Thursday’s pitlane walk had really got us in the mood to see some track action, unfortunately Friday dawned as one of the wettest in months. Nevertheless we got ourselves togged up in rain gear and wangled a lift to the circuit from the resident campsite owner / driver / breakfast-maker / barman / fixer – for a small fee of course. It was a damned sight better than paying for the far more expensive bus option with all the bogans*. We weren’t so convinced when we were told to get into the minibus with the benches laid out along the length with no seatbelts, but it was all good fun and turns out ‘Bub’ took a shine to us – more about him another time.
Francorchamps village was filled with race fans milling around in the general direction of the race track, and a long line of traffic – some of us tried to spot famous faces but no joy. Unfortunately there was a bit of drama at the gate as one of the tickets refused to scan, the water causing it problems, but thankfully after several attempts it worked and let us all through. Perhaps having paper tickets at a venue known for wet races is a bad idea?
After the gate we had to walk along a seemingly endless gravel lane in the soaking wet, and could hear some really awful-sounding engines as we approached, what on earth was on the track? I was amazed when we reached a place to view the track, near pit exit, and they turned out to be GP3 cars! It should be a rule that all racing cars sound fast – these sound flat, boring and slow.
Pressing on, past various vendors, over the bridge.. and there it was. Eau Rouge corner rising above the F1 fan village! Goosebumps, finally we are HERE!
The walk down from Francorchamps; Through the gates and approaching the circuit; Eau Rouge and waffles!; F1 Fan Village; (click to enlarge)
Those of us with grandstand tickets took up our positions at Eau Rouge, while the three ‘free roaming’ members of our party headed off to explore. F1 Free Practice 1 was about to begin. I wanted to explore too so I said I’d catch them up, but watching F1 cars through here was so much fun I stayed for the full 90 minute session. It was so good to see F1 cars on a racetrack again!
Some of us had booked KangarooTV units and these proved invaluable, the real benefits are the live timing and the radio commentary in English which is the BBC Radio 5 Live audio you’d hear if you were watching in the UK. Without those you’d be struggling to hear the tannoy system over the engines, and they spoke French and Flemish for the whole day apart from the F1 sessions when they shared with Bob Constanduros in English.
KangarooTV in the stands; Lewis Hamilton kicking up spray; Ferrari – could be Massa;
Rubens Barrichello; GP2 – Jules Bianchi; GP2 – Marcus Eriksson;
After the session and a bit of GP2 it was time to explore! I’ve no idea when I’ll return to Spa and I reasoned I’d be in my quite expensive grandstand seats for the next two days, so this was my last chance to have a look around. Everyone else went down the hill to meet Alex Snell – the globetrotting F1 fan who is attending every race this season! It was selfish of me but I don’t regret it (sorry Alex, we can bump into each other at another track or meetup in the future I’m sure).
If you think Eau Rouge / Raidillion is steep on the track (and it is), you should try walking the path alongside it. Wow that’s steep!
There are some really incredible views on the Kemmel straight, looking back through a tunnel of trees in the direction you’ve come from, it’s as if you’re transported to another age of racing. As you keep walking, on the left suddenly the trees clear, and as you turn to stand facing the track the valley opens out in front of you. An amazing view, especially in the wet, with steam naturally rising from trees all around. This is why you come to Spa. There’s also a brilliant view of the pits and paddock looking tiny in the distance. You really get the scale of the place.
Looking back towards Eau Rouge; The track snaking through the Ardennes; A distant view of the pits;
Kemmel straight towards Les Combes; and looking the other way with the pits hidden under a rain shower!; Formula BMW in the wet;
Compare the middle photo on the bottom row to the one above to the right. Just slightly further along the straight and no more than 15 minutes later, the pits and paddock are obscured. Everything they say about this place is true – it really does rain in one place while another place is dry, and you can actually see it happen!
That shower heads towards me and it is very heavy, it gets really very wet here now. The poor 16- and 17-year olds in Formula BMWs are crawling along with a huge amount of spray behind them. Did I mention, these cars sound awful too? Shame the category is disappearing, though.
During the FBMW session I keep walking up the long, long hill. It isn’t as steep along here although it doesn’t stop rising until you reach Les Combes. I walked quickly and then stood and watched at random points along the way so progress wasn’t necessarily fast but I didn’t care, the atmosphere was fantastic.
What a fantastic day so far, and we’re only halfway through. Come back soon for Part 2 of Friday at the Belgian Grand Prix!
* ‘Bogan’ is a fantastic bit of slang I picked up from a visiting Aussie some years ago (hi Dave), I was pleased when the Antipodeans on this trip used it too!
Read on for Part 2 from Friday!