The 2019 Belgian Grand Prix

Ben's Belgian GP preview

By Ben Edwards
C4F1 commentator

When people ask about my favourite Formula One venues, Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium is always near the top of the list. Set in beautiful countryside, the track embodies a scale and majesty that allows modern F1 cars to be set free.

It can also be a ruthless test of man and machine, and memories of last year’s horrific accident which cost the life of Formula 2 racer Anthoine Hubert will still be fresh as the paddock returns.

Despite that tragedy emphasising that motor racing is never fully safe, the current track is far less dangerous than the original layout created between the wars. 

In a recent article in Motorsport News, former Grand Prix driver and Le Mans winner Richard Attwood said the old track was his most feared of all.

Sir Jackie Stewart suffered one of his biggest accidents there in 1966, an event which stimulated a campaign to increase safety in the sport, and by the early 1970s Formula One had abandoned the original Spa circuit.

The current layout was designed and built a decade later, encouraging grand prix teams to return and Alain Prost took the first win for Renault in 1983.

Since then, Ferrari has been the most successful constructor with nine wins, including the last two in a row.

Come Rain or Shine

It’s hard to see a Ferrari hat-trick coming this weekend, unless we get some of that unpredictable weather that the Ardennes is notable for. 

Indeed, the odd rain shower has led to some fascinating performances, and several of them have come from the team now known as Racing Point.

Created in 1991 by Eddie Jordan, that first year for the team at Spa saw a fantastic effort in qualifying by stand-in driver Michael Schumacher on his first-ever outing in F1, and that was in the dry.

Three years later, Rubens Barrichello claimed the squad’s first pole position on a rapidly drying circuit with a perfectly timed switch onto slick tyres, beating Schumacher who had moved to Benetton after his debut at Spa and was now on the path to his first world title.

Four years later, in 1998, the heavens opened once again, this time for the race. Schumacher led for Ferrari but as he went to put a lap on my co-commentator David Coulthard, contact was made and fisticuffs in the pit lane almost distracted attention from the racetrack.

Not for long though, as Damon Hill made history by taking the first Grand Prix victory for Jordan, backed up by teammate Ralf Schumacher who obeyed Eddie’s instructions to avoid challenging in those last few laps.

It was a magical moment for the team, and images of Eddie celebrating that day are firmly etched in my mind.

Fall and Rise

Jordan Grand Prix went on to win three more races elsewhere over the next four years, but sadly lost competitiveness in the mid 2000s and went through various changes of ownership.

Vijay Mallya morphed the team into Force India in 2008. There were no points on the board by the end of the season but it was a year of transition. Mercedes engines were brought in for 2009, as were McLaren gearboxes, and suddenly they were back on an upward curve.

Guess where it came good? At Spa, of course. Giancarlo Fisichella took pole position and he didn’t even need the rain.

His pace was impressive all weekend and although he couldn’t prevent Kimi Raikkonen from winning for Ferrari, he still held on for a valuable second place.

In recent years, Force India/Racing Point has continued to thrive at this track. The first weekend after Lawrence Stroll’s consortium took ownership in 2018 saw Esteban Ocon qualify third and Sergio Perez take fourth on the grid, helped by clever strategy in changeable conditions.

The team has racked up a top-six finish in three of the last four years, and that was before they came up with a car capable of qualifying so competitively in the dry.

Studying history tells us that if Racing Point are going to score a podium this year, then this weekend could be one of the biggest chances. 

Mercedes power, unhindered in qualifying for the last time before restrictions on using different engine modes for qualifying and the race are put in place for Monza, could help the pink cars to shine.

And as Sunday is 22 years to the day since Damon achieved that first win for this outfit - also as it happens his 22nd and final GP win - we could be on for a huge anniversary celebration.

Join the C4F1 team for highlights of qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at 6:30pm on Saturday 29th August with race highlights and analysis from 6:30pm on Sunday.