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Olympics2000

Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 17:19 GMT
Belgian GP circuit guide
Belgium circuit

Round 13: 27 August

By BBC Sport Online's Chris Russell

There is no place quite like Spa-Francorchamps in modern motor racing.

The track is the longest on the Grand Prix calendar and harks back to a previous era when races were held on public roads closed to the public on race days.

  Circuit facts
Lap length: 2.465m (3.968km)
Race length: 77 laps
Total distance: 189.851 miles
Almost half of the Spa circuit still consists of normal Belgian roads in the Ardennes forests in the south of the country.

When there is no motorsport taking place ordinary drivers or cars, buses or lorries can experience for themselves some of the sport's landmark corners.

These include the tight La Source hairpin at the end of the pit straight, the Bus Stop chicane that precedes it and the corner which many F1 drivers regard as the most challenging in the sport.

Eau Rouge
A driver takes Eau Rouge at responsible weekday speed
A trip to Belgium a couple of years ago provided the perfect excuse to take car and camera to see what the place is like.

The most vivid memory is of the fantastic Eau Rouge - a stunning drive even in a family saloon at legal motoring speed.

The corner comes on the brow of a steep hill, the drama of which simply cannot be represented by television pictures or even the ever-popular F1 computer games.

  Form guide
Fond memories: M Schumacher has won here four times
Must do better: Irvine's fourth last year - his only points finish
Look out for: The weather forecast
On a non-race day the corner whose name means Red Water is part of a one-way system.

Drivers are able to drive up and over the hill in the same direction as Hakkinen and Schumacher go in August.

Bus Stop chicane at Spa
The Bus Stop with the author taking a lay-by break
But it is hard to imagine how terrifying it must be for F1 drivers approaching it at racing velocity since there is simply no indication of what lies over the hill.

The Bus Stop chicane towards the end of the lap is less dramatic but offers a unique chance to park in a layby which forms part of a GP circuit.

The big red and white kerbs add to the atmosphere, as do the pits.

I was surprised to learn that these were also open to drive along and park in, or at least nobody stopped me.

Bus travels in opposite direction to circuit
A bus heads back towards La Source
Alternatively there is La Source - the hairpin which is actually a tight T-junction in everyday use.

The countryside around the circuit is beautiful with densely wooded slopes and atmospheric villages in deep valleys.

But the Belgian tourist office will be less happy with my other memory of the trip, even if it does not surprise F1 fans.

The day was grey with a few spots of rain appearing for five minutes before the sun briefly broke through the clouds - typical Spa weather.

The area can be bright and sunny one minute before turning wet and windy the next. And then back again. And the two weather extremes can often be found at either end of the circuit during the same race.

  Roll of honour
1995: Michael Schumacher, Benetton
1996: Michael Schumacher, Ferrari
1997: Michael Schumacher, Ferrari
1998: Damon Hill, Jordan
1999: Mika Hakkinen, McLaren
That makes planning a race notoriously difficult, and often keeps mechanics busy with frequent tyre changes.

Last year David Coulthard claimed the victory in Belgium after Mika Hakkinen was outpaced at the first corner and came in second.

  1999 result
1. David Coulthard, McLaren 2. Mika Hakkinen, McLaren
3. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jordan
4. Eddie Irvine, Ferrari
5. Ralf Schumacher, Williams
6. Damon Hill, Jordan
Heinz-Harald Frentzen in a Jordan was third at the scene of the team's first win with Damon Hill in 1998.

Before that Michael Schumacher reigned supreme at a circuit whose fast sweeping corners mean the emphasis is on power and driving skill.

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30 Aug 99 |  Formula 1
Coulthard wins at Spa BBC News >>
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Hill wins as Schumacher storms out BBC News >>
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