Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners at Spa Francorchamps are some of the most iconic in the world. Their incredible elevation change and speed makes them a daunting challenge for all drivers, and brings with it a high level of risk should they get it wrong.
This article takes a deep dive in to these corners, looks at the changes to them over the years and how fast F1 cars now go through them. We look at what makes these corners so dangerous, why there’s so many massive crashes here and whether anything else should be done about it.
what is Eau Rouge?
Eau Rouge is the name of a corner on the Spa Francorchamps race circuit in Belgium. Spa Francorchamps has been home to the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix for a number of decades along with other high-profile racing events like the Spa 24 hours, WEC 6 Hours and the Spa Classic.
Regardless of what’s racing on the circuit, every driver and spectator will tell you that the most well-known thing about the track is this infamous, fast and fearsome corner.
Eau Rouge - a brief history
where did the corner get its name?
When motor racing first took place at Spa in the 1920s it was still being used as public road for most of the year. Part of the road-turned-racetrack consisted of a short bridge that spanned a stream. That stream is the 9 mile / 15km long River Eau Rouge that runs through the Belgian province of Liège.
The bridge that crossed the river formed a left-hand corner on the original Spa Francorchamps circuit. Everyone knows that corners on race tracks need names, so this one was named after the river that it spanned.
what does Eau Rouge mean?
Eau Rouge is a French phrase which directly translated to English means ‘Red Water’. The river is given that name because of the red-tint of its water, thanks to high levels of iron-oxide in its rocky riverbed.
The satellite image below from 2016 shows the circuit crossing the Eau Rouge river.
Recent developments to the circuit and its surroundings has led the bridge over the river to be widened to give more room for spectators. It makes it harder to see from above, but the river’s still just about visible in this image from 2020.
changes to Eau Rouge
Throughout the 1920s and most of the 1930s Eau Rouge corner was completely different to how it is today. Back then it was a long sweeping left that led to a section of the circuit known as Virage de l’Ancienne Douane, a right-hand 180 degree hairpin.
The image in the Tweet below shows this part of the track in 1929, where Eau Rouge can be seen as the left hand bend that disappears out of the left side of the image. The circuit re-enters the picture a little higher up from the left after having gone around the hairpin.
Eau Rouge, 1929— RDV69 (@RDV69) August 18, 2019
The stream marks an ancient border between Belgium and Prussia (1839-1919). The original circuit included a hairpin bend where the Eau-Rouge Raidillon complex is now. It was called Virage de l'Ancienne Douane, named after the customs post that had stood there. pic.twitter.com/OhLFQ0K2QL
For the 1939 season, in an attempt to increase the overall average speed (and excitement) of the Spa Francorchamps circuits the owners decided to bypass the hairpin section entirely. Only the start of Eau Rouge corner was used and it was was now linked directly to the next part of the track with a new steep uphill section known as Raidillon.
If we check out the circuit on Google Earth, the original Virage de l’Ancienne Douane section can still be seen even to this day.
Since then there have been numerous minor tweaks to the corner and the safety of the surrounding run-off areas, but it’s remained largely the same.
The only other major change was in 1994 when a temporary chicane was put in for the F1 race in a bid to slow the cars down in the wake of Ratzenberger and Senna’s deaths. The chicane was removed the following year as the run-offs were increased and barrier safety was improved.
Eau Rouge or Raidillon?
The most common mistake people make when talking about the corner is understanding exactly which bit of it’s Eau Rouge and which bit’s actually Raidillon.
Most people – and drivers – wrongly refer to the whole sequence of bends as Eau Rouge, including the incredibly steep uphill section.
In fact, Eau Rouge is just the tiny little left-hand kink at the bottom of the hill where it crosses the stream. Nowadays it’s barely a corner at all – shown by the pink section in the image below.
Raidillon is the green uphill section of track that was first built to join Eau Rouge to the rest of the circuit and shortcut the disused l’Ancienne Douane hairpin. It consists of the right hander just after the lowest point and the left hander up over the crest.
Here’s what that looks like from a driver’s eye view:
the corner itself
The little left-hand kink of Eau Rouge is the second corner on the Spa Grand Prix circuit. Raidillon makes up the third and fourth turns, as shown on the circuit map below.
how steep is Eau Rouge / Raidillon?
The elevation chart below for Spa Francorchamps will help us with this one.
The lowest point of Eau Rouge is just after the 1km mark, at 390m above sea level. The highest point at the crest of Raidillon is 420m elevation.
The elevation change between Eau Rouge and Raidillon is 30 metres. At it’s steepest point the gradient up Raidillon after exiting Eau Rouge is an 11% incline.
Pictures and videos don’t normally do justice to how steep the climb up Raidillon really is, but the clip below is a pretty neat way of getting the point across:
is Eau Rouge flat out?
In a Formula 1 car Eau Rouge is flat out and has been since the early 2010s. As technology and F1 car design has moved on, the amount of downforce the cars produce has increased dramatically.
Now F1 cars have enough aerodynamic grip to produce 5G and 3500kg of vertical load through the compression at the bottom of Eau Rouge.
That’s enough to go through Eau Rouge up over Raidillon without lifting off the throttle at all, if the conditions and their line are just right.
That’s a dramatic change from a couple of decades ago. In the 90s most F1 drivers were braking and even changing down a gear for the corner.
When taking Eau Rouge and Raidillon flat out, the modern F1 cars are doing almost 200mph / 320kph as they come through the compression at the bottom of Eau Rouge. The TV footage of the cars doesn’t show the speed very well. It’s not until you’re stood right next to the track that you get a sense of just how fast they’re going.
The only corner faster than this on the Spa circuit is Blanchimont.
other race cars
GT3 race cars can take Eau Rouge flat out as they also have huge amounts of downforce. Cars with high power and less aero grip are the ones that might have to lift for these corners, like the Porsche Cup Car in the video below.
Even in my little Renault Clio 172 track car running Nankang AR1 semi-slicks Eau Rouge was flat out at over 100mph.
legendary moments at Eau Rouge / Raidillon
Legendary corners produce legendary moments. And Eau Rouge and Raidillon have definitely had their fair share of those.
Webber vs Alonso 2011
Whilst Eau Rouge is known for its heart-in mouth speed and incredible G forces, it’s less well known for being a good overtaking spot. Drivers understand the knife-edge they drive on to go through here at maximum speed comes with a lot of risk if it goes wrong. Plus there’s only one racing line you can take to get it just right. So trying to overtake another car at the same time takes an extra level of bravery.
That’s the exact bravery Mark Webber showed in 2011 when he overtook Fernando Alonso, around the outside, as they went through Eau Rouge and up in to Raidillon. Incredible move and one of the best we’ve ever seen.
3 wide in GT3s
As if overtaking one car at Eau Rouge or Raidillon wasn’t enough, imagine passing two cars. Now image that all three of you are alongside each other as you come in to the corner at close to 150mph.
Well stop imagining and check out the video below. That’s exactly what happened when the British GT Championship visited Spa Francorchamps in 2019.
Perez's near miss
Getting Eau Rouge just right is difficult in the dry. It’s even harder in the wet. And if you’re doing it in the wet on slick tyres then it becomes near impossible.
That’s what the F1 guys were battling with when the heavens opened during the final part of qualifying for the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix. With time running out when the rain started falling a number of drivers opted to stay on slicks and brave it out. One of those was Sergio Perez in the Force India.
Coming in to Eau Rouge he has a big wobble. Then as he turns in to Raidillon he has an even bigger moment. Only some seriously quick reflexes and a full armful of opposite lock kept him out of the barrier and pointing in the right direction.
the dangers of Eau Rouge and Raidillon
Perez had the skills to avoid a major crash at Eau Rouge and Raidillon, but a lot of drivers aren’t so lucky. This part of the Spa circuit sees its fair share of crashes, and there’s a good reason for that.
improving lap times
Eau Rouge and Raidillon are located at a crucial part of the track. They lead on to the Kemmel Straight which is just over 1km long. Any extra speed drivers can make through the corners will carry down the whole straight, so they know the importance of going through Eau Rouge as fast as they can.
That means they push hard, perhaps harder then elsewhere on the track. And pushing hard to extract every last bit of speed out of the car comes with its risks.
the lack of run-off
When drivers crash at Eau Rouge they normally lose it as they transition from the left of Eau Rouge to the right of Raidillon. The direction change can unsettle the car if not smooth enough, and combined with the high speeds that’s often enough to cause a spin.
The run off areas have been improved and expanded over the years but considering most racing cars are doing over 120mph at this point, there’s very limited space either side of the track. Especially for the F1 cars doing closer to 200mph.
A spin in Eau Rouge or Raidillon will almost always result in an unscheduled meeting with the tyre barriers, as Lando Norris did in the rain.
Plus it means that even if the drivers do see someone in front of them get it wrong, often there’s not enough space to go past them given the speed.
That’s what happened in this horrific 6-car pile up during the W Series race. It’s a testament to the improved car safety and the HALO device that nobody involved was seriously injured.
the blind crest
The biggest area of danger actually comes from the crest at the top of Raidillon. If someone’s had an incident and ends up stopped in the middle of the track just after the top of the hill, the drivers coming through Eau Rouge and up Raidillon won’t be able to see them until it’s too late.
That often leads to huge secondary impacts, normally much worse than the first. That’s exactly what happened to Jack Aitken in the 24 hours of Spa in 2021. He had a big initial crash on his own, but after being stranded in the middle of the track he was collected twice more by other cars at full speed. Luckily he was ok.
Antoine Hubert's death
Unfortunately not all drivers are so lucky. During the GP2 race at Spa Francorchamps in 2019, Antoine Hubert ended up in the tyres on the exit of Raidillon after avoiding another incident. The barrier propelled him back in to the path of an oncoming car who collected him side-on at full speed.
Devastatingly for his family, friends and the whole motorsport community, Antoine lost his life in that tragic incident. Undoubtedly a future star, his loss was tragic.
Stefan Bellof's death
Stefan Bellof was another who succumbed to the dangers of Eau Rouge. At the World Sportscar Championship 1000km of Spa in 1985 Bellof was racing a Porsche 956B. He was in a close battle for the lead with Jacky Ickx, and coming down the hill in to Eau Rouge they were side by side.
Just before they turned in to Raidillon the two cars touched. Bellof went head-first in to the armco barrier which gave way and his car hit the concrete wall behind it. He was doing over 150mph when he left the track.
Bellof held the Nurbugring lap record for 35 years and won the World Endurance Championship in 1984. He would have undoubtedly gone on to win many more titles if he hadn’t lost his life at Eau Rouge.
spectating at Eau Rouge and Raidillon
If you’re heading to Spa Francorchamps, spectating at these two corners is the best way to get a sense of the speed and elevation that you don’t get when watching the racing on TV.
In 2022 a new stand called ‘Gold 3 Eau Rouge grandstand’ was opened at the top of Raidillon. This huge concrete structure looms large over the corners but provides fans with an incredible vantage point looking back down the track towards Eau Rouge and the La Source hairpin. Sat high up on the hill it gives an amazing panorama not just of the circuit but of the Ardennes forest surrounding the track as well.
Read our full guides for more details on spectating at Eau Rouge from one of the following grandstands:
There’s also a general admission spectating area that runs all the way down the left hand side of the Kemmel Straight from the exit of Raidillon to the entry of La Combes. This is a great place to see the cars come up over the crest.
Eau Rouge and Raidillon are some of the most iconic corners in the world. Their incredible elevation change and high speed still makes them a daunting prospect for any driver. But as car technology increases, speeds through these corners get higher and the risks increase.
The blind crest at the top of Raidillon is a real danger spot and is the main cause of bad accidents, where a stationary car is collected by other cars approaching at full speed.
Since Antoine Hubert’s fatal crash in 2019 the run-off areas at Raidillon have been expanded and the safety barriers have been improved. Let’s hope that’s enough to keep the F1 drivers and all other motorsport competitors safe at Spa Francorchamps in the years to come.