This year, I got to attend my favourite race track for the F1: Spa! A few people have asked (or I just wanted to bleat on) about it, so I thought I'd write up my thoughts in one place.
My wife bought us a pair of tickets for our anniversary (1st one, paper) to go to Spa. When we later found out she was pregnant we started making alternative plans for me to take a mate, but he couldn't make it in the end, so we moved to plan C where I'd drive us to France on the Thursday, rest overnight, and then continue the drive to Spa on Friday morning.
We arrived on Friday and parked on the La Source side of the track, walked down into the valley and along Eau Rouge, up Raidillon and found a seat on the top of the grassy bank on the Kemmel straight in time to see FP3 and some of the support race practice/qualifying stuff going on. Shit is loud up there with the cars going flat out! Also, it was a hell of a long walk and took us ages (see aforementioned pregnancy), so we decided that wasn't a good plan for the race – which is one of the reasons we wanted to scope it out on a day that "didn't matter".
After the long trek back to the car (for which I partly went alone and doubled-back to pick up the wife so she wouldn't have to walk as far), we headed off the the Airbnb we were staying at a mere 5.7mi/9.1km around the corner(!). As soon as we had met the hosts and brought in our bags, it was time for sleep. Trekking up and down the hills in and around the track is exhausting!
Speaking to some of the other guests over breakfast, we decided to try parking on the opposite end of the track near Bruxelles/Rivage. Parking here was way closer to the track and practically flat, so the walk was much more manageable. The queues were utterly insane though. Once we finally got to the entrance it was clear why: there were three people scanning in tickets, and another three doing pat-downs. That's it. Worse, one pair were female and only scanning and patting the female attendees, leaving the other two pairs of people to get the (vast majority) male audience in – utterly ridiculous. Approximately 300 years later, we settled ourselves in right on the Bruxelles/Rivage corner itself. There's a large TV screen visible from there, you can see a few bits of the track, and it's next to the toilets and a few food/drink stands. Lovely! After we'd seen some cars, I knew we'd be back here come race day.
The mix of fans leaned heavily in favour of Verstappen and then Vettel which isn't surprising given the proximity to their home countries' borders, but there were some brave Brits cheering on Hamilton, too. The atmosphere and noise when any well-liked driver did well during qualifying was fantastic. Hamilton clinching pole in the wet was amazing!
Come race day, we were up at 05:30 (I think, memory is a little hazy due to lack of sleep), aiming to set off around 06:00 to secure a good spot to sit in. The queues to enter were again gigantic, with the same pathetic offering of 6 people to scan and pat literally thousands of attendees. Still, we were happy to see only 3-4 rows of people already there once we finally got to our favoured spot and settled in. We'd brought along our large fold-up chairs, blanket, etc so there was ample time for second breakfast and a nap. I enjoyed the support races, the drivers' parade in classic cars, and the general experience of being right there, though I would have liked to be able to hear the commentary – we'd read online that the official F1 radios should work at any track, so I'd brought one from Silverstone along. No dice. The commentary being played around the track seemed to switch often between French, Flemish, and English which was a really nice touch. Sadly my terrible hearing meant I couldn't actually catch any of it, but c'est la vie!
The opening lap (indeed, the first corner) contained a hell of a lot of excitement, but I won't go into the actual race too much here since I'm mainly concentrating on the experience of going rather than what actually took place in the race. If you really want to know, you should have been watching!
Conclusion and Complaints
Spa-Francorchamps is an absolutely stunning location with the beautiful green valley, and I'm glad we got to see it from various sides.
That said, the toilets were repeatedly out of order throughout the weekend, with no signs or information anywhere about what to do. They were just locked, and you could ask a member of staff about it if you could find one. Not hugely far away at Les Combes there is a permanent building containing a couple more toilets, but those also ended up being locked meaning my wife (my pregnant wife, remember) had to walk all the way to the ones over on the Kemmel straight in the hope that those ones were working. The men of course just all took to pissing up the wall behind the toilets.
The food stands operate on a ticket-based system where you have to buy tickets up-front with cash or card for €3.50 per ticket, then exchange those for food and/or drink. I guess it cuts down on the time taken to complete a transaction once you're at the food truck itself, but if it does at all then it isn't by a noticeable amount. Besides, the drinks stand still accepts cash so it really seems like a waste of time. Plus, the card machine was incredibly unreliable, accepting some cards and not others, taking minutes to complete a transation, and sometimes straight-up not working at all. On Sunday, they actually closed the card payment window entirely – I didn't see it open once all day. Luckily for us we'd got cash out on our way, else we'd have been totally screwed for even basic needs such as water.
I would love to know who's in charge of the operations side of things though, and give them a serious talking-to over the horrendous management of services and severe lack of staff.