Then and Now – First corner incidents at Spa

There has been a lot of talk over the last few days about what happened the first time the F1 field went through La Source on Sunday.  I do not propose to go over the events of the 2016 race here, it has already been reported on this site, and there are many comments from readers below.  However since the race returned to the shortened Spa circuit in 1983 there have been eleven years where an incident has occurred at La Source on the first lap, so about a third of the races have been affected in this way (note the 1984 race was held at Zolder, and there were no races in Belgium in 2003 or 2006.

In 1983 the start was aborted with yellow flags waving at the rear of the grid.  This was after the red lights had gone on, and when they went out to be replaced by yellow flashing lights instead of green (as was usual back then) the front row reacted to the reds going out and started.  Those further back did not, and the race had to be restarted.  Not an incident at the first corner, but a shortened restarted race all the same.

In 1985 it rained on race day where practice and qualifying had been dry.  Although the rain had stopped before the race started, the track was wet enough for everyone to start on wet tyres.  All got through La Source successfully, but Nelson Piquet spun his Brabham on the exit with Alain Prost narrowly missing him.

For the event the following year (only the third at this revised track) there was real chaos at the first corner.  Nelson Piquet starting from pole position got away cleanly, while Gerhard Berger in second got too much wheelspin.  Alain Prost from third got a good start and dived to the inside of La Source, while fellow second row starter Ayrton Senna tried to go to the right of Berger, found his way blocked so dive to the left.  This resulted in three cars abreast going into La Source (sound familiar?) with Prost on the inside, Berger in the middle and Senna trying to go around the outside.  Senna ‘took an uncompromising line’ according to the AUTOSPORT report written by Nigel Roebuck, ‘obliging Berger to do the same.  Which left Prost, a completely innocent party, suddenly with no race track in front of him.’  Prost ended up going over the front of Berger’s car with the result that the Benetton ended up sideways across the road.  While Piquet and Senna disappeared towards Eau Rouge, the rest of the field had  real mayhem to deal with.  Keke Rosberg had already driven off the road to pass a slow starting Teo Fabi, no found the way ahead blocked, but he also had no clutch, so had to keep the car moving to avoid stalling.  He spun the car through 360° after which a clear path was available to him.  Patrick Tambay also lost out wrecking his left front suspension against a stationary Fabi, who was stuck behind his team-mate (Berger).  By comparison, this year’s race start looks positively tame.

In 1987 there needed to be a re-started race, but this was due to a big accident at Raidillon involving the Tyrrells of Phillippe Streiff and Jonathon Palmer, with Streiff spinning and his car breaking in two after hitting the barriers right in front of his team-mate on the second lap, this after a spinning Gerhard Berger had collected Thierry Boutsen coming out of the Bus Stop Chicane at the end of the first lap.   The second start also went off without incident at the first corner.

In 1990 the race was red flagged twice for incidents.  On the first start a slow starting Nigel Mansell who qualified fifth was hit by those following (Aguri Suzuki and Nelson Piquet) before they even got to La Source.  The start was red flagged after Andrea de Cesaris ended up stuck across the track on the run down to Eau Rouge.  The second red flag was caused by Paolo Barilla spinning at the top od Raidillon and hitting the guard rails.

After a few incident free years at the first corner, 1996 provided a return to first lap chaos.  On a damp track Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jonny Herbert and Olivier Panis (starting 11th 12th and 14th respectively) fought for the same piece of track.  Herbert ended up flying through the air and all three cars retired on the spot.  Barrichello and Irvine also touched into the first corner, with both cars managing to continue.

The wet race in 1998 is the one that most will be familiar with, David Coulthard got wheelspin coming out of La Source after running over a metal drain cover, in the spray very few of the following cars managed to avoid him and thirteen cars were out on the spot (Eddie Irvine, Alex Wurz, Rubens Barrichello, Jonny Herbert, Olivier Panis, Jarno Trulli, Mika Salo, Pedro Diniz, Toranosuke Takagi, Ricardo Rosset, Shinji Nakano and Jos Verstappen in addition to Coulthard).  The races was red flagged with many drivers needing the spare cars.  At the second start Mika Häkkinen lost control at La Source and was hit by Jonny Herbert forcing both to retire.

For the 2004 race there were two incidents the first time through La Source.  Kimi Räikkönen tried to go around the outside of Felipe Mass, and Mark Webber tried to dive inside Giancarlo Fisichella.  Neither move was successful, Räikkönen and Massa hit with Jenson Button running into the back of Massa.  At the same time Webber skidded into the rear of Rubens Barrichello, losing his front wing.  The resulting incidents continued through Eau Rouge and up to Raidillon before the safety car came out to clear up the debris.

2007 saw no car damage, but the McLaren team-mates of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton (by that stage of the season very antagonistic towards each other), were pushing each other going into the corner.  Hamilton tried to go around the outside, but Alonso ran him wide and off the circuit, but both continued.

For 2008 there were another couple of first lap incidents at La Source.  On a slippery track, Sebastien Bourdais hit Jarno Trulli who ran wide causing a traffic jam on the outside of the corner.  Heikki Kovalainen has nowhere to go hitting Nick Heidfeld and drops from third to eleventh.

2011 saw a particularly messy start, again with two separate incidents in the first corner.  Bruno Senna misjudged his braking and ran into Jaimie Alguersuari who was pushed into Fernando Alonso.  While Alonso’s Ferrari was undamaged, Alguersuari had to retire with front suspension damage.  Further back, Timo Glock made contact with Paul di Resta, with both Lotuses (Heikki Kovalainen and Karun Chandhok) spinning to avoid the incident.

2012 is probably recent enough to be fresh in peoples memory, with Romain Grosjean making a good start and moving toward the inside of La Source.  Unfortunately Lewis Hamilton was there, and he did not move over as Max Verstappen did on Sunday, with the result that the two touched wheels launching Grosjean into Sergio Pérez which sent him airborne over Fernando Alonso’s car.  Hamilton crashed into Kamui Kobayashi, while Pérez hit an innocent Pastor Maldonado causing him to spin.  Only the latter two emerged from the first corner.

All in all the first turn at Spa can be very eventful, and while there has been a great deal written about what happened this year, it is not that unusual and nothing that hasn’t been seen before.

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OK, it’s not the first lap, but we shall never forget the Sato Slap.

Paul KieferJr

So, if there’s a history, why hasn’t anything been done to correct this issue?


It is racing, drivers are allowed to try and overtake. Occasionally it goes ..ring and there are racing incidents.

It is why I don’t like the idea of further regulations to limit what drivers are allowed to do. They must be allowed to race, otherwise we will just have a high speed reliability run.


When they rebuilt the pits area they should have made a first corner somewhat like Russia more of a sweeper.