In recent years Formula One has gone through transformations in a myriad of ways. Changes to the power plants, the rules, and the technical minutiae of the sport have seen fans split on the efficacy and indeed the wisdom of these vagaries. Many of the evolutions of late can be attributed to a desire to enhance the safety of the sport, others to enrich the spectacle, and some have simply and unfortunately been the result of high-power political and financial concerns.
Owing to this latter category is the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of leaving many of Formula One’s traditional tracks in favor of new venues in emerging markets that the sports’ powers-that-be have vested interests in exploiting. While I choose not to place the focus of this discourse on the persons behind this sea-change and the reasons for its occurrence, it goes without saying that many of these deletions have caused great consternation amongst the fans, who see some of these venues as sacrosanct and iconic.
As one of this particular species of Formula One fans, I feel strongly that the sport is doing itself a disservice when it fails to embrace its past, especially when the newer venues are not nearly as interesting, or providing of exciting racing as the tracks of old. In the interest of sparking a gestalt of sorts to see the return of some of the great circuits of Formula One’s past, I have chosen a select handful of tracks to examine and advocate for here. If you are a long-time follower of Formula One, it is my hope that this will trigger some great memories of places, faces and races of the past. For the more recent converts to the disease known as chronic Formula One-itis, I suggest that you don’t know what you’ve been missing!
Kyalami Racing Circuit
Combining the exotic locale of South Africa with a technically difficult and fast track, Kyalami was a favorite Formula One destination from 1965 to 1985, and again during the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Kyalami and F1 saw its fair share of tragedy over the years, most notably during the 1977 edition of the race when Shadow UOP team driver Tom Pryce struck a marshal who was crossing the track, killing both men instantly. In spite of this, Kyalami was an extremely popular event on the Formula One calendar, and gave us some very memorable races.
Originally built and opened in 1961, the Kyalami circuit hosted the first race of the 1967 Grand Prix season. The course, as it was then, was 4.1 km (2.5 mi) long and consisted of nine medium and high-speed corners. It featured quite a lengthy front pit straight which was not entirely straight, as it featured the infamous Kink corner which was taken flat out. Other notable corners included Crowthorne at the end of the front straight, the technically difficult Barbeque Bend, the high-speed Jukskei Sweep, and the classic Sunset Bend amongst others.
Kyalami’s inaugural Formula One race was won in fine style by Pedro Rodriguez, and subsequent editions in the 1960s and 70s were won by some of the most legendary drivers in the sports’ history, including Jimmy Clark, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Niki Lauda and Mario Andretti who won his very first F1 race there. In 1974, American driver Peter Revson was killed at Barbeque Bend in a horrible head-on crash into the barriers during free practice for the race. Kyalami nonetheless remained on the calendar, and did so again after the aforementioned tragic accident in 1977.
In the early 1980s, turbo cars began to dominate the Kyalami race owing to the fact that they coped better with the 6,000 ft. altitude that the track was situated at than atmospheric engines. The 1983 event had been scheduled as the last Grand Prix of the season and saw a three-way battle for the Driver’s Championship between the turbocharged cars of Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet and Rene Arnoux. Piquet went on to win the championship by finishing third, as his rivals’ cars both succumbed to the tough nature of the Kyalami circuit.
1984 saw a phenomenal race from Alain Prost who, after starting from the pit lane, battled his way through the field to finish second. This edition was also notable for a certain unknown rookie named Senna scoring his first F1 point for finishing 6th.
The 1985 race found itself mired in controversy as public outcry against the apartheid government of South Africa reached a fever pitch. Many teams and drivers wanted to sit out the Grand Prix, and in fact, the Ligier and Renault teams did boycott it in the end. Such were the bad feelings about the race that it proved to be the end of Formula One in the country, at least until apartheid was abolished in 1991.
Formula One returned to South Africa the following year, albeit to a vastly different circuit than it once raced on. Crowthorne Corner, Leeukop Bend, the Kink, the start/finish straight, and Barbeque Bend were all eliminated, and Jukskei Sweep was heavily reworked. What was left of the original circuit was modified to a lesser degree, with Sunset Bend, Clubhouse Bend and the Esses still incorporated into the new configuration.
Despite the massive changes, Kyalami produced two fine races upon Formula One’s return, especially the 1993 running which saw a titanic battle ensue between Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, with Prost proving victorious in the end.
In July 1993 Kyalami was sold to the South African Automobile Association; however running a Formula One event proved to be too costly at the time, and Formula One did not ever return.
In 2014, it was announced that Kyalami would be auctioned off without reserve. It sold for R205 million to Porsche South Africa, and now hosts a round of the World Superbike Championship as well as other notable events. The circuit is for the most part up to Formula One standards, and deserves another go round with the Grand Prix Circus, as there is no race on the entire continent of Africa at the moment.
Circuit Paul Ricard
France holds the record for the number of tracks that have hosted its national Grand Prix. Legendary circuits such as Reims-Gueux, Dijon, Clermont-Ferrand and Rouen-Les-Essarts count among them. But it is Paul-Ricard that held some of the most extraordinary French Grands Prix.
Surrounded by the beautiful mountains of the Castellet range near Marseille, drinks magnate Paul Ricard certainly picked an idyllic spot to build what was to be France’s most modern race circuit. Opened on April 19th 1970, Paul Ricard featured three track layouts for different racing series, a state-of-the-art pit complex, a large industrial park and an airstrip that made it easy for race teams to get in and out of the complex. All of these facilities quickly lured F1, and the French Grand Prix was held at Paul Ricard 14 times between 1971 and 1990.
Dominated by the 1.8 km Mistral straight, the Grand Prix layout had 14 turns in a 5.8 km (3.610 mi) circuit. The flat-out Signes corner followed the straight and pushed drivers to the max owing to its high g-load.
Seminal F1 races at Paul Ricard include the final running in 1990 where mid-field team Leyton House drivers Ivan Capelli and Mauricio Gugelmin dominated much of the race in their Adrian Newey designed CG901s, until Alain Prost managed a late-race surge to win for Ferrari.
In spite of having top-flight safety features, Paul Ricard has nonetheless suffered a few serious incidents over the years; the most notable being the death of Lotus driver Elio de Angelis during a test session in 1986.
In 1991, the French Grand Prix was moved to the Circuit de NeversMagny-Cours, in large part because French Prime Minister Francois Mitterrand hailed from the Nevers region and sought to bolster the economic conditions there. Most of the teams, as well as fans the world over lamented the move, in part due to Paul Ricard having become a beloved destination on the F1 calendar, and also because Magny-Cours was a boring, featureless track in a boring, featureless area and unilaterally delivered boring, featureless races during its tenure.
Prior to the French Grand Prix in 2007, Bernie Ecclestone announced that the 2007 race would be the last to be held at the Nevers track. Owing to the world financial crisis, no replacement venue was found for the 2008 race, and as such, the 2007 race was the last French Grand Prix to date.
From a fan’s perspective, this is unforgivable, as motor racing got its very start in the France, and many drivers, engine manufacturers and teams have historically hailed from the country. Updates to Paul Ricard’s layout, safety features and spectator facilities led to the track once again receiving FIA homologation back in 2006, essentially giving it a green light to hold FIA-sanctioned events including Formula One there. All that is lacking now is the will.
Called “The best race track in the world” by Bernie Ecclestone, Istanbul Park was built on a design by Hermann Tilke with the expressed purpose of hosting Formula One in Turkey. Located in the Asian side of Istanbul, the circuit is supported by the nearby SabihaGokcen International Airport, and is surrounded by fields and forests.
The Istanbul Park circuit is 5.338 km (3.317 mi) long, and has 14 corners, the most famous of which is the legendary and technically difficult Turn 8. A high-speed, four apex corner, Turn 8 was beloved by drivers who nicknamed it “Diabolica,” and likened it in terms of its challenge to Eau Rouge in Spa-Francorchamps, and the daunting 130R corner at Suzuka. Also notable is Turn 1, a steeply dropping left hander that some have compared to the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, and the uphill kink on the back straight.
The Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul Park yielded exciting and incident-filled races, as the track was unforgiving to drivers who pushed too hard. The inaugural race in 2005 was won by Kimi Raikkonen, after race leader, Juan-Pablo Montoya, ran wide in turn 8 trying to pass the Jordan of Tiago Montiero with just two laps to go. A year later, Felipe Massa won from pole in an exciting race that saw Fernando Alonso snatch second from Michael Schumacher in the latter stages of the race. The 2011 edition saw Sebastian Vettel win for Red Bull Racing. The race was a thrill-fest, and featured the highest recorded number of pit stops and overtakes in F1 history.
In 2011 it was announced that the Turkish Grand Prix would not be on the calendar for 2012 due to the government choosing not to approve state funding for the race, citing the difficult economic climate in the country. And thus this great event was lost to us.
Today, Istanbul Park still has its Class 1 FIA Homologation status, allowing it to host Formula One races should the right package come together to allow it to happen. The center of the track has been leased to a used car sales company, but the track still hosts lesser motorsports events including FIA World Rallycross and the Istanbul 12 Hours.
Autodromo do Estoril
Few tracks incur more sentimentality amongst Formula One fans than Estoril. Built in 1972 on a plateau near the village of Alcabideche, Portugal, Estoril is an idyllic destination, and a fantastic racetrack that has yielded much in the way of Formula One thrills over the years that it hosted the Portuguese Grand Prix.
At 4.182 km (2.599 mi) in length, the track features 13 corners of low, medium and high-speed natures. Curva 1 is a relatively tight right-hander that follows a 985 meter long pit straight, making it a perfect overtaking spot under braking. Turn 5 is notable for being a very high-speed kink in the back-section of the track, and the final corner, Parabolica Ayrton Senna, is critical to get right as it leads onto the pit straight where maximum speed is essential.
Hosting its first Formula One race in 1984, Estoril quickly established itself as an annual stop on the F1 circus. Fans loved its setting, and drivers loved its mix of technical corners and high-speed sections. Memorable races came from the get-go. Niki Lauda clinched his third and final World Driver’s Championship at Estoril in the inaugural race, beating McLaren teammate Alain Prost to the title by the slimmest margin in history – ½ of a point.
Ayrton Senna won his very first race at the track, putting on a wet-weather demonstration that people still talk about today. Senna and Mansell infamously collided in the titanic 1989 running, with Mansell subsequently being black-flagged and a jubilant Gerhard Berger claiming the top step on the podium for Ferrari. And who could ever forget the battle between Senna and Mansell running side by side at 200 mph on the pit straight in 1991?
Despite these exceptional races, and the fact that the track was a popular testing circuit for the F1 teams, Estoril hosted its last Grand Prix in 1996, in part because the owners balked on making improvements that the FIA had asked for, and to make space on the calendar for new events. Estoril still holds an FIA Class 1 certification, so very little would need to be done to the track to bring Formula One back. Let’s hope that comes to pass.
Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Galvez
Located in the southern part of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Galvez was built in 1952 by Argentine dictator Juan Peron. It hosted its first Formula One race the following year, and was always a very popular event, owing to the traditionally good weather, and the fact that the track was situated on flat lands, giving every spectator a fantastic view.
The circuit was designed with multiple layouts, affording many permutations to track length. The number 2 circuit was used in F1 from 1953 to 1960 and was 3.345 km (2.07 mi) in length. The number 9 circuit was home to Argentinian Formula One racing between 1971 and 1973 and was the same length. The 1974 to 1981 races were held on the ultra-fast, 5.948 km (3.687 mi) number 15 circuit, and featured two long backfield straights separated by the treacherous, high-speed parabolic turn three. Between 1995 and 1998, Formula One made use of the twisty, 4.259 km (2.64 mi) number 6 configuration.
Alberto Ascari’s win for Ferrari in the inaugural event was overshadowed by the death of nine spectators due to the crowd of 400,000 literally pushing fans to the edge of the track. The next year saw crowd favorite Juan-Manuel Fangio take his first in a series of four consecutive wins in front of his countrymen.
1979 saw a spectacular event, featuring a race-long duel between the Ligiers of Jacques Laffite and Patrick Depallier, and Argentinian Carlos Reutemann in the Lotus who would eventually finish second. 1980 was another drama-fest, as the track was literally breaking up under the unusual heat during the weekend. The drivers threatened a boycott, but the race was ultimately run with Alan Jones, Nelson Piquet, Gilles Villenueve, Laffite and Reutemann all battling ferociously for top positions and going off the disintegrating track! In the end, Jones would take the victory, with Keke Rosberg earning his first podium, and a rookie by the name of Alain Prost taking his first championship point in his debut race.
The 1982 race was cancelled due to the war in the Falkland Islands between Argentina and the UK. This led to the Argentine race promoters losing their contract, and the track didn’t hear the sound of F1 engines again until 1995.
The good news of Buenos Aires’ return to the Formula One calendar was unfortunately blighted by the decision of the promoters and the FIA to use the twisty, low-speed number 6 track, which lacked the thrilling high-speed flat out run that included the famous, parabolic turn 3. As such, the racing was rather processional with Damon Hill walking away with the 1995 and 1996 editions, Jacques Villenuve blitzing the opposition in 1997, and Michael Schumacher taking home the win in 1998. Owing to the rather boring races, and the difficult economic conditions in Argentina, the race was dropped from the F1 circus for 1999, and has never returned.
Bernie Ecclestone, commercial rights holder of Formula One, recently said “We are open to racing in Argentina when I can deal with serious people.” It would be a welcome occasion if Bernie could find those folks, and we could see the race return on the phenomenal number 15 circuit.
Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari
Of the lost temples of speed detailed here, perhaps none is more legendary than the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. Over the years, the track has hosted unmatched scenes of triumph and tragedy.
Located near the Italian town of Imola, which gives the track its colloquial name, the circuit is situated roughly 40 km east of Bologna, and just 80 km east of the Ferrari factory in Maranello. As such, it, and not Monza, was always considered the home race for the Scuderia. The circuit is in fact named after Ferrari’s founder and his late son.
The current iteration of the track is 4.909 km (3.050 mi) long and has 17 turns. The famous Tosa hairpin, Piratella corner, and AcqueMilerale and Rivazza complexes are intact, though the infamous Tamburello corner has been altered to become a chicane, and the straight leading up to Tosa has been broken up likewise.
Built in 1953, the track originally had no chicanes, making the run from Rivazza to Tosa, as well as that from AcqueMinerali down to Rivazza flat out semi-straights. In 1963, Imola hosted a non-championship round of the Formula One circus that was won by Jim Clark for Lotus. A further non-championship race took place at Imola in 1979, and was won by Niki Lauda in a Brabham. In 1980, it hosted its first true round in the Formula One calendar by being the site for the 50th Italian Grand Prix in lieu of its traditional home at Monza. Nelson Piquet won, and the race was such a success that Imola received it’s own Formula One event in 1981 as the San Marino Grand Prix.
The 1982 race saw the Ferrari teammates Villenueve and Pironi heading towards a 1-2 finish when word came over the radio that they should slow down to ensure they reached the finish. To Villenueve it was understood that this meant they should hold position as well. Pironi did not see it that way, and swiped the victory by passing Villenueve on the last coner of the final lap. Villenuve swore that he would never talk to Pironi again, and two weeks later, the Canadian was to perish at Zolder, trying to outqualify his teammate. 1985 was an exciting race as well. Ayrton Senna led much of the race but was passed by new Ferrari driver Stefan Johansson, who started 15th. Johansson was set for victory until he ran out of fuel in the waning laps of the race. Alain Prost would take the win, but was later disqualified when it was discovered his car was underweight. Victory was handed to Italian, Elio de Angelis.
In addition to great racing, Imola unfortunately also had its fair share of tragedy. In 1989, Gerhard Berger crashed heavily at Tamburello and his car burst into flames. He was lucky to escape with just burns to his hands. And then came 1994.
In what has been called the darkest weekend in Formula One history, several incidents left F1 fans the world over in a state of shock. On Friday, Rubens Barrichello suffered a severe concussion during practice after a vicious accident at the VarianteBassa chicane. The next day during qualifying, Simtek driver Roland Ratzenberger crashed at the Villenueve corner at 195 mph and was killed. At the start of the race, J.J. Lehto and Pedro Lamy collided and debris from the crash injured eight spectators in the stands. Finally, on lap 7 after a restart, Brazilian triple World Champion Ayrton Senna was killed when his car went straight on at Tamburello.
A raft of safety changes to the cars and circuits resulted from that horrible weekend at Imola. While the circuit remained on the F1 calendar until 2006, it ultimately lost its place in part to bad memories, and to make way for new venues in the Middle and Far East. Today, Imola hosts races of many different series and still holds FIA Class 1 certification.
It is time for it to return to the Formula One ‘Circus’.
-by Rob Finkelman