Formula One: The Chequered Flag Roundtable (Round 2)

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 Formula One: The Chequered Flag Roundtable (Round 2)

Welcome all to the second Formula One Roundtable discussion, a series of discussions which shall be known as "The Chequered Flag Roundtable."

 

We have compiled the views of some of our top writers for our second topic.

 

If in the future you wish to be considered for a seat at the roundtable, then please contact Michael Griffin or Ben Auty and you shall be contacted in due course.

 

So, the second in a long line of topics in this groundbreaking series is:

 

"What is your all-time favourite circuit and why?"

 

ANSWERS

 

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Steven Stones - Spa Francorchamps

 

To me, there is no greater Grand Prix racing circuit than Spa Francorchamps. There are many amazing tracks around the globe but I have had to go for Spa, and in the end it is an easy decision. For my money, there have been few other circuits that have thrown up as much controversy, as much excitement, and as much pure racing as this track.

 

Spa is situated in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium and throws up all manner of odd weather formations. Rain is a certainty at almost any race meeting at some stage of the weekend, and the unpredictability of the rain and the time frame for its arrival or end makes for some added tension for the teams.

 

Spa's weather system is so unique that the teams simply cannot rely on data. They have that added pressure like no other circuit even in the wet can provide. As we all know, rain or changeable conditions provides some spicy racing.

 

If the weather and unpredictability isn't enough, then there is the question of the layout of the circuit. Every conceivable form of turn is included in the layout, from the tight La Source hairpin; the off camber Rivage, which sees cars sliding whatever their grip configuration or the inclusion of traction control; and of course, there is always the daunting Eau Rouge, which they say is less challenging these days but still looks awesome.

 

Simply, this circuit is a genuine racing circuit, long and quick with the cars flashing through the forest and the valleys. How can someone say that there is a better place to watch Grand Prix cars? For me, there is no better combination of turns and straights in racing, full stop.

 

In addition to the great nature of the track, there is also a personal reason which is simply that there are so many memories of Formula One as a fan etched into my mind from Spa.

 

Some include watching David Coulthard tapping Mika Hakkinen into touch in 1999; the awful 1998 start; in fact, that entire race; the treacherous 2000 race with THAT overtake on Schumacher by Hakkinen; the scary BAR accidents in 1999 qualifying; and the first time Kimi Raikkonen won here with McLaren.

 

The list goes on. Whenever Spa is missing from the Grand Prix calendar, we the fans are mistreated by having either a race less to enjoy or a pretender to Spa's greatness taking its place. No amateur ever wins the Belgian Grand Prix. It sorts the "coulds" from the "thought they coulds" and deserves to be named greatest circuit.

 

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Daniel Chalmers - Spa Francorchamps

 

A perfect race track needs a variety of characteristics: character, challenging corners, elevation changes, great scenery, places to overtake, unpredictable weather, great places for spectators to see the action.

 

In my opinion, Spa is the only track in the world that has all these characteristics. It has the great scenery, with its location in the middle of the dramatic Ardennes Forest. Eau Rouge, Blanchimont and Pouhon provide the challenging and classic corners, which fans all love to watch the drivers tackling.

 

Overtaking is also a possibility, and slipstreaming is possible as well. The corner at the end of the straight following Eau Rouge is a place to overtake. This is where Mika Hakkinen overtook Michael Schumacher using a back marker in the classic 2000 race.

The bus stop chicane is also a place where you see plenty of overtaking.

 

If you go to Spa as a spectator, there is nothing better than seeing F1 cars flat out through Blanchimont or staring at disbelief at how steep Eau Rouge is.

 

Unpredictable weather has made for some very dramatic races in Spa. The 1998 race saw torrential rain, which brought a 1-2 finish for the Jordan team. 1995 saw a wet-weather master class from Michael Schumacher, as he started 15th to go and win the race.

 

This place has a micro-climate of its own. It’s the annual Spa guessing game.

Quite simply, Spa never fails to deliver and has everything you want from a race track.

 

It’s a huge shame that classic tracks like this are under threat from Bernie in favour of boring modern and flat circuits with no character or atmosphere. Spa is what Formula 1 is all about.

 

If you are going watch only one race a year make sure it is Spa.

 

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Mark Andrew - Spa Francorchamps

 

I was thinking of saying Silverstone as my favourite Formula 1 circuit, as it's my home Grand Prix circuit and fantastic, but there is something special about Spa Francorchamps in Belgium.

 

Spa has it all: elevation changes, sweeping corners, heavy braking zones, 21 turns in all.

It is one of the biggest tests these highly skilled drivers go through in the whole F1 calendar. Many drivers state they can't wait for the start of each lap to experience Eau Rouge again. 

 

The most exciting first corner ever for me is La Source hairpin, where anything can happen, as we saw with Alonso and Hamilton in 2007. Cars have to be set up perfectly around Spa with no margin for error. If your car isn’t set up right, you won’t have the speed and balance that's needed. 

 

The legendary Eau Rouge chicane sees the drivers hit 190 mph at the bottom of the hill, pulling five G in Force, four and a half G in Lateral force.

 

This pushes their heads down at four times their body weight, through the corner whilst still accelerating as they pop over the top of the hill into Lacombe, then onto 210 mph down the straight.

 

Pouhon corner is streaming downhill and is unsighted, yet the cars are still doing 180 mph. Then you have the amazing flat out Blanchimont corner, the two Stavelot corners, Malmody, and the Bus Stop chicane

 

F1 cars arriving at the Bus stop chicane must be perfectly balanced as they are braking from 200 Mph to just 50 Mph in seconds.

 

It has produced many great battles over the years, Hakkinen vs. Schumacher in 2000, Hamilton vs. Alonso vs. Raikkonen in 2007, just to name two of the best. 

 

The fact it wasn’t intended to be a race circuit for me adds to the magic of the place. It was country roads, turned into a race track by connecting the roads that link the towns of Stavelot, Malmody and Francorchamps.

 

I was gutted to see it removed in 2006, and the season felt incomplete without it. Putting it back on the calendar was a wise choice, and now I wait in anticipation for the Belgian Grand Prix each time around, I just hope they hurry up and bring it out on the next Formula 1 game.

 

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Andrew McNair - Monte Carlo

 

I've watched F1 for 13 years now, but there is only one race on the F1 calendar that I really hate to miss.

 

That circuit is in Monte Carlo, or as you may know it, the Monaco Grand Prix.

 

In my opinion, it is the pinnacle of Formula One.

 

The glamour is unmatched at any other circuit during the season, and it also offers the drivers one of their greatest challenges.

 

It's history speaks for itself.

 

My own favourite driver won this GP in 2000 and 2002, and those David Coulthard victories definitely add to its glory for me.

 

Street circuits are something special, and I'm looking forward to Valencia's debut this season. It could quite easily become my second favourite circuit very soon.

 

For now, though, in what other sport or race in fact, do you get to compete in such surroundings?

 

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Billy Sexton - Spa Francorchamps

 

My favourite F1 circuit has to be Spa Francorchamps which holds the Belgian Grand Prix, and there are many reasons why Spa is my favourite circuit.

 

The first reason is because of the Eau Rouge corner complex. A truly amazing turn, I am not surprised that it has been recently voted best F1 corner ever by F1 Racing Magazine.

 

For me, nothing is better than watching Hamilton or Raikkonen go flat out up the hill and then along the top straight. The bendy corner needs to be taken flat out for a good lap time.

 

Many say this complex is the best at demonstrating driver skill (some say that the Maggots and Beckett's corners at Silverstone, are the best but I disagree). Eau Rouge is simply amazing.

 

Fernando Alonso says: “It’s an important corner for the driver's feeling. It makes a special impression every lap, because you also have a compression in your body as you go through the bottom of the corner. It is very strange, but good fun as well.”

 

The history and tradition that surrounds Spa is my second reason. Many magical races have occurred at Spa. For instance, the 2007 race saw the McLaren teammates go wheel to wheel on the opening lap.

 

2000 saw Mika Hakkinen pull off the best overtaking move ever in his McLaren Mercedes to take the lead and win the race from Michael Schumacher.  In 1939, Dick Seaman was fatally burned whilst driving his Mercedes around the circuit.

 

1998 was memorable when Michael Schumacher stormed into the McLaren garage and confronted Coulthard for causing him to pull out of the race.

 

Also, Schumacher won his first race there in 1992 and broke Prost’s record for most Grand Prix wins nine years later in 2001. The list just goes on and on.

 

I also like Spa because the race conditions are unpredictable. It could be raining at one end of the circuit and bone dry at the other end. This makes the circuit very challenging for the drivers (they have to choose the right tyres or the outcome could be severe) which, in turn, lets us fans see how good they really are. 

 

A final reason why Spa is my favourite circuit is because even though it is a historical circuit like Silverstone and Hockenheim, it stands up to Bernie Ecclestone and keeps itself on the F1 calendar year in and year out. Bernie hasn’t said a bad word about Spa yet.

 

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Sheiban Shakeri – Formula One Community Leader - Spa Francorchamps

 

For the question that you have brought up, it is a really tough choice! When I thought about it, the best one that came to my mind was Spa Francorchamps.

 

The weather was always unpredictable, and it was always difficult for drivers to get the best setup.

 

The end result of the race did not necessarily equate to the driver getting pole position on the day before.

 

Spa has always had some amazing things happen there, as well as holding an air of history.

 

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Ryan Wood - Sepang

 

Choosing your favourite Formula One track could be likened to choosing your favourite child, if you have any. Luckily I don’t, so I’ll crack on with my decision.

 

I’m expecting a few fans to choose Spa Francorchamps as their favourite track. It’s hugely popular with fans and drivers; however, it’s not even in my top four.

 

As we saw in 2007, not a lot happened. The top seven were almost identical to qualifying, as only two drivers, Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld, traded places.

 

My personal choice has to be between Malaysia’s Sepang circuit and Canada’s Montreal circuit. In the end, I had to choose Sepang.

 

Sepang has been regarded as the benchmark circuit for many F1 venues. If you can get anywhere near the atmosphere, track, and facilities, then you have yourself a fantastic circuit.

 

The track itself consists of many high-speed corners with two huge long straights which really push the car in every area. A total of 15 corners, the majority being quick sweeping curves with just a few tight corners, notably 2, 4 and 9, proves a real challenge for the mechanics and drivers to get the correct set-up.

 

If the car is weak in any area, it really effects the times, and you can’t expect to qualify in the top 10.

 

With most F1 venues favouring a certain team, it can become predictable. This doesn’t quite apply to the 2008 season, as McLaren have been successful on what have been in the past regarded Ferrari tracks.

 

However, Sepang has never leaned towards a single team. Over the past six years, Ferrari, Renault and McLaren have each taken the chequered flag twice, and in those 6 years it hasn’t been won by the same driver/team combination. This can make for a truly exciting race.

 

I may not have driven the circuit in reality; however, I have driven around it on numerous occasions on the PS3. This may not be an accurate representation, but it’s the closest I’ll get.

 

I find it a joy to drive, with the car sweeping around the bends at almost full speed. I have also beaten the lap record set by Montoya in 2004 which stands at 1:34:233, again, not a true representation but an achievement in my own fantasy F1 career.

 

My time was 1:32:826 in a McLaren, in hard mode of course, anyone faster? Answers on a postcard or comment below.

 

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Peter Haydon - Spa Francorchamps

 

There can only be one contender for my all-time favourite circuit, and that is Spa-Francorchamps.

 

Its setting in the dank and slightly sinister Ardennes Forest, which is named after the Celtic hunting goddess Arduinna, is the true European heartland of F1. The money men may think that the burning sands of Arabia and the sweaty jungles of Asia are appropriate stages for the pinnacle of motor sport, but I disagree.

 

The highly uncertain weather conditions of the European circuits like Spa test teams and drivers in a way that a cruise in the heat of Bahrain never can.

 

Rain is the great equaliser, and having the quickest car will only help a driver explore the off-track areas faster if he does not have a seat-of-the-pants feel for grip.

 

Is it a coincidence that seven-time World champion Michael Schumacher was known as the Rain Master? I think not.

 

Spa has a special magic; when the names of the circuit features roll off your tongue you are talking the very essence of Formula One: La Source, Eau Rouge, Raidillon, The Bus Stop, Blanchimont. Just say them and the smell of the forest is in the air, mixed with the acrid exhaust of racing engines.

 

If I were to think of one word relevant to motor racing, that word would be speed. Spa is a fast circuit. Now some may wax lyrical over intricate sequences of slow speed turns, but that’s the supermarket parking challenge, and it’s not for me.

 

When an F1 driver comes out of La Source, he knows that ahead of him waits the challenge of the left-right-left Eau Rouge/Raidillon, which he must have the courage to take flat-out or he will lose time to bolder drivers.

 

Then he will be climbing uphill, and he will not be able to see over the brow of the hill at Kemmel. But if he keeps his nerve, if he keeps the pedal floored, he’ll enter the straight beyond at 180 mph, well-placed to overtake at the Les Combes turn.

 

That’s F1 at its finest. That’s Spa Francorchamps, the world’s best motor racing circuit.

 

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Kyle Lavigne - Old Hockenheim

 

In today's Formula One world, much is left to be had at many of the circuits. Gone are such classic tracks as Imola and the old Hockenheimring, in are the not so endearing Bahrain and new Hockenheimring.

 

With the schedule changing as it is, many of us have moments of nostalgia regarding just which track was the best to ever grace the F1 circus. Look no further than the Old Hockenheimring.

 

First, give a glance at the names of the corners and chicanes the track boasted: Nordkurve, Clark chicane, Ost chicane, Senna chicane, Mobil 1, Sachs, and Sudkurve. All of those corner names suggest that this track was of a majestic nature. And, for me, it certainly was.

 

From the corner names, we now move to the track layout. You first start on a relatively short front straight at the end of the stadium section. The lights go out, and you go full throttle to the Nordkurve, a quick right-hander.

 

From there, it's a "foot through the floor" full throttle blast into the forest. A then hard braking effort sees you drop through the gears for the Clark chicane, before a second full throttle shot through the trees.

 

More hard braking for the Ost chicane, then full throttle again to the Senna chicane. One more full throttle shoot sees you head back into the stadium section and the most technical part of the track (Mobil 1, Sachs, and Sudkurve) before heading back the main straight and onto another lap, hopefully in front at this point.

 

Sure, there are other tracks, such as Spa, that have numerous tough corners and challenging tricks in them, but the sheer length of the straightaways and the Formula One V-10 engines screaming down those three long straights was music.

 

Plus, in a modern era that sees passing difficult to come by, the long straights and three chicanes offered plenty of chances for passing. All you need to evidence that fact was the 2000 race.

 

Rubens Barrichello and Heinz Herald Frentzen start at the back, run light, and shoot up through the field, with Barrichello scoring likely the most emotional win this millennium, with Frentzen in line for a podium until his car failed.

 

This track was perfect for those of us who wished to see more passing in a Grand Prix race, and always delivered a few moments of excitement and drama in its races.

 

The Old Hockenheim may not have the fame of the Old Nurburgring or Spa, but it will always be a favourite of mine and one circuit I dearly miss on the schedule. The new version of it just doesn't quite live up to the old ring.

 

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Ben Auty – Formula One Community Leader and Roundtable Co-founder - Silverstone

 

I am going to have to stay close to home because...

 

I am British, I am patriotic, I love my Union Flag, I love the Queen, I love Spitfires, I love being two-time World War Champions, I love rain, I love how we all hate Monday mornings, I love always being the underdog, I love Fish and Chips, I love Wimbledon, I love the Premier League, I love The Beatles, I love our British drivers, I LOVE SILVERSTONE and this is why:

 

It’s been 60 years since the first Grand Prix was held at this epic circuit, Silverstone is mounted in history and some of F1’s most classic moments, the British Grand Prix is one of the world’s most premier motor racing events. Silverstone also held the very first official Grand Prix as part of the Official World Championships way back in 1950.

 

Fans love it, teams love it, drivers love it, and it’s a very fast circuit with some amazing flowing corners. Overtaking is possible at a number of places, more notably the Stowe corner at the bottom of the long Hangar straight, where the cars will punch those 750bhp beasts to speeds in excess of 300 km/h.

 

Just recently, the overtaking at this corner was demonstrated at Silverstone by Lewis Hamilton in a superb outbraking move on teammate Heikki Kovalainen that was reminiscent of that famous pass by Nigel Mansell on teammate Nelson Piquet in 1987.

 

Another corner that is great for overtaking is corner 16, in the Luffield complex. This year in the rain, BMW-Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld passed four different drivers, two at a time, within the space of four laps.

Drivers and teams love it:

 

Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes): “It’s one of the best circuits on the calendar, a real driver’s circuit. Its super fast. The first half of the circuit doesn’t require any braking at all, just little lifts and shifts down through the gears. In fact, you need to watch the brake temperatures don’t drop too low, because you’re not using them for much of the lap. Where else can you experience that? Formula One just wouldn’t be the same without Silverstone. It’s become a British phenomenon.”

 

Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber): “Over the main entrance to Silverstone, there’s a sign saying ‘Home of British Motor Racing’, and that really sums up the atmosphere here. This classic track has stayed true to its roots. It really has character, which I like. There are a lot of great high-speed sections, and some memorable corners and combinations like Stowe, Copse and Beckets. Also, you can always count on the British spectators to create a special atmosphere. The British fans are really into racing; they’re very informed and enthusiastic.”

 

So why do I love Silverstone so much? As I said it’s a lot to do with being patriotic and loving anything British. It’s the whole feel of the circuit, the atmosphere come rain or shine, the fans who are some of the most knowledgeable in the world, the feeling, the buzz around the whole weekend, even the testing sessions, they are just as much a sell out and just as exciting. It is HOME to British Motor racing, I personally want it to stay that way, but Bernie doesn’t agree.

 

So in conclusion, I love Silverstone and I could go on all day about my love for this great circuit, but because it’s a Roundtable I best keep it short. For my full article on this superb track, check out 60 Years of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in my archives.

 

Ben, Over and Out!

 

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Michael Griffin – Formula One Roundtable Co-founder - Magny-Cours

 

This selection is perhaps the most surprising one as we have had Spa selected so many times, as well as Monaco, Sepang, Old Hockenheim and Silverstone. But, Magny-Cours really is my favourite track ever. I do love Spa, I adore it, but for me Magny-Cours has something a little more special.

 

It has everything, quite literally. The track was designed to combine the best sections of every race track around the world and squeeze them all into one track. The designers managed to do it.

 

The long, tight turn two is stolen from Estoril in Portugal, and the long straight down to Adelaideis meant to represent one of the terrifying straights at the Old Hockenheim.

 

After Adelaide, you come down to the Nurburgring, where you quickly switch right left, the opposite of the Schumacher S. After a tight hairpin, you then come down to the second Schumacher S before thundering down another Hockenheim straight to the penultimate corner.

 

The last corner is now designed to represent the tight, twisting first corners that Monza used to have before its redesign in 2000.

 

It is just simply brilliant. My lap record for this circuit on Formula One Championship Edition is 1:11:012. Beat that.

 

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Okay, there we have it, all entries are now in and the results are as follows.

 

  1. Spa Francorchamps – Five Votes
  2. Silverstone – One Vote
  3. Sepang – One Vote
  4. Magny-Cours – One Vote
  5. Old Hockenheim – One Vote
  6. Monte Carlo – One Vote

After counting the votes, I am pleased to announce that the greatest circuit of all time is Spa Francorchamps!

 

Congratulations Spa, how does it feel to take this victory?

 

“…………….”

 

Wow, a heartfelt acceptance speech there.

 

That concludes this edition of the Chequered Flag Roundtable, and you know the drill, for maximum exposure for the F1 Community, 5 stars and Pick of the Day please.

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