The weather at last weekend’s Belgium F1 Grand Prix may put future spectators off attending. However, if you find yourself in Europe late in August and get the opportunity to head to the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit, then take it. It’s a spectacle, both on and off the track, worth participating in and it is set within a most beautiful part of Belgium. If you have already been, then you will know what I am writing about.
The circuit of Spa-Francorchamps is set in the beautiful Ardenne area which is full of forests, littered with small villages, accommodation aplenty and in the late summer when the event is held, it is still wonderfully green. Green in late summer can only mean one thing and that there is plenty of rain. The Ardenne area has a rainfall higher than Canterbury’s and a bit lower than Auckland’s and rain it did last weekend. Not heavy, but it didn’t stop and so the Grand Prix was mealy laps behind a safety car until the race stewards ran out of light, declared a result and gave out half-points.
Back in 1998 the Belgium Grand Prix was a wet affair which produced some extraordinary drama and some wonderful history. It was the first Formula One Grand Prix win for Eddie Jordan’s Jordan Grand Prix team with Damon Hill winning ahead of team mate Ralf Schumacher.
David Coulthard lost control of his McLaren on the opening lap causing a momentous crash involving 13 other cars. Such was the damage that the race was stopped for some time. That was in the days of T Cars (Training/Third/Test car) and a driver, if they badly damaged their car within the first two laps of a race and could get back to the pits in time before the race has restarted, could jump into this ‘T- car’ and continue racing.
On the restart, it was Mika Hakkinen who this time spun out of the race gifting the lead to Hill. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) soon took over, establishing himself as the rain-master and set about lapping the field. That is until he came upon Coulthard and being unsighted in the wet spray, drove right into the back of the McLaren.
Hill took the lead and led Ralf Schumacher home for a 1-2 finish for Jordan after plenty of discussion over the team radio on whether they should hold positions or race to the end.
Not only was Michael Schumacher filthy about colliding with Coulthard but also held Eddie Jordan accountable for not allowing his brother Ralf, to over take Hill and win the 1998 Belgium Grand Prix.
The story goes, according to Eddie Jordan, that Michael swore that his brother would never drive for his team again. Jordan said, ‘well I have a contract that says something different’ and in the end, Schumacher paid two million pounds to buy his brother’s way out of the team (and this was the team that Michael made his F1 debut with in 1991). He was replaced by another German driver, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, which, again, according to Jordan, he got for free from Williams F1 Racing whom Ralf Schumacher drove for in the 1999 season.
Such are the stories that come out of a wet Spa-Francochamps weekend.