The 8.76-mile Spa-Francorchamps circuit was the quickest of all the classic road circuits and, many would say, the greatest. It swept on public roads through the mountains of the Ardennes in Southern Belgium and even in the dry was a character-building circuit.
In the wet it was only for heroes and since the region is known as 'The Pisspot of Europe' due to its weather, races have frequently been held in the wet. Spa itself is famous for its water and became a generic name for towns which promote their water for its alleged health-giving properties.
Spa was first used for racing in 1924 and the first Belgian GP was run in 1925 when it was won by Antonio Ascari, father of the Double World Champion, Alberto Ascari. It was then used frequently up to WW2 and became a fixture on the WC calendar from 1950.
Serious discontent with Spa began after a downpour in the 1966 race which caused several crashes, most significantly one involving Jackie Stewart which led to his campaign for improved circuit safety. There is no question that Spa was dangerous, but it was magnificent and a win there was a measure of the standard of a driver.
In 1969 the safety of the circuit was challenged by the Grand Prix Drivers' Association and the Belgian GP was not held that year. In 1970, a chicane was added to slow speeds (Pedro Rodriguez still won at 149.94 mph) but for 1972 the Belgian GP was moved to Nivelles.
The memory of Spa would not die, however, and in 1983 there was a new 4.31-mile circuit which incorporated elements of the original, but with an improved surface and run-off areas.
The start/finish line, which was originally on the downhill straight before Eau Rouge, was moved to the straight before the La Source hairpin in 1981. Like its predecessor the new layout still is a fast and hilly ride through the Ardennes where speeds in excess of 205 mph are reached.
The most famous part of the circuit, indeed, one of the most famous parts of any circuit, is Eau Rouge. Having negotiated the La Source hairpin, drivers race down a straight to the point where the track crosses the Eau Rouge stream for the first time, before being launched steeply uphill into a sweeping left-right-left collection of corners with a blind summit. The corner requires a large amount of skill from the driver to negotiate well and the long straight ahead often produces good overtaking opportunities for the best drivers at the following "Les Combes" corner.
"You come into the corner downhill, have a sudden change of direction at the bottom and then go very steep uphill," says Fernando Alonso of Eau Rouge. "From the cockpit, you cannot see the exit and as you come over the crest, you don't know where you will land. It is a crucial corner for the timed lap, and also in the race, because you have a long uphill straight afterwards where you can lose a lot of time if you make a mistake. But it is also an important corner for the driver's feeling. It makes a special impression every lap, because you also have a compression in your body as you go through the bottom of the corner. It is very strange... but good fun as well."
The 'new' Spa is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar and, many believe, the most challenging. It demonstrates the importance of driver skill more than any other in the world. This is largely due to the Eau Rouge and Blanchimont corners, both which need to be taken flat out to achieve a fast run onto the straights after them, which aids a driver in both a fast lap and in overtaking.
Since 2000, Spa has been a closed circuit and a new public road built to keep public traffic off the track.
Since inception, Spa has been famous for its unpredictable weather. Frequently drivers are confronted with one part of the course being clear and bright while another stretch is rainy and slippery. The numerous revisions to the layout have not changed one thing - Spa is still the 'Pisspot of Europe'.
Fast Facts - Provided by the FIA
2016 will be the 60th Belgian Grand Prix and the 48th to be held Spa-Francorchamps. The Ardennes circuit first hosted the event in 1950 and barring 1957, '59 and 1969, was the race venue up until 1970. After a year off the schedule the event returned at the Nivelle circuit in 1972. It alternated with Zolder until the latter took over as regular host from 1975 until 1982. Spa-Francorchamps returned in 1982 and while F1 made one more trip to Zolder in '83, Spa has been F1's Belgian home since, only missing out in 2003 and 2006 when no race was held.
The most successful driver at Spa is Michael Schumacher, with six wins: 1992 and 1995 for Benetton, 1996-'97 and 2001-'02 for Ferrari. Ayrton Senna is next on the list with five victories, while Jim Clark and current Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen are next with four wins.
Raikkonen won for McLaren in 2004, and 2005. He then won for Ferrari in 2007 on his way to the Driver's Championship title. His most recent was for Ferrari in 2009.
Two other multiple Belgian GP winners will take part this weekend - Sebastian Vettel (2011 and 2013 for Red Bull Racing) and Lewis Hamilton (2010 for McLaren and last year for Mercedes). Three other current drivers have won the race: Felipe Massa for Ferrari in 2008, Jenson Button for McLaren in 2012 and Daniel Ricciardo for Red Bull Racing in 2014.
The most successful constructor is Ferrari, with 16 victories. Four came at Zolder (1975-'76, 1979 and 1984), while the remaining dozen were scored at Spa-Francorchamps. McLaren are a close second with 14 wins. They tie with Ferrari on 12 Spa-Francorchamps victories, while the Woking squad's other wins came at Nivelles in 1974 and Zolder in 1982. Only McLaren and Lotus have won at all three venues.
Schumacher's 1992 victory was his first in F1. Four other drivers scored a maiden grand prix win in Belgium: Peter Collins in 1956, Jim Clark in 1962, Gunnar Nilsson in 1977 and Didier Pironi 1980.
Spa has been a happy hunting ground for the squad that began life as Jordan and which, after short spells as Midland and Spyker, has raced as Force India since 2008. As well as its 1998 win - it's first in F1 - Jordan scored its first pole here in 1994, courtesy of Rubens Barrichello, while Force India took its first pole position and its best result to date (P2) at Spa in 2009 with Giancarlo Fisichella.
Esteban Ocon is set to make his first F1 start this weekend, replacing Rio Haryanto at Manor. Having been on loan at Renault as reserve driver this season, the 19-year-old Mercedes junior has plenty of experience of F1 machinery, with six test days under his belt - for Lotus in 2014, Force India in 2015 and with Renault and Mercedes this year. The Frenchman, who has been competing in DTM this year, also has plenty of experience of Spa having raced here in Formula Renault 2.0 in 2012 and 2013 , the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2014 (P2 in races two and three) and in GP3 last year when he scored two second places on his way to the title.