10 Grand Prix Circuits Which We'd Love to See Back on the Formula 1 Calendar
The return of the Austrian Grand Prix to the Formula 1 calendar confirmed following the Red Bull (nee A1) Ring announcement last month got us thinking—it’s rare for the sport’s future to be its past.
Desire to make the sport more global has led to the expansion into Asia and the Middle-East (and the vast amounts of money that comes with races in these country). The fear has always been that the classic European circuits—the spiritual home of F1—are going to be left behind.
The Silverstones and the Monzas perhaps don’t belong in the sport’s future.
Well, the Red Bull Ring addition—coupled with the dropping of the dreaded Yeongnam track in South Korea (not a bad circuit by any means, but as a facility and a host country, rather dire)—changes that slightly. Still, it’s not the most iconic track in the world, is it?
All the more reason, then, to reminisce about the great circuits which once graced the F1 calendar. We bring you 10 tracks we’d love to see back on the F1 calendar.
A cheeky inclusion—the original Red Bull/A1 Ring layout was a brute of a circuit at 5.9km and requiring every corner be taken in no lower than third gear. So fast, and with such long straights, that Gerhard Berger referred to driving a turbocharged car round there as “though you were sitting on a rocket”.
It hosted the Austrian Grand Prix from 1970 through to 1987, with a slight tweaks to the layout in ’76 (when Vost-Hugel Kurve was contracted into one right-hander rather than two in the wake of Mark Donohue’s death the previous year) and ’77, which introduced a chicane at Turn 1.
In 1987, Stefan Johansson had a very lucky escape. Driving his McLaren at a speed of more than 160mph, a Red Deer had made its way on to the track, as Johansson approached the blind crest before Jochen Rindt Curve in practice.
A gut-wrenching impact followed, though Johansson was fortunate to walk away with a couple of broken ribs from his subsequent impact with the Armco barrier.
9: Jacarepagua, Brazil
Making its debut as a host venue in 1978, and returning three years later in 1981 to host every Brazilian Grand Prix through to the end of the decade, Jacarepagua was an epic 11-turn, 5 km circuit built on the reclaimed marshland site of the Barra da Tijuca road course.
Sadly, though, any attempt to bring it back will involve a pretty major reconstruction effort—the facility was demolished as part of Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympic Games preparations.
Controversy reins in F1—in 1983, one year after local heroes Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg were excluded for using water-cooled brakes, Rosberg again found himself disqualified, this time for being push-started in the pits after a fire.
The bizarre thing is that the drivers below Rosberg in the classification were not promoted a place. That race was again won by eventual world champion that season Piquet, and kept this time, his first at the circuit which would bear his name from 1988 forward.
8: Paul Ricard, France
Paul Ricard is known more as a test venue than a grand prix facility, but the track hosted the French round of the championship 14 times between 1971 and 1990 and was a regular fixture in the 80s. It went through a sizeable change in 1986 (a result of a fatal crash for Elio de Angelis in testing) which saw its length reduced from 5.8 km to 3.8 km.
A sportscar and junior single-seater race venue and haven for F1 testing now, owing to a possible 167 configurations ranging from 826 m to 5.8 km. F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has hinted at bringing racing back to the track, but rumours are all that remain for now.
Maybe not particularly classic—and not even race-related, but hugely significant nonetheless. With the owner who gave the facility his name dead, and the circuit restricted to hosting regional racing, it was bought by Excelis, owned by Ecclestone.
The place was transformed into the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track. 167 configurations and the demise of Magny-Cours later, and there is a dream to bring the French Grand Prix back to the circuit—something which wouldn't have been possible before 1999.
7: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Another member of the 20 grands prix club, Buenos Aires hosted an Argentine round-the-world championship in every decade from the 50s through to the 90s, in four different configurations.
First, the circuit started as a nine-corner, 3.9 km layout that was shortened to 3.3 km. A redesign for '74 kept the second half of the track but an extended opening section turned it into a 5.9 km lap.
Not quite falling into disrepair, the circuit was however a cause of great concern for drivers as the surface was breaking up because of the heat, with tarmac being ripped apart. It was dropped in 1985 and when it return for the 1990s, it was a different sight again—much twistier, and 4.2 km in length.
The 1980 Argentine Grand Prix was full of drama. Led by Emerson Fittipaldi, the drivers pushed for a boycott due to the aforementioned dreadful state of the track. However, the race went ahead.
Alan Jones' Williams and Nelson Piquet's Brabham battled at the front, joined by Gilles Villeneuve, Jacques Laffite and Carlos Retuemann. Reutemann retired with engine trouble, Jones went off twice at the Ombu section with gravel being strewn across the circuit as the track broke up.
He was passed by Laffite, Villeneuve and Piquet but won despite pitting, passing Villeneuve & Piquet and inheriting Laffite's position after he too retired with engine problems.
6: Watkins Glen, United States
Watkins Glen still offers a range of single-seater and sportscar events, but that run of 20 grands prix from 1961 to 1980 was a thing of beauty. It went through a major redesign for 1971, increasing its length to 5.4 km from 3.7 km.
A combination of fan behaviour, unpaid debts and increasing concerns over its ability to safely host the new, increasingly faster ground-effect cars contributed to its removal from the calendar.
But to see a modern grand prix swoop into the Loop, run down the Chute and into the Anvil? That’s a sight we’d love to see…
…And we sort of have. OK, so it’s hardly a classic (and it’s not even a race reference), but when Lewis Hamilton and Tony Stewart had the chance to swap each other’s cars in 2011, seeing the McLaren dance in damp conditions around the Glen makes for tremendous viewing.
With Austin and New Jersey potential mainstays on the current calendar, though, a race return will probably have to remain a pipe dream for now.
5: Zolder, Belgium
Zolder hosted just 10 Belgian Grands Prix, but what a challenge numbers two through 10 were on the 4.2 km circuit. Unfortunately known best for the tragic death of Gilles Villeneuve, the track offered plenty of great things as well.
A challenging combination of fast, sweeping turns which led into tight, twisty corners and heavy braking made it a cracking F1 venue, even if there were concerns over the facility's quality and space.
It's been renovated since, but we'd just love to see the likes of Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso go wheel-to-wheel through Jochen Rindt (however odd that sounds).
A chaotic 1981 race takes the prize. Held in the middle of the FISA-FOCA war, the situation was made worse by the cramped pitlane, which saw an Osella mechanic knocked down and, sadly, pass away from the injuries the next day.
On race day, a combination of poor track conditions and the accident on Friday, there was a drivers' strike which caused the race to be started later than scheduled. A start-line accident followed involving an Arrows mechanic—who survived after being struck down running on to the grid to help his stalled car.
It took three laps for the race to be stopped—with drivers initially ignoring the bizarre efforts of the marshals to stop proceedings by running close to the track and waving at them instead of using flags.
4: Istanbul, Turkey
The Turkish Grand Prix has a short, quirky history.
First the infamous Turn 8 caught out a host of drivers on the circuit’s debut, and in 2010 we saw two sets of team-mates fight hammer and tong for position (but more on that in a moment). Istanbul organisers also received the largest fine in F1 history for a podium ceremony transgression.
Despite not being appreciated by locals—poor fan attendance chiefly at fault for it not appearing on this year’s calendar—that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fantastic grand prix venue. DRS made things a bit easy in 2012, which was a shame because the circuit lends itself to great racing anyway.
When Red Bulls collide. The collision between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber started the souring of a relationship which would only ever get worse. Battling on the run down the final straight into the final sequence of corners, the pair collided in spectacular fashion.
Turn 8 will live long in the memory of any grand prix driver lucky to attack it—what happened in the 2010 grand prix will live long in anybody’s memory.
3: Kyalami, South Africa
This was another facility which reached 20 grands prix until being dropped from the calendar. It ran almost without disruption from 1967 to 1985, with ’81 as the exception, before political sanctions meant it was ditched.
However, it then reappeared in ’92 and ’93 in a completely different configuration following a commercial development which eliminated corners like the Kink and Crowthorne, and saw Jukskei Sweep and the Esses modified to be incorporated into the new layout.
That lasted just two years before the circuit promoter went bankrupt. It was a troubled end (twice) to a circuit that offered a fantastic challenge.
In 1982, the build-up to the race was dominated by an incredible strike from the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, led by Niki Lauda and Didier Pironi.
It was centered around concerns over the new superlicense conditions imposed by FISA, the sport’s governing body, clauses of which would restrict a driver's freedom to move teams and would assure that actions which would “harm the moral or material interests” of the sport would be punished at FISA’s discretion.
After missing first practice with 30 drivers holed up in a hotel room (Teo Fabi had made a break for it), they returned. Originally smacked with a variety of fines, these were later reduced, and the troublesome superlicense clauses scrubbed out.
2: Zandvoort, Netherlands
Zandvoort continues to host the F3 Masters event, as well as other smaller series, but it hasn’t operated as a grand prix facility since 1985. The Grand Prix of Netherlands was held 30 times from 1952 through to ’85, on each occasion the epic run into Tarzan started off a challenging lap of just over 4 km.
There were a few omissions, in ’54, ’56-7 and ’72, but it was a near-staple race on the calendar. Though it hasn’t been for some time, how fantastic would it be if it reappeared?
Gilles Villeneuve and the three-wheeled Ferrari. Need more of an explanation? The Canadian’s left rear tyre exploded on lap 51, just after passing the pits, spinning out. However, he rejoined with the carcass of the tyre flailing on the rim, and completed two full laps before eventually pitting.
Rear wheel sparking, front wheel in the air, it was great television but probably not the smartest decision he could have made—he would retired with suspension damage as a result.
1: Imola, San Marino
Finally, a circuit that has had a few changes to it, but never lost its character (only its place on the calendar). 27 San Marino Grands Prix were held at Imola from 1980 to 2006, when it held its final Formula 1 race.
It was a track that required maximum commitment, whether it be on the first chicane-less 5.040 km layout that operated from ’86 to ’94, or the slightly modified layout thereafter. The Variante Alte chicane remains a fantastic bit of viewing on old videos and DVDs—what we wouldn’t give to see it attacked in anger again.
We’d prefer to look back on the good these circuits brought to Formula 1—not the tragedy. The temptation was Jenson Button's pole lap in 2004, or stretching further back, the contentious 1982 race which was boycotted by many and featured the Villeneuve-Pironi fallout.
But, we've gone for the good. So, for Imola, it’s shared between 2005 and 2006—and the battles between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. The changing of the guard? Schumi didn’t think so, claiming victory in the ’06 race in an almost mirror finish to the previous year.