Safety fears spark F1 action at Belgian Grand Prix

Safety-conscious Formula One bosses have moved to ban the sport’s main overtaking aid through the intimidating, high-speed Eau Rouge corner during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

The International Motoring Federation (FIA) believes that use of the drag reduction system (DRS) would be too risky at the most spectacular corner on the awesome Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

Australian driver Mark Webber of Red Bull said the Eau Rouge corner remained a huge challenge without any outside interference or assistance.

He told the BBC: “The reason it’s so massively rewarding for the drivers is there is a huge plunge down into the bottom of the corner at full speed — we’re in top gear approaching 200 mph — and then you climb the wall on the other side and pop out of the top.

“Irrespective of how comfortable it is, that’s still an amazing sensation, and you need total concentration to make sure the car is positioned correctly — it’s three kinks that you need to line up and get right.

“You really don’t want to be going off there — even with the increased safety we have these days.”

The use of DRS can increase top speeds by reducing a car’s down-force by around 10% and it is usually used only on straights.

Two-times world champion Fernando Alonso said: “You come into the corner downhill, have a sudden change of direction at the bottom and then go very steep uphill.

“From the cockpit, you cannot see the exit and as you come over the crest, you don’t know where you will land.

“It is a crucial corner for the timed lap, and also in the race, because you have a long uphill straight afterwards where you can lose a lot of time if you make a mistake.

“But it is also an important corner for the driver’s feeling. It makes a special impression every lap, because you also have a compression in your body as you go through the bottom of the corner. It is very strange — but good fun as well.”

The corner has claimed many victims who have crashed there including 1997 world champion Canadian Jacques Villeneuve who said: “That was my best ever crash!”

The corner is a legendary part of the reputation of Spa-Francorchamps as one of the ‘classic’ circuits remaining on a calendar largely filled with anodyne ‘facilities’ notably since 1994 following the deaths of Austrian Roland Ratzenberger and Brazilian Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix that year.

Along with Monaco and Monza in Italy, and Suzuka in Japan, Spa remains a symbol of the past and of past dangers as well as representing arguably the ultimate challenge for a racing driver with its majestic scenery, trees, hills and valleys — and a capricious micro-climate that is unpredicable, delivering rain and sunshine simulataneously at different parts of the track.

The original full-length circuit was taken off the calendar on safety grounds in 1970 and cut in length and hazardous challenges before returning in 1983.

The DRS has caused problems for many drivers this year with some losing performance in corners because, unwittingly, they have had the system in use.

That kind of error could prove fatal in the technically demanding Eau Rouge where the drivers accelerate to around 255 kph. — AFP

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Gordon Howard
Television writer and producer Gordon Howard has over 8753 followers on Twitter.

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