Formula 1 is returning from its summer break this weekend, and there’s nothing quite like the Belgian Grand Prix to break the long August fast. Spa-Francorchamps is an iconic track, but the rumor mill has been churning: This year could be the circuit’s last as part of the F1 circus. If that comes true, it would mark the beginning of the end of F1’s long natural road course era — but that confirmation is yet to come. For now, we’re going to run through some of the most memorable moments — both good and bad — in the circuit’s long history with F1.
1960: Two Deaths
The 1960 Belgian Grand Prix saw Jack Brabham crowned as winner, but the race will go down in history for some truly painful reasons: It was one of two Grand Prix weekends in all of F1 history where two drivers died during the course of an F1 weekend.
Practice alone was a disaster. Drivers Stirling Moss and Mike Taylor were involved in separate accidents. Moss’ two broken legs saw a months-long recovery, but Taylor’s injuries ended his career. During the race itself, Chris Bristow crashed directly into a four-foot high embankment and was killed instantly. Alan Stacey was later hit in the face by a bird; he lost control of his car, somersaulted into a field, and was burned to death inside his Lotus.
The only other race weekend that saw the death of two drivers was the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, where both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were killed. Only the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, though, saw the death of two drivers during the course of a race.
1987: Senna vs. Mansell
It took two starts to get the 1987 Belgian Grand Prix going, and on the second, Nigel Mansell tried to overtake leader Ayrton Senna. The attempt didn’t work, and the two collided instead. Senna was forced to retire immediately. Mansell tried to race on but sustained enough damage that he had to retire at lap 17.
Mansell stormed off to the Lotus garage to have a word with Senna, and the argument quickly turned heated. A few thrown punches didn’t solve the problem, and both drivers were left fuming.
1991: Michael Schumacher’s Debut
Most folks would probably be intimidated if their Formula 1 debut took place at Spa-Francorchamps, but a young Michael Schumacher — then a Formula 3 driver — took on the challenge with ease.
Bertrand Gachot was imprisoned for 18 months, leaving the Jordan team with an empty seat. Eddie Jordan turned to Schumacher, who equalled the team’s best-ever qualifying result: seventh. While Schumacher retired due to a clutch problem, the fact that he managed to make it to fifth place during the race was impressive. The following year, he took his first F1 victory.
1998: Millions and Millions of Dollars
Thanks to its rain-drenched locale, Spa has seen several wet races — but perhaps none as disastrous as the 1998 GP. Somehow, all the cars made it through the first turn unscathed. Then, on the next straight, it went to hell. David Coulthard lost control of his car, aquaplaned into the wall, and bounced back on the circuit. Thirteen other drivers were caught up in the melee, leading to an hour-long red flag to clear the debris. The total damage estimate? Around $13 million.
The rest of the race, though, was just as spicy. Mika Hakkinen spun on the first corner of the restart and was nailed by Johnny Herbert. Damon Hill took the lead, soon to be passed by Michael Schumacher. Schumacher had a solid lead until he went to lap Coulthard; with all the spray, he couldn’t see, and Schumacher ran into the McLaren. Hill then took the lead and went on to secure victory.
2000: Mika Hakkinen on Rails
Reigning champion Mika Hakkinen had exchanged the lead of the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix with Michael Schumacher several times, but with three laps remaining, it looked like Schumacher might be taking victory.
Tire wear, thought left him susceptible to Hakkinen’s pursuit, and the Finnish driver pulled off a stunning overtake as both drivers moved to lap Ricardo Zonta. Schumacher went to the left, but Hakkinen went to the right, passing both cars with ease on his way to victory.
2004: Schumacher’s Seventh Championship
With the Belgian Grand Prix’s race date usually taking place in the late summer, it’s been rare to see a driver secure a Championship there — but that’s just what Michael Schumacher did in 2004. Despite there being four races left on the calendar, Schumacher’s second-place in Belgium was enough to secure him a comfortable victory. He had, after all, taken 12 wins in the previous 13 races.
The race itself was absolute chaos — there were a number of accidents in the first few laps, with four drivers retiring. Jarno Trulli led after the safety car, followed by Fernando Alonso and David Coulthard. Alonso inherited the lead after Trulli pitted, but two speaks following an oil leak saw Kimi Raikkonen take the lead.
After several other spins, crashes, and tire delaminations, Raikkonen managed to hold onto the lead to take his only win of the season.
2008: Raikkonen vs. Schumacher
Lewis Hamilton lost the advantage of pole position when he spun on the second lap, handing the lead to Kimi Raikkonen. The Finnish driver led for most of the afternoon, but Hamilton managed to cut that lead down to under a second in the closing stages of the race.
With two laps left, Hamilton passed for the lead. Then rain began pelting down, and Raikkonen re-passed Hamilton as they encountered lapped traffic. Hamilton ran into the grass. Then Raikkonen spun into the wall.
Hamilton continued on to take the checkered flag, putting on a stunning display of car control on dry tires. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t keep that win; he was deemed to have gained a lasting advantage after overtaking Raikkonen off the track, even though he did give that position back to Raikkonen. He was handed a 25-second penalty, and Felipe Massa inherited the win instead.
2012: Grosjean’s Wrecking Ball
At the start of the 2012 European Grand Prix (taking place at Spa-Francorchamps), Romain Grosjean failed to slow enough as he went into Turn 1. He crashed into Lewis Hamilton, and a whole chain reaction went off; Grosjean hit the back of Sergio Perez, then flew overtop Fernando Alonso. Kamui Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado were also caught up in the collision.
Grosjean was handed a 50,000-euro penalty and a one-race ban.
2019: Leclerc’s First Victory
The 2019 Belgian Grand Prix was an emotional one for Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. The day before the race, Formula 2 driver — and good friend of Leclerc — Anthoine Hubert was killed in a nasty first-lap crash.
Leclerc, who had taken pole position, led most of the race and managed to hold that lead to the checkered flag despite pressure from Lewis Hamilton. He dedicated his win to his friend Hubert.
2021: Two Whole Entire Laps
The 2020 Belgian Grand Prix was something of a farce; extremely wet conditions resulted in a whole two laps being run behind the safety car before a red flag ended the race. Max Verstappen was named winner solely on the fact that he had qualified on pole position, and half-points were awarded to the field.
F1 faced serious criticism for its decision to call the race, especially when so many fans stuck it out in awful conditions only to see no legitimate racing and get no refund. The sport was forced to find ways to prevent a similar farce in the future.
It remains the only F1 race in history without a single green-flag lap. It did, however, provide George Russell of Williams his first F1 podium.