also set to be expanded, a move prompted by the fatal accident of Anthoine Hubert during the 2019 Formula 2 feature race two years ago today. The grand total of these planned renovations announced last October, are set to reach €80 million.