Ardennes ready for new battle
FORMULA 1 RETURNS TO ONE OF ITS BEST TRACKS
January 1945 saw the end of the “Battle of The Bulge”, which started in December of 1944 when the German Panzer divisions caught the Allied forces by surprise in the Ardennes region of Wallonia, Belgium.
The Panzer Tiger II tanks were powered by a 23-litre V12 Maybach petrol fuelled engine producing around 515kw (690 hp).
Manufacturer Daimler Benz bought the Maybach Motorenbau Company in 1960.
This weekend sees the resumption of the 2015 Formula 1 season, after the holiday break, at the Spa Francorchamps circuit situated in the middle of that same Ardennes region surrounded by town names that would be familiar to soldiers of World War II.
Stavelot, Malmedy, Pouhon, all names evocative of a time past and a time never to be repeated.
They are also names, together with La Souce, Rivage, Fagnes and the stunningly imperious, sometimes deadly, roller coaster that is the Eau Rouge-Raidillon corner combination which these days conjure up images of one of the world’s greatest Formula 1 tracks.
In this 70th anniversary year of the ending of not only that famous battle in the Ardennes Forest but of World War II itself, the surrounding region of Wallonia encompassing the Spa circuit seems to have changed little.
It is still a green forest peppered with small, neat towns that depend on agriculture for a living and it is no mistake that one of Europe’s most popular bottled spring water brands is “Spa”.
It rains a lot around Spa.
The Mercedes Formula 1 Team have not yet won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. Picture / AP
Although the teams’ factories, known as Technology Centres, have been closed for a two-week period, it is impossible to stop engineers and designers thinking about possible developments as they lazed away in the sun, so the teams always come to the first race after the break with a multitude of new developments.
One team that desperately needs any and all developments they can get their hands on is McLaren, more especially the engine supplier Honda whose performance so far this season has been less than underwhelming.
Dismal in fact.
History does have a habit of repeating itself and that has never been more true than when applied to Formula 1.
In 1994, McLaren took on Peugeot as the supplier of its Formula 1 engines.
The relationship lasted just one year with an embarrassing record of 17 “DNF”s out of a total of 32 possible finishes.
The reliability of the engines was so bad that in practice, qualifying and the race, I took to getting on the team scooter and going to the furthest reaches of whichever track we were at in order to bring the drivers back to the pits when the engine inevitably called it a day.
That inevitability was normally at the worst possible place for them to get back to have another go in the already prepared spare car.
That scooter did a lot of kilometres in 1994.
Frankly, it was a pleasure to go out and see Formula 1 cars actually “on track” instead of just seeing them in the pit lane, especially at “real” tracks like Monza, Silverstone, Sao Paulo but most especially at Spa Francorchamps.
The habit stuck and even when the McLaren engine supplier for 1995 became Mercedes I would still go out to “Double Gauche” or “Fagnes” at the far reaches of the Spa circuit to simply watch and wonder.
Formula 1 cars seem to have been made for the Spa Francorchamps track and the track made for Formula 1.
There can be no better spectacle in the sport than seeing the two together with the static one trying to battle the speedy one into submission and being victorious on most occasions.
The winding, sweeping, swooping undulations of Spa never fail to make me realise, every year, just why I follow the sport and just why Formula 1 should never, ever, think of abandoning this track for faceless, featureless, characterless, concrete car parks in far-flung places.
The first Grand Prix event was held at the track in 1925 and was won by Alberto Ascari in an Alfa Romeo, but the track was different in those days, being almost 15km in length as opposed to just 7km today.
However, that does, in no way, detract from the majesty of the place.
The Mercedes Formula 1 Team have not yet won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, although Mercedes engines have been successful on six previous occasions, and Maybach, these days the ultra-luxury brand of the Mercedes-Benz-Daimler empire, was not so successful in 1945 either.
The Ardennes Forest and the Spa track have a way of coming up with something special every year. Whatever, it is always worth a watch or a visit.