A farewell to Spa-Francorchamps? Why that's understandable!

A farewell to Spa-Francorchamps? Why that's understandable!

07-04-2023 20:14 Last update: 20:25

Spa-Francorchamps, and many racing fans in Belgium and the Netherlands are no doubt in suspense: will the iconic circuit remain on the Formula 1 calendar beyond 2023? According to Belgian media, there will be a definitive answer in the near future. Everything seems to depend on the Kyalami circuit in South Africa. If all (financial) problems are solved there so that F1 can be in 2024, the Belgian Grand Prix will probably be the child of the bill. Is that justified?

Fair is fair: Spa-Francorchamps is among the most popular circuits among drivers. The 'corner' Eau-Rouge is one of the fastest in the world and it is challenging to push the throttle all the way up Raidillon. It is also one of the most dangerous stretches of track on the planet. Unfortunately, Anthoine Hubert paid with his life for a mega-crash at the top of Raidillon and after Eau-Rouge during the 2019 F2 race. This terrible accident was not isolated. There have been many big crashes at the same spot in recent years.

Hammering on improvements

As much iconic as it is loved, the circuit in the Belgian Ardennes is out of date. The facilities - for teams and visitors - are seriously outdated. If you step into the gates of Spa-Francorchamps as a fan or driver, you imagine yourself ten, maybe even twenty years back in time. Formula One Management (FOM) and the FIA have also seen this. It is one of the reasons they keep pushing for improvements. A delegation from FOM and FIA would soon visit the circuit, to assess the next set of adjustments.

The circuit management already introduced a modified Eau-Rouge last season, including wider exit lanes. In other places, bigger gravel beds were also used to try to increase safety. Meanwhile, the grandstands are also being modernised one by one. Until recently, there was little luxury on the grandstands, which are often on steep slopes and difficult to reach. Getting something to eat or drink, or making a sanitary stop is often an exercise that takes quite some time.

Fans keep coming

Yet the Grand Prix is already - apart from a few tickets for Friday and Sunday - completely sold out. Even the sky-high prices, the relatively small number of laps (44) the drivers race past and the prospect of a huge rain shower (and the obvious mud puddle in the car park afterwards) are apparently taken for granted. The fans are not abandoning the Belgian circuit, although this is mainly due to Max Verstappen' s popularity and the short distance from the Dutch border.

Will it all be enough to get a contract extension? A full house is anything but a decisive criterion for FOM. If the circus descends on any other place in the world, the grandstands will undoubtedly burst at the seams too. Besides, Spa-Francorchamps is still a dangerous track, despite all the major modifications. And let's also be honest: in recent years, the Belgian Grand Prix has certainly not been a spectacle. Also, there is little to no entertainment for the fans around the races, unlike nowadays the majority of Grands Prix. Not to mention how difficult it is to get to the circuit and leave afterwards.

South Africa wants to take over place

Last year, it became clear that the Belgian Grand Prix retained its spot on the calendar for this season because the Kyalami circuit in South Africa was not ready for the world's biggest motor racing circus due to all sorts of organisational and financial problems. It seems to have been agreed at the time that it would be indicated by 31 March last whether a South African Grand Prix would be possible, after which the ultimate verdict would be up to the FIA and FOM. That date has been, and meanwhile there are strong noises that Kyalami still hasn't got its act together. That would open the door for a new, two-year deal for the Belgians.

Procrastination does not seem to be an abandonment in this case. It is a long-held desire of Formula 1 to hold a Grand Prix on the African continent. A perfectly legitimate thought, especially now that F1 is emphatically presenting itself as a global sport. If not Kyalami, FOM will certainly look for an alternative venue in Africa. Even fans in the last continent without a Grand Prix have the right to see their favourite sport up close.

History disappears

That as a result there is no longer a place for a race in Belgium - which does not meet the new standards - is justifiable. Of course it is a shame. But choices have to be made. Proponents no doubt point to history and the fact that so many legendary Grands Prix have already disappeared. There is little to argue with that. At the same time, there are also a lot of historic circuits still in use by F1; Monza, Silverstone, Imola, Zandvoort, Suzuka, Interlagos, Monaco.

Naturally, there will be disappointment among fans coming from the vicinity of Spa-Francorchamps, should it be decided that Formula 1 will no longer visit. As long as Max Verstappen is active, there is an extremely good chance that the world's premier motorsport class will remain 297 kilometres from Spa for them to see. There may also be a fallback option to Germany, where Audi is reportedly actively exploring options to host a Grand Prix in its home country. The Nürburgring and Hockenheim are easily accessible by car from the Netherlands and Belgium.

In Formula 1, everything can change overnight. At the moment, it is not a foregone conclusion that F1 will leave Spa-Francorchamps behind. Should it do come to a farewell, there are plenty of reasons that justify this painful decision.