Indeed, the drivers’ enthusiasm for this undulating Ardennes ‘rollercoaster’ is infectious, with Kevin Magnussen having won there at every rung on the ladder during his journey to the top flight: “I love it! You really need to drive it in an F1 car as it is just so big, and that allows you to fully appreciate the flow and speed of the corners. I love Eau Rouge and Raidillon. Even though that section is taken flat-out now, it’s still so enjoyable to go through. It’s a shame there’s not a gravel trap or a wall on the outside, as that would make it even more of a challenge. In the wet, it’s still one of my favourite parts of the lap.”
Jolyon Palmer is similarly a big fan of this stretch of the formidable Belgian circuit: “It’s just awesome! You might see it on TV, on the on-board cameras or on the Xbox, but it is something else altogether the first time you actually drive it. Nothing can prepare you for putting your foot to the floor down the hill and then coming up the other side and down that straight. In the dry, we are now easily flat-out through there.”
This corner is not, however, the only one at Spa to excite the young Brit: “Pouhon is a very quick double-apex left-hander and probably the biggest challenge now. It also goes downhill, so you pick up so much speed. Even with the run-off, if you get it wrong, you’ll be off.”
What’s more, drivers are frequently greeted by unpredictable weather at Spa, as Magnussen explains: “The lap is so long that it can be wet in one part of the track and dry in the other. In such situations, your normal cut-off points for using intermediate, wet or dry tyres go out of the window as you need to judge how much you might gain on slicks in some corners versus the risk of running on dry-weather rubber in the wetter sections. That is one of the main difficulties of Spa.”
The importance of getting that equation right is key, underlines Palmer: “You always need to be on the right tyres at the right moment. If you get caught out, it’s such a long lap that it can take you two minutes to get back to the pits and change tyres, by which time you would have lost a lot of positions...”
In addition to thrilling the drivers, the Belgian circuit also tests the talent of teams’ engineers as it is one of the most demanding circuits of the season on the engines, which run at full throttle for 65 percent of the lap. At almost 7km, Spa-Francorchamps is the longest lap of the year, with a total of 73 seconds spent flat-out – the most of anywhere on the calendar. The turbo similarly plays a vital role, spinning at 95,000rpm for much of the time!