The two other bucolic races were both in July, at Silverstone in England and the Nürburgring in Germany. Like those circuits, Spa-Francorchamps is a classic of Formula One racing. But of the three tracks, it is the one with the greatest character.
At 7 kilometers, or about 3.5 miles, it is the longest track by far in the series, and as it winds through the hilly countryside of the Ardennes Forest, it is also the most exciting, the one that a majority of the drivers enjoy the most and that gives them the biggest challenge.
“There’s nothing like racing at home and Spa is clearly one of my absolute favorite circuits,” said Jérôme D’Ambrosio, the first Belgian driver in Formula 1 since Thierry Boutsen, 18 years ago.
“Its layout gives everything one could want as a driver — fast corners, hills and long straights,” D’Ambrosio said. “It really is one of the most challenging laps in the world.”
Not only the race, but the region itself is full of history. It was known as the “battleground of Europe” for the many clashes fought there from the 16th century to the Belgian Revolution of 1830. It was also the site of battles in the two World Wars, notably the Battle of the Bulge, which took place near the site of the track.
Brussels is just over 100 kilometers from the track, and Liège is 35 kilometers from the track.
Liège has a picturesque central area with nightlife in the narrow cobblestone streets, and Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a scenic city with many tourist attractions, like the Grand Place with its Gothic facades, the Royal Palace and many museums, including the Musical Instrument Museum, the Éditions Jacques Brel exhibition, the Textiles Museum and the Beer Museum.
Indeed, the country is a magnet for beer lovers, with many bars featuring hundreds of Belgian beers. The country is also well-regarded for its fine chocolates and for the classic “moules-frites,” or mussels and french fries.
Most of the race teams, drivers and fans stay close to the track, however. Many fans camp in wooded areas around the circuit and others stay in the hotels and gîtes, or rental lodgings, spotted about the countryside in the villages, or small towns like Aubel, Robertville and Spa itself — which is, as its name suggests, a thermal bath town. It also has one of the oldest gambling casinos in the world, the Casino de Spa.
Belgium is a federal state with a population of about 11 million people, and Brussels is the capital of the European Union. King Albert II is the constitutional monarch of the state. Belgium, divided between Dutch, or Flemish, speakers and French speakers, has been without an official ruling government for more than a year.
The circuit in the countryside follows the land elevations and the corner everyone talks about is called Eau Rouge, which from certain standpoints looks like a wall through the forest to the sky. It is at the end of a back straight where the cars run at 300 kilometers an hour, during a 23-second period at full throttle from La Source hairpin to Les Combes, at the end of the straight after Eau Rouge. Eau Rouge is the only corner in the series where the drivers have negative G-forces, here measured at up to -3.5g. Spa is also a challenge to engineers, and as a travel destination for Formula 1 fans there is little better in terms of seeing the track itself.