Ranking Every American Circuit to Have Hosted a Formula 1 Race
This weekend is the second hosting of the United States Grand Prix at Austin.
The Texas track has already impressed much of the Formula One fraternity for its cresting layout and sweeping turns, and the entertaining battle for the lead last year.
But this weekend will be the litmus test.
After the usual first-year hurrah, will the Austin track keep attendances up?
The suggestions are that it will. But why has it taken until this decade for F1 to get a foothold in America?
In a country dominated by NASCAR that has its own IndyCar series, meaning it boasts a top-level single-seater championship already, Formula One has stiff competition.
Is it the circuits? To a large extent, perhaps. Because, while there haven’t been many circuit tracks in the US, they have been a mixed bag.
Few have stood out, except one or two. Is Austin among them? Find out now.
Each of the 10 circuits to have hosted a Formula One race in America (not necessarily the United States Grand Prix) is included in this list.
It is ranked on the following three things:
1. Circuit Design
How great is the circuit? Does it promote good racing? Is it challenging?
What was the circuit’s history? If it had none, was the circuit built for the right reasons, or was it just thrown together for one season and forgotten?
What was the circuit's impact on the sport in the US? Did it last long? Did it help?
10. Dallas: 1984
The actual layout of Dallas looked promising. A sequence of opening twists and turns led to a long pair of back straights, before a very tight finish to the lap.
The problem was its rushed construction, and the two hairpins created for the circuit made it far tighter than it needed to be. The track began to crumble in qualifying races and was breaking apart by the early laps of the race.
It gets points for trying. But not a lot more.
The circuit was constructed at Fair Park and conceived as a way of showcasing Dallas as a city. But with zero heritage, it is difficult to say F1 needed to come there.
This was a construction that was never going to be long lasting, and F1 never returned. That the circuit was part of a number of US races at the time, served to add to its anonymity.
9. Phoenix: 1989-91
After Detroit’s time hosting a Grand Prix ended, a street circuit in Phoenix took its place.
Constructed in the downtown area of the Arizona city, the circuit was short-lived due to poor fan turnout.
The layout was uninspiring, even for a street circuit. Though tweaked for the third and final race in 1991, it failed to add anything spectacular to the design. That race would prove to be the last in the US until 2000; then the latest example of F1’s lack of appeal in the States.
8. Riverside: 1960
The first United States Grand Prix at the Riverside circuit was in 1958, but that was an amalgamated sportscar event. Like Sebring before it, the prize fund for the drivers was huge as organisers were desperate for it to be a success.
Despite this (and again, like Sebring before it), the attendance was poor. The California-based circuit was quite rudimentary by design, including a mile-long back straight, a sweeping sequence of turns leading into the first of a quartet of hairpins.
Its high-speed nature made it dangerous and a redesign was ordered, though by this time F1 was long gone, never to return.
It was a fledgling circuit when F1 arrived, though it did launch the career of Dan Gurney.
7. Las Vegas: 1981-82
It repeats itself. No, literally, it repeats itself. Built into the car park of the Caesars Palace hotel (no, seriously), this circuit was hardly a good start.
But to their credit, it was well put together. There was ample run-off and, for a street circuit, room for overtaking. It’s easy to see why a Las Vegas Grand Prix had its appeal.
When Watkins Glen lost its place on the calendar in 1980, F1 needed a good home to go to. So why not Vegas?
Caesars Palace gave it extra gravitas, and this was a sensible place to try to establish F1 as a force in the US.
But it didn't work. Only two races were held and those drew a tiny crowd.
Once again, F1’s quest for a long-term home in the US had fallen short.
6. Detroit: 1982-88
Street circuits are always difficult to get right. Just look at Valencia. And while first glance of Detroit’s layout looks just largely like a sequence of sharp turns, it was actually a good circuit.
It’s Motor City. Of course, F1 had to try it. And to its credit, it lasted longer than most.
Two challenging hairpins were the cornerstone of the early design, though one was scrapped in ’83. An attempt at innovation included the backdrop of General Motors’ headquarters the Renaissance Centre, a tunnel, and even a railroad track crossing!
However, by ’88 it was clear Detroit was not up to scratch. Its below-par pit lane complex meant it was stricken from the calendar and its final race was blighted by the circuit breaking up due to intense temperatures.
5. Sebring: 1959
The Sebring circuit has the beautiful benefit of being made from an old airfield (part of which remains in use today). Truly an epic circuit: challenging with fast but tight bends that punish drivers if they make a mistake.
You cannot disparage what Sebring was as a circuit, and its only limiting factor was that it opens every major United States sportscar series and is the host of the 12 Hours of Sebring, one of sportscar racing’s most coveted events.
It made perfect sense to host a Grand Prix there, and what it has grown into since is proof that the circuit was the right place to go in 1959.
But attendance was low, and costs were high. After just one race, the Grand Prix went to the Riverside circuit.
4. Americas: 2012-13
It might only be Austin's second year, but we've seen enough (and the US history of circuits is checkered enough) to know that it's one of the finer efforts at bringing Grand Prix racing to the States.
The Circuit of the Americas was intelligently built using the topography of the state rather than around it, and the result is a circuit on which F1 cars can almost reach their full potential.
The rise up to Turn 1 and the sweeps from Turns 3 through 9 are highlights and they show that Hermann Tilke definitely had his head screwed on building this. Its obvious limiting factor, though, is that for six consecutive corners overtaking is very difficult.
It also garners added points for being a purpose-built circuit, and landing deals with V8 Supercars, the World Endurance Championship and MotoGP shows that this facility is very, very serious.
The first year was very promising in terms of attendance, but it’s too soon to tell how significant the impact will be.
3. Indianapolis: 1950-60; 2000-07
Indianapolis existed in F1 circles in two guises. The first incorporated the original Brickyard, as the Indy 500 was part of the F1 calendar for the world championship’s first decade.
However, it’s unfair to count that because not every team would enter.
There, these scores are based on the Brickyard MkII. That heralded the return of F1 racing to America, and there were very good reasons for choosing it.
Part of the famous oval was used when the road course was built between 1998 and 2000, as the circuit incorporated its western and southern points.
This was then the clearest example that F1 needed to work in the States, and where better than Indy? The first race drew a massive crowed of over 200,000, justifying the effort to reinstate the race.
However, the 2005 tyre controversy (when all Michelin runners withdrew on safety grounds and only six cars started the race) combined with arguments between promoters and Bernie Ecclestone over the cost of hosting the Grand Prix, meant the race was dropped after the 2007 iteration.
2. Long Beach: 1976-83
There are very, very few criticisms one can make in regard to Long Beach. One of the US most popular circuits, it was designed with the view of becoming the “Monaco Grand Prix of the United States.”
Few can quarrel with its layout, which featured a rapid Shoreline Drive straight (with a bend, in fairness) leading into a tight hairpin, and a sequence of chicanes that tend to come with the territory of street circuits.
Constructed with growing concerns over the future of Watkins Glen in mind, there can little doubt the intent to which this Grand Prix was born with. It was also regularly tweaked and upgraded in accordance with year-on-year concerns, such as the location of the pits or safety concerns over the layout.
It was a hit, too, being successful with both punters and promoters alike. That was until race organiser Chris Pook decided the domestic IndyCar was a better use of money.
F1 left Long Beach in 1983; though if you believe the rumours, it might be set for a return in 2015.
1. Watkins Glen: 1961-80
Watkins Glen. Seneca Lake. The Glen.
Known around the world for 20 years as the home of Grand Prix racing in the United States, there is no questioning that this was the circuit in which F1 looked to have found its home in America.
After a series of unsuccessful and short-lived circuits in the late 50s, The Glen was prepped for 1961. The original circuit design was short, only eight corners in length, but was still very challenging – it overlapped the previous non-permanent street design.
Then in ’71 came the introduction of The Boot section, which added an extra (and brilliant) element to the conclusion of the circuit. Throughout the early part of the decade it was upgraded, widened and tweaked to add safety but, in the end, the development of ground-effect cars would prove its demise.
By its fast and challenging nature, the circuit became too dangerous with the new speeds these cars were reaching and there were fatalities, including that of the highly-rated François Cevert, as early as 1973.
Its magic was waning in the latter half of the decades as the bumpy track drew criticism and also came under fire for not having adequate facilities.
Image damaged, The Glen hosted its last race in 1980 in a cloud of controversy, as allegedly it had not paid its debts to the teams accrued to secure last-minute upgrades to the circuit that year.
It remains, though, the benchmark for Grand Prix racing in the States.
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