The Mystique of Spa-Francorchamps and the 1950 Belgian GP

First off, as a threshold matter, I have had some personal difficulty in coming up with the last two posts of the year.  Certainly, I do not mean to complain.  However, there has been no footage of these races.  And while I am not the most advanced of researchers, I have experianced considerable difficulty in coming up with primary sources from which to draw my race reports.  As such, I am limited to the facts contained in these limited reports.


With the initial difficulty of finding information, I have also experienced a bit of writer’s block.  Without video, it is tough to get a sense for the particular aura surrounding a given race.  And, in a weird way, I am impatient.  I know how exciting the Formula 1 1958 Championship Season will be and I simply cannot wait to get there.  And yes, I realize it’s all a bit silly that a twenty-nine year old simply cannot wait to get to the excitement of racing in 1958.  And, to be honest, it’s that silliness that makes the early part of this project to fun.  So, I guess I’m asking you to not take ourselves too seriously as we walk through the early races of the F1 championship.


The Mystique of Spa-Francorchamps: a (very) Brief History of the Circuit.


The circuit was established in the early twenties when the roads connecting the three towns of  Spa, Malmedy, and Stavelot.  The preceding link allows you to see the original circuit overlaid on top of the modern Spa-Francorchamps track.  Original photos of the track are limited.  However, as it is located in the Ardennes forest, it was in the line of the battle of the bulge.  I have not seen any reports as to the degree of reconstruction necessary to get the track up and running following the second world war, however, it seems reasonable to believe that the second world war had some impact on the layout of the course.

Diagram of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, whic...

Diagram of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, which hosted the Belgian Grand Prix from 1950 to 1954. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s course has been considerably shortened.  However, I believe it retains the magic of the original course.  Today, Spa-Francorchamps may be my favorite course.  A lap around the course will show you why.  Part of the reason the magic is retained is that some of the quintessential portions of the original track were retained when the new track was created.  And, as I look below, I am frightened.  Spa remains an extremely high speed track in its current configuration.  To think of the modern track but straightened out into a much larger circular layout would bring deadly speed.  And unfortunately, it did; many drivers have been lost over the years at this track.

The old configuration Circuit de Spa-Francorch...

The old configuration Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (in comparison to modern). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1950 Belgian GP

The Facts

June 18, 1950.  35 laps × 8.825 miles = 308.875 miles.  Weather: warm, dry, sunny.  Pole: Nino Farina; 4:37.0 (Alfa Romeo).  Fast Race Lap: Nino Farina; 4:34.1 (Alfa Romeo).

As a note, it was unusual for me to see race laps faster than qualifying laps.  While laying down a groove would make it faster, I am not sure that it can account for about three seconds.  Rather, I think a more plausible explanation, is that the driver’s were–still–progressively learning the circuit’s over the course of the race.  I think the take-away point from this is that, one forgets the sheer hours a driver puts into simulation, let alone the thousands of support staff hours in developing the team’s simulator.

1950 Belgian GP Podium

  1. Juan-Manuel Fangio (Alfa Romeo)
  2. Louis Fagioli (Alfa Romeo)
  3. Louis Rosier (Talbot-Logo)

A Quick Bit of Commentary

This was the second straight for Fagiolo and the second straight third place for Rosier.  Fagioli was reported to not have the qualifying skill of either Farina or Fangio.  The toll of the fast paced season was weighing on the field, which was down to fourteen chassis in race condition.  Ascari took the early lead, but lost it due to an early refuel.

Notably, the Ferrari switched to their next model–the Ferrari 275 F1, but Villoresi remained in the Ferrari 125 F1.  The Ferrari 275 F1 was a switch to the naturally aspirated category of engines.  In 1950, either a 4.5 liter naturally aspirated engine or a 1.5 liter supercharged engine was permitted.  Ferrari was unable to compete with the 1.5 liter supercharged Alpha Romeo’s, so they switched to a 4.5 liter V12–I believe.  However, Disclaimer: I have found numerous conflicting facts on what car was raced during which race.  I have also found conflicts regarding the engine setup Ferrari was running in any particular case.  So, these are at the facts as I was able to determine from the events on a random Sunday sixty-two years ago.  As one other note, although the maximum was 4.5 liter, I believe Ferrari was pursuing a step-approach to the engine, introducing progressively larger displacements before immediately going to full 4.5 liter setup.  Accordingly, I’m under the impression that Ferrari ran a 3.3 liter engine at the 1950 Belgian GP.

English: Swamp close to the Eau Rouge river (&...

English: Swamp close to the Eau Rouge river (“Red water”, because of its high iron concentration). The circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is about 1km lower. Français : Marécage au Pouhon de Bernister sur les rives de l’Eau Rouge saturée en fer. Le circuit de Spa-Francorchamps se trouve à environ 1km vers l’aval (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






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