A Spectator’s Photographic Guide to Spa
With so many British racing fans making the annual trip to Spa, August’s blog continues with last month’s theme and takes a tour of the Ardennes circuit highlighting the best areas for viewing and photography that are to be had with a general admission (GA) ticket.
Anyone with a grandstand seat will obviously wish to use it but many of the GA areas are well worth a visit if time permits. It is possible to criss-cross the circuit through various forest tracks but this guide takes a complete uninterrupted lap from start to finish.
Now that the circuit is closed and no longer uses public roads, viewing of the start/finish straight and first bend (la Source) is by grandstand only. GA starts on the exit of la Source on the run down past the old pits. From the bank under the trees behind the stands you get a classic Spa view looking back to the cars exiting la Source hairpin with the Paddock Club building behind. This building was originally the ‘Hotel la Source,’ and entrance was open to everyone and free so you could sit in the beer garden opposite the new pits at the braking zone for the hairpin whilst supping ‘Jupiler’ – a very spectacular spot. Zoom in to isolate the cars and building or use a wider angle to frame the scene with the surrounding trees. It is a great place to photograph the start with the cars bunched up several abreast negotiating the hairpin. You are also opposite the pit lane exit here and have views across to the paddock.
Walk on down the hill towards Eau Rouge. High up on the left beside the path is a café which provides a good atmospheric shot with the people at tables and trees in the foreground and the steep hill of Raidillon beyond.
Carry on down to the F1 Village beside Eau Rouge. It is not possible to get photos of Eau Rouge itself from GA but there are plenty of good shots looking towards Raidillon to be had. Move around the area and change your shooting position. Stand right at the bottom to highlight the steep gradient of the track and zoom in to capture the rear of the cars silhouetted against the sky lined with fir trees as they crest the summit. A wider angle will capture the whole geography of that part of the circuit. Portray the speed of this spectacular section of track with slow shutter speeds but note you are taking a difficult three quarters pan shot, the cars are going away from you not across the frame, their relative movement is quite small so don’t pan too quickly. Standing back up the hill can give some interesting foregrounds – the flags of the F1 Village, a sign post with the Spa landmarks on its blades or even a big cone of frites (on a kiosk roof) – with the track as a background.
Follow the path around up the hill behind the stands until you come to an area between two of them beneath some trees looking back to the descent from la Source to Eau Rouge. This is another great Spa view which can be framed by spectators and trees or try some slow shutter speed pan shots as the cars blast past the old pit buildings. This time the cars are coming towards you so again their relative movement across the frame is small.
Walk on until the path re-joins the circuit. Look back for a great view of the cars cresting the steep ascent of Raidillon (from the front) with the descent into Eau Rouge in the background. A wider angle will also include the colour of the F1 Village and grandstands. You will need to get your camera right up against the fence and as it is a popular spot you may have to ask to be let through to take a couple of shots, but worth it.
Follow the track on the long straight up to les Combes. The path starts off above the fence but gradually gets lower. Pan shots of the cars are possible although not particularly spectacular. The best photographic opportunities are to be had by checking the views behind you – looking back towards Raidillon or looking across the valley to the other side of the circuit for the cars on their return leg back towards the ‘bus-stop’ chicane. Although the cars will be in the distance you can portray Spa’s unique character of racing through the forests and general Ardennes scenery. In fact keep your eyes open throughout your tour as there are several spots where glimpses of cars on the opposite side of the valley, or through the trees are possible.
Les Combes at the top of the hill where the ‘new’ track turns right and leaves the old public road is a prime overtaking spot but not very good for photographs. The path has been re-profiled so it is away from the fence and you are low down behind bushes. Follow the ‘new’ track around to the right. You have to exit the circuit here and re-enter a little further on. On the outside of the circuit it is possible to follow the track along a short straight, around a 180 degree right hander (‘Bruxelles’ formerly ‘Rivage’) and then continue a certain distance down the valley. For photographic opportunity though when you re-enter the circuit take the tunnel under the track so you are now inside the circuit, turn left and go to the inside of the 180 degree bend. This is a fantastic area for photography. The banking is steep and above the fence. You can get very close to the cars and a variety of shots are possible – close-up cockpit shots or wide angle pan shots and there is usually lots of action – locking wheels and glowing front discs on entry, spins on exit. A little further around opens up a backdrop across the entire Spa circuit below with the pit buildings in the distance and from a little further still you can look across the valley to the pits straight. It is also a great place to photograph the drivers’ parade as you are close and above the fence. The drawback is this is the highest and furthermost point from the F1 Village, Eau Rouge area so if you are based there it is a good half hour’s hill walk away.
The path now follows the circuit down through the valley giving high views over the track beneath but unfortunately (Health & Safety?) spectators are kept behind fencing along the path and are not allowed on the banking. At the bottom of the descent you reach the double left-hander of Pouhon a very fast corner. The GA area at Pouhon is low behind fencing so the best place for photographs is from back up the hill before the entry to the corner both for head on shots of the cars coming down the hill or from behind them as they go through the bend. There is a large tarmac run-off area so you need to position yourself and frame the shot accordingly to show the infield and background and avoid a shot that looks like a car in a supermarket car park.
The next section gives good viewing of a series of fast bends and is usually sparsely populated by spectators but not so good for photography because of the fences and the GA area is low and flat. Public access ends before the track reaches Stavelot corner where it starts its return leg to the pits. To continue a tour of the circuit you must follow the path that takes you through the tunnel back to the outside of the circuit which you re-join on the run-up to Blanchimont. This detour takes you away from the proximity of the track for 5 to 10 minutes so you need to schedule this section accordingly.
The path from Blanchimont to the ‘Bus Stop’ chicane gives a high view over a fast section that unfortunately has been altered recently to the detriment of photographic opportunities. Many trees have been cut down improving the overall view but doing away with those ‘flying through the trees’ shots and again spectators are kept off the banking up on the path behind a fence.
The final bends through the ‘Bus Stop’ chicane in its latest guise provide a last ditch end of lap overtaking opportunity whilst the entrance to the pit lane is also part of the sequence. Viewing is by looking down from above the track so to get a good position for photographs you either need to get in very early to get to the fence or be a competent mountaineer to climb the boulders behind the path. Or, the better alternative is to go up into the woods above the path sometime before you reach the chicane and walk along following the track through the trees until you find a suitable position. Depending on exactly where this is you can look down through the trees for wide angle atmospheric views of the area, or for close-ups of the action of the braking zone, the chicane and pit lane entrance. There is even a sight of a big screen and a distant view of the podium.
Finally, another feature and photographic opportunity of Spa is that as soon as the racing has finished the track is opened up for spectators – this is probably because those at the far end of the circuit would take hours to walk back if having to use the footpaths. But it does permit the day’s racing to be completed with opportunities of shots of cars in parc ferme and scrutineering and teams disassembling their garages and other paraphernalia. Even some drivers might put in an appearance.
Some sample images taken from these locations may be viewed in the ‘recent images’ section of my twitter page @gpphotographs.