Belgium was one of the six grands prix of the first Formula 1 world championship in 1950, along with France and Monaco.
All three races are now under threat, with their contracts running out as savvy sports marketing owner Liberty Media prioritizes commercial considerations over history or prestige.
While Monaco might like to argue that their heritage makes them indispensable, Spa-Francorchamps are not ready to make the same mistake.
With Qatar, Las Vegas and China (re)joining a tentative 2023 schedule that caps at 24 races, and much more interest around the world to increase that number even further, keeping a spot on the schedule has become extremely difficult for the traditional races outside of so-called destination races as Liberty likes to call them – races in major international markets, near or in the heart of major metropolises.
Riding the wave of Formula 1’s new global appeal, Americans are determined to turn every Grand Prix into a mini-Super Bowl, bling and all, whether or not it suits fans and mainstream racing sites.
The first Miami GP gave a glimpse of the direction F1 wants to go
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
During contract negotiations with Spa Grand Prix, the government-backed organization behind the Belgian GP, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and his team made it clear that Spa should follow the same entertainment-focused concept if it is to have a future. And Spa is ready to adhere to this idea.
“It’s true that there has been a request from F1 to bring more entertainment,” said Spa Grand Prix commercial director Stijn de Boever.
“They said the story is great, but we need more. We decided to listen and follow their new way of organizing F1 events. The American way, with all the fun that goes with it. “
“We are planning all kinds of entertainment, with DJs, exclusive events, fan zones and activations around the circuit. You can tell our legendary grand prix will get the necessary bling too. If we are to continue to host races at the future, we have to modernize.”
While Spa acknowledges it must also make up for its farcical 2021 edition, which was canceled after three rain-soaked laps behind the safety car, its new push to win over fans and the commercial rights holder stems from concerns over the future rather than the past.
The 2021 race was called after three laps behind the safety car, with fans not being reimbursed.
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The track’s long-term €80 million renovation project, which has enabled the return of the 24 Hours of Spa for motorbikes but also for motor racing and spectators, is also a key piece of the puzzle, as is a concentrated effort to stem the terrible traffic problems that plagued last year’s race, with torrential rains turning the car parks into mud baths.
“The new Raidillon grandstand offers incredible views and the circuit itself has also worked hard to improve its facilities and become more sustainable,” de Boever points out.
“As far as traffic is concerned, we have worked with local police to add car parks farther from the track on solid ground near Malmedy with shuttle buses transporting fans to and from the track. went pretty well when it was dry, but now we have more options to provide better parking on hard ground.
“Of course, it’s still Spa. We don’t have trains capable of carrying tens of thousands of people.”
The circuit has had a makeover in the off-season, notably with a brand new grandstand overlooking the Raidillon.
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
Whether all of this is enough to wow F1 and be awarded a new contract remains to be seen. Spa has been in regular talks with F1, with event director Vanessa Maes traveling to Imola and de Boever present in the Barcelona paddock, while Walloon president and politician Melchior Wathelet has also been in close contact with Domenicali .
The Spa camp’s optimism that a new deal will be struck is not shared by all paddock watchers, but it wouldn’t be the first time in recent history that the race obituary has been prepared, only for a new agreement to be signed.
“F1 is very happy with our plans,” said de Boever. “They’re happy that we’re continuing to invest in a better fan experience, despite race day being sold out since December.
“It happened before we were heading for a Grand Prix without having certainty on the following year, so it’s not a big problem. We are looking for an annual race, without alternating with another GP, but we will listen to what F1 offers.
“Liberty Media has clearly come up with a new way of organizing F1 races and we are going to follow them.
“Yes, we have something to prove. We don’t have petrodollars, but we can show that we are a legendary grand prix that can entertain 100,000 fans a day. That’s a big plus that they can do with it. first-hand experience in August.”
Spa enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following the meteoric rise of Max Verstappen.
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images