There’s a surprising number of circuits that either claim to be the home of motorsport or have that title thrust upon them. In America, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway calls itself such, in France the Circuit de la Sarthe gets the nod. Others mention Monaco, or Monza.
The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps doesn’t make any such claims – but drive into the circuit late on a Wednesday afternoon before the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and you can just feel it.
With the final team trucks engine-braking down the hill through the streets of a village that is setting up the outdoor bars and memorabilia stalls, this feels like the centre of the motor-racing world. If home is the place where you feel most comfortable, then Spa has as good a claim as anywhere to be the home of motorsport.
It isn’t quite the oldest motor racing venue in the world, but the circuit has been hosting races since 1922 and grands prix since 1925. The original monster circuit has been successively cut down, and it’s now just under half its original 15km length – but look at old (and really old) photographs and it’s clear to see the ghost of previous configurations in that which remains and in the roads around the circuit.
But, why listen waxing lyrical about Spa’s myriad charms? Let’s go straight across to Verstappen and Ricciardo for their thoughts on spellbinding Spa.
A win, podiums… you’ve got plenty of reasons to love Spa-Francorchamps. So this must be a nice way to return after the summer break?
Yes. I was third at Spa last year, second the year before and I won in 2014. It’s a cool place and a very historic track. The lap is long but it’s one where you feel that if you make a little mistake somewhere, maybe you can get it back, as there are so many corners and it’s never over until the full lap is done. It’s not like Austria, where if you make a mistake at the first corner your lap is pretty much ruined. At Spa you can make some time back towards the end of the lap, but obviously you would prefer each lap to be perfect!
What’s your favourite section?
I really like the flowing middle sector, as I enjoy quick changes of direction and it has plenty of that. Pouhon, Turn 10 is one of the fastest and coolest corners on the calendar. Spa is good for overtaking, has big slipstreams and is high speed, so it’s a fun track. What’s not to like.
Your mum’s from Belgium, you were born near here and the grandstands will be full orange this weekend; this is very much like racing at home for you isn’t it?
Racing at Spa is always special. I was born just an hour down the road so it is pretty much a home race for me. You can see by the orange crowds and campsites full of Dutch caravans that the fans come out in force, this only adds to the home race feel.
In the past you’ve also always said that Spa is your favourite circuit. What makes it special?
The track is set in the forest, which makes it different to drive from other circuits. Eau Rouge is of course special, but my favourite part is Pouhon, the fast lefts feel really nice.
The last time your fans were out in such force, in Austria, you won. How would it feel to win at Spa in front of the orange army?
The win in Austria was amazing as it was Red Bull’s home race and there was a massive Dutch following. To win in Spa would be similar, orange and flags everywhere, I hope we can make them smile this year.