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A Spa-cial place indeed

The Formula One world hits top gear again at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend following the summer break

india Updated: Aug 28, 2011 02:02 IST
Narain Karthikeyan

The Formula One world hits top gear again at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend following the summer break. During the three-week break I had a chance to visit India's own Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, last Saturday. To capture it's essence in a word, one would have to say it's fantastic!

The Jaypee Group have gone the whole hog to ensure it matches up to international standards. The layout of the track, designed by German architect Hermann Tilke, is superb with a great mix of corners. It'll give the spectators a chance to see a lot of overtaking and an F1 car going 320+kmph along a 1.2km straight. I think the inaugural GP will have a ripple effect and prove to be a shot in the arm of Indian Motorsport.

Schumi turns 20
The 1991 Belgian GP was the venue for the sensational debut of a young German driver named Michael Schumacher. The first time I met him was during the 2005 Australian GP - my first F1 race.

My recollection of it is still crystal clear. A journalist asked him, "What do you think about the rookie in the Jordan team?" and he replied, "He's doing a good job for them". Coming from someone like Michael, it was a massive inspiration! He is still as fit as ever but importantly seems to be missing those last few tenths that make all the difference.
The last time we met we talked about his son Mick, who's already a serious go-karter. It was incredible to see the level of commitment that kid already has. Not to talk of the blessed gene pool.

Spa brings back fond memories - the first time I drove here was during my debut British F3 season in 1998 and I was on the podium. It has been a happy hunting ground since as I won the International Formula 3 race in 2000, driving for F1 legend Jackie Stewart's team.

There has been a lot of talk surrounding Eau Rogue and the DRS (Drag Reduction System) ban. Although the famed corner is no longer as challenging in the dry, it is still tricky in the wet. Throw in the 150 litres or so of fuel each car starts the race with and it takes things to a whole new dimension, considering that the first two days of this weekend were rained out.

The bump at the exit of the crest is unsettling and it is easy to lose the car there. Over the years it has gained a notorious reputation.

Stefan Bellof suffered a fatal crash in a Porsche in 1985. Other big shunts I can recall are Alex Zanardi's in 1993 and the spectacular back-to-back qualifying incidents of BAR-duo Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta in 1999.
Eau Rogue would still be a challenge even with the DRS wing open, in fact it would've made the (current) DRS zone onto the Kemmel straight and into the Les Combes chicane much more effective.
I think these safety precautions end up being too extreme at times - taking away from the challenge of racing at this oh-so spa-cial circuit.

Big bite
Outside the track, the signature Belgian waffles and spicy sausages are temptations hard to resist. Even though it isn't ideal fodder for an F1 driver, it is definitely worth it!

Alessandro Zanardi | 1993
The Italian has endured a lot of hardships, including having his legs amputated after a horror crash in 2001. In 1993, after the hydraulic shock absorbers on his Lotus sprang a leak he crashed at Eau Rouge with his car in shreds.

Jacques Villeneuve | 1999
The Canadian ace proved too fast for his own good in 1999. During qualifying he crashed into the protective barrier. Later he said, “this was my best crash”. No wonder his run in F1 failed to last as long as it could.


The Corner
The drivers approach it down a long, downhill straight when they accelerate out of the La Source hairpin from 40mph to more than 180mph. As they reach the bottom of the Eau Rouge “valley”, the track flicks left and then right, and then shoots up a steep hill.

Difficulties
Is the only section of a track in Formula One where the drivers experience vertical, as opposed to lateral, G-forces with G-force varying from –1.7Gs to positive G-forces.

Faux Rouge
The Hermann Tilke-designed Istanbul Park Circuit has a corner that was designed keeping the Eau Rouge in mind. After a downhill turn 9 the car speeds uphill through turn 10 and heads flat-out through turn 11 at around 200mph. Drivers mockingly call it Faux Rouge.