Adam’s Travel Report – 2022 Belgian Grand Prix

Adam Rosales shares his experiences and tips for getting the most out of your Belgian Grand Prix weekend at the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is a bucket list race to visit for most fans of Formula 1, it’s always been on my list of races to travel to. It’s known for its elevation, speed and size. It’s the longest circuit on the current calendar with the fast flowing nature of an old school track. It’s located in the Ardennes region of Belgium, just outside of Stavelot. Like most of the older circuits, it’s a bit remote and harder to get to than the newer street circuits. This encourages camping as a popular way for people to attend. I was able to find a decent deal on flights with points for my wife and I to Amsterdam, with dates lining up to attend both Spa and Zandvoort

Traveling to Spa

We flew to Amsterdam and spent a night at the Hilton Amsterdam. We spent the day taking it easy and did not plan on doing anything other than getting some food. We usually take a slow day to help transition to the time difference. The flights I was able to schedule landed on Thursday so we opted to skip Friday’s free practice sessions at the circuit. The next morning, we picked up a rental car and drove down to Belgium on Friday afternoon. It’s about a 3 hour drive to Stavelot. As soon as I figured out the flights, I booked an Airbnb for $800 for the weekend (from Friday to Monday). It was right along the biking trail to the circuit but we didn’t have bikes and I didn’t know how to rent one while traveling. I looked into renting one in the area but I could not find anything so I did not bother with it. It would have been about a 15 minute bike ride to the circuit entrance according to my Airbnb host. 

There was some traffic arriving near the circuit on Friday afternoon but it was mostly cars leaving after practice and heading to Verviers. As we got closer to the circuit, some roads were closed due to the race, but most were open. They just limit traffic to certain roads for people who are camping or locals to the area. About 90% of the roads were open and it was easy to navigate with Google Maps.

Stavelot to Spa-Francorchamps Circuit

Spa is known for regular rainfall and I’ve heard of people’s cars getting stuck in the mud so I opted for the paved parking. We bought tickets for the Park & Ride lot in Malmedy. Sold by the circuit, it was €20 per day, which is very cheap for F1 event parking.  They have several checkpoints in the area where you need to show your parking pass in order to keep moving through the roads to get to the parking lot they assign you. On Saturday we parked at Probemal, a concrete factory located along the main road. They scanned my parking pass at entry, it is definitely recommended to print this out and keep it in the view of your front windshield to show when asked. After parking our rental car, we followed the crowd and walked around to the front and picked up a shuttle bus to get to the Le Combes entrance. It was about 30-40 min of driving to Malmedy in traffic and about 15 min in the shuttle.

From the shuttle drop off area, it was a pretty intense walk up the hill to the entrance gate. I didn’t have too hard a time but my heart was racing, it was a workout. My wife had to take a break or two so we stopped. Once we got to the top of the hill there were vendors for merch, beer and food. So we grabbed a table, I got some beers and we chilled for a bit to soak in the vibe (catch our breath). It was close to some of the campsites. I was able to pay with a credit card for those beers. Leaving on Saturday was basically the same in reverse. We walked out of Le Combes exit and down the hill to the shuttle, caught one right away and were back at the parking lot in about 25 minutes. We left after the F2 Sprint and traffic was not too bad. We were back in Stavelot in about 15 minutes.The total time to arrive to our seats was about 90 minutes from Stavelot on Saturday. 

Sunday was a little different. I was assigned a different parking lot, Moviemills. It took about 30 minutes to get there but it was full so I was instructed to head to Expo parking by following the other cars. It was not very organized and hard to find the other lot. We followed Waze as the circuit website had instructed but it took us to the back side of Expo which was gated off. We had to figure out how to get to the front side, which was down the road. We followed a small sign down an alley to get to the correct parking entrance (another 30 minutes). Once we got there, they didn’t scan any parking passes. It was pretty straight forward to park and about a 10 min walk down to the main road to catch the shuttle bus. Since we took the Expo shuttle, it took us to the entrance over by the Red area, which runs up to Blanchimont/17-27 Area. From there it was about a 40 minute walk, mostly up a slight incline to get to our grandstand, Gold 3 at Eau Rouge. It took probably about 2 hours to get to our grandstand from Stavelot this way. Was not terrible for us since I kind of planned for that amount of time. 

The Sunday exit was a bit of a mess. Post race, we decided to wait out some traffic by enjoying the music and exploring the track invasion a bit. We had to walk across the circuit anyway so we figured it would be cool to explore a bit. We then walked the way we entered and got to the shuttle but no traffic was moving at all. We sat completely still for about 45 minutes. We moved about 100 meters in an hour. All traffic was stopped leaving the parking area, nobody was going anywhere. Eventually it started moving a bit, then I think the bus driver may have gotten upset because his shift was ending soon, so he started driving the wrong way down the road to get around the traffic. It took about 2 hours to get to the Expo parking lot in Malmedy. We found a place to get dinner in Malmedy to wait out some of the traffic back to Stavelot since we were starving by that point. 

If you are staying in Malmedy for the race in the future, you can probably just walk up to the shuttle bus and catch a ride to the circuit. There were no checks for tickets or anything on the public buses they used. 

Gold 3 Grandstand

The views here are incredible. The elevation is insane to see in person. Videos do not give it the justice it deserves. I could see the tops of the cars go through the bus stop chicane and pit entry. Then the exit of La Source and down/up through Eau Rouge and Raidillon. The sound of the kerbs at eau rouge is slightly delayed due to the speed of the cars. You hear it a split second later once the car is already climbing the hill. The circuit doesn’t allow you to pick your seats, they are assigned automatically to you whenever the tickets are sent to you. We were assigned Block C Row 8 Seats 29/30.

The seats have a good amount of space and don’t feel too cramped. I had my backpack between my legs and didn’t have to stand up whenever somebody walked by. I didn’t have my knees into somebody’s back and wasn’t touching my neighbor the entire time. It was pretty great. We were close to  the center of the grandstand, so from about 4pm the shade started going away and the sun was in front of the stand. 

This grandstand is gated and requires a ticket check at the base of the hill through the gate, then a walk up the hill into the grandstand. This grandstand is new and was built with some indoor bathrooms located below. Along with restaurants and bars, there was plenty of food and drink to choose from. 

In between the track action there was a Live DJ playing across the track with a camera running around the stand doing crowd shots for the TV screens, it was really fun and great energy. We had a great time before the race (Saturday was similar). The music was LOUD and mostly just EDM. Armin Van Buuren played a DJ set on the platform across the track and there were some other big name DJs doing sets across the weekend, it was really fun.

Trackside at Spa-Francorchamps

Aside from a quick and not particularly intrusive bag check, entering the circuit was easy. They asked if I had any glass, opened the big pocket for them to look in and saw only water and snacks so I was waved through quickly. They allow food and drinks but no alcohol or glass. I brought some walking beers but finished them before the gate as I didn’t want to risk being held up at the gates.

The paths can get pretty crowded at peak times. When we arrived before FP3 on Saturday, we took our time getting to our seats. There was a big crowd leaving the Fanzone at the bottom of Eau Rouge, so it took a long time to squeeze through the crowd and get to our grandstand entrance. The fences funnel the crowds down and it was just annoying. Shoulder to shoulder with hardly anyone moving for about 10-15 minutes to get through and down the hill. After entering our grandstand area, we had to walk back up the hill once again!

That was probably the most annoying part. We didn’t go that way Sunday since we got dropped off on the other side of the circuit, so I’m not sure what it was like. But whenever I went down to the bathroom or to get a beer, the crowd looked fine and was moving. Compare to Saturday, it was much less crowded. Maybe I hit the crowd leaving the Fanzone after a driver interview or something. Lots of people about, but normal “festival” style crowds. People were friendly for the most part, apart from some drunk people trying to cut lines. It felt safe for solo travelers and I did not witness any harassment or altercations between anybody. People mostly speak Dutch or French and knowing a bit of either of those languages can help but it’s easy to get by if you only speak English and use Google Translate for some food menus. 

This circuit is pretty gnarly on your legs. Wear good walking shoes and be prepared to walk a lot. The hills are very steep and there are lots of them. You are constantly walking up or down a slope. The weekend definitely felt like you walked uphill in both ways. It would be tough to explore the circuit if you have some mobility issues. If that’s the case, I would try and get a seat and parking space near the Yellow area with a seat in one of the Gold grandstands. 

Post race, the gates for the track invasion opened at Eau Rouge by the Fanzone and we were able to walk right in. We waited a bit in the grandstand to finish our beers and eat some snacks. I also wanted to watch the podium via the screen directly in front of the stand. Armin Van Buuren played a 30 minute set and it was blasting on the speakers.

Bathrooms

The only downside of the Gold 3 grandstand was that there was only one big bathroom. This led to long lines at peak times, but it moved fairly reasonably. Unfortunately, a lot of people tried to cut the lines. I probably told about 5 or 6 people on Sunday alone to get to the back and saw a few others do the same. It was a bit frustrating. Sinks didn’t have any soap or paper towels on Saturday or Sunday. I brought hand sanitizer and a small pack of sanitizing wipes so it wasn’t a huge issue for me but the lack of hand soap was annoying.

Temporary bathrooms were situated all around the circuit. They had portable building stalls, like a mobile trailer. One side was for men, the other for women, with faucets on the end. They had soap, water and paper towels. They also had the male standing porto urinals that have 4 stalls on one thing. Never really a line for any of those, there were plenty walking around the circuit. There were also lots of guys just peeing in the forest areas, you will see this all over while walking around.

Food

The circuit makes you buy an NFC (tap to pay) card and pay for credit using their system, which made it hard to figure out how much things actually cost. It’s easy to top up at the kiosks all over the circuit; they were quick so hardly ever a line. They accepted cash or credit card to top up. It was very simple to use and kept the lines moving instead of dealing with credit cards or cash at the vendors. It was the most efficient use of this system I’ve seen and it worked great. There are a lot of different food options, the usual burgers, pizza and fries. There were some vegetarian options as well, the falafel kebabs were pretty great.

  • €50 = 30 credits (1 credit was €1.66)
  • 1 tall beer = 3,90 credits (approx. €6.50)
  • French Fries were = 3 credits (approx. €5) 
  • Kebabs at the Fanzone were 7-9 credits each (approx. €12-15)

Stavelot

Great town to stay in if you can find availability. Stavelot is pretty small, the center of town feels very historic. There are a few markets, restaurants open late and some bars. Not a ton but it’s easy to walk to or drive around town. They also have the Spa Circuit museum but I didn’t get a chance to visit. It’s a nice and quiet area, at night I could hear some faint music in the distance.

Further Afield

We followed up the Spa weekend with a day trip to Luxembourg for lunch and then a couple of days in Cologne, Germany. I planned the days in Cologne so I could take part in the tourist drives at the Nurgburgring Nordschleife Circuit. Nurburg is about 90 minutes drive from Spa or a little over an hour from Cologne. The tourist days are only open on specific days in the afternoons. I booked a track version BMW 325i from RingFreaks for €159 for 2 laps. I had to pay about €60 in fuel and €50 for 2 laps as well. I had driven the Nordschleife a few years ago on a previous trip but in a road car and dozens of laps in iRacing (PC racing simulator). Driving a track car with grippy tires and better brakes is incredibly fun and a great adrenaline rush. It’s a bit brutal with race suspension, my ribs and back were sore for a couple of days, even though I wasn’t pushing too hard on the track. It’s incredibly dangerous and I don’t recommend driving it without some experience of it as a passenger or some time in a simulator. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Belgian Grand Prix is a great event to attend. It was easily the favourite race my wife and I have ever attended. I’m glad the race contract has been renewed, at least for next year. It’s a bit of a pain to get in and out, but not too bad if you plan it right and mentally prepare for the time it takes. Don’t plan too much for the evenings or you’ll likely be disappointed. Staying somewhere like Malmedy or Stavelot and cycling is probably a great way to get around the traffic issues. At least from that side of the circuit. Not sure what the yellow area was like since I didn’t approach from that side but I don’t imagine it is much better.

Attending the Belgian Grand Prix – Cost Breakdown

  • Flights from Austin to Amsterdam = 72k Delta Skymiles + $73 USD
  • Hilton Amsterdam (one night) = $213 USD
  • Rental Car (one week) = €260 EUR
  • Airbnb in Stavelot (3 nights) = $800 USD
  • Gold 3 Ticket 3-Day (per person) = €475 EUR

The last tickets are now on sale for the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix (July 28-30)

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