Kemmel Straight at Spa: Over 220 mph in an F1 car

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

220mph for F1 cars on the Kemmel Straight at Spa

The Kemmel Straight is the longest straight at Spa Francorchamps and also one of the longest on the whole F1 calendar.

Nowadays the Formula 1 cars can easily exceed 200mph down here thanks to DRS, which also makes this the best spot for overtaking on the Belgian Grand Prix circuit.

This article takes a deep-dive look at the Kemmel Straight, examines some of the highest speeds ever reached here and some of the most iconic racing moments seen on this straight. It also provides info on the best spots to spectate from.

Contents

Where is Kemmel Straight?

The Kemmel Straight follows the incredible Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners on the Spa Francorchamps circuit, It’s directly between Turn 4 Raidillon and Turn 5 Les Combes.

The Kemmel Straight actually has a slight right-hand kink in it known simply as Kemmel. This is a pretty gradual kink that’s flat-out in every car or bike that uses the circuit, so it’s not officially classed as a corner on the circuit.

Kemmel wasn't always straight

Until 1979 the Kemmel Straight wasn’t actually a straight at all. It was made up of a series of fast kinks. The current kink was the first of those, but it was followed by another right hander that immediately led in to a fast left hander.

This can be seen at 3:55 in the video below from 1958.

In 1979 the circuit underwent a lot of changes and was shortened drastically. One of these changes was removing the curves from the Kemmel Straight seen in the video above. Once the work was complete Kemmel had only one kink and resembled the circuit layout as we know it today.

Why is it called Kemmel?

This one is a bit of a mystery. Many corners on the Spa circuit are named after nearby towns or villages; Malmedy, Stavelot, Rivage for example.

There is a village in the province of Flanders in western Belgium called Kemmel. Just outside of the village is a mountain known as Kemmelberg which was a large WW1 battleground. But the Spa Francorchamps website explicitly states that the straight isn’t named after this village or the mountain, both of which are 280km away from the circuit itself. 

If anyone has any more info on the origin of the name Kemmel then drop a comment below, I’d love to find out!

How long is the Kemmel Straight?

The Kemmel Straight at Spa Francorchamps is 1.05km / 0.65 miles long. That’s measured from the exit of Raidillon to the entry of Les Combes and includes the Kemmel kink.

This is the longest straight at the Belgian circuit and also one of the longest on the F1 calendar. Only a handful of circuits including Monza, Yas Marina, Mexico and the Baku Street Circuit have longer straights.

How steep is the Kemmel Straight?

The Kemmel Straight is actually an uphill climb and is much steeper than it seems. The elevation along the 1.05km straight increases by around 35 metres from start to finish and it has a gradient that ranges from 2% to 6% at various points along its length.

If you go there in person and decide to walk alongside the straight you’ll quickly realise it’s definitely not flat!

What speed do F1 cars reach?

The Kemmel Straight features one of the two DRS Zones at Spa. If you ask me I think it should be removed as it makes overtaking far too easy, but that’s a rant for another article. In fact, I’ve gone full-rant in the article about the Spa Francorchamps DRS Zones so check that out for a more detailed explanation.

Thanks to the DRS Zones the F1 cars can hit some serious speeds here. Below is a list of the 5 fastest F1 car speeds at the end of the Kemmel Straight recorded over the last 10 years.

Kemmel Straight - Spa F1 Top Speeds over last 10 Years
1 359.4kph / 223.3mph Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2020
2 358.2kph / 222.6mph Sergio Perez Force India 2016
3 356.4kph / 221.5mph Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 2016
4 356.2kph / 221.3mph Daniel Kvyat Toro Rosso 2019
5 355.9kph / 221.1mph Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 2016

As you can see, the fastest ever speed recorded by an F1 car down the Kemmel Straight is 359.4kph / 223.3mph by Charles Leclerc driving for Ferrari in 2020. Here’s a video of that moment that shows the speed was achieved during a race with some serious DRS boost combined with slipstreaming the car in front.

The speeds above were measured as the cars crossed the first split timing lime just before the braking point for Les Combes. The data was taken from the FIA archive. 

As a comparison the fastest GT3 race cars reach a maximum of ‘only’ 280kph at the end of the Kemmel Straight when slipstreaming another car.

Iconic moments

Eau Rouge and Raidillon have produced some of the most iconic motorsport moments at Spa over the years. But the Kemmel straight has also seen its share of high drama. Below are a few of the best moments from this part of the track.

Formula 2 near miss

This one is from the Formula 2 series where the young rising stars of the motorsport world try prove themselves before making the final jump up the ladder to Formula 1.

The driver in this one is Dino Zamparelli and the conditions are atrocious. As he reaches 150mph on the Spa Kemmel Straight in the pouring rain, the cars ahead of him emerge from the spray at a much lower speed. His incredible reactions mean he somehow manages to avoid a monumental accident.

4-wide at the 24 hours

The Spa 24 hours is the second biggest event at the circuit after the Formula 1. The 24 hour race sees a huge grid of GT3 cars race around the clock for endurance honours.

In 2019 there was action right from the start. With less than an hour of the race completed the front of the grid was still nose to tail and down the Kemmel Straight they ended up four-wide jostling for position.

Häkkinen's overtake on Schumacher

Perhaps the most iconic Kemmel Straight moment of them all is this one. Schuey and Häkkinen in 2000.

Kemmel has always been a key overtaking spot on the Belgian circuit. When Häkkinen was looking for a way past Schumacher at the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, the slipstream gave him a great run on Michael as they reached the end of the straight. But as Mika was lining him up for a pass, a back marker appear.

Schumacher would normally go to the inside to stop Mika from diving up the inside in to Les Combes but the back marker was there, so he went to the left. In a brilliant piece of split-second decision making Mika decided to go to the right of both the back marker and Schumacher and overtook the pair of them. Best. Overtake. Ever.

Watch it for yourself here.

Where to spectate

If you need tickets for the Belgian GP I can recommend P1 Travel, and official ticket reseller with a great stock of one, two or three-day tickets.

General admission

There’s a paved spectator path that runs alongside the Kemmel Straight all the way from Raidillon to Les Combes. It’s most easily accessed from the Les Combes entrance gate near the Green Spa parking area, but can also be accessed from the Ster entrance. Read our guide to the Spa entrance gates for more information.

The spectating area is on the left hand side of the circuit and is raised up above the level of the catch fence, so gives you a great view of the straight. This is one of the most popular Bronze general admission areas at Spa to view from and is shown in pink in the image below.

You’re not supposed to sit on the pathway itself. But between it and the fence is a rocky / grassy slope where you’re allowed to set up camp. It’s a steep slope but can still offer a great views.

The most popular section to view from is as close to the entry of Les Combes as possible. This is often the spot where most overtaking happens which can lead to some crashes, as it did at the start of the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix. 

Below is the view from the general admission spectating area alongside Kemmel, around 250 metres before Les Combes

This is the view from much earlier on along the straight, right on the outside of the kink. From here you can also see the cars emerge over the top of Raidillon.

Grandstands

There aren’t any grandstands along the Kemmel Straight itself. The closest you can get is the Gold 3 grandstand at the top of Raidillon, or the Combes 1 – 2 grandstand on the exit of Les Combes / Malmedy.

Get my free weekly F1 roundup

I’ll send you a weekly email with my personal insights in to the latest F1 news and race results. 
Read by over 5,000 busy F1 fans each week.

Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport travel guides based on my experience as racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who are planning on watching some racing themselves.

leave a comment

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
2 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Florian

Is it possible to watch from the opposite side of the track, close the Les Combes?

Join the oversteer48 Inside Line

I’ll share all this with you (and more) for free:

  • Tips for getting hold of F1 tickets, even if they appear sold-out 
  • Updated travel guides and info in the run up to the big race weekends
  • Link you up with a huge community of F1 fans travelling to each race