Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps. One of the greatest racing circuits on the planet, Spa has evolved over the years from its original 14-kilometre open road course layout, which was a fearsome test for sportscars, motorcycles – and Grand Prix cars, from the first pre-war race in 1925.
… to its inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix held in 1950 – won fittingly by the Maestro himself, five-time World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio.
And onto its current 7-kilometre closed-circuit configuration – largely set in the early 1980s – making it the longest on the F1 calendar.
… and one that’s used not just for Grand Prix racing, but also sportscars – as an annual feature on the World Endurance Championship calendar. Naturally, for the drivers, it’s a revered classic.
SOUNDBITE (English) KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN, 2007 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
"I think just the place itself in the middle of nowhere, and obviously conditions can be tricky sometimes. But it creates a good race, and usually a lot of overtaking and exciting racing, so I think that's nice for drivers and spectators. But, I enjoy it, it's quite a nice circuit.”
Spa has hosted 49 of the 61 Belgian GPs to-date, exclusively since 1985 – with the race held at Nivelles in 1972 and 1974, and Zolder a 10 time host in 1973, 1975 to 1982 and 1984.
But, while two-time World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi won both Grands Prix at Nivelles and three-time World Champion Niki Lauda was the most successful at Zolder with two wins…
At Spa, the King is seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher with six wins, three-consecutive from 1995 to 1997.
The track is often called Schumacher’s “living room” – given it’s where he made his debut, took his first win, and seventh title, and 300th race start in 2012.
SOUNDBITE (English) MICHAEL SCHUMACHER, 7-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“In my whole history, everything comes back to Spa where everything started – and where lots of great stories happened, the emotion of the track, the combination of history is the reason that Spa became my living room.”
Other than Schumacher’s six - Ayrton Senna has five, while Jim Clark and Kimi Räikkönen have four. Fangio and Damon Hill have three each, while Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have two.
Last year’s race was a turning point in the world championship battle, with Nico Rosberg getting back on track – with his first of four wins in five races after the summer break.
For Red Bull Racing, it was heaven and hell with Daniel Ricciardo on the podium – his second of three-straight; taking five in six races.
SOUNDBITE: (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO, F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
"Season's been great, you know? Since the break, I think, came out in Belgium (Spa) and got the podium, which was fun.”
Max Verstappen, though, finished 11th – after a clash at La Source with both of the Ferraris, Räikkönen making contact with Verstappen, after Sebastian Vettel squeezed the pair, clashing with his teammate and spinning.
It was a second straight Belgian calamity for Vettel, whose right rear tyre delaminated on the Kemmel straight in 2015 – just two laps from home.
SOUNDBITE (English) JACQUES VILLENEUVE, 1997 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“In that race, there was a big surprise. Obviously it's not good for Vettel, it's not good for the Ferrari fans and it was a little bit risky, but it created an unknown.”
Vettel heads to Belgium this year knowing it’s a case of damage limitation – with the Mercedes W08 expected to be quick at the high-speed track, and the 4-time World Champion leading the standings by just 14 points.
The championship battle remains balanced on a knife-edge. Who will take another step forward in Belgium?