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Old 9th April 2019, 02:58   #1
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Default My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018

Hello all, this is a thread I've been meaning to share with you all for a long time. In the interests of keeping this brief I'll try not to waffle. I've been a lifelong Formula 1 fan and count the Red Baron Michael Schumacher as my childhood hero. His often questionable morality fits closely with mine.. Anyway, I'm doing a PhD in Manchester and it just so happened that a few of my friends all started getting into F1 and we would regularly chat about it. One of our group, Irem, is a mother hen. She's the organiser. Predictably about Xmas 2017 she put forward the proposal that we should go to the Belgian GP the following summer.

The gist of the plan was as follows:
We'd book the cheapest weekend pass. Fly out on the Friday, taking our camping kit with us. Land in Brussels, pick up the rental car, drive to the campsite, pitch up our tents and enjoy the race weekend before flying back on the Sunday evening to Manchester. Ours was a group of 6.

Costs-
Bronze pass full weekend+1 Youth Village camping spot=183(205EUR)
Flights MAN-CRL (Brussels Charleroi) return=71
Car hire 3 days=50/person
Camping kit=38/person (includes tents, rollable mattresses, camping chairs etc)
Misc over the course of the weekend=140 incl Food, Fuel, etc

Total=481 all inclusive (or INR 43290 roughly at AUG18 rates)

MAP:
It's important to keep this map in mind because boy not only is Spa the longest circuit on the F1 calendar its a huge area to cover every day


My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180824_145711.jpg
After a 2.5 hour drive from the airport we reached the region of Stavelot where the track is. As you approach the track you pass over a bridge over a valley. Through a gap in the hills in the distance from this bridge you can spot the track shrouded as it was then in the mist.
Each ticket comes with a colour designation to mark which area to go to. Ours was the Green Zone at the far end (see near Turn 18 Bus Stop)

Our car was a Renault Espace minivan to seat all 6 of us with our gear. Due to flying Ryannair all our luggage was mainly just a small duffel each and just the one big suitcase to carry all our tents and camping gear. Once we reached the Youth Village which was marketed as having a mini festival atmosphere with a big tent with music venue etc we get to a large field on a sloping hill that was slowly filling up with cars. Our initial spot was all the way at the bottom near the hedges and predictably our minivan beached itself. After pushing and heaving, and some Indian negotiation I got us a more favourable spot further up the hill. What we soon realised was that we were total novices. Some folks had driven all the way from England in Ford Transit vans complete with huge tents of their own, mini generators, furniture, you name it. What soon became apparent was the constant euro techno beat thumping in the background relentlessly the whole duration of the race weekend. You had to get used to it. The assortment of vehicles was incredible and all were mostly under 35ish age wise. Some folks simple drove in their hatchbacks. Also you could easily see the territorial demarcations. Though there was a whole separate campsite and you'll find later, grandstands, devoted to Max's orange army, in our Youth Village you had the Germans, the Brits and the Italians distinct from the large flags and the number plates.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180824_163152.jpg
Here we're at the bottom of the Youth Village looking down to Turn 18 the closest entry point of the track. That too it was a good 15 minute scramble down a muddy downhill track through brambles to get to.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-img_20180825_093108_570.jpg
Base camp - these were really cheap and light tents we bought at the supermarket. In future what we learnt is that there was no point buying camping stuff and lugging it (what with the exorbitant Ryannair baggage fees) all the way. There are loads of huge outdoor equipment warehouses we ran into on the drive over where we could've just as easily bought everything for the same price. You can see the rear of our rental in the corner of the shot.
Given that it rained a lot overnight and it got freezing most of the time as the clouds basically rolled in tens of m's above us, our tents weren't all too comfortable. But they kept us dry for those 2 nights.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180824_173924.jpg
A selection of trucks parked in the centre - it's practically a huge wooded area in the middle of the track that basically hosts the main facilities at one part and the various Fan Zones etc. This alone was a 30 minute walk to get to from our access point at Turn 18. You need to keep in mind there are very few ways to walk around the site as the crow flies. Instead you need to trek along the undulating terrain basically following the track

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180824_173941.jpg
My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180824_174418.jpg
My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180824_174455.jpg
Some more of the team trucks. In this giant central car park you saw all manner of service vehicles including spare AMG medical cars and safety cars. Also I guess there was a VIP car park in the centre as we saw plenty of well dressed folks calmly driving through the large paths whilst the rest of us trudged on to whatever part of the track we wished to get to.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180825_132638.jpg
Our viewing spot along the Kemmel Straight. We were perched on a rocky embankment. It was the only decent spot we could find. Took us the better part of 45 minutes to get to having climbed down from the campsite then through and around the whole track from Turn 18. All the good spots along the paved service road and up near the treeline are taken by the more seasoned attendees with their comfortable chairs and suchlike.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180825_143259.jpg
Probably the best shot I took all weekend. You get a real idea of just how many people were camped up along this pretty boring part of the straight. That being said we saw Stoffel spin before our eyes here.
One thing to keep in mind is just how early you need to get there to get a ringside seat so to speak. For quali we were an hour early and it still wasn't enough.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180825_164607.jpg
A Belgian F-16 parked in the fan zone. F-16s were part of the 10 minute long flyby prior to the race on Sunday. They did all sorts of aerobatics at pretty low levels below the clouds.
The fan parks themselves have an eclectic carnival atmosphere. They not only have various food stands, they have merchandise zones, a music area and various fun F1 related activities.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180825_164636.jpg
Seen here you have Lewis's car from the 2017 Season. This was one of a number of attractions in the fan park. One of the fun things we tried our hand at was the pit stop challenge. While the tyres themselves aren't enormously heavy (they're bulky though) it's the guns to change the wheel nut. Boy! Not only do they way a ton the force of them actually caused me to sprain my tender wrists. I clearly am not cut out for pit duty as it stands. Turns out the trigger is on a rocker. Pivot it one way to unlatch the nut and press the other way to tighten. The key is making sure there's no delay in the switch, all the while you have to be mindful the attachment nut doesn't fall out while you're doing so. It was fun doing this. You competed in teams of 3 against other fans and basically saw how far up a leaderboard you got.
To take part you sign up to a Fan account type thing so that you can follow your scores online and I guess track your progress at different events in the year.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180825_165007.jpg
A fancy fire truck. One of the more curious attractions but they were there to recruit too. You could see how Liberty Media have really been trying to get the fans as involved as possible. The fan park was an eclectic mix that I suppose adds value to the money you spend on your ticket.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180825_183118.jpg
Stoffel speaking to Will Buxton at the Fan Experience area. This was super busy, music festival like. One or two of the drivers would come out and take turns interacting with the fans, answering questions and throwing t shirts out using a t shirt cannon. They had an assortment of cartoon driver mascots on there dancing too. I'll try posting the video.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180825_200236.jpg
We got locked inside the track after qualifying! Our normal exit near Turn 18 had been shut so we had to trek all the way north to Malmedy and then down to Stavelot and exit the track from there which meant it took us over an hour and a half to make it back to camp. In the process though we came across the true hardcore party area. The sights I saw in that zone I won't unsee. One group had a hot tub set up on a trailer! It was mayhem but it looked great fun. In terms of security all access points to the track require you to scan in your QR code on your ticket. Marshalls on quad bikes regularly buzz around the whole grounds trying to stop people from jumping the fences. Also there were plenty of armed police present too. Unfortunately our Bronze pass only let us go to the fan areas and not much more. Not even any of the grandstands as those were Silver and above. Gold gave you access to the pitlane.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-20180826_134027.jpg
Race day spot! Turn 19. We got there at 7 having woken up at 540 to have breakfast and shower etc and still there was a 1 deep line of fans along the chain link fence.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-img20180824wa0014.jpg
Porsche supercup. Easily the loudest cars the whole weekend. All the single seater formula cars included. These things were monstrous. You could hear the screams all the way up in our camp site above the deep house being thumped out of a myriad subwoofers and we were at least 1km away from the nearest section of track!

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-img20180825wa0002.jpg
They had this avenue of drivers with banners of all them. This was a nice touch.

My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018-img20180825wa0003.jpg
Stoffel binning it on Kemmel. It was quite dramatic I have to say and the skid marks are very distinct up close. Including the wrenching screech as the tires give up the ghost grip wise.

MISC:
Food - we mostly ate dry foods and snacks over the course of the weekend, all bought at a local supermarket. Have to be quick though as they run out of basics like cold cuts, napkins, sliced bread, cheese, etc. There's loads of food options on track and they all operate on a token system where you have to purchase before hand. I found these plastic tokens a bit silly as you had to break them off bit by bit to pay. In the youth village we could pay in cash and there was a large mess hall though this was mostly for hanging out.
Toilets - trackside there are loads of portaloos but pity the few women as the queues were gargantuan for them. For most of the men, I'm afraid they just went into the woods and did it the old fashioned way. At the youth village the toilets soon got quite grimy. Pro tip - BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER. You'd be surprised how many forget it. I would usually go at the crack of dawn to shower. The communal showers aren't great but again, it's standard festival fare here. You can drink the water from the taps at the drinks stations and make sure you do so.
Theft - to me at least it seemed fairly relaxed. We didn't worry too much about leaving our stuff out in the open as many others had theirs too.


Those are but some highlights. I have a few short video clips I'll try and add later. I've probably missed out loads because it's been a while but all in all it was a fun experience I would do again. Tantalisingly I'm having to fly back from Budapest the Monday before the Hungarian GP weekend this summer. Alas such is life. I hope you enjoyed it and I'm more than happy to answer any questions.
Promise I'll get better at this photo assay lark as time goes on!

Last edited by GTO : 10th April 2019 at 08:46. Reason: Taking live & Rule 11. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 10th April 2019, 08:47   #2
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Default Re: My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018

Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Motorsports Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 10th April 2019, 11:03   #3
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Default Re: My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018

Have seen and read many a travelogues with cross-country road trips et al but I guess this is the first time that I am reading a F1 race ringside experience! Thanks for sharing a nice, crisp view.

Would love to hear those screams from the monster engines, do you have any video/audio clips?
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Old 10th April 2019, 17:31   #4
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Default Re: My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018

Quote:
Originally Posted by JoshMachine View Post
Have seen and read many a travelogues with cross-country road trips et al but I guess this is the first time that I am reading a F1 race ringside experience! Thanks for sharing a nice, crisp view.

Would love to hear those screams from the monster engines, do you have any video/audio clips?
Hi, glad you enjoyed it. I was hoping to share this ages ago but I'm a terrible procrastinator. I guess I had a frustrating Monday at work and decided to finally get round to sharing.

I do have quite a few clips. Thing is I'm not too savvy on how to embed the videos natively. I think what I'll have to do is upload them on youtube and then embed the links. But I'm open to any advice. I'm more than happy to show people.

But speaking of the engines, like I said, the V8s from the Porsche SuperCup cars were easily the loudest things the whole weekend. As for the Formula 2 & 3 cars, they had the same pitch I suppose. The F1 cars themselves were really buzzy sounding. Basically with the V8s I definitely think after a few laps I'd need ear plugs from my ears ringing. But the F1 cars weren't that loud, in terms of absolute ear piercing volume. What I did find interesting though was how different the character of the various engines were. The Ferrari was totally distinct especially going into Turn 17 and 18. It had this strange waste-gate noise I think that was very distinct from the Mercedes engines. That was about all I could easily tell apart at first contact in the flesh.
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Old 10th April 2019, 18:51   #5
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Default Re: My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018

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Originally Posted by ads11 View Post
I think what I'll have to do is upload them on youtube and then embed the links. But I'm open to any advice.
Yes, I would say this is the right way to upload videos in here. Ofcourse, besides YouTube, there could be other video sharing sites but the approach is the same.
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Old 18th April 2019, 14:42   #6
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Default Re: My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018

Thanks for sharing your experience here.

I missed watching Indian GP here due to myriad reasons but Spa remains my favourite circuit out there. I want to once witness the race sitting on the stands near Eau Rouge.

Liberty media is doing a good job in promoting F1. First they allowed Netfix to showcase an entire season. Also the YouTube channel has loads of videos.

I just wish there is more competition as Mercedes are looking to dominate again the 2019 season.
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Old 22nd April 2019, 15:41   #7
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Default Re: My experience at the Belgian GP - Spa Francorchamps, 2018

Super!
I couldn't help but reminisce about my 2016 Hockenheim trip.

The one key takeaway was: Always have noise isolating headphones lest you have your ears buzzing away by the end of the race.

Good memories.
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