Spa-Francorchamps boasts a revised Eau Rouge/Raidillon complex for this year’s race, but it was a painstaking process to update F1’s most famous corner.
Eau Rouge and Raidillon has been heavily revised for this year, in a bid to improve the safety of the complex following a spate of serious accidents in recent years (one of which sadly claimed the life of Formula 2 racer Anthoine Hubert).
However, making changes was no easy task, given the challenging topography of that section of land. Added to that is the fact that Eau Rouge is, arguably, F1’s most iconic corner, even if it is no longer quite the daunting challenge of nerves that it was for previous generations.
Jarno Zaffelli, founder of Dromo Circuit Design, was tasked with the challenge of updating Spa-Francorchamps and its safety standards without changing the original feel of the circuit.
Following significant flooding in the area last year, Dromo began working on the complex, as well as tweaking Turns 8 and 9.
“The target was to modernise and improve the safety of Eau Rouge,” Zaffelli said.
“We were engaged after the floods that did a lot of damage. We determined how to restore the area and improve the racing show, reducing the bumps, allowing for rainfall disbursement, and overall, [make it] safer. This whilst ensuring the most iconic corner in motorsport retained its unique character.”
Eau Rouge a stern challenge to re-design
The exit of La Source has been changed from tarmac to a gravel trap, while the familiar sight of the daunting hill in front of the drivers has had the famous Raidillon chalet removed in order to add a new covered grandstand. As the picture below shows, the hillside has been carved into to allow for more space.
This has allowed the troublesome inside barrier, which had the effect of funneling crashed cars back onto the racing line, to be moved further back.
Larger tarmac run-off areas have been added and, while this has had obvious aesthetic ramifications, the circuit itself doesn’t look significantly different.
However, the approach to Eau Rouge has been tweaked to slow the cars more on the apex, meaning a slightly lower speed through the top of the hill, with Raidillon also having a tighter apex.
Zaffelli explained that the re-design process saw Dromo evaluate 20 different designs before a final choice was made.
“In the design and the further developments, we took into consideration the new regulations and the new tyres,” he said.
“We had like 20+ iterations of Eau Rouge. We spent several days with professional drivers in our in-house simulators to get their feedback. We then spent two full days with professional drivers in the Vi-Grade sim center, supervised by [former F1 racers turned FIA race stewards] Thierry Boutsen and Emanuele Pirro.
“Between October and November 2021, the work was fine-tuned in the simulators for F1 and GT cars with Marco Bonanomi, to get their feedback. This work helped us a lot to choose the final design that was then submitted to the FIA Circuit Commission prior to the works that were carried out in the first months of the 2022 season.
“In addition, we had our internal analysis of the circuit, a LIDAR scan of the area, and then a complete analysis to finalise all the details.”
Eau Rouge has also been re-paved with a bespoke tarmacadam mix that Dromo have called “LeNoir”. Zaffelli explained that car technology has improved so much since its last repaving, the circuit required a long-term solution.
“[The] last time that the track was paved was almost 20 years ago,” he said.
“At that time, the performance of the race vehicles and motorbikes have hugely increased. The technology available for the asphalt materials and the paving equipment have changed dramatically. Dromo’s experience and expertise is actually the development of the mix design specific for each
“It’s been an honour to work at Spa”
With the work completed after meeting the challenges of getting the required work done during February and March 2022, the only available window due to severe weather conditions, racing resumed at Spa just 10 days after completion.
“It is an adrenaline rush,” Zaffelli said.
“We had the honour to support the Spa-Francorchamps team, and the new CEO. It was a great satisfaction to have their trust to do the design.
“We had the complexity of all the stakeholders including FOM (Formula One Management), FIA (F1’s governing body), FIM (MotoGP’s governing body), etc.”
Zaffelli said the running of the World Endurance Championship’s 6 Hours of Spa back in May was the real litmus test for the changes, and he said they met with universal approval.
“We got very positive feedback from teams, race engineers, the tyre companies and the drivers,” he explained.
“The most interesting fact for us was that no crashes happened in the full race weekend at Eau Rouge or Raidillon.”