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  Sunday, 1 September, 2002, 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK
Plea for the future of Spa
Michael Schumacher crests the brow at Raidillon during the 2002 Belgian Grand Prix
Has Schumacher raced at Spa for the last time?

Michael Schumacher could not have been happier that Spa was the setting for his latest record-breaking performance.

But it was probably not the ideal weekend for Schumacher to make the competition look like forest ramblers - his favourite circuit was crying out for drama and incident in the face of mounting uncertainty over its future.

Spa-Francorchamps remains the longest, the most spectacular and most demanding track on the Formula One calendar.

The plunging, sweeping Eau Rouge curve is renowned as one of motorsport's most daunting landmarks.


If Turkey or Bahrain comes in and the commercial terms are significantly better then you have to ask if this is the way to up the quality of racing
Ron Dennis
McLaren boss

But Schumacher's victory could be its last as a Grand Prix venue

That is because F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is showing increasing frustration over the circuit's organisation and the impending ban on tobacco sponsorship in Belgium.

"There can't be one rule for one track, and another for the rest," Ecclestone insisted.

"There are other countries who want us and we have to consider them."

F1's commercial rights holder is keen to see Bahrain, Russia and Turkey introduced onto the calendar, possibly as early as 2004.

Turkey, for example, could replace Belgium as the race after Hungary because Budapest is a logical step towards one of the proposed sites for a new track, Istanbul.

Juan Pablo Montoya at Eau Rouge this year
Eau Rouge is one of F1's greatest corners
One of F1's leading team owners, McLaren's Ron Dennis, also suggested that time could be running out for Spa.

But his reasons for taking his sport to a new audience will chill the purists who fear the unique challenge of circuits like Spa and Suzuka will be lost in the dash for cash around faceless car parks like the Hungaroring and the Nurburgring.

"It is a case of supply and demand," said Dennis.

"Spa has charisma and we must be careful not to move from the heritage of Grand Prix racing but as a revenue generating race, it is probably at the bottom end of the scale.

"If someone like Turkey or Bahrain comes in and the commercial terms are significantly better then you have to look at it and ask if this is the way to up the quality of Grand Prix racing," Dennis warned.

If new races guaranteed better racing, change would be understandable.

Skill and bravery

But if improving the quality means only more money for the teams, then the loss of Spa would surely damage the spectacle of F1.

Spa, like Suzuka, is a one-off.

They are circuits which stir the blood of drivers and spectators alike.

Spa is probably the most visually inspiring stop in F1. Skill and bravery are even more significant factors than usual because of the micro-climate in the Ardennes Forest.

The Belgium Grand Prix in 1998 produced some of the most extraordinary action ever seen in a race.

Schumacher crashed, unsighted in torrential rain, into the back of David Coulthard and Damon Hill went on to Jordan's famous maiden triumph - and there was a 12-car pile-up at the start.

Pedro de la Rosa at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2002
To lose Spa and keep Hungary would be a travesty
Schumacher won from 16th on the grid in 1995, and the list of previous winners reads like a who's who of F1's hall of fame.

Nothing compares with Spa and Suzuka.

And while Malaysia's Sepang circuit has redefined the art of staging an F1 race and Barcelona's circuit de Catalunya is modern, tidy and compact, the racing is rarely of as high a quality.

Losing Spa or Suzuka would be like staging the Champions League without Real Madrid or Barcelona.

At a time when F1's television audience is falling, the desire to break into new markets is right.

But careful thought should be given to the losers in the calendar battle.

Why should Italy and Germany each stage two races if the plan is to reduce F1's European base and embrace other continents in the name of a true world championship?

Threat

Why keep the race in Hungary? It served its purpose to take motor racing behind the Iron Curtain in 1986 but now the track is past its sell-by date.

Spa is a sublime test. The Hungaroring is a waste of space.

Spa is far more worthy of a race than Imola or the Nurburgring, for example.

That said, Belgian officials, like their counterparts at Silverstone, cannot afford to play on its history and ignore its future.

Eccelstone's message is clear: move with the times or get left behind.

For the sake of the sport and the spectacle, the Belgian governments, national and regional must listen and act.

The threat of Spa's exclusion may be nothing new but the queue of potential replacements, offering F1 what its capacious wallets want, will only grow longer and keener.

In-depth guide to the 2002 Formula One season

On-track action

News

Jonathan Legard

Race statistics

F1 2002
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