F1 GRAND PRIX - CIRCUIT DE SPA FRANCORCHAMPS 2014
This is SPAAAAAPhotos and Text: Reinis Babrovskis
In the deep forests and countryside of the Belgian Ardennes lies a race circuit feared, respected and loved by many racing drivers. Despite the fact it has claimed many victims over the years somehow it remains one of the world’s most popular racing circuits and it seems that drivers can’t have enough of it. Ladies and gentleman – this is Spa!
The track was designed by Jules de Their in 1920; the triangle shaped circuit used public roads between Belgian towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot. The first Grand Prix at Spa was held in 1950; although the original course is no longer in use it remains a public road and anybody can experience the original Spa circuit. I must admit the rental Corsa with a screaming 1.2 engine certainly didn’t give us the thrills that the drivers of the formula one would have experienced back in the day.
With the original circuit using a public road there were no safety precautions in place, apart from a few straw bales there was nothing stopping the driver from hitting the trees, electric poles, barnyards and other obstacles that were situated right next to the circuit. It is of no surprise that just like Nurburgring and Le Mans, Spa became notorious for fatal accidents. In 1969 the Belgian GP was boycotted by the F1 for the first time demanding more safety to be put in place as there were 10 fatalities in 10 races; most notoriously the 1960 Belgian GP where 2 drivers lost their lives within 15 minutes. All the fatalities more or less lead to the decision to abandon the original layout and the track’s fate was finally decided in 1978. A new circuit and layout was created and the modern Spa as we know it took its place.
Even though the layout is much safer, it still remains a very fast, very dangerous circuit with some of the world’s scariest corners including the famous Eau Rouge. The track can suddenly become more dangerous due to the very unpredictable Belgian weather where some part of the track can be covered in rain and standing water, while the other part of the track can still be dry and sunny.
This was my first trip to the circuit and the first experience of the Formula One and I really didn’t know what to expect. We arrived at the track on Friday where we were greeted by a lovely sunshine. Thousands and thousands of fans were already well established in the near campsite enjoying barbeques and beers. I still don’t fully understand was it the magnificent circuit and the atmosphere that surrounds it or the F1 cars that left me so overwhelmed when I arrived there.
Only after I had gone through the gates at the Combes entrance I finally started to understand the scale of the circuit. The steep gradients and hills are certainly are something you don’t experience in computer games or on TV. We decided to settle at the Rivage corner; the beers were opened and we were patiently waiting for the lights at the end of the pit lane to turn green for the 2PM practice.
As soon as the first cars left the garages they were greeted by huge crowd cheers around the track. The new era 1.6 turbo powered cars were widely criticized at the beginning of the 2014 season due to the lack of the engine noise and the unappealing front wing designs; however, it seemed that everybody had got used to them now. F1 cars are engineering masterpieces, each screw, bolt, nut and body part has taken years to develop.
Being so close to the track made it possible to hear the turbo whistles, hear the brakes working hard and see the aerodynamic overspray in action.
Friday practice finished with no major drama apart from the track being stopped once after Maldonado’s crash on the Malmedy straight.
Saturday’s qualification was a prime example of the Belgian weather, when the lovely sun disappeared, black clouds rapidly approached and all the drivers suddenly were now facing heavy rain and hailstones. It made the driving conditions very tricky, but the Mercedes drivers quickly adopted and it was Nico and Lewis back in the front of the pack again.
When the race day approached the weather improved and there were thousands and thousands of spectators patiently sitting against the fence securing the best spots for the big race.
F1 race weekend is action packed, the Porsche, GP2 and GP3 races are certainly very entertaining and there was plenty of drama with formulas flying over the track, clashes amongst the expensive supercars and plenty of overtakes to keep the crowds entertained.
At midday all the drivers finally came out to show their faces and thank the fans on the parade lap. Drivers were chauffeured around the track in some exclusive vintage cars, including one of the world’s most expensive car – Ferrari 250 California which was occupied by Kimi Räikkönen (in his usual grumpy face).
At 2PM the red lights went off and the race that everybody was here for was on. This season has been a two men fight – Nico and Lewis were having a close wheel to wheel race until lap 2 when Nico and Lewis touched, slicing Lewis’s rear wheel and damaging his own front wing. Fans were furious to see such a selfish move so early in race; the rest of the race boos followed Rosberg across the whole track, while loud cheers were dedicated to Lewis for each lap he completed.
It wasn’t the only fight amongst the team mates as the Red Bull’s Sebastien was closely chased by the team mate from lap 1. Couple of laps into the race the pressure got to the German and he found himself going wide at the Puhon handing the green light for the team mate Ricciardo.
The start of the race also went south for the team Marrusia French man Jules Bianchi when his car collided with the Lotus of Romain Grosjean’s on the opening lap
After the pits it was Daniel Ricciardo that found himself leading the race and Nico Rosberg in second.Once the main pit stops were done it was a battle for saving the fuel and tires as per the norm with the modern formulas sadly.
The biggest fights started at the end of the race when the tire degradation of the Ferraris meant that William’s Valterri Bottas was able to pass Kimi steal the last podium spot.
Race ended with Daniel snatching another victory!
If you have never been to an F1 race and are looking for the ultimate experience with the combination of the most exciting track, beautiful scenery, changeable weather and breath taking action, look no further - book SPA 2015.