Belgian GP history 1954-1978 (video)

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The crowd don't get this close to the cars at Eau Rouge these days

The Belgian Grand Prix is one of the most historic rounds on the Formula 1 calendar. Guest writer Journeyer surveys the history of the race, accompanied by a series of videos, in a three-art series starting today.

The Belgian Grand Prix is race with a rich and storied history. Those said to be the best Formula 1 drivers ever – Fangio, Clark, Senna, and Schumacher, among others – all achieved great success at Spa-Francorchamps.

Along with that success, the Belgian Grand Prix has also seen more than its fair share of action and drama, and we’ll cover much of that here – along with the other circuits that held the Belgian Grand Prix.

1954 – The Belgian Grand Prix started in 1925. It was one of the original races included in both the pre-World War II European Championship and eventually the Formula 1 World Championship. The early master of this place was Juan Manuel Fangio, who won here three times. The footage here is from an old Maserati TV commercial which took pride in their racing heritage. Even back in the 50s, it was already ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’.

1958 – Four years on, it was the British drivers making their mark on the scene, as Tony Brooks led a British one-two-three-four. In fact, there were eight British drivers competing out of 19 drivers on the grid. While some British racing legends did well (Brooks won, Mike Hawthorn was second), others did not (Stirling Moss and Graham Hill both out with engine failures).

Funny too how the video was mentioning that some sections of the track were modified to make it ‘easier’. Goes to show how little has changed in 50 years.

1962 – After Fangio’s retirement, no one really took his place as the master of Spa. Until Jim Clark came along, that is. The Scotsman would win four consecutive times, a record at the time. This was the first of those wins. Clark, however, famously hated the track, after seeing Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey perish there in 1960.

But while Clark and eventual champion Graham Hill were triumphing, the Ferraris weren’t so well off. Champions the year before, Ferrari weren’t really in the title picture that year. Nevertheless, Phil Hill and new teammate Ricardo Rodriguez trudged on. But by the end of the year, Rodriguez had been killed and Hill was off to the ill-fated ATS project of Carlo Chiti.

As for the British drivers, there were now 10 of them trying to enter, but only six made it onto the 19-car grid.

1966 – Spa, like Monaco before and Monza later, got extensive coverage in the movie ‘Grand Prix’. While these weren’t actual F1 cars, the shots give us a good idea of what the era was like in terms of ambience and atmosphere.

Just like the movie, the actual race saw a rainstorm. John Surtees won pretty easily from Jochen Rindt. After the win, he duly walked out of Ferrari (being sick of Italian politics) and moved to Cooper.

But the video here is of a more serious incident, that of Jackie Stewart’s. The accident he had nearly killed him, and only intervention by other drivers saved his life. As you will see in this video, this was what started his famous crusade for F1 safety.

1970 – Pedro Rodriguez was the elder brother of the late Ricardo. He, too, was pretty nifty with an F1 car, and won twice. This was the second of those two wins, and it came at what proved to be the last race at the old eight-mile Spa. He held off the perpetually unlucky Chris Amon by just 1.1 seconds.

But Pedro would share Ricardo’s fate. He died in a sportscar racing accident a year later.

1973 – With Spa gone, other tracks came to the fore to try their hand at staging the Belgian Grand Prix. A track at Nivelles has two tries (in 1972 and 1974), but they eventually settled on Zolder. Even then, the organisers seemed to be running afoul of the Stewart-led GPDA.

Eventually, though, the race went ahead. An interesting video here of what happened to Ronnie Peterson in qualifying. Although he started on pole, he couldn’t keep the Tyrrells of Stewart and Francois Cevert behind him. He eventually went out of the race with an accident on lap 42.

1978 – This video starts with a flying lap of Zolder. Compared to Spa, there wasn’t much to love about this place.

The race in itself wasn’t too exciting, other than Ferrari’s Carlos Reutemann trying to charge back up to the front, there wasn’t much battling going on, especially for the lead.

That was because Mario Andretti had a firm hold on the event. Much of that was down to his car, the new Lotus 79, which harnessed ‘ground effect’ aerodynamics to devastating effect. A new era in Formula 1 had begun.

With Zolder as boring as it was, how much longer would it get to stay in the calendar? And what circuit would replace it? Find out as we explore the ’80s tomorrow.

This is a guest article by Journeyer If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

10 comments on “Belgian GP history 1954-1978 (video)”

  1. MarathonMan801
    3rd September 2008, 8:46

    Excellent article.
    Thoroughly enjoyed the 1958 lap of Spa – narrated by Raymond Baxter, I think.
    On the last video clip – the one from Motors TV – the commentator says ” . . . sround Zolder, the home of the seventy-eighth Belgian Grand Prix.”
    Obviously, that’s just a mistake because the year happens to be ’78. But does anyone know how many Belgian Grand Prix have actually been run?
    Looking forward to tomorrow’s instalment.

  2. Thanks, MarathonMan!

    Wikipedia says this year’s edition will be the 64th running of the Belgian GP.

    Just found out now: Michael Schumacher won the 50th Belgian GP (his first ever GP win in 1992). More info on that win on Friday.

  3. MarathonMan801, I just want to clarify something for you: the narrator of the video is not saying “the 78th Belgian Grand Prix,” he is saying “the ’78 Belgian Grand Prix,” as in using the last two digits of the word 1978. Great article by the way, Journeyer!

  4. Thank you very much, Stealthman! There’s more to come tomorrow. :D

  5. In reference to the film Grand Prix, whilst the camera car was not a “real” F1 car it was allowed to start the actual Grand Prix in the year of filming, albeit from the very back. As you can see the race conditions were appalling and with such amounts of rain and the number of spins on lap 1 the camera car overtook several people on that first lap! It wouldn’t happen these days!

    A lot more information to be had here:

    prepare for a long but very well informed read!


  6. ooops forgot to tick the notify by email box….

  7. @ Stealthman.
    Sorry. You’re right. Just my ‘early morning ears’ deceiving me.

  8. Excellent footage!
    Spa is, by far, the best circuit on the calendar.

  9. Greetings from Poland!

    Huge thanks for this article and for the whole site. I love spending my time here and wait impatiently for every next text.

    (Please, forgive my language errors.)

  10. Journy,

    Those articles are one of my favorite parts of F1fanatic pre-races! Thanks mate!

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