Thursday 20 August 2015


Eau Rouge - the iconic corner in Formula One 
Pouts of rain in the middle of European summer is not an unusual sight and in spite of few days of 'harsh heat', there are more cooler days and that was the case when I reached the town Spa. It was more than a drizzle as a few people working around me have just put on their rain jackets while few visitors took to  umbrellas and went on with their business as usual. I parked my car, asked my mother, if she wanted to come outside? She was comfortable being seated inside the car along with my sister and their newest companion, Abhinav. Tripti, my wife, as usual was always game to my crazy habit of visiting F1 tracks - be it 'contemporary 'or in ruins. We took our umbrellas with us ( just in case) and both went about walking perpendicular to the race track and entered the tunnel over which the cars at a great pace approach 'Eau Rouge'.

Located in the Ardennes and in the province of Liège, its famous municipality Spa is known worldwide for many reasons. A popular place and a well-known site for healing cold springs, the name itself has become eponymous with any place having a natural water source with special health benefits is known as 'spa'. For the lovers of detective fiction, it is worth noting the birth place of Agatha Christie's petit and the central character Hercule Poirot was born in Spa.

Since the mid-1920's, Spa and the nearby towns of Stavelot, Masta and Malmédy all played its part in hosting the Belgian Grand Prix - an annual motorsports event involving cars. After close to 90 years since its inception, there has been just two major revisions to this track one in 1946 and the other in 1983. While the circuit in its totality is one of the best we have in motorsports and specially in Formula One, a tiny part of this track - Radillon Eau Rouge happens to be my favourite.

Tripti and I had walked all the way from the La Source hairpin through the parking garage and the storage areas of the pit lanes towards the 'iconic section' of this track.

The name 'Eau Rouge' translates to 'red water' (French to English), is a small stream that flows through this part of the circuit and joins the river Amblève near Stavelot. Due to the reddish oxide deposits, the stones and the riverbed appears red and hence the name. The corner 'Eau Rouge' was so named as it is in that place, the track crosses the stream for the first time.  

"I can let you inside the track if you have your own sports car and a helmet." - a security official told me. My basic French skills was enough to strike a ice-breaker conversation and soon enough my inability to speak in the local language was evident and he switched over to what he called 'broken English'. We spoke about this part of the track and he explained to me what it was like to be there standing and working when cars are zooming past him. I too shared my views on what I thought about the track just as I saw few cars speed past me to encounter the challenging corner in F1.

I am not sure what worked in my favour, the security official was kind enough to let me walk very close to Eau-Rouge. Just as I was separated by just a few metres from my favourite corner, my mind went blank and I am sure about it as I just recall staring at it - the elevation, the width and imagined all those times when I saw multiple times F1 cars going past it.

So what is it that makes Eau Rouge a cult figure in Formula One? Let me explain it in as few sentences as possible. In the 1993 Belgian Grand Prix, Alex Zanardi (yes, the same guy who injured and came back strongly to win Paralympics medals) had an horrendous accident at Eau Rouge. Following this, there were speculations whether a chicane would replace the existing design of 'Eau Rouge'. When asked, Ayrton Senna just didn't respond, he made a statement - "If you take away Eau Rouge, you take away the reason why I do this (race F1)". Thankfully, sense prevailed, and those speculations remained just that.

While I was visibly disappointed about not walking or driving on Eau Rouge (as there was a testing day for cars), I was told the other farther parts of the circuit was open and can be accessed. I asked him about Blanchimont, the Pouhon and Stavelot - he gave me a smile and nodded a yes.

It was time for lunch as well and I drove along the old-part of the circuit - Haut de la Cote, Burnenville before heading to the centre of Malmédy for a pit stop. The lunch was quick as we bought few sandwiches and off we went on to the road leading to Masta, Holowell leading up to Stavelot where the current track re-joins.

I took a diversion which led me to the smaller roads in the direction of Pouhon and from there a 5-minute drive towards Blanchimont - the fastest corner in F1 (taken at 250 km/hr). I parked my car in between the sections of Fagnes and Stavelot. My son had just woken up from sleep and I took him out and showed him those few cars on the track from a distance. I am not sure whether he would follow F1 in the future, if he does, then he already has been at the 'Mecca of Formula One circuits'.

I spent close to three hours encircling the track and now it was time to head back home. Thanks Amma, Tripti, my sister Rashmi and our little darling 'Abhinav' for having the patience to be part of this 'crazy' road excursion. I had fun explaining why this track remains so dear to me.

The highlight of this Spa trip happened right at the beginning while at Eau Rouge - While I still stood looking at Eau Rouge, the kind security official came to me and pointed towards a building and asked me to go on top of a pit block - to have a look at the same thing which I was staring at. He told me I would enjoy it. And so, it was, the whole view of cars speeding towards Eau Rouge. The sounds of the throttle, the minimal adjustments and a tiny room, in fact no room for error as one takes the corner head on with 100% commitment, flat out before finding yourself on the Kemmel straight.

Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 World champion spoke greatly about Eau Rouge and these were his words - " Eau Rouge is probably the most exciting corner in modern F1. It has a little kink to the left and then you start turning right as the track starts going up. You pull a lot of 'G' force through there and the car scrapes the ground, so you get a little bit sideways. At the same time you don't see the exit of the corner so you're just turning right and then suddenly you're turning left and at that point the car gets very light. All that - flat out! It's a really exciting corner to do. Going flat-out there doesn't actually make your overall lap faster, but it does make you feel proud. Pride is stupid, but it is important!" and......

I now understand what he meant by that. 

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