There are racing tracks that are often so dull and painful to endure. There are those that often seem like cages or barricades of sorts. Then there are street tracks that convert into night racing fiestas. But few match the presence and power of Spa Francorchamps, home to one of the most famous F1 races of all time: the Belgian Grand Prix.
With uphill climbs that border on steep and challenging and furiously fast corners, such as Eau Rouge, widely considered among the most challenging ever in modern conception of F1, Spa is an enigma.
It’s seen icons Senna and Schumacher, witnessed heroes Lauda and Hamilton, and enjoyed legends Raikkonen and Alonso over a checkered history that dates back to 1950.
But over the course of what have clearly been seven decades, which are some of the most action-packed and truly illustrious moments here at the heart of the Ardennes; the magic called the Belgian Grand Prix?
The greatest overtake in modern F1 history: Mika on Michael on Lap 40, in 2000
There’s never been any bitterness from either driver’s side (for the other) or a heated rivalry as such. But there was a time, where the Michael Schumacher versus Mika Hakkinen saga fuelled some of modern racing’s greatest moments ever witnessed.
One such bewildering but bold moment arrived on lap 40, 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, where the chasy Mika Hakkinen executed what can be only called the move of the century over his German rival.
Having tried for several laps altogether to pass the-then race leader but with little success, there came a time with only a handful laps to go.
The 2000 Belgian GP was becoming Michael’s and Mika, at the very best, could bag a podium, which is when the famous Finn turned the contest on its head.
With only four laps to go but sensing his time to make a bold pass had arrived, Mika spotted backmarker Ricardo Zonta in the front. In the run down to a slow right-hander with Michael already in the race-lead, the Ferrari pulled out to the left to anoint himself that extra bit of space on the track.
Mika, meanwhile, had drawn close to Michel but had to go for the kill; which in this case meant stick to the inside line. But there was a problem; Zonta was right there in their middle of the track.
Even then, Hakkinen pulled off a stunner in that he stuck to the inside line and in a space of one overtaking maneuver, also lunged ahead of the red Ferrari of his greatest rival: Michael Schumacher.
Going at speeds of over 200 and 240 km’s, the laconic Finn stayed cool under pressure and left nothing to chance, calling later in the post-race media presser, the move his “Plan B!”
As the years wore on, Spa Franchorchamps has seen several breathtaking overtakes but even as on date, there’s none that comes close to the bold and calculated maneuver of Mika.
The legacy of the King of Spa!
Few drivers have won here at Spa and won it with such conviction as former F1 driver, Kimi Raikkonen.
With four wins, two each with McLaren and Ferrari, Raikkonen always remained at his peerless best at Spa-Franchorchamps, a circuit he himself admires the most alongside Monza.
That said, the 2009 victory with Ferrari in what was his last season with the Scuderia stable that the Iceman showcased, once again, the fighter in him.
In making a memorable pass on pole sitter Giancarlo Fisichella, then with Sahara Force India, the man of a few words from Finland earned garrulous praise from world over.
Kimi pulled out from behind the Mercedes-powered car to execute a sensational leap ahead of the Italian frontrunner, post which he grabbed the race lead. He would hold onto the position until the checkered flag and maintain absolute calm and cool despite maybe not having the fastest charger on the grid to collect his fourth win at Spa Francorchamps.
The 2009 win for the Espoo-born also remains his last at the circuit, where he first won back in 2004.
George Russell’s quali lap under torrential rains, 2021
Truth be known, one of the most forgettable contests ever at the Belgian Grand Prix was last year, i.e., 2021’s race. A race utterly rain soaked by unforgiving weather, the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was nothing more than a damp squib.
Yet, it was the wet and wild qualifying session held on Saturday that stood out and in particularly for George Russell, who back then, was competing in his final season with Williams.
On August 28, 2021, driving despite barely any visible conditions, the grid was further sent into a tizzy by the revelation not a single session of the Belgian Grand Prix qualifying could be conducted sans the evident rains.
Yet, one young boy kept his cool, despite the added realisation that he never had the machine that could match the raw pace of a Red Bull or Mercedes.
George Russell on that Saturday afternoon was the real king of Belgium. In setting the fastest lap time at 2:00:086, the Briton went second fastest in Q3, next best oly to Max Verstappen, the pole sitter.
In so doing, Russell, who until such time had already forged his reputation for being “Mr. Saturday,” (given his prowess in qualifying for Williams), etched his name ahead of drivers as talented as Leclerc and Sainz, Vettel and Raikkonen, Hamilton and Perez.
On race day, Russell maintained his second on the grid to finish the race with eighteen points, the contest completely ruptured by relentless rain. That led to the English driver’s maiden F1 podium, one where he finished ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Max Verstappen’s Move On Felipe Nasr at Blanchimont: 2015
The year was 2015. Max Verstappen had just arrived in F1 and following his DNF at his debut race in Australia, Belgium was thought of providing a respite. Instead, Spa-Francorchamps birthed one of the most exasperating moments ever for the Dutch driver and racing fans worldwide.
In making a bold and beautiful move down the inside on Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, Max Verstappen executed the overtake of the race. The F1 newbie did that with the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR10, which was not the fastest car on the grid at that time.
Zipping past the Brazilian at Blanchimont, one of the trickiest corners of the 7.004 km-track, Verstappen, then just a teenager gave an early glimpse of his dauntless racing talent.
The race may have been won by Lewis Hamilton, who happens to be a four-time winner of the Belgian Grand Prix, but the moment of the race belonged- as it should- to someone who back then, was just a newcomer.