The F1 Travel Guide : Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is the home of The Belgian Grand Prix every year. Many drivers rate it as the best circuit on the calendar.  Kimi Raikkonen, my racing hero, earned the title of "King of Spa" for his brilliant performances here.

I have had the privilege of attending 4 races here - 2015, 2017, 2018 & 2019 and each experience was unique. Nestled in the Ardennes mountains, the track offers views that can only be rivalled by The Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria and even then the latter might not appeal to all. Iconic turns like Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Les Combes, La Source, Blanchimont, the Bus Stop dot this legendary circuit, a great many battles have been fought here. The weather is very unpredictable with instances of heavy rain in one sector and bright sunshine in another. The 1998 & 2008 Belgian GPs were testaments to the weather playing havoc. The track also offered quite a lot of challenges with regards to marshalling and extrication of stricken cars due to its old-school layout but its a circuit like no other!

This circuit will kickstart my "F1 Travel Guide" series!!


The Circuit Layout :


Official Website :

https://www.spa-francorchamps.be/en


Location :

The Circuit is located in the town of Stavelot, close to a town called Spa ( the town famous for the Mineral Water company called Spa ) in the region of Wallonia. Nestled in the Ardennes Region, it is also close to the Nurburgring and its older brother Nordschleife ( better known as the Green Hell ) circuits situated on the German side of the hilly region ( also worth a visit ). 


Closest Airports :

International Airports :

Brussels Airport ( BRU ) is a major hub for all international airlines, serving most European Routes, The Americas, Middle-East and Asia. 

I fly Emirates to Brussels via Dubai, multiple connections every day! The Experience is shared here :

https://tech-know-crat.posthaven.com/the-flying-diaries-bom-bru-bom-emirates-first


Dusseldorf Airport ( DUS ) is another major hub ( on the German side ) catering to all the above routes as well.

Cologne Bonn Airport ( CGN ), is closer than Dusseldorf but offers limited connections to the region via the Middle-East.


Intra-Continental Airports :

Liege Airport ( LGG ) & Maastricht Aachen Airport ( MUS ), The closest Airports to the circuit offering limited connections via Spain.

Luxembourg Airport ( LUX ) caters to multiple destinations within Europe through various national and low-cost carriers.

Brussels South Charleroi Airport ( CRL ) is another hub for low-cost carriers in the city of Brussels.


There are a few other major airports like Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Dortmund but I wouldn't recommend them since they go beyond the 200 km radius of Spa-Francorchamps.



Where to stay :

The Towns of Spa, Stavelot, Verviers, Malmedy, Theux are the closest to the circuit and offer a lot of options from Hotels to Inns, Chalets and B&Bs. The rates are inflated over the race weekend and it is highly recommended to book at least 6 months in advance to get a good deal ( most of these are non-refundable rates ). The town of Spa is full of F1 Drivers & Personnel and many oblige those waiting with an autograph or a selfie! Camping is very popular in Europe and the circuit has some fantastic camping sites for those who prefer to bring in their RVs or set up a camping spot over the weekend. 

There is also a Hotel "de La Source" near Turn 1 of the circuit but its sold out ( almost always ) on the race dates. There are other inns and B&Bs near the circuit but be wary of the exorbitant rates over an F1 weekend. 

I prefer giving all the above a miss...


The circuit is also close to big cities like Liege ( Belgium ), Aachen ( Germany ), Maastricht ( Netherlands ) and Hasselt ( Belgium ). Hasselt is the furthest of the lot with the commuting time from the other three being only about 35 to 40 minutes. I haven't stayed at Liege ( yet ) ( haven't heard great reports about safety either ) but Liege is yet another town that fills up pretty quickly for the race weekend. Maastricht and Aachen see a great number of F1 fans and can cater to all budgets. Aachen is the livelier of the two with a mini Oktoberfest happening on the same weekend as F1. Maastricht boasts of equally good restaurants and bars and one can easily become a part of conversations over a drink or a meal! All these cities are well connected to the circuit by rail and the circuit organisers also offer a shuttle service to the track. 

More details on the circuit shuttle here: https://www.spagrandprix.com/en/tickets-city-shuttle 

The above shuttle can cater to fans coming in from Brussels or Amsterdam as well but one must be wary of the travel time which is 4 hours each way. This only gets longer on a Sunday!


Hasselt is my city of choice for the weekend. I have stayed in the city twice ( 2017 and 2019 ). It is only about an hour away from the circuit and offers great hotels at very economical rates. A Park Inn by Radisson costs about 50 Euros a night and there are some options even around the 20 25 Euro mark! The city is also the birthplace of the Rising Dutchman Max Verstappen.

The city has quite an interesting layout, designed in a circular shape...one can go around the bustling parts of town and come back to the starting point easily. The city has some fantastic places to wine and dine, not to forget the bakeries offering Speculoos, the spiced shortcrust biscuit! My friends and I drove down through the weekend and navigation in and out was easy with a parking pass. However, do note that the city isn't covered under the shuttle bus service ( so maybe one can pay the town a visit post or pre-race weekend ).

The cities of Cologne and Luxembourg are 2 other options that are well connected both by rail and shuttle. I did stay in the former during the weekend of the 2013 German GP held at Nurburgring but if one doesn't hire a car, I wouldn't recommend staying there.


Circuit Access :

The circuit isn't the easiest the get to, the expansive layout of the circuit and the forests surrounding it pose a considerable challenge with regards to navigating your way around the track. It can house around 70000 spectators with the stands majorly being around the start-finish straight, the Bus Stop, La Source and Eau Rouge and Raidillon sections. The other areas are general admission viewing areas and a good level of fitness is required to hike up and down the various pathways in and around the circuit. Some spots offer unparalleled views of the circuit so it is worth the effort! The weather is unpredictable ( as mentioned earlier ), so be prepared for the heat, the cold or the rain!

Over the F1 weekend, there are a lot of access restrictions and parking spots can be quite a long walk from certain stands. There is a circuit shuttle which helps reduce commute but is infrequent. Its highly recommended that one studies the circuit map well and opts for appropriate parking passes. There are taxi stands as well but they tend to be overcrowded on evenings (especially post-race ), so its best to wait until a couple of hours after the sessions ( or race ) to easily hail one. If you do hail a taxi to the circuit then be prepared to walk for 30 minutes to reach the grandstands or the paddock club parking area. The Paddock Club runs a shuttle for the VIP guests from thereon. 


F1 Village, Fan Zones :

One of the most frequented zones/areas of an F1 track are the Merchandising shops. There are stores spread across the track and some on the approach road to the Main gate of La Source. There is a heavy concentration of stores at that roundabout, even watches ( Casio Edifice ) are sold there. Those were the only stores selling Alfa - Romeo F1 Merchandise.

The largest concentration of stores ( catering to almost all needs ) is at the F1 Village which is on the outside of the circuit between La Source and Eau Rouge. A lot of Fan events such as performances, drivers' meet and greet, F1 Personnel Interviews and games like Simulator Skills test, Pit Stop or Batak Challenges are held. Those who ace the F1 Simulators get couple passes of the Paddock Club for Sunday! There are a lot of food stalls and Beer Stations along with lounging areas for fans to enjoy the action on track thanks to the giant screens put up there. I have never missed visiting this village, one of the largest on the calendar.


Fan Experiences :

A Pit Lane walk is offered on Thursday to the 3 Day ticket holders. Its a once in a lifetime experience for many. You even get to walk the track and some have been fortunate enough to meet their favourite drivers on their track walks! There are also Drivers' Autograph sessions, details for which are shared by the organisers closer to the dates. It is imperative to reach early to bag that special sign and possibly a selfie with the best in the world of motorsport! F1 Experiences, the official hospitality partner to F1's worldwide races offers various packages and upgrades to existing tickets...these include guided paddock tours, a photo-op with the Race Winning Trophy on Pit Straight, a tour of the Track on the Parade Truck.. a great way to add to the memories made over the weekend.

Finally, the fans are allowed to enter the track after the end of the race and when deemed safe by the marshalls ( better known as "track invasion" ). This is a must-do! I had the privilege of walking up the entire length of Eau Rouge and Raidillon in 2015 and the elevation change is unbelievable!



Apologies in advance for missing any other detail. I shall update this article/guide when I make another visit to the track...the chances of this in 2020 seem bleak..but we hope for the best! Stay home, Stay Safe everyone!

 

The Paddock Weekends - 2019 Belgian GP - Day 3

Sunday at the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix was an emotional one, a day of tributes. It was a day when the entire Motorsport community, teams and fans alike stood together as one to honour the racer that Anthoine Hubert was. It was a day when the Community reaffirmed, we stand together in the face of this loss and tragedy..we mourn today yet one day we shall rise again..

The Formula 2 Sprint Race was cancelled as a mark of respect. All the teams from both the Support Race and F1 Race Paddock congregated on the Pit Straight to pay tribute to the memory of Anthoine Hubert. The fans had decided to rise in standing ovation on Lap 19 ( the number on Hubert's car ) during the F1 race as a mark of the respect for the racer. The schedule for the rest of the day was unchanged. 


Making our way to Spa Francorchamps :


The Paddock on Sunday Morning, a busy day ahead for everyone but the atmosphere was sober and grim after the incident on Saturday.


Carlos Sainz Jr., McLaren Racing F1 Team :


Daniil Kvyat, Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :


I made it into the Motorhome and Breakfast was waiting for us :


Post breakfast I went for a stroll through the Paddock and some more heroes from this profession.

The fighter Robert Kubica, Rokit Williams F1 Racing Team :


Esteban Ocon, Reserve Driver for Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


Double World Champion in Formula E, ex F1 racer Jean-Eric Vergne :


Sebastian Vettel! Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team!


Pierre Gasly, Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :


Time for a quick bite before heading out for the Pit Lane Walk of the day :


Shots from the Pit Lane Walk :


We took our spots outside the Paddock to watch the race start and the Belgian Air Force obliged us with an amazing Fly-Past :


Video Link :



The Grid Kids making their way back from the Starting Grid :


The Race got underway shortly after.


Formation Lap ( Video Link ) :



Race Start ( Video Link ) :



Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen had a coming together at La Source hairpin in the opening lap. The Finn was left with a badly damaged floor and had to go through 2 pit stops before coming out at the back of the pack. Max wasn't as lucky and ended up in the barriers before Kemmel Straight. There was a collective groan from all the Dutch Fans who had made their way to the race to see their hero race. Credit to them, they stayed back to honour Hubert ( lap 19 tribute ). The Safety Car was deployed on the Opening Lap. 

It was a difficult race for Kimi thereafter. 


Race Restart after Safety Car Period ( Video Link ) :



Shots from the Race :


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team fighting hard in the Race :


I was in the Team Garage for the Latter Part of the Race and was able to watch a Pit Stop from the Garage!

Video Link :



Kimi came home in P16. Antonio Giovinazzi was doing a fine job in P9 until a mistake on the penultimate lap made him crash out of the race. It was a wretched weekend and zero points for the team :( Antonio also suffered from an impact ( whiplash ) injury and had to be attended to post race.


The cars making their way to Parc Ferme after the Race :


Charles Leclerc took victory from Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Sebastian Vettel ended up P4 after some poor strategic calls by Ferrari. Ferrari were relieved to finally win a race in 2019. It was the start of a 3 race winning streak for the team, an indication that one should never write off the Prancing Horse.


Parc Ferme and Interviews for the Top 3 finishers.


Video Link :



The podium ready to welcome the Top 3 :


Presenting the Top 3 finishers of the 2019 Belgian GP :


Podium Presentation Video Link :



National Anthems time :


Trophy Presentation :


Video Link :



The cars sent to FIA Scrutineering :


I made my way back to the Motorhome and the team were distributing some Magnums. Helps cool everything down.


Packup time for the teams. The next race ( Italy ) takes place on the next weekend, so the turnaround time is very less for the teams.


Taking some more shots outside the Motorhome before its dismantled and shipped out :


I got to meet some more technical personnel!


Kimi Raikkonen's Race Engineer in Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team, Mr. Julien Simon-Chautemps :


Masahi Yamamoto, Managing Director for Honda Racing in F1 :


The Paddock being wrapped up :

After a certain time, it becomes quite unsafe to loiter around and its advisable for guests to leave the Paddock Area.


An earlier-spec Renault Sport F1 that was on display in the Paddock Club ( I guess ) :


Bye Bye Circuit de Spa Francorchamps, see you next year!


Walking back to the transfer area for my ride back to Hasselt. Some final selfies with my pass which would no longer be valid..a great souvenir to keep though!


I reached Hasselt pretty late at night ( thanks to the Traffic heading out of the track ). My friends Jane and Kaz had already reached the Hotel before me and were waiting for me at the bar. We sat together late into the night, talking, laughing remembering the weekend gone by. Kaz, Leclerc fan was overjoyed with his win..Jane and I, Kimi fans had forlorn faces. We also raised a toast to the talent Anthoine Hubert. He will surely be missed.


Before I retired for the night, I pondered on the weekend gone by..the excitement and the highs of Friday and Saturday, the joy cut short by Hubert's demise on Saturday, the emotional Sunday that was. I felt so honoured and blessed to be a part ( albeit a small one ) of the Motorsport family that is spread all across this world. 

I thanked God for His Grace and all the blessings I have had in life..I was living my dream..like so many others..

Once again, a Big Thank you to Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team for their Hospitality and Warmth over the weekend. True we didn't have a good weekend, but we keep our head down and keep pushing!

The Paddock Weekends will make a return soon..

Godspeed everyone!

The Paddock Weekends - 2019 Belgian GP - Day 2

Saturday on a Grand Prix weekend features the last Free Practice Session, FP3 and Qualifying for F1. Its shortly followed by the Feature Race in F2. This was a Saturday that we can never forget..

An early start to the day helped us beat some traffic to the track.

Enroute to the Circuit from Hasselt :


We were also in time for the Saturday Morning Pit Lane Walk.

Shots from the Pit Lane Walk :


The Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team Garage :


Kimi Raikkonen's Alfa Romeo being Fired up before FP3 ( Video Link ) :



A beautiful morning in the Paddock :


Healthy Breakfasts anyone?


It was then time for Free Practice 3 and I found a nice place to shoot some pictures of cars going up Raidillon :


I made my way back to Turn 1 ( La Source ) and met Porsche Carrera Cup Drivers on the way while going through the Support Race Paddock.

Dylan Pereira, Supercup Porsche Carrera Cup Racing Driver :


Some more shots of the cars coming out of La Source Hairpin :


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team during FP3 :


Charles Leclerc was fastest in FP3 from Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas. Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were P8 and P9 respectively.


A Quick Lunch in the Motorhome :


Timo Glock, Ex-F1 and DTM Racer :


The Motorhome, a busy place during Lunch :


Heikki Kulta of Finnish Press :


It was also time for the 2nd Pit Lane walk of the day. 

The Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team Garage!


I headed out to the La Source hairpin stand after the Pit Lane Walk to meet my friend and long time Kimi Supporter Zakria!


Qualifying got underway soon after. Shots from Q1 :


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team during Q1 :


Charles Leclerc was the fastest in Q1 from Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. Both the Alfas made it into Q2!


Shots from Q2 :

Antonio Giovinazzi's car suffered a mechanical failure in Q2 and couldn't set a time. He would eventually start the race in P18 after serving the penalties incurred for the parts change. Charles Leclerc was the fastest from Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen made it into Q3.


Shots from Q3 :

Charles Leclerc took Pole from Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen qualified a commendable P8 ( effective P6 after Ricciardo's and Hulkenberg's penalties ).

Ferrari were ecstatic after locking out the front row!

Post Qualifying celebrations :


Taking the Cars to Parc-Ferme :


I made it back to the paddock to unwind for a bit before heading home.

Mark Webber and David Coulthard, highly successful Racers in F1 and beyond :


Brett Arnall, Mark Arnall's brother and my friend Kimi Raikkonen fan Jane Bleach :


During the F2 Feature Race, a massive crash happened just after Raidillon. Young Drivers Anthoine Hubert and Juan Manuel Correa were involved in the incident. The Race was red-flagged and later cancelled. Both were rushed to the Medical Centre. 

Inspite of their best efforts, Anthoine Hubert didn't make it. We were shocked and shaken after hearing the news. True Motorsports is dangerous but a talent who was only 21 was taken away from us, in the cruelest way possible. Words fall short to describe the mood in the Paddock. Everyone rallied around the near and dear ones of this Renault Program young driver. It once again showed how closed knit the Racing Community. Juan is still under treatment and after a couple of critical surgeries is on a rough road to recovery. All of us shed tears, all of us were one...all of us..

As we head back to Hasselt, our hearts were heavy, our senses numb, we still didn't want to believe this to be true..but such is life..


This incident reminded us that racers sacrifice their all to live their dreams, to race, to enthrall, to entertain, to give us memories that will be etched in the hearts of us fans forever and yet, all it takes is a moment, one instance to end it all. This Sport unites us..as one big family..fans and racers alike..we race as one, we win as one....and in the times of mourning we mourn as one..There is an old saying "life goes on"..for Anthoine's Family, life would never be the same again..

May his soul rest in peace..


The legacy of Anthoine Hubert lives on..


The Sunday experience follows next.. 

The Paddock Weekends - 2019 Belgian GP - Day 1

The 2019 Belgian Grand Prix was a special Grand Prix. All the Grands Prix that I attended have been memorable but this year's Belgian GP was the beginning of a new experience - an experience of being a guest of the team in the Motorhome for the Entire Weekend. The weekend saw a beginning of a New Series on my Blog. 

The New Series is called "The Paddock Weekends". It was truly an amazing feeling to be the guest of the Alfa Romeo Racing F1 team for the entire weekend. I would get a Paddock Pass with my name on it, have access to their Motorhome, Garage and Podium Access post qualifying and the race. I would have to find a new spot to capture stills over the weekend ( no Paddock Club access ) which wasn't really an issue. Armed with my Sony RX 10 IV and Samsung Note 10+, I stepped out to live my childhood dream!

I stayed in Hasselt ( just like in 2017 ) and the drive to Spa Francorchamps was never more than an hour. Accompanying me were friends from UK Jane & Kaz!

This is the Friday Experience.


Enroute to the Circuit :

Some shots with the Samsung Note 10+ :


What an Elegant Race Pass!!


Friday Morning in the Paddock. Kimi Raikkonen walking in with the Alfa Romeo Team Manager Beat Zehnder :