Top 5 Drives at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps
One of the purest tests of driver skill on the Formula One calendar, the fabulous Spa-Francorchamps circuit has thrown up some absolute classics over the years since its inaugural race in 1950.
The list of winners at Spa reads like a who’s who of the legends of the sport and it would be easy to pick out 10 classic races. I've narrowed it down to five, and so in chronological order, here they are.
Alberto Ascari: 1952
The Belgian Grand Prix has become renowned for dramatic weather-affected races throughout its history and the third grand prix at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit set the mould.
After three hours of heavy rain at Spa, a soaked Alberto Ascari produced one of the first great drives at the venue, crossing the finish line just under two minutes clear of second-placed Ferrari teammate Giuseppe Farina.
It was a true masterclass of wet-weather driving, the Italian maintaining a steady pace and steely nerve as others fell by the wayside. Pierro Taruffi spun at Malmedy before being hit by Jean Behra and even Stirling Moss succumbed to the conditions.
A measure of the enormity of his victory was the fact that Robert Manzon finished four and a half minutes adrift in third.
Jim Clark: 1963
After suffering gearbox problems during qualifying, Jim Clark lined up his Lotus on the third row of the grid alongside Jack Brabham for the Belgian Grand Prix.
Few expected the Scot to make significant headway, but with rain hitting the circuit on race day, Clark made an extraordinary start to make up seven places and lead on the opening lap, surging past the likes of Graham Hill, Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren.
The race quickly developed into a battle between Clark and Hill but as another storm sent a fresh shower over the circuit, Hill faltered with gearbox issues. Gurney moved to second before Tony Maggs spun from third in the treacherous conditions.
But at the front, Clark continued to display a mastery of the wet to win by just under five minutes from McLaren.
John Surtees: 1966
After one of the most treacherous and frightening grand prix of all time, John Surtees emerged victorious as only seven cars made it to the finish line.
Having qualified on pole, Surtees took an early lead as chaos ensued behind him. A torrential downpour just three miles in saw Jo Bonnier, Mike Spence, Jo Siffert and Denny Hulme all go off. Jochen Rindt spun at the Masta Kink but continued, others were not so fortunate.
Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant all lost control at exactly the same place as Rindt. Bondurant's car overturned but he escaped with cuts and bruises. Hill's car was undamaged, but he stopped to try and help Stewart, who was trapped in his upturned car in the basement of a farm building, covered with petrol and suffering from a broken shoulder and a cracked rib.
It took Hill and Bondurant 25 minutes to extract Stewart. Rindt briefly passed Surtees for the lead but Surtees, having proved not only skillful but supremely brave in the early laps, got back past as the track finally began to dry and held out for victory.
Ayrton Senna: 1985
The 1985 Belgian Grand Prix saw the emergence of a young Brazilian star as a future wet weather master.
Initially scheduled for May, the resurfaced Spa circuit broke up so badly in the unseasonably hot weather that it was put back to its now customary autumn date.
On the verge of his first world title, McLaren’s Alain Prost took pole position with Ayrton Senna alongside him in his Lotus 97T and fellow Brazilian Nelson Piquet behind him.
The race started in wet conditions and Senna got the jump on Prost from the start as Piquet spun out at the first corner. Prost and Nigel Mansell gave chase, the Williams driver passing the Frenchman but Senna was imperious in the wet and pulled further away when rain again fell later in the race to win by a comfortable 28.422 seconds from Mansell and his future archrival.
The victory was Senna’s second in Formula One and the first of an amazing five wins in Belgium.
Michael Schumacher: 1995
It’s hard to believe that anyone bettered Senna’s incredible tally of five wins at Spa but another wet weather master did exactly that.
Michael Schumacher had already won once at Spa in 1992 before the 1995 event, but a second win in Belgium looked virtually impossible after he qualified well down the grid in 16th position, eight places behind title rival Damon Hill.
Hill’s Williams teammate David Coulthard quickly took control of the race and seemed destined for a first victory before a gearbox problem ended his race and handed the lead to Hill. But Schumacher was a man possessed and took the lead when Hill pitted for wet tyres after another downpour.
The German stayed on slicks and despite being on the much slower tyre for the conditions, kept Hill behind him with a masterclass of defensive driving.
A mistake allowed Hill back past but as the track dried, Hill had to pit for slicks and Schumacher re-took a lead he would not relinquish despite another stop for wet tyres as the rain returned.