Spa-Francorchamps, 2023

F1 drivers largely oppose calls for changes to Spa circuit after “unlucky” fatal crash

2023 Belgian Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by and

Formula 1 drivers are largely against changing the layout of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit following a fatal crash earlier this month.

Dilano van ‘t Hoff, an 18-year-old racing in the Formula Regional European Championship round, died in a crash at the Belgian circuit. His car left the track on the Kemmel straight in heavy rain, bounced back onto the circuit and was struck side-on by an unsighted competitor.

His death was the second for a driver in a junior single-seater series at the track in four years. Anthoine Hubert was killed in a similar crash earlier on the same straight, at the exit of Raidillon, in a crash which occured in dry conditions. His car also bounced off a barrier and was struck by a rival’s machine.

Several other major crashes occured on this section of the track in other series. That led the track owners to expand the run-off at Eau Rouge and Raidillon last year. Despite another fatal crash occuring since then, many F1 drivers said today they believe the circuit’s layout should remain unchanged.

“I don’t think the track lacks any safety attributes in Spa,” said Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jnr. “I think the changes they’ve done over the years have made the track a lot safer.”

Sainz believes the circumstances of the FREC crash were not unique to Spa. “I think it’s unfortunate what happened with Antoine, but it’s more due to the conditions what happened last time, a month ago here.

“The fact [is] that could happen in any category, in any race track in the world. When there is no visibility and a car spins in the middle of a straight we all cannot see nothing. It’s down to luck if you take the car or you run over it or not.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“This is way before green flag in a session, before green flag in a race, a restart of the race where the cars are so close bunched up, you need to be really sure that is not down to luck whether we’re going to see an accident or not.”

Gallery: First pictures from the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix weekend
Like Sainz, Max Verstappen also believes there was an element of misfortune in the van ‘t Hoff crash.

“Accidents happen, unfortunately,” said the reigning world champion. “Honestly, when you look back at, of course, the accident and what happened, it’s just extremely unfortunate the way it happened.

“I don’t think there’s a lot you can do or change for it to be a lot safer because there are also other tracks out there that if you have a crash and you are back onto the track and there is very low visibility, that can happen again. It’s just a bit, I guess, unlucky in a way as well that it happens at Spa two times quite close to each other.”

He said the Belgian track is no more dangerous than some other venues F1 visits. “There are always things that can be done better, but we are also racing in Monaco which I think is way more dangerous than here. But we race there because it’s deemed safe enough.”

Lewis Hamilton said “I love the track the way it is” and “it’s not my job to decide what needs to be changed or how it should be changed – that’s why you have good people to be able to do that job.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The Mercedes driver said he’s happy to trust the FIA’s judgement that the track is safe to race on. “I don’t think we would be here if they didn’t think that we would be safe. And I believe that, again, trust in them as they’ve done such incredible work over the past couple of decades, I trust in them to make the right decisions moving forwards also.”

Hamilton trusts FIA to make correct calls on safety
Following the crash, which occured while F1 was racing in Austria, some drivers called for changes to be made to Eau Rouge, the famed high-speed left-hand flick at the bottom of the hill which leads into the crest of Raidillon and on to the Kemmel straight. Lance Stroll was among those who said the corner should be slowed down.

Zhou Guanyu, who was Hubert’s team mate in Renault’s young driver programme and rival in F2, also wants to changes to slow one of F1’s most famous corners. He said the corner is no longer a significant challenge for F1 drivers in dry conditions anyway.

“It’s flat [out] in the dry so it’s not a challenge for an F1 car,” he said. “In the wet it’s really on the edge. Other categories obviously they need to lift. But then it makes no difference for them to do another downshift. But for us we take it easily flat in the dry.”

Slowing the corner would be better for safety and encouraged more overtaking, Zhou believes. “To be honest, I think it’s really hard following already. The last few years, if you have a car very strong on straight-line speed, it’s very hard for the train behind to follow with all the DRS.

“But I think in general, I’d personally like to change Eau Rouge, because just for the safety and what happened in the past few years and also what happened this year. I think Spa is a nice track to come to, but Eau Rouge I think for me it’s the right time to make some adjustments to make it slower and easier for overtaking, easier for racing as well as safety.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Few other drivers share Zhou’s view. Charles Leclerc said the track would benefit from more run-off space in the area where van ‘t Hoff crashed, but doesn’t see a need to change Eau Rouge.

Leclerc doesn’t see a need to change Spa’s layout
“I think there are some changes that could make a difference,” he said, “First of all, the walls in the straights after Eau Rouge I think should have a bit more space on the left and right. If you lose control of the car, I think the way it is done at the moment, you are bouncing off the walls and you have a very high chance of finding yourself in the way. I think this is probably a change that we should consider in the future.

“To change the layout of Eau Rouge, by example, I think we find ourselves in the season in those particular [situations], being fast in a straight, basically everywhere. I think that’s going to be difficult to do anything else other than that. You can always change the layout, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that this is what should be done.”

Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director George Russell said they have spoken to the FIA about the safety challenges presented by Spa but they are not pushing for changes to the track.

“There’s constant [communications] with the FIA following the tragic passing of Dilano in FREC,” he said. “The two questions are is Spa safe enough and then it’s the question of the conditions.

“I think the fact is motorsport will always be dangerous when you’re travelling at these speeds. If you were to put a ranking of risk of all the circuits, for sure Spa is one of the riskier circuits, along with Jeddah, along with Monaco for example. Suzuka to a degree.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“Then when you’ve got the combination of the weather it’s very challenging. It’s the visibility. We have no visibility whatsoever. The way I describe it to try and give some perspective is driving down the motorway in pouring rain and turning your windscreen wipers off. That’s genuinely how it feels in the cockpit.

“So not really any short term solutions. I personally think Spa is safe enough. It’s just we need to find a solution for the visibility.”

Asked whether the drivers have pressed for changes to the track, Russell said: “No.

“We’ve spoken about it and I think between everybody we don’t think it needs… They’ve obviously made a lot of progress with the run-off so that’s probably the most important thing.”

Bringing the F1 news from the source

RaceFans strives to bring its readers news directly from the key players in Formula 1. We are able to do this thanks in part to the generous backing of our RaceFans Supporters.

By contributing £1 per month or £12 per year (or the equivalent in other currencies) you can help cover the costs involved in producing original journalism: Travelling, writing, creating, hosting, contacting and developing.

We have been proudly supported by our readers for over 10 years. If you enjoy our independent coverage, please consider becoming a RaceFans Supporter today. As a bonus, all our Supporters can also browse the site ad-free. Sign up or find out more via the links below:

2023 Belgian Grand Prix

Browse all 2023 Belgian Grand Prix articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

9 comments on “F1 drivers largely oppose calls for changes to Spa circuit after “unlucky” fatal crash”

  1. This was my comment on the large crash in the Rome Formula E race:

    “The yellow flag took about 11 seconds to come out, allowing the entire remainder of the field (about 12 cars) to encounter the blind corner approaching top speed. Unacceptable.
    I don’t understand why they don’t use GPS to inform drivers that someone has stopped via their warning lights. Not necessarily automated, but it could immediately flash up the corresponding camera view to race control and prompt them to confirm the yellow via a button. This would be particularly appropriate on narrow street circuit corners where there is no run off, as any car stopped is very dangerous, on or off line.”

    I think this issue may have been what happened in the fatal Spa crash, I’m not certain though. It’s certainly an area they could more easily improve than further track changes at Spa.

    1. The crash at Spa, he had only been spinning for 2-5 seconds and the marshalls wouldn’t be able to see through the spray anyhow – the fan video that gave out the information about the accident was a cloud of spray for most of it. They were still all packed up from the SC restart, really not much could have been done. If a car is sideways and losing speed on a straight, people need room to swerve, or the car needs room to settle off-track – Kemmel has neither, as Leclerc said. Narrow straight, only 9m, and then barriers not even 1m from track on both sides. You’d argue less safe than even a high speed modern street circuit, considering those allow 12-15m track width

      FE’s took 11 seconds, and that’s FE’s major problem – they have very bad marshalling standards as it is… but Spa and FRECA’s situation was simply unfortunate. Widening the straight might be a way to make this much less likely.

      1. Fair points RJ.

        I should have added another example of another higher profile series getting this wrong. In last weekend’s Iowa race they took far too long, 8 seconds, to bring out the yellows after Sting Ray Robb’s wheel fell off coming out of the pits. 12 cars had gone by before the yellow.

  2. Coventry Climax
    27th July 2023, 17:39

    Said it before: Have a means of measuring visibility, and adapt the rule to ‘No racing when visibility is below a certain value’. Simple as that. Don’t leave it to the judgement of the clerk of the course or whomever. Measure it.

    1. Yeah, that really seems to be the key thing here. To make sure that drivers can see ahead on track in time to react, or not to race when visibility does not allow it (and not to build NEW tracks, yeah Jeddah, where a highspeed corner is completely blind)

      1. isthatglock21
        27th July 2023, 22:40

        Tracks like Jeddah however can be much more easily improved per feedback which it has vastly every year since it’s inception, lot safer & more visibility now. Drivers love the track cause it’s a challenge, you can’t remove that totally from F1 it would be awful

  3. Would the stance be the same if someone “high profile” was affected?

  4. Indeed not much to do anymore since the most recent fatal accident wasn’t track-related.

  5. It is pretty simple. The Hubert crash was a failure of circuit design (in this case the barriers), so they fixed it. This crash was a race control failure, as they failed to acknowledge the lack of visibility.

    Meaning: This time we do not need track changes, we need ways to measure visibility so we can define when we are able to race and when not.

Comments are closed.