Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: What To Do With Spa-Francorchamps?

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps has served as the primary home of the Belgium Grand Prix since 1925, excluding stints at Nivelles-Baulers and Circuit Zolder in the 1970s and 1980s. It has long been a favorite track among many Formula 1 drivers.

The high-speed racetrack is the longest on the current F1 calendar at 4.352 miles in length and features a daunting challenge to many in the field. It favors the brave; Kimi Raikkonen was always exceptional at Spa, even when his equipment wasn’t quite up to snuff with the rest of the field.

But after its second death in five years this past weekend, there is now some serious discussion as to what to do with the legendary race course.

Dilano van‘t Hoff, an 18-year-old kid from the Netherlands, was killed in an accident during a Formula Regional European Championship race last Saturday in support of the Crowdstrike 24H Spa. The wreck, which happened under heavy wet conditions, occurred on the Kemmel Straight, directly after Eau Rouge.

Eau Rouge and Radillion combine to make one of the most famous series of turns in all of motorsports. It’s a bit like driving up Laguna Seca’s famous Corkscrew. In Formula cars, the amount of downforce they generate allows them to take Eau Rouge without lifting.

This is all fine and well in dry weather. The problem is that Spa receives a lot of rainfall, as anybody who can remember the 2021 F1 “race” there can recall. At Spa, there’s usually at least one wet session on a weekend. When that happens, the amount of spray the car generates takes what would be a fairly easy section to take single-file in the dry and turns it into a dangerous situation.

Following the F1 Sprint in Austria last weekend and just hours following the fatal wreck, Lance Stroll refused to answer questions relating to the Sprint itself and chose only to talk about van’t Hoff and Spa.

“A quick word for Dilano, it’s a tragic day for motorsport. We lost a driver today,” said Stroll to Planet F1 following the Sprint. “I just want everyone to think about that and my thoughts are with him today. It breaks my heart what happened.

“I think Eau Rouge at Spa needs some looking into because we’ve lost two drivers now in a span of four or five years. And it’s a really dangerous corner and we say it every year. It’s not fair what happened today. I think that corner has to change. I think it’s way too dangerous and I think every time we go through there, there’s an accident waiting to happen. And today, it happened again, and we lost a young kid. It’s not fair.”

Other F1 drivers have focused on the wet weather and reducing spray that the car generates, or being smarter as to when to race in exceedingly difficult conditions.

While the FIA and/or tire supplier Pirelli should continue figuring out ways to reduce spray and make the racing safer, it would be smart to simply attack this problem on both sides.

Eau Rouge is a trademark of Spa. But so were the banked turns at Monza. What happened to those banked turns? Too many people died on them and they were deemed unsafe, so they were thrown in the bin (or in this case, the forest).

Following this year’s Belgian Grand Prix, Spa should either remove or completely renovate Eau Rouge. It’s a frustrating issue, as that part of the track is fairly safe and seems to be very fun in the dry. But no track can keep letting a driver die on it every few years and just accept that it’s part of the game. Sometimes the best way to get rid of cancer is to just get it cut out.

In other big news this week, the 2024 F1 schedule came out very early. The key differences from this year are a swap between Japan and Baku, with Japan now in the spring time and Baku in the fall. Baku will now be the final European race on the calendar. Qatar has also moved between the Americas loop and the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

The opening two races of Bahrain and Jeddah respectively will now be held on Saturday night, due to Ramadan starting the day following the race in Saudi Arabia. It’ll be very interesting to see the American TV ratings for those two weeks. Chances are it will be No. 1 on cable for the day on those two weeks, as qualifying already typically is unless there’s a big UFC fight with prelims or even the main card on ESPN.

China is once again on the schedule, after being on the schedule the past two seasons before being removed eventually due to the country’s COVID-19 policies.

I asked Alex Gintz, who in addition to serving as Frontstretch’s IndyCar editor has a secret identity by day as the BIED Society’s Interim-Director of Asia-Pacific Policy, if he thought Grand Prix racing would return to Shanghai. His response:

“All signs coming from the Chinese government suggest the Chinese Grand Prix will go on as planned. Since the country’s sudden lifting of COVID-related restrictions this past winter, the world had sat waiting for travel restrictions to be lifted as the population and Communist Party navigated their way through a wave of COVID which is estimated to have claimed the lives of 1 million to 1.5 million people – though the official count from China sits far below this figure.

“In March, the country finally opened to tourists and proof of a negative COVID test is no longer required to enter the People’s Republic. We’re a long way from where we stood this time last year vis-a-vis the Chinese Grand Prix. However, the economic recovery expected after China’s lifting of its zero-COVID policy has not entirely materialized. This hard fact places international tourism among the priorities for the Chinese Communist Party. To be sure, the Women’s World Chess Championship is taking place in Shanghai as we speak.

“Barring any unexpected setbacks, which I note can’t be entirely counted out in a country of the size and centralized governance that characterizes China, expect it to be – finally – lights out and away we go in Shanghai this coming April.”

It’s strange to see Japan so early in the season. For many years, the country has played a very crucial role in deciding the championship due to how late it is on the schedule.

Unless Max Verstappen does the same this year, there’s a likelihood that Verstappen’s strange championship clinch last year, in which nobody really knew until Johnny Herbert revealed he had won it to Verstappen in the post-race interviews, was the final time a champion was crowned in the Land of the Rising Sun.

There’s also a strange October break in there, to go along with the traditional summer break in August. However, with the series running all the way to December next year and with multiple Sprint weekends very likely, I don’t think many will complain about a bit of a break prior to the final push.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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Shayne

Perhaps 18 year old kids shouldn’t be racing at Spa if it’s too dangerous. Inexperience kills drivers as well.

RCFX1

The rain was bad and only getting worse when they went green with one lap to go. The race directors should have never gone back to green. It’s not the track.

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