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The legacy of Spa-Francorchamps

Loved by most, the track located within the Ardennes Forest, is a classic that usually brings great spectacle.
Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 23rd, 2013 (F1plus/K. Grimmett).- When one thinks of Spa-Francorchamps, Romain Grosjean and his unconventional race starts come to mind for his 2012 antics which left many sighing in disgust. However, the Frenchman’s own errors are a mere blip in the enthralling history the Belgian Grand Prix has to offer.

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To some, Spa is the stomping ground for one driver in particular; one man often forgotten amongst the greats of the sport. Scotland’s own, Jim Clark. His 1963 race was spectacular, and dare I say it, a work of art.

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I was introduced to the thrill of 1960s racing by former General Manager at Williams, Peter Windsor. I took time to watch it and found my heart in my mouth, my jaw on the floor and my feelings towards Spa changed irreversibly. Please take time to bask in the glory of the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix. I promise you will not be disappointed.

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If it is good enough for Peter Windsor, it is more than good enough for me.

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The dominance Jim Clark held over the rest of the field was breath taking to watch. Closely fought races and countless overtaking manoeuvres can be exhilarating however there was nothing artificial about this victory. No DRS. No KERS. No gimmicks. Just one driver, completely in sync with his car.

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Damon Hill crossing the line at Spa, first. (LAT Photo)

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heavy accident at Spa in 2012. (Octane Photographic)

The scene is foggy, wet and windy, not ideal for open cockpit racing. Jim Clark starts eighth on the grid and, with ease; he glides past the pole sitter, Graham Hill. By lap 17, his place in history was cemented forever. Clark lapped the entire field, excluding Bruce McLaren, in a display no longer seen on the Belgian tarmac. McLaren’s Cooper would finish five minutes behind Clark.

Peter Windsor described the importance of such Grands Prix on moulding the lives of a generation. “Jim Clark was a great driver to follow. He had a huge impression”. This is an impression which has helped Peter to craft a varied career spanning several decades.

The Belgian Grand Prix of 1963 has affected us both, something we have discussed at great length.

It is rare for a race to bestow such significance for us; we see so many Grands Prix whilst analysing and scrutinising every overtaking manoeuvre and tyre choice. Thanks to Jim Clark and his impeccable Lotus, Spa will always have a soft spot in my heart.

Granted, Spa can be remembered for all the wrong reasons as 47 race drivers and four marshalls have died in its history. The track was given a new, safer layout which is perhaps his greatest racing legacy of all. Despite extensive changes, it remains as unpredictable as ever.

Of course, Damon Hill’s 1998 victory in Belgium was marred with debate after race control ordered a restart. It would also become Jordan’s maiden victory at a time of great importance for the, now-defunct, Irish outfit. Jordan were the great ‘underdogs’ of their racing generation, proof that anything really can happen in the varying weather temperaments.

Newcomers to the sport may only remember 2012, Romain Grosjean and his unconventional race starts. This is far removed from the modest dominance of the reluctant racer, Jimmy Clark and the champions who would follow in his wake. The headlines the following Monday did not show modern Formula 1 at its very best but the sport recovered quickly and was well again by Monza. His race was controversial and set the scene for the remainder of a turbulent 2012 for the Frenchman.

Indeed, that is how I would summarise Spa is one word. Controversial. Or perhaps “eventful” would be less dramatic? No Grand Prix can ever be boring to me, it would be blasphemy to suggest otherwise, however Spa guarantees a show. It is a performance. Master Spa and you can become a legend as iconic as Eau Rogue itself.

The television screens just do not fully highlight quite how impressive Eau Rogue is. The corner is steeper than many imagine it and the legendary status is only really justified when the action is seen from the grandstands and the gentle yet powerful roar of the engines sound blissfully.

It is therefore not surprising that Spa-Francorchamps has become a place of fan pilgrimage. For many, Spa appears top of those illusive circuits on an ever-expanding racing ‘bucket list’.

To lose the Belgian Grand Prix would be to lose an integral cog in the Formula 1 machine. With a promising young talent in McLaren Junior, Stoffel Vandoorne, set to represent his country to the highest level of Motorsport performance, Belgium’s legacy is set to get stronger. It could well inspire a generation.

Spa-Francorchamps creates stories that live in the minds and hearts of racing fans for decades. Michael Schumacher first stamped his authority over his rivals in 1992. As is the way with Michael, there are no words sufficient to describe his trademark rain-sodden celebration as his quest for glory began.

The legacy of Spa began with Jim Clark who set a very high standard for his successors to follow. His love affair with the Belgian tarmac is well documented in his autobiography. Introduced to his written story by Peter Windsor, one Wednesday afternoon, this particular quote caught my attention.

“Spa brings to mind speed. On the circuit I find that I am so at home, I never even notice speed”.
Such is the legacy of Spa-Francorchamps.

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