With the racing season now approaching its final weeks of the year, a number of renovations at Spa-Francorchamps are taking shape. Some of them involve the installation of new grandstands and spectator accommodations, but the necessary tweaks concern the additional runoff area that will surround the track’s fastest corners, Eau Rouge and Raidillon.
After the accident that killed Anthione Hubert and badly injured Juan Manuel Correa in 2019, another that sent Jack Aitken to the hospital with fractured vertebrae in July, a six-car pileup during W Series qualifying in September, and Lando Norris’ heavy crash just one day later, it’s become increasingly clear that measures to make Turns 3, 4, and 5 safer can’t come soon enough. Construction is now underway, beginning with the demolition of the recognizable chalet that sits just outside the famed corners.
The chalet, which belongs to the East Belgian Racing Team, will return in a different spot, as The Drive’s Hazel Southwell reported. What will take its place is a grandstand, pushed back, while the left-hand wall on the inside of Turn 5 will now extend further down toward the Kemmel Straight rather than sharply cutting in at the crest of the hill.
The profile of those corners, or any corners at Spa, will not change — just the areas surrounding them. That’s important to note, because fans critical of renovation tend to erroneously conflate the call for increased safety with arguments to reprofile the track. While Eau Rouge and Raidillon are obviously very fast and will always carry with them an inherent degree of risk, the simple (in concept, at least) act of pushing the left-hand wall back to prevent crashing cars from spitting back out onto the racing line could go a long way toward mitigating serious injury and death. And that makes it worth trying.
An official video released by the circuit last week outlined other adjustments. Gravel traps will be added, at least partiallym to the runoff areas around five corners, including Raidillon, La Source, Blanchimont, Les Combes and Stavelot. These changes were partially necessary to ensure the track meets FIM Grade C protocol ahead of next year’s 24-hour FIM Endurance Championship event in June, according to Motorsport.com.
The use of gravel carries positive and negative connotations. Depending on who you ask, it either slows cars down prior to impact or makes it more difficult for drivers to apply braking when an accident is imminent due to the total lack of grip. Gravel works as a better deterrent to abusing track limits than asphalt, of course, but it also introduces the possibility of sending cars airborne.
And that’s just for racing with four-wheeled vehicles. Gravel has unique benefits for motorcycle racing, as World Superbike rider Scott Redding mentioned in reference to the Red Bull Ring during his MotoGP tenure some years back:
“Up into Turn 1 [is a concern], because there’s not much run-off, no gravel either. And gravel’s the problem. When we don’t have gravel, it doesn’t slow us down. When we slide on asphalt, we take the same speed, more or less. The gravel kinda stops us.”
Gravel may not be a perfect solution, but at least for Raidillon, the main improvement is the relocation of the outside wall, less so the surface in front of it. All in all, these renovations are estimated to cost 80 million euros — about $93,000,000.