The 2005 Formula 1 World Championship bids farewell to Europe this weekend, before tackling the final three rounds overseas. And what better venue than Spa-Francorchamps, the last remaining true road course on the calendar. Located in the ...
The 2005 Formula 1 World Championship bids farewell to Europe this weekend, before tackling the final three rounds overseas. And what better venue than Spa-Francorchamps, the last remaining true road course on the calendar.
Located in the Hautes-Fagnes region of southern Belgium, the circuit first hosted a motorcycle grand prix in 1921, with an inaugural car grand prix following four years later. Back then, the track measured 14.5 kilometres and although it is now reduced in length to 6.976 km, it is still the longest of the championship.
In recent times, Spa has carved an obvious niche for itself in the hearts of Ferrari fans as the circuit has special significance for the Scuderia's most successful driver ever, Michael Schumacher. Although it is located in Belgium, it is the nearest GP track to the world champion's hometown of Kerpen.
It was the scene of his Formula 1 debut in 1991, his maiden win twelve months later and a further five victories since then. Ferrari has won here a total of 13 times, starting with back-to-back wins in 1952 and '53 for Alberto Ascari.
The 1961 Belgian Grand Prix produced a fantastic result for the Scuderia and contributing to it was Belgian driver, Olivier Gendebien. In those days, the grid formation was 3-2-3 and Gendebien made it an all-Ferrari front row, qualifying third behind Phil Hill, who went on to become the first ever American F1 world champion that year and Wolfgang Von Trips.
The following day's race produced a result that would be impossible today with two car teams, as Ferrari took an incredible 1-2-3-4, courtesy of Hill, Von Trips, Ritchie Ginther and local man Gendebien.
But the most successful Belgian to fly the Prancing Horse colours was Jacky Ickx, who delivered Ferrari five wins out of a career total of eight (but never at his home track,) driving for Maranello in F1 from 1970 to '73. Ickx is undoubtedly one of that select band of drivers who seemed destined to win the world title, but somehow missed out: he came second in 1969 (to Jackie Stewart) and in 1970 (to Jochen Rindt.)
But it was in sports car racing that his skills, particularly in the wet, really shone through and in the days when drivers had a more eclectic approach to life, he drove in both disciplines for Ferrari.
Although Michael Schumacher's record at Spa-Francorchamps is second to none, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro man has also had his fair share of disappointment here. In the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, in atrociously wet conditions, he ran into the back of David Coulthard's McLaren-Mercedes, while leading, eliminating both men from the race.
In 2000, track conditions were so bad that the race began with a rolling start behind the Safety Car. Michael had started from the second row and then inherited the lead when Mika Hakkinen spun but continued. On lap 40, the Finn was catching the Ferrari which, on the day, was a slower car than the McLaren. As both men headed up the hill to Les Combes, Michael legitimately moved across to the right to protect his line and at over 300 km/h both cars nearly touched.
Next time round, on the same piece of track, the situation looked about to repeat itself, but there was a complication in the form of Ricardo Zonta's BAR in the middle of the track. Michael made a split second decision to go to the left of the Brazilian, but then, in what is still one of the most talked about overtaking moves in recent years, Hakkinen somehow found room to dive down the other side of Zonta and into the lead, going on to win.
Twelve months later and Schumacher was back to his winning ways and the 2001 Spa victory was another landmark, as it took his total of grand prix wins to 52, thus making him the most successful driver of all time, overhauling Alain Prost's previous record of 51.
Last year, Michael was beaten fair and square by Kimi Raikkonen, but this was also a significant Belgian Grand Prix for the German as it was here, at his favourite circuit, that his second place finish was good enough to ensure he took an amazing seventh Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship title.