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Spa-Francorchamps Is Bringing Back Gravel Traps

Illustration for article titled Spa-Francorchamps Is Bringing Back Gravel Traps
Photo: Francois Lenoir (Getty Images)

In recent years, most racing circuits have done their damndest to get rid of any potential safety hazards. Shoddy barriers, awkwardly placed retaining walls—you name it. One of the most unpopular from the fan perspective has been the paving over of gravel or grass runoff zones. But Spa-Francorchamps is bringing back the gravel.

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Last week, we talked about the concept of track limits, which have evolved out of that safety push. Basically, gravel traps were removed and paved because they could be dangerous for racers. But they were also naturally guaranteed track limits: a driver couldn’t go off track to get an advantage because the gravel trap would slow them down.

Now, the legendary circuit is undergoing a $95 million renovation to add grandstands and gravel traps.

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Surprisingly, the big push comes from MotoGP, which will be returning to the track in 2022. In order to obtain the necessary FIM Grade C license—or, the one necessary to host a MotoGP event—it requires a redesign of runoff areas. That includes the addition of gravel traps at La Source, Raidillon, Blanchimont, Les Combes, and Stavelot, Motorsport reports. The actual layout of the track won’t change—just the areas that catch cars when they run wide.

Runoff areas will also be expanded in certain corners—most notably, where Anthoine Hubert suffered his fatal crash in 2019.

Spa says this renovation will likely take a decade, but that’s not terrible when you consider the fact that it’s an old circuit. You’re not going to upgrade the thing overnight—especially not when you’re periodically hosting races and don’t want to mar the fan experience. That includes new grandstands and VIP boxes, the latter of which is crucial for the ever-swanky Formula One.

The biggest news is the addition of a grandstand at Raidillon, which should add seating for 13,000 more fans.

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Anyone who has issues with track limits and the excess of paved runoff areas will be glad to hear the news.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

As unpopular as paved runoff is, there is a reason why it’s used as gravel, of all things, actually has a number of inherent safety issues.

But with their return to Spa, I wonder if F1 drivers will be less willing to take Raidillion flat out now, for fear of skipping off on the gravel and crashing into the barriers.