Flashback: Is F1 lucky to still have Eau Rouge?

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Whenever the Belgian Grand Prix comes around, the mind instantly flashes to one sight, the iconic Eau Rouge corner.

The flat-out, uphill sequence was incorporated into the Spa-Francorchamps circuit back in 1939 to speed up the layout by cutting out the Ancienne Douane hairpin.

That goal was certainly achieved and over the decades, as cars have got faster, Eau Rouge gradually built a reputation as one of the most fearsome corners in motorsport anywhere in the world.

Of course thanks to a certain meme, everyone now knows that actually, the main right-hander is called Raidillon with the kink at the bottom of the hill the real Eau Rouge, but we'll gloss over that for this.

Anyway, as the corner became faster and faster, with drivers trying harder and harder to carry more speed, the result was many massive crashes due to the lack of run-off.

Notably, in 1985, former F1 and sportscar driver Stefan Bellof died at Eau Rouge having collided with Jacky Ickx while racing in the 1000km endurance race at Spa.

So when Ayrton Senna died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, the decision was taken to alter Eau Rouge for that year's Belgian GP, inserting a chicane at the bottom of the hill.


Thankfully, the change was reversed for 1995, restoring the corner to its original glory and efforts were made to improve safety by pushing back barriers and inserting a gravel trap.

But it didn't take long for the crashes to resume and famously BAR drivers Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta destroyed their cars in qualifying in 1999.

Is F1 and motorsport lucky then that Eau Rouge still exists? Certainly, had a similar decision to 1994 been taken today, it wouldn't have been undone without much bigger alterations than took place for the 1995 race.

And given the lack of space in the area that surrounds the corner, it's unlikely the run-off areas would be big enough to meet modern safety standards

That's because, by the regulations, circuit designers actually wouldn't be allowed to create another Eau Rouge as the hill is too steep and the run-off is insufficient.

Perhaps then, it's a saving grace that today's F1 cars can take the corner easily flat-out because if more serious accidents had taken place, more safety questions would be asked.

There's no doubt that Eau Rouge is and always will be one of the best corners in the world, and we can be relieved that 1994 remains the only year it was deemed too dangerous to race on.