Stefan Bellof died there in a Group C sports car when he made an ill-judged move on Jacky Ickx in 1985; Alex Zanardi shook Ayrton Senna to his core by the size of his Formula 1 shunt in 1993; and yet six years later, cavalier team- mates Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta put their lives on the line in a high-risk bet over who could take it flat. That both wrecked their cars is grist to the age-old contradiction of Eau Rouge and Raidillon: that they’ve always been equally deadly and enticing at the same time.
The world’s most famous corner sequence remains the signature flourish of the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit, scene of the not-so-magnificent 2021 Belgian Grand Prix. But as picturesque and daunting as it has always been, it paled in comparison to the fearsome Burnenville and MastaKink in the minds of apprehensive racing drivers contemplating the original 8.76-mile circuit.
Doughty Lancastrian Brian Redman, hero of the Porsche 917 and survivor of a terrifying F1 crash at Les Combes in 1968, has since admitted to tearfully praying for deliverance on any night before he was to race at Spa. Drivers back then tended to pack their bags and leave their hotel rooms tidy when they walked out on race morning. They would glance back as they locked the door, wondering if they would ever return.
Spa has been sanitised since then, of course. But even in its shortened form (used since the 1980s) and with new acres of asphalt run-off at the likes of Pouhon and Blanchimont, this remains a circuit to focus the minds of all racers. The place still demands respect.
A spotlight has swung its uncomfortable glare back on Eau Rouge and Raidillon in recent weeks, following a series of nasty close calls. Back at the turn of August, Williams F1 reserve Jack Aitken suffered fractures to his vertebrae and collarbone and lung contusions in a violent collision early in the Spa 24 Hours GT race. Then in qualifying for the Belgian GP, McLaren’s Lando Norris was left spinning like a top after losing control in atrocious conditions. A day earlier, six drivers had survived a pile-up in qualifying for the supporting W Series race. The dull whump of single- seaters slamming into one another, then the sight of Beitske Visser crawling from her inverted Tatuus. limping to the side of the track and collapsing in pain from a (luckily minor) leg injury made for deeply uncomfortable viewing.
That no one died in these accidents is a testament to the wonders of modern race car design and the circuit safety measures already in place. But it’s only been two years since Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert wasn’t so lucky here. The worst can happen, has happened and is likely to again, but that doesn’t condone a laissez-faire approach.