You already know that the famed Circuit De Spa Francorchamps in Belgium is getting a facelift. There are many reasons the circuit needed a revamp, not least of which because it needed more grandstands and better paved runoffs so it could host FIM motorcycle racing, but the most pressing reason is the safety concerns surrounding the crashes seen in recent years at Eau Rouge. Among many other changes to the track, that corner — and Raidillon that follows it — is getting a rethink.
Here’s how the track is describing the changes:
The top of Raidillon (Turn 4) will see its tarmac run-off enlarged on the right side of the track. The left part of the Raidillon (Turn 3) will make way for a larger tarmac run-off. As for the foot of the Raidillon, Eau Rouge (Turn 2), the rails will be moved to allow for enlargement of the run-off. A covered grandstand will then be erected at the top of Raidillon for the end of April, comprising 4,600 places and VIP boxes.
It’s going to be difficult to tell exactly how this will play out until the changes are complete, but the major issues with this corner look like they might be solved, or at least mitigated. Part of the problem is that modern cars have gotten so aero-dependent that they actually manage to take this corner pretty close to flat out, carrying a ton of speed right on the knife edge of grip. Any little thing to disrupt that grip and you’re going straight off. Prior to this reprofile of the wall at driver left, going straight off meant punting into a wall that angled back toward the left hander at the top of the hill, spitting your now-broken car back into traffic at the top of a blind crest.
After serious open wheel accidents in the last few years resulting in the death of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert, and the hospitalization of W Series racers Ayla Agren and Beitske Visser, the corner’s safety started coming to the fore. Similarly, during the Spa 24 Hours sports car race last year Jack Aitken suffered a broken collarbone and fractured vertibrae, while Ferrari driver Davide Rigon, who hit Aitken’s Lamborghini, suffered a back injury that sidelined him for several weeks.
Contrary to recent thought in motorsport, some of Spa’s paved runoff is getting ripped up to swap for gravel. Rather than allowing cars extra space to gather up their mistakes, gravel may punish those mistakes a little more in the name of lost time, but it will hopefully make unsavable mistakes a little less painful or deadly by slowing cars down before they get to the wall. That’s, you know, the job of gravel traps in the first place. If you don’t want to end up in them, go a little slower. There just isn’t room to make that happen at Eau Rouge, however, so the track was forced to cut back further into the hill and widen the runoff on both sides of the sketchy corner.
Hopefully the corner will manage to retain some of its gravitas among racers and sports fans, while being much safer in the near future. There’s nothing worse in racing than watching a car crest that hill at full chat with a stranded broken car in the middle of the piste. I really hope that never happens again.