Spa: The Past, Present, and Future of the Belgian Grand Prix

F1 Spa

The Spa-Francorchamps Circuit in Belgium is one of Formula 1’s original tracks, but since its first race in 1950, much has changed.

Deep in the Ardennes of Eastern Belgium is the historic Le Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The 4.3-mile circuit is one of the oldest tracks on the F1 calendar, having hosted its first Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1950, though on a much different layout.

Spa Origins to a Boycott

It may be hard to believe that the longest F1 circuit on the calendar by nearly half a mile has actually been shortened throughout its history, but it’s true. The original version of Spa, used from 1925 to 1939 was 9 miles long and took the drivers in a triangle between the small towns of Francorchamps (still near La Source, hence the name), Burnenville, and Stavelot. To put in perspective just how long that is, the Nordschleife is just 12.9 miles long, and the best estimate for a modern F1 car’s time around that is just under 6 minutes, though no one has attempted it.

Before F1 arrived at Spa for the first time in 1950, the turn at Stavelot was rounded off, cutting 3 tenths of a mile off of the length of the circuit and resulting in a very long uphill right-hander. This version of Spa was visited 18 times by F1. The old layout was deemed unsafe to race on and even saw a driver boycott of the 1969 race. After the 1970 race, it was determined that F1 would move the race to a combination of other tracks around Belgium for the foreseeable future.

Rebuilding the Modern Day Spa

In 1979 the track was completely reprofiled to be the base of the Spa we know today. After making a few tweaks such as adding the bus stop chicane in 1981, F1 was ready to come back and try the new layout in 1983. After finishing their contract with Zolder, one of the tracks that replaced Spa, in 1984, Formula 1 returned to Spa for the 1985 season. Every single Belgian Grand Prix Since then has been held there.

This weekend Formula 1 will head back to Spa-Francorchamps for the 55th time in its history to visit one of the most iconic circuits in the world of motorsports. But as F1’s contract with Spa ends after this season there is some speculation that we may not see it on the calendar in 2023 and beyond.

Scheduling Pressures & Conflicts

Next year Formula 1 will go to Las Vegas for the first time and will thus have 23 races on the calendar in 2023 if every other race stays on the calendar. The Concorde Agreement, a document agreed on by the FIA, F1, and all the teams covering items such as the schedule and TV revenue shares currently allows for a maximum of 24 races on the calendar and is not up for renewal until 2025.

Many within the F1 community believe there are too many races already. With the addition of a 23rd race drawing the calendar near the limit of the Concorde Agreement, the future of the Belgian Grand Prix may be in question should a 24th race be added.

At the moment, Spa looks to be on the calendar for 2023 and the consensus among drivers and fans alike is that it should. Though there are rumors that F1 will be returning to Kyalami in 2023 for the South African GP, and even small talks of a 4th race in the US. Until a contract is officially signed the fate of Spa hangs in the balance.

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Featured Image Credit: NICOLAS LAMBERT/AFP via Getty Images