Spa-Francorchamps is one of the most iconic motor racing sites in the world, but it, like numerous other classic tracks, is in danger of being dropped from the Formula One calendar unless it can reach a new agreement with the sport.
Indeed, with the advent of new locations such as Miami, Las Vegas, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the money they bring, the more conventional circuits are fighting for survival.
Spa’s Belgian Grand Prix, which sees its place on the Formula 1 calendar threatened by the sport’s expansionism, is seizing its final chance to persuade Liberty Media that it, too, belongs on the new-look calendar.
Belgium, along with France and Monaco, was one of six grand prix in Formula One’s first world championship in 1950.
All three races are now in jeopardy, with their contracts expiring as Liberty Media, the sport’s marketing savvy owner prioritizes financial considerations over history or prestige.
Of course, they won’t have the same financial clout, but the tradition and reputation they provide must have value in other ways, and many will hope that arrangements can be reached to keep events like Spa on the calendar.
Spa reveals key changes to save F1 future
While Monaco may argue that its history makes it indispensable, Spa-Francorchamps will not repeat the error.
With Qatar, Las Vegas, and China (re)joining a provisional 2023 calendar with a maximum of 24 races and plenty of interest from around the world to increase that number even more, traditional races outside of the so-called destination races, as Liberty likes to call them – races in major international markets close to or inside the heart of major metropoles – are finding it increasingly difficult to keep a spot on the calendar.
The Americans are determined to make every grand prix into a mini-Super Bowl, bling and all, whether traditional race fans and venues like it or not, riding the wave of Formula 1’s newfound global appeal.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and his staff have made it abundantly clear in contract talks with Spa Grand Prix, the government-backed organization behind the Belgian GP, that Spa must adopt the same entertainment-driven model if it wants to have a future. And Spa is on board with the concept.
“There has been a request from F1 to add more entertainment,” says Stijn de Boever, commercial director of the Spa Grand Prix.
“They stated that history is wonderful, but that we need more.” We’ve decided to pay attention and adopt their new approach to delivering Formula One events. The American manner, complete with all the accompanying entertainment.
“We have DJs, unique events, fans zones, and activations planned all across the circuit,” said the team. You could say that our storied Grand Prix will be adorned with the required sparkle. We must modernize if we want to continue holding races in the future.”
While Spa recognizes that it must atone for the farcical 2021 edition, which was canceled after three rain-soaked laps behind the safety car, its fresh attempt to win back fans and the commercial rights holder is motivated by concerns about the future rather than the past.
A long-term 80 million euro track renovation project, which allowed the return of the Spa 24 Hours for bikes while also benefiting car racing and spectators, is also a key piece of the puzzle, as is a concentrated effort to alleviate the horrendous traffic problems that plagued last year’s race, with torrential rain turning parking lots into mud baths.
“The new Raidillon grandstand provides great vistas, and the circuit has worked hard to improve its amenities and become more sustainable,” says de Boever.
“In terms of traffic, we’ve been working with the local authorities to create car parks on solid ground near Malmedy, further away from the track, with shuttle buses taking fans to and from the track. When it was dry in 2019, everything went quite well, but today we have more possibilities for providing better parking on hard soil.
“It is, after all, still Spa. We lack trains capable of transporting tens of thousands of passengers.”
It remains to be seen whether all of this is enough to impress F1 and earn a new deal. Spa has been in constant touch with Formula One, with event director Vanessa Maes traveling to Imola and de Boever present in the Barcelona paddock, as well as chairman and Walloon politician Melchior Wathelet.
The Spa camp’s hope that a new deal will be negotiated isn’t shared by everyone in the paddock, but it wouldn’t be the first time in recent history that the race’s obituary was written only to be replaced by a new pact.
“Our plans have been well received by F1,” de Boever remarked. “Despite race day being sold out since December, they are pleased that we are continuing to invest in a better fan experience.
“It’s occurred previously that we went into a Grand Prix without knowing what the following year would bring, so it’s not a major concern. We want a yearly race, not one that alternates with another GP, but we’ll listen to what F1 has to say.
“Liberty Media has certainly found a fresh method to organize Formula One races, and we will be watching them closely.
“Yes, we have a point to make. We may lack petrodollars, but we can demonstrate that we are a renowned grand prix capable of entertaining 100,000 spectators per day. The fact that they’ll be able to see it firsthand in August is a huge benefit.”
Spa’s contract expires this season, so perhaps a deal will be reached soon to keep the club on the calendar for 2023 and beyond.