We love it when the F1 circus rolls into Belgium every year. It gives us a chance to see the fastest circuit cars in the world take on the best circuit in the world
One of the stalwarts of the calendar, Spa-Francorchamps is one of the few original F1 circuits left and a fearsome 4 mile ribbon through the Belgian Ardennes. Here are five reasons why it's my favourite:
1. The Venue
These days, circuits - particularly the modern F1 Tilkedromes - are in the middle of nowhere. They're a recovered bit of industrial landscape, or a purpose-built facility in a desert and there's nothing around. Even Silverstone - which is a truly great track - is a little isolated as a former airfield and there's just not that much to see around.
They're remote by design - so they're not near anyone who might complain about the noise
- and they're not pretty.
But Spa is a European track of the old school - like the Circuit de la Sarthe or the Nürburgring - and Spa is pretty. Really very pretty indeed. Even the flow of the track is aesthetically pleasing, but it nudges up against coniferous forests and sweeps off into natural beauty like the road is meant to be there
. There's even a Belgian farmhouse just sitting on the outside of Stavelot - and I doubt the occupants have ever complained about the noise.
It's just about impossible to take a bad photo of Spa-Francorchamps.
2. The Weather
We all know that modern F1 cars go fastest when it's clear, dry and warm, but the racing's the best when it's wet and unpredictable. Belgium's probably the wettest place on Earth
(except Scotland) and the circuit in particular has some peculiar geography that helps the weather shake up the pack a bit.
Nestling in the mountains, bottoming out in the valley at Eau Rouge, the circuit can experience completely different weather from one side to the next as the rain clings to the hills - it can be binning it down in the pitlane, but bone dry by the time you reach the other end at Les Combes 2 kilometres away.
This has helped Spa chuck up some truly odd results
over the years, including the spectacular 1998 event where half the field was taken out at the first turn by a single mistake and Damon Hill led Ralf Schumacher home for a Jordan 1-2.
3. The Corners
Many tracks have challenging signature corners - a corner the drivers all take a momentary deep breath and involuntary sphincter-tightening as they approach it. Laguna Seca's Corkscrew is one of the best known and most infamous, but Silverstone's Maggotts/Becketts, Istanbul's Turn 8 and Canada's final chicane and Wall of Champions are all similar in ethos.
Spa doesn't have this. Spa is entirely signature corner
- every single bend is challenging and epic, every one has claimed a great name. Despite repeated circuit upgrades over the years, the modern track is only fractionally sanitised compared to its first version on the current layout - with only gaping tarmac runoffs at Pouhon and Blanchimont providing any semblence of a safety net.
Hell, even the straight bits are tricky.
4. The Character
Like many old circuits, Spa-Francorchamps used to be a massive, winding thread of tarmac in the mountains. Cutting a triangular path between the villages of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot, it was a terrifying snake of a track, nine miles long. It claimed many, many lives and put the fear of death
into countless F1 drivers - including the great Sir Jackie Stewart, who nearly died upside-down in the basement of a farmhouse while his car leaked fuel after a crash at the demonic Masta Kink.
So scary was it, that F1 drivers boycotted the track
and it became a poster child for Stewart's push for safety in racing.
It's to its credit then that Spa has managed to modernise into a complete racing facility that rivals anything on Earth while retaining the cack-your-pants character of the track. Taking the section from Blanchimont through to Les Combes from the original circuit, a complex infield was added to form the modern day Spa circuit with challenging corners that just add to the racing spectacle.
5. Eau Rouge
But wait, I said that Spa has no signature corners. Well, Eau Rouge isn't a signature corner of Spa, but for the whole of F1 and maybe the entirety of motorsport.
Once you leave La Source hairpin with Eau Rouge in your sights, the throttle (at least in an F1 car) isn't lifted until you arrive at the Les Combes complex 2 kilometres later. Before you get there you'll have driven down one of F1's steepest descents, experiencing huge downward forces squishing you into the road. Then you'll be slammed left and right while bottoming out, before climbing F1's steepest ascent through a left-handed corner over a crest, experiencing huge upward forces lifting you off the road. It's the most fearsome single stretch
you can race - and you do it all with the loud pedal nailed flat.
As a single complex, Eau Rouge/Raidillon is the biggest challenge of car and driver on any track in the world - and has to be on any motorsport enthusiast's bucket list