Spa is one of the driver’s favourite race tracks and provides not only a fantastic circuit for them, but also an area of tricky conditions that can also make it treacherous. For the fans, it’s held some magical moments over the years, some of which the Badgerometer has managed to rustle together!
It’s worth noting that we’re speaking here about John Watson’s win from 10th on the grid in Zolder, as it was a fantastic achievement, but it will be forever shoadowed by the fact that this race weekend saw the loss of one of the sport’s great talents – Gilles Villenueve.
The Canadian headed into the Belgian Grand Prix in a foul mood after finishing second to his Ferrari teammate Didier Pironi in San Marino, thinking that the Frenchman had betrayed him by breaking team orders to pass for the win. In practice at Zolder, Gilles was pushing to beat a time set by Pironi, only to make contact with Jochen Mass’s slower March, and died from his injuries sustained in the crash.
Watson’s win came from a very bold strategy to start on a harder compound tyre, which resulted in him having the confidence to dive down the inside of a struggling Keke Rosberg on the penultimate lap. McLaren teammate Niki Lauda finished 3rd, only to have the place stripped from him for his car being underweight, promoting American Eddie Cheever to the final podium spot.
Jim Clark has an enviable record at Spa. The great Scot won 4 years consecutively, from 1962 to 1965, but it was the 1964 triumph stands out, one that ended up being a fuel conservation race to the line.
It all started out on lap 28. The Scot’s Lotus pitted for some more water and so dropped from 3rd to 4th, falling behind Dan Gurney, Graham Hill and Bruce McLaren. Gurney then stopped, ending up behind McLaren, but he had rejoined without fuel because the team had none ready! He still chased after McLaren, who was in trouble as his engine was cutting out. In was in vain – just as he was about to pass the Kiwi, his Brabham’s fuel finally ran out. Graham Hill now led, with McLaren in second place, and Clark in 3rd.
More drama was to follow. Leader Hill’s BRM rolled to a halt with fuel pump trouble, leaving McLaren in the lead, but stricken. Clark sensed the victory was his, and as he rounded La Source for the last time and blasted down the hill, he saw McLaren coasting. With the victory line in sight, Bruce’s Cooper had given up the ghost, and Clark’s Lotus breezed past to win by only a few seconds.
That wasn’t the last of it – Clark’s Lotus ran out of fuel on the slowing down lap!
Michael Schumacher pretty much a fixture in the history of the Belgian Grand Prix, and involved in some of it’s most exciting moments. Perhaps his finest drive came in 1995, fresh off of his first title the year before and continuing his impressive form into 1995.
Battling with arch rival Damon Hill all season long (again), the traditional rain in Spa came down and many drivers dived into the pits for wets – crucially, Schumacher didn’t. With Hill closing rapidly on the slick-shod Benetton, it was almost an eventuality that the Brit would pass in the conditions considering the wets would have so much more grip. But, incredibly, Schumacher found more grip on slicks in the rain, and deftly held Hill off for several laps.
Even though Hill did get through – when Michael left the track no less – it turned out to be futile. Because the rain had stopped, Hill was on the wrong tyre and had to pit again, while Michael didn’t. It was a masterstroke, and the German went on to won pretty comfortably, a feat even more impressive as he started down in 16th!
Chasing the German down, Mika had a sneaky look down the outside while coming out of Eau Rouge, but Michael was cunning and forced the Finn onto the grass at 170mph. One lap later, and with a slower BAR of Ricardo Zonda coming up, Hakkinen took his chance out went to the outside while Schumacher took the inside to pass Zonda. Mika was alongside, then in front – it was breathtaking.
If there was a race that could be synonymous with what Belgium can offer a Grand Prix, then look no further than the 1998 race. It pretty much had everything; first corner pile up for the ages, re-start, surprise leader, dominant title contender takes control only to run into backmarker, underdog team not only wins but nabs a 1-2 in the process. Oh, and sprinkle with some team orders and you’ve got a classic.
Damon Hill, after season in the doldrums with Arrows in 1997, took the lead at the restart to give Eddie Jordan’s outfit their first ever race victory. Hill’s teammate, Ralf Schumacher, was ordered to hold off to give the team the win and finished a very disgruntled second.
Championship favourite Michael Schumacher was eliminated when trying to lap David Coulthard in the middle of the race and handing the race on a plate to his old English rival. It then got ugly in the pitlane as the German stormed to the McLaren garage to give DC a piece of his mind.