The F1 circus has dusted off the team uniforms, and headed to the forests of Belgium with a fresh new tan, ready to tackle the most daunting corner on the modern calendar.
We are of course talking about the Eau Rouge / Radillion uphill left, right, left chicane at Spa-Francorchamps. It’s a corner which requires considerable bravery to truly master, and with the fastest cars in history making up this year’s grid, Sunday’s race is poised to offer up some great moments.
To build the excitement, we have compiled a list of some of our favourite moments from F1 races at Spa-Francorchamps over the years. Let us know your favourite moment and if we missed anything spectacular!
1. 1998 – Chaos and Fury in the wet
Where to start but with the (very wet) 1998 event? Chronologically, it makes sense to begin with what is arguably the most expensive motorsport crash in history. The field had barely made it through the opening La Source hairpin when David Coulthard speared into the wall and bounced back into the path of the following pack.
With large amounts of spray disguising his return to the track, carnage ensued, with the majority of the field involved in the pile-up. This was a time before wheel tethers, so pieces of carbonfibre and tyres alike were jettisoned into the air.
The race was red flagged, a restarted more than an hour later, with many drivers jumping into spare cars. The second attempt at a race start went much smoother, with just Mika Hakkinen and Jonny Herbert crashing, while Damon Hill in a Jordan briefly leading the pack.
Hill was quickly caught and passed by wet-weather maestro Michael Schumacher, but the German’s lead was quashed when he attempted to lap David Coulthard. In the torrential conditions, Schumacher rammed the slow-moving McLaren, ending his race. Upon his return to the pits, Schumacher attempted to confront Coulthard, but was prevented from doing so by a large pack of Ferrari and McLaren engineers.
This handed the lead back to Hill, who held on to claim Jordan’s first Grand Prix victory.
Not content with confronting just Coulthard, it was alleged Schumacher also had a stern talking to with Jordan team owner Eddie Jordan over the use of team orders, which prevented Michael’s sibling, Ralf Schumacher, from challenging Hill for victory.
2. 1999 – The stupidest dare in F1
Not to be outdone by the previous year’s efforts, the 1999 event at Spa-Francorchamps witnessed two of the biggest crashes in Eau Rouge history.
Driving for BAR Supertec, teammates Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta dared each other to attempt the high-speed chicane flat-out.
Not deterred from a large shunt at the same set of bends in ’98, Villeneuve had it in his head that some changes to the famous corner meant it could now be tackled with the throttle firmly planted the entire way. It couldn’t.
During practice, filled with typical bravado, Villeneuve attempted Eau Rouge flat-out, with catastrophic results, writing his car off.
Not deterred by witnessing his teammate’s shunt, Zonta rolled out onto the track, and promptly outdid Villeneuve with an even bigger crash.
With quick succession, both drivers had destroyed their cars, all for the sake of a dare.
The disbelief by team boss Craig Pollock on the pit wall says it all really.
3. 1987 – When an Unstoppable Moustache meets an Immovable Brazilian
Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna are two of the most doggedly determined and stubborn drivers in Formula 1 history, so when the two of them are battling for the same piece of tarmac at Spa-Francorchamps, fireworks are sure to fly as they did in 1987.
Like 1999, the 1987 Grand Prix required two different starts after a multi-car crash on the first lap. On the second race start attempt, Senna in his Lotus-Honda dashed to the lead from the second row, shaming Mansell and his Williams-Honda teammate Nelson Piquet.
Mansell shadowed Senna for the first part of the opening lap, before attempting an ambitious move around the outside. Debate still rages as to which driver is truly to blame, but the pair made contact, and were both forced to retire from the race as a consequence.
The British driver stormed into the Lotus garage after the race, with some particularly stern words, and even punches, exchanged with Senna and his team.
4. Aussie Grit puts down the Spanish Matador
When discussing the best overtakes in Formula 1 history, it’s impossible to go past Mark Webber’s pass on Fernando Alonso through Eau Rouge in 2011.
While our patriotism might be partly to thank for the nomination, the overtaking manoeuvre is also looked at admirably by other drivers and international media alike.
Webber caught Alonso as he was exiting the pit lane, with the pair neck-and-neck entering the fearsome Eau Rouge. The pair are both staunch rivals, but great off-track friends, with immense mutual respect.
This ensured both drivers made it through the corner cleanly, but Webber’s ability to stick his car down the inside of Alonso, and take a shallow line through the high-speed bend, is awe-inspiring to this day. The Aussie would go on to finish second, behind his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel.
5. Don’t mess with The Finn
Michael Schumacher was well on his way to winning the 2000 Formula 1 season when the circus rolled into Belgium. The thorn in his side had been Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen, and his silver and black McLaren.
The pair engaged in a forceful dogfight during the race, with Schumacher defending aggressively. Hakkinen was closing in on the Ferrari driver rapidly along the Kemmel Straight, before Schumacher shut the proverbial door on the Finn with force.
This upset the McLaren driver, who was determined and on their next lap, Hakkinen again had a significant speed advantage coming out of Eau Rouge, and was fast-approaching the rear of Schumacher’s car. This time however, there was a backmarker in the pair’s way.
As the Ferrari darted left, Hakkinen went right, passing both cars, and claiming the lead of the race. The Finnish driver went on the win the Grand Prix.
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