This is a race track in the grand manner, far removed from the antiseptic 'autodromes' which increasingly dominate the Formula One calendar. It is very fast, but where the high lap speeds of, say, Hockenheim, are generated by long and mindless straights, Spa is all precision, a succession of sweeping, open turns. Not to be apprehensive of the place is to have no imagination, and the huge accidents of Erik Comas on Friday, and Gerhard Berger yesterday, were a stark reminder of its perils. For all that, the drivers adore it.
As usual, the Williams-Renault is in a class of its own, and on Friday afternoon, in the opening qualifying session, Mansell was in imperious form, brushing aside any challenge and setting a time more than two seconds clear of Ayrton Senna, his nearest rival. This the Brazilian took ill. As he stepped from his McLaren-Honda, his mood was foul.
'I drove as hard as ever,' Senna snapped, 'but the car is the same as ever . . .' It was disheartening, of course, for a man with three titles from the last four years, but Senna's expectations - not least from himself - have always been unrealistic. Over time, even the greatest drivers have been able to accept that some years there will be others with faster cars but, by any standards, Senna is one on his own. 'I am not designed to be second,' is how he puts it.
On Friday he was second to Mansell, and an honourable second at that. In his mind, though, if he is not first, normality has been suspended. But part of being a great grand prix driver is being in the right team at the right time, and for once Senna has been caught on the hop. A Williams-Renault is the thing to have at present, and of late he has devoted himself to securing one for 1993.
Last week, however, Senna accepted that the door was closed. 'Alain Prost has a contract with Williams,' he said, 'and he refuses to let me drive with him there. I'm convinced that Williams and Renault want me there, but Prost's actions clearly state he cannot cope with me.
'I may stay with McLaren,' he concluded, 'but the Williams will be easily the most competitive car. If I had to make a decision right now, I would stay at home in Sao Paulo next year.'
Prost's unwillingness to have Senna as a team-mate should come as no surprise to anyone. In 1988 he raised no objection to Senna's joining him at McLaren, and considers he paid heavily for it. The two emphatically did not get along, and although their relationship has been better of late, few envisaged they could ever work together again.
Although Prost's signing with Williams-Renault has yet to be confirmed officially, it is a mere formality. The Frenchman, on sabbatical this season, has been working on his comeback for many months, and will partner Mansell next year - if Mansell can agree terms with Williams.
Driver-retainers have reached an obscene level in recent years - Senna's is thought to be at least dollars 15m ( pounds 7.5m) - and the recession is beginning to bite even at this glitziest of sports. In addition, the cost of technological research and development continues to soar, and team owners increasingly see excessive driver salaries as money which could better be spent elsewhere.
As well as that, there are unquestionably moves within Formula One to cut the driving wage bills, anyway, simply because they have got out of hand. This comes at an unfortunate time for Mansell, who may feel his World Championship should be worth a lot of gelt. All at Williams remain silent on the subject, but the suggestion is that Williams's offer to Mansell is his final one.
Mansell has made it clear he will stay with Williams, or he will retire. In reality, these are his only options, for Gerhard Berger has taken the vacant Ferrari drive and, given their long-established mutual antipathy, it is thought inconceivable he could reach agreement with Ron Dennis of McLaren.
Thus in 1993, grand prix racing may be without both Mansell and Senna, the one perhaps choosing retirement, the other sulking in South America because he can't have the fastest car. 'Prost will dominate the championship next year,' Senna said yesterday, and perhaps he finds untenable the thought of being beaten by Prost - who will have the fastest car.
Ultimately, most expect that Mansell and Williams will reach an accommodation for 1993, but it is far from sure. More of a certainty is that Mansell will win today - for the ninth time this season.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX (Spa Francorchamps) Final qualifying times: 1 N Mansell (GB) Williams- Renault 1min 50.545sec (227.115kph, 141.123 mph); 2 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Honda 1:52.743; 3 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1:53.221; 4 R Patrese (It) Williams-Renault 1:53.557; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:54.438; 6 G Berger (Aut) McLaren- Honda 1:54.642; 7 T Boutsen (Bel) Ligier-Renault 1:54.654; 8 M Hakkinen (Fin) Lotus-Ford 1:54.812; 9 M Brundle (GB) Benetton-Ford 1:54.973; 10 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford 1:55.027; 11 G Tarquini (It) Fondmetal-Ford 1:55.965; 12 I Capelli (It) Ferrari 1:56.075; 13 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Ilmor 1:56.111; 14 M Alboreto (It) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:56.282; 15 E Van De Poele (Bel) Fondmetal-Ford 1:56.674; 16 J J Lehto (Fin) BMC Dallara-Ferrari 1:56.809; 17 S Modena (It) Jordan- Yamaha 1:56.889; 18 K Wendlinger (Aut) March- Ilmor 1:57.039; 19 P Martini (It) BMC Dallara- Ferrari 1:57.267; 20 B Gachot (Bel) Venturi- Lamborghini 1:57.330; 21 E Naspetti (It) March- Ilmor 1:57.794; 22 O Grouillard (Fr) Tyrrell-Ilmor 1:57.818; 23 G Morbidelli (It) Minardi- Lamborghini 1:58.126; 24 M Gugelmin (Bra) Jordan-Yamaha 1:58.499; 25 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:58.826; 26 U Katayama (Japan) Venturi-Lamborghini 1:59.383. Did not qualify: 27 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Minardi-Lamborghini 1:59.626; 28 R Moreno (Bra) Andrea Moda-Judd 2:05.096; 29 P McCarthy (GB) Andrea Moda-Judd 2:15.050. Did not run: E Comas (Fr) Ligier-Renault.Reuse content