Race Weekend Central

Formula 1 Friday: Tracks of My Years

After an enthralling Canadian Grand Prix on a track in Montreal that always serves up thrills and spills, we flip the coin and travel with the circus to what’s commonly referred to in these parts as a “Mickey Mouse” track in Valencia. Much as the Spanish Tourist Board might like to push the venue as their version of Monaco, the fact of the matter is the track is … well … boring.

So it got me to thinking, what and where are the best tracks that F1 visits and has visited in the past. Here’s my top 10 in NO PARTICULAR ORDER!

10 – Brands Hatch (UK) – Much as the high-speed swoops of Silverstone appeal, there’s a special place in my heart for the track in Kent, or the “Garden of England” as the locals like to refer to their county. Formula 1 sadly hasn’t been staged there since 1986, but it’s location in a natural bowl make it a far more spectator-friendly experience than Silverstone.

Corners such as Paddock Hill Bend are still capable of taking the breath away (and the gradient when taking the corner at speed leaves your stomach at the top of the hill as the car is at the bottom!). I’ll never forget watching a Group C Sportscar race there in the rain where Hans Stuck took Riccardo Patrese’s Lancia around the outside of Paddock. A true close your eyes and pray moment.

9 – Monza (Italy) – Still the current host of the Italian Grand Prix, the Autrodromo Nazionale Monza near the province of Milan is steeped in motoring history. The track was built in 1922 and originally took the form that will be recognizable to IndyCar fans as a fearsome oval.

The cruel nature of the track in that form was highlighted at the Grand Prix in 1928 where an accident ended in the death of driver Emilio Materassi and shockingly, the death of 27 spectators as the car was launched into the crowd.

After the death of three drivers in the 1933 event the layout was changed to incorporate chicanes, though the banked oval was still used as part of a longer circuit up until 1961 where Wolfgang von Trips collided with Jim Clark’s Lotus at the Parabolica, launching the car into the crowd and again causing the deaths of both von Trips and 15 spectators.

Again the configuration was changed and resulted in the format that will be most familiar now to regular F1 watchers, though the fearsome speeds as the cars tear down the long straights remain. A track that truly lives and breaths motor sport.

8 – Monaco (Monte Carlo) – Monaco creeps into the top 10 more for its history than the excitement of the track itself. Seen as the “Jewel In The Crown” of the F1 circus, the track itself doesn’t lend itself especially to overtaking. The narrow confines of the circuit led to Nelson Piquet (never a fan of the track) to describe it as similar to “riding your bicycle around your living room.”

I talk about Monaco in more detail in a previous column, but despite my reservations, it would be remiss not to include the track here.

See also
Formula 1 Friday: Monaco - Only the Streetwise May Apply

7 – Silverstone (UK) – The host of the British Grand Prix, Silverstone is the antithesis to the likes of Monaco and Valencia as it’s wide, smooth, grippy surface encourages wheel to wheel battles amongst competitors. The circuit design has recently been revised (though not in my opinion improved especially), but there’s no denying the excitement of watching the F1 cars hard at work as they swoop through the Becketts complex.

Being in the UK as well, there’s always more than a good chance of rain which will always spice up the show. Two of my personal standout memories of races at Silverstone are the 1986 Grand Prix, won by Nigel Mansell, where the crowd invaded the track in a display of national fervor, most unusual for the normally reserved Brits!

I can also never forget the bizarre sight of a protesting (and quite mad) Irish priest by the name of Neil Horan wandering down the 200-mph Hangar Straight mid-race in 2003. After being tackled by a brave marshal (having had a close call with Mark Webber swerving around him at 150 mph), Rubens Barrichello went on to take what is widely regarded as the greatest of his 11 Grand Prix victories. A strange day indeed.

6 – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – (Canada) – As I mentioned in the introduction, the beautiful surroundings of the Isle de Notre Dame in Montreal seldom fail to produce a thrilling race.

The famous “Wall of Champions” following the final chicane has caught many of the brave and unlike many modern tracks, the Montreal course is unforgiving to those who make mistakes. One misjudgment and you’re off visiting the wall – a rarity at a relatively quick track and in today’s sanitized (though fortunately safe) world of F1.

5 – Nurburgring Nordschleif (Germany) – The ultimate F1 circuit. Over 22 kilometers of undulating, weaving terror taking an F1 car between seven and eight minutes to lap. Still open to take your road car around to the present day (and should you find yourself in the region of the Eifel Mountains, there is no better way to appreciate the bravery of a race driver than to take your car around), the track was nicknamed “The Green Hell” by Sir Jackie Stewart.

Part of the problem at this most wonderful of tracks is that due to it’s length, marshaling the whole track was impossible and whereas at one point it could be dry as a bone, the next you’d suddenly find yourself in a downpour. Across the series that have raced there, the track has claimed the lives of no less than 68 competitors. Fierce, unforgiving, evil and yet utterly, utterly compelling.

4 – Spa Francorchamps (Belgium) – My personal favorite and a track I’m lucky enough to have seen a number of races. I also cannot remember a boring Belgian Grand Prix. Nearly every driver’s favourite circuit, the undulations here have to be seen to be believed. The famous Eau Rouge corner may not be as fearsome a challenge as it once was, but like the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, it really has to be seen to be believed.

The first time I ever walked into the main entrance I looked up … and I mean UP … and saw what looked like a bit of track, but didn’t believe it could actually be until a couple of Porsches blasted their way up. Incredible, inspiring – a track for those who love motor sport.

3 – Interlagos (Brazil) – Historically the closing race of the F1 season, the ramshackle Interlagos circuit flies somewhat in the face of the modern, high-spec world of F1. Situated alongside some of the poorest areas of the city of Sao Paulo, the contrast can feel too acute for some.

Again a real racers’ circuit, with opportunities to overtake across the lap and particularly into the swooping Senna S curves at the first corner. Coupled with the layout, the passion and pure NOISE of the Brazilian fans makes for an atmosphere unmatched across the world.

2 – Zandvoort (Holland) – I’m putting Zandvoort in here off the back of one corner, the quite wonderful cambered hairpin known as Tarzanbocht, or the Tarzan corner. The turn was reputedly named after a local character who refused to give up his vegetable patch to make room for the circuit’s developers unless they named one of the corners after him.

The circuit gained popularity due to it’s fast corners but was another of the “killer” tracks that sadly lost its Grand Prix status in 1985.

1 – Istanbul Park (Turkey) – The only one of the modern tracks that makes the list. Unlike the majority of tracks built by Bernie Ecclestone’s “designer of choice,” Hermann Tilke (such as the insipid track at Abu Dhabi) the circuit at Istanbul Park provides plenty of lap-wide thrills including the quadruple apex challenge of the rather un-inspiringly named “Turn 8.”

Unusual in that the lap is run anti-clockwise, sadly the Turkish Grand Prix was dropped from the calendar for 2012 because of poor ticket sales, alongside Mr. Ecclestone’s wish to double the fee to host the race. A huge disappointment to both Grand Prix fans and moreover the triple race winner at the circuit, the troubled Felipe Massa.

As I mention, these aren’t in any specific order, but if pushed I’d run with Spa at one, the Nordschleife at two and Monza three. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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