Ranking the 10 Best European F1 Tracks
There was a time when Formula One’s “world championship” was really anything but, with just a token flyaway at the Indianapolis 500 (not contested by most Grand Prix outfits) the only race outside of Europe.
A concentrated effort to take in genuine trips to North America grew to include South American voyages as well as races in Japan and Australia which would fast become a staple of the calendar. We’re now perfectly used to the calendar encompassing tracks from the Middle-East and Asia, too.
The majority of these circuits are brought to you courtesy of Hermann Tilke, F1’s favourite designer, who cut his teeth on the “new” nine-corner A1 Ring almost 20 years ago and is now the brains behind every new facility we see.
Unfortunately for Mr. Tilke, he’ll have to go some way to have a circuit which matches Europe’s finest.
This weekend sees the F1 circus roll into Belgium, to take on Spa-Francorchamps. A fine example of what Europe brings to the table, and the perfect excuse to look at the best tracks the Continent has to offer.
1: Estoril, Portugal
There's almost a resemblance to Catalunya here, though Estoril had a tendency to put on a better spread of races during its 13-year hosting of the Portuguese Grand Prix.
The circuit ran in two designs, predominantly as an 11-corner layout and then 13 following the introduction of the Gancho hairpins.
The main straight was the only source of mild respite, due to the circuit's rather twisty configuration.
But it was certainly less Mickey Mouse than other tracks we've seen, and its elevation changes made it a constant challenge.
A popular addition to the calendar in its day, before being dropped in '97. It wasn't short of its significant moments either, including Niki Lauda's third world title in '84 and Ayrton Senna's first F1 win the following year.
9: Zandvoort, Netherlands
What a venue. What a fantastic venue. If it had been able to be developed as a facility it may well be higher up the list.
But it is what it is, and we should not in any way detract anything from it for that, not least because it rarely had a negative effect on the on-track action.
The opening corner, Tarzan, is one of F1's most famous. It's cambered and has fantastic overtaking opportunities.
Despite the narrow nature of some parts of the track, it remains a fantastic sequence of corners blending together into a ferocious lap.
After the twisty opening to the lap, the run from Turn 4 through to the final corner is a near-unrelenting set of sweeping turns. Bravery is a must around Zandvoort. Has it really been that long since 1995?
8: Brands Hatch, Britain
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Silverstone may be the “Home of British Motorsport,” but don’t let that detract you from the F1 history that Kent’s finest race circuit has.
Brands Hatch hosted 14 Grands Prix between 1964 and 1986, twice as the European round and the rest as the British event.
As if the run to Paddock Hill Bend wasn’t iconic enough, or the long run through Clark Curve onto the Brabham Straight, the extended GP section which runs out into the trees is just remarkable.
Hawthorn Bend, Dingle Dell, Stirling’s Bend…These names resonate with the sound of F1 history, and if you are fortunate enough to be trackside during any contemporary race you’ll curse the days you missed F1 cars storm through these corners.
Despite the circuit still being active, we’re unlikely to see modern-day F1 cars back on it anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream.
7: Monte Carlo, Monaco
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Say what you will about street races and lack of overtaking, but Monaco is still a fantastic and crucial addition to the Formula 1 calendar.
It's one of the greatest places to see a F1 car having its neck wrung, for very different reasons to most.
While it isn't on the edge of car performance (there's no Eau Rouge or 130R to test the aerodynamics to the full) it's a totally different kind of bravery and skill on show.
Ste Devote, Taba, Mirabeau, Loews hairpin, the Nouvelle Chicane, the Swimming Pool, Rascasse...these corners are an almighty test of driver and car.
If you don't consider Monaco a challenge because the speeds aren't impressive, check out Ayrton Senna's onboards from the 1980s...
Would be higher, but overtaking is an important facet nonetheless. Still, the greatest street circuit in F1's history.
6: Osterreichring, Austria
Forget next year's Red Bull Ring, forget even the A1 Ring. Neither hold a candle to the original Osterreichring.
18 times the Formula One circus came to visit this circuit. 18 times the teams and drivers were subjected to an amazing challenge.
5.9km in length throughout its time as a Grand Prix venue, the Osterreichring had almost every kind of feature you'd want in a F1 track.
It tightened, then opened up onto big, wide straights for high speeds and side-by-side action. Heavy braking zones led into banked turns, while the likes of the Bosch and Texaco Curves were excellent mid-speed sweepers.
Again, it's not that we're sad to see the A1 Ring back on the calendar next year. But Austria's real home of F1 is buried underneath.
5: Silverstone, Britain
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Hard to imagine we nearly lost Silverstone a few years back to Donington Park, isn't it?
That's not to suggest Donington would have been a bad host venue for the British Grand Prix, but Silverstone is a wonderful piece of the F1 jigsaw.
It's also the Home of British Motorsport!
The new layout may not have the same...charisma that the old layout (which took in Bridge and Priory, may they rest in F1 peace) offered.
However, it's still an incredible circuit, and so long as the sweeping Copse corner and Maggots/Becketts complex remains, will remain one of F1's greatest challenges.
There are fewer finer places in the world to witness F1 cars in full attack mode. Brits should be very grateful it's on their doorstep.
4: Clermont-Ferrand, France
This four-time host of the French Grand Prix would grace any calendar. The fastest recorded lap is 2m54.4s (167km/h), from the ’72 race. That was set by Chris Amon’s Matra, but the race was won by Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrell.
But back to Clermont-Ferrand. This 8km brute of a circuit hosted the French round in 1965, ’69, ’70 and ’72. It was built on the site of an extinct volcano!
Such was the area’s topography that drivers reportedly complained of motion sickness, with suggestions it was even worse a ride than the legendary Nordschleife.
The circuit’s time was cut short, however, by the very thing that made it great. Due to its mountainous terrain, extended run-off was not possible, and there were often stones being thrown up by cars, causing punctures as well as two notable injuries to drivers.
In ’70, Jochen Rindt (wearing an open-faced helmet) was hit in the face by a rock, but two years later a more serious incident (a rock hit the eye of Helmut Marko) ended both the driver’s career and that of the circuit.
3: Monza, Italy
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Roll up, roll up. Welcome to F1's mainstay, Monza.
What a history this place has.
The original layout had a monumental run down the main straight into Curva Grande, then down into the two Lesmo corners. A slight bend at Curva del Serraglio was all you'd encounter en route to Curva del Vialone, before the run down to what would become Parabolica.
It was simple but epic.
The use of this layout was punctuated by the use of the now-legendary Monza banking, and then in '72 the first two chicanes came in to break up the mega-long straights.
In '76 the chicane between Curva Grande and the first Lesmo was introduced.
The chicanes would be refined over the coming decades but the epic nature of Monza remained. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a circuit which has so many iterations, all of which are fantastic.
2: Spa, Belgium
What started out as a 14km, 4m47s lap in 1950 may have been reduced to 7km and 1m45s in the modern age, but the legendary circuit offers something no other circuit in the world, let alone Europe, can.
It rises, it falls, it has high-speed, gut-wrenching sweeps and tight, stamp-on-the-brakes deceleration zones.
A quick look at the corners on this track, and it’s easy to see why it’s held in such high regard.
La Source, Eau Rouge, Les Combes, Rivage, Pouhon, Stavalot, the Bus Stop chicane.
Each of these corners is an epic challenge and is instantly recognisable to everyone in the F1 fraternity. They combine to produce fantastic sights and, more often than not, great racing.
Spa is one of, if not the, greatest places to witness a Formula One car in full flight. This writer will be fortunate enough to experience such a thing this weekend.
If there’s one track you add to your bucket list, make it Spa.
Let's make this very, very clear now. This is because of the Nordschleife. Did anyone think otherwise? OK, good.
It's not that the modern Nurburgring is bad. Far from it, in fact.
It's just that the original track was so, so, so very good.
Seriously, how good was the Nordschleife? It's difficult to look at pictures, watch back videos and pour over circuits maps and envision that this place actually hosted so many Grands Prix.
22 races were held on the near-23km circuit that makes Spa look like a run around Brands Hatch Indy!
If you, like myself, were not fortunate enough to witness it in its F1 heyday, make sure you try and get trackside for one of the many contemporary series which do grave the (shortened but still better than the revised main track) Nordschleife.
You will not regret it.
...And the Rest
Imola, Hockenheim, Istanbul, Paul Ricard, even one race at Le Mans. Formula 1 has taken in some of Europe's finest venues.
The above are another five fantastic places in which the Continent has provided a great Grand Prix venue.
Sadly, though, this was only a list of 10, and hopefully you will agree competition was fierce.
There will always be those that miss out. Which ones do you think were the worst omissions?
Let us know in the comments below, or find us on Twitter: @br_f1