White formula style F3 car travelling uphill and to the right at high speed with smoke emanating from underneath the car.

F3 drivers praise Spa renovations for better safety and track limits: ‘I think they improved it’

The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps received extensive renovations between the rain-hit 2021 Belgian Grand Prix and this year’s edition of the race, with the run-off area at the Eau Rouge–Raidillon complex expanded and gravel added to the outside of Turns 1 and 9. F3 drivers roundly praised the changes, saying that they improved safety and kept punishments fair.

By Michael McClure

Set in the Ardennes Forest in south-eastern Belgium, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is a known driver’s track and a favourite of competitors and fans alike. Safety, though, has been a long-standing concern at the venue over the course of its 100-year history. Whilst some of the most fearsome corners like the Masta Kink were lost when the longer layout was abandoned in the 1970s, others like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont still stand to this day and continue to punish mistakes uncompromisingly.

The calls for further revisions intensified in the wake of several major accidents at Eau Rouge and Raidillon, most notably the fatal crash of Anthoine Hubert in the 2019 Formula 2 Feature Race. Onetime F1 driver and F2 race-winner Jack Aitken also suffered serious injuries in an accident there during the 2021 24 Hours of Spa, while a large pile-up in the wet W Series Qualifying session last year sent Beitske Visser and Ayla Agren to the hospital.

A less bumpy Eau Rouge

Ahead of this year’s race, organisers widened the asphalt run-off area on the outside of Eau Rouge, demolishing grandstands and the famous Raidillon chalet to facilitate the expansion. This moved the tyre barriers further from the apex of Raidillon at the top of the hill, decreasing the potential for ‘ricochet’ incidents to happen in which a crashed driver is launched back out onto the racing line.

F1 Feeder Series asked the top three drivers in today’s FIA Formula 3 Championship Sprint Race about how they found the changes at that corner.

“The track is completely different to the last time I drove!” joked Sprint winner Ollie Bearman, who is racing at Spa for the first time this weekend.

I mean, from what I’ve seen or heard from the other drivers, the old Eau Rouge was quite bumpy.

Ollie Bearman

“I mean, from what I’ve seen or heard from the other drivers, the old Eau Rouge was quite bumpy. In F2, it was not easily flat. So now, it’s a lot safer also with the run-off,” he continued. “The track is really nice to drive. Also, the new tarmac is quite grippy.”

Alexander Smolyar, who came home third, highlighted the safety benefits that the new circuit brought.

“Regarding Eau Rouge, I think previous races in GT3 and other categories, they showed that the changes are good – well, hopefully, we don’t need to prove it again. But I think at least it’s a good change.”

Gravel is the way to go

Alongside the changes at Eau Rouge and Raidillon, several corners have had their asphalt run-offs replaced by gravel traps. These include Turn 1, or La Source; the unnamed Turn 9; and Blanchimont, where a major crash between Zane Maloney and Oliver Goethe brought out the red flag in the Sprint Race.

While the race tested the efficacy of the gravel trap from a safety perspective, it also showed that gravel was successful in preventing the accumulation of track-limits penalties and the resulting penalty points that had affected many drivers this season.

Now, drivers really need to think so they don’t get pushed wide because otherwise, if you go to the gravel, your race is not ideal. So for sure, these changes are good.

Alexander Smolyar

“Regarding the outside of the corners where they put the gravel, to be honest, I like this idea because it’s better to have it like this than, for example, Paul Ricard. You just drive wherever you want and, to be honest, it’s fine,” Smolyar explained, referencing the expansive, multi-coloured asphalt run-off areas at the Circuit Paul Ricard.

“Now, drivers really need to think so they don’t get pushed wide because otherwise, if you go to the gravel, your race is not ideal. So for sure, these changes are good. Also I think we don’t have any penalties regarding track limits. I’m pretty sure last year we had that, so yep, changes are quite good I think.”

Roman Staněk, who finished second in the Sprint Race, echoed Smolyar’s comments in favour of self-policing track limits and said the changes made Spa “much more safe” in general.

“Turn 1, if you fly off, there is gravel, and then Turn 9, it was very easy to do track limits last year. Now, it’s not so easy because if you get a track limits, then you are in the gravel. So I think they improved it. It’s better at least for me because like this, I don’t need to do any track limits, or I [am prevented from doing] any track limits.”

Twenty-eight track-limits violations, all of which were either at Raidillon or the exit of the Bus Stop chicane, were recorded in the Sprint Race, but none of the offending drivers received post-race penalties for doing so.

Header Photo Credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd

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