Belgian GP’s fate in doubt in licence row

THE future of the Belgian Grand Prix would again appear to be up in the air as the Spa-Francorchamps circuit has had its operating licence suspended for the next 17 years.

The decision comes from the Council of State, effectively Belgium’s supreme administrative court, after a noise complaint was made by a board of local residents in 2007.

It resulted in the track operators being ordered to undertake an environmental impact study, which has been described in a Council of State ruling as “seriously inadequate and incomplete”.

That has resulted in the licence suspension until 2026, with the decision coming as a major shock to circuit director Pierre-Alain Thibaut.

“The whole viability of the circuit may be questioned,” remarked Thibaut.

“Since the filing of the complaint, the situation has changed. The circuit has worked hard to reduce noise, and relations with local residents has improved.

“It is a difficult situation, but we’ve made commitments vis-a-vis a range of people, and we must comply on pain of having to pay damages.

“We will challenge the government, and organise a dialogue with the board of residents.”

The race was already under discussion after it was confirmed on the Sunday of this year’s event just over three weeks ago that it had made a €2.8 million loss.

It prompted the president of the race organisers, Etienne Davignon, to suggest the prospect of renegotiating its current contract with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, or even alternating the event with another circuit such as Germany’s Nurburgring.

Meanwhile Jenson Button is hoping several hours of simulator work will help him strengthen his grip on the Formula One world title.

Although Button revelled in the spectacle provided by Singapore’s night race debut last year, the Marina Bay circuit was not one that played to his driving style or strengths.

Ahead of this weekend’s race under lights, Button was determined not to be found wanting on this occasion, particularly with team-mate Rubens Barrichello hot on his heels.

The Brawn GP duo are separated by just 14 points with four grands prix remaining in the wake of the Brazilian winning two of the last three races.

Assessing last season’s event, and looking ahead to Sunday’s return, Button remarked: “It was an amazing experience, one of the highlights of the year.

“Driving under the lights was great fun, with the visibility pretty good, although some corners such as turns one and five were a bit dark, which made it more difficult to judge your braking distances.

“The circuit is pretty challenging and although it has a stop-start layout, which isn’t usually my favourite type of circuit, I still enjoyed driving it.

“I spent some time at the factory last week driving the circuit on our simulator which helps with track layout, gears and downforce levels.

“So we are well prepared and looking forward to getting the weekend under way.

“As last year we will stay on European timing for the race weekend.

“It means staying awake throughout the night and sleeping most of the day to ensure we are alert and the body is ready to react in the right way for the evening timetable.”


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