Assessing Potential Venues for Future Formula 1 Grands Prix in the United States

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2014

Assessing Potential Venues for Future Formula 1 Grands Prix in the United States

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Circuit of the Americas is a great venue for Formula One in the United States. Challenging, interesting and seemingly capable of attracting plenty of fans, the sport really seems to have found a new American home.

    But the country is huge, and by far the world's largest consumer market. It has room for at least one more racebut where could it be held?

    Ten American venues have hosted grands prix before, and of them Long Beach or Watkins Glen would be near the top of anyone's list.

    But here, we ignore those which have already had a turn, and look at the circuits which have never hosted the sport. Three are well-known road courses, two are unconfirmed street circuits and two are something a little different.

    Could any of them be the next U.S. Grand Prix host?

Note on "F1 Standard"

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    Luca Bruno/Associated Press

    The phrase "F1 standard" features heavily in this article. If you're not familiar with the sport, here's what that means.

    F1 prides itself on going racing in the safest possible way. Run-off areas, once almost universally grass or gravel, are now ultra-forgiving expanses of tarmac. Barriers exist to catch the cars as a last resort, but they are increasingly so far away from the track that they never get the chance.

    Kerbing has to be up to standard, as does the scenery beyond the barriers. There are some examples of "F1 standard" run-off areas and barriers here, here and here.

    A good network of access roads is a must, as are state-of-the-art pit buildings, media and hospitality areas. This is a typical F1 paddock and pit building complex.

    Given their cost, such facilities are not exactly common anywhere in the motorsport world.

    A lot of thought is also given to the construction of huge, modern grandstands and, sadly, keeping fans at an arm's length (and then some) from the pit lane and paddock.

    So "not F1 standard" is no insult to the circuit. Usually, that means it has some character and soul.

Laguna Seca

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    Any discussion of a future venue in the U.S. would prominently feature one of the country's most famous road courses.

    Laguna Seca is a real beauty, featuring some lovely elevation changes and one of the world's most unique, interesting cornersthe Corkscrew.

    But it's a small track, just 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometres) in length. The video above shows Marc Gene, in a 2003 Ferrari, doing an exhibition lap in 2012 of one minute, 5.786 seconds. A modern car and driver, actually pushing to the limit, could probably get close to or below one minute flat in qualifying.

    That's too short.

    It also lacks sufficient run-off in key areas and most, if not all of the circuit would need to be relaid and widened to bring it up to standard. The fan and paddock facilities are also lacking.

    Finally, it's quite remote. The lack of excellent transport links and sufficient local accommodation would be a tough bridge to cross.

    Verdict

    If Laguna could be lifted up and dropped close to a major city, given a near total redesign to widen, lengthen, spruce up and entirely sterilise the place then yes, F1 could race there one day.

    But what would be the point of racing at Laguna Seca if it wasn't Laguna Seca anymore?

    Sadly, it doesn't seem likely.

Sonoma Raceway

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    Previously known as Infineon Raceway and Sears Point (its original name, and the one I always find myself using), Sonoma Raceway is located close to San Francisco, on the northern edge of the San Pablo Bay.

    The 12-corner, 2.5-mile (4.05-kilometre) circuit features mostly quick corners. The "infield" section is extremely well laid-out around some beautiful elevation changes.

    One expects the drivers would find it appealing, especially around Turns 2 to 4 and in the final sector.

    It also has some great spots for grandstands, providing views over much of the circuit.

    But it lacks the long straights which make passing in F1 possible, and would need a huge amount of work on run-off, new kerbs, track-side facilities and the paddock.

    Local infrastructure would need a bit of work too.

    Verdict

    Sonoma has a challenging layout, but for F1 it would need changes to introduce at least one big straight.

    The extensive modifications required to the surface and run-offs may also be a step too farespecially for lovers of the circuit who like it the way it is.

    The car in the video is a 2003 Ferrari driven by enthusiast Bud Moeller. He's good, but a professional F1 driver would be significantly quicker.

Road America

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    In terms of layout, Road America is the most suitable circuit listed here.

    Situated in western Wisconsin, this 4.04-mile (6.52-kilometre) circuit makes my previous use of the word "beautiful" seem a little hyperbolic. If you're a fan of lovely green spaces, this is the place for you.

    The track itself is also very nice, worthy of a place alongside many of the better, old-style European circuits. There's a good variety of corners and elevation changes, the back straight standing out for me.

    But despite the city of Milwaukee being around 50 miles to the south, the circuit is a little bit remote. Road links are not great, and sufficient accommodation for the F1 travelling circus may be hard to find.

    It would also fall foul of the very exacting FIA standards. A full resurface would be needed, along with new paddock facilities, modified run-off areas and lots of new grandstands.

    Verdict

    This would be my first choice for a second race in the U.S., and Road America could be made F1-ready easier than the previous two road courses.

    But such a transformation may be difficult to achieve without destroying the character of the venue. A fair few trees may also need to go, which wouldn't go down well with those who enjoy the vista.

    With great sadness, this one seems unlikely too.

    The video shows a 1997 F1 car being driven by a competent driver who is, understandably, terrified of crashing it. Modern F1 would be quicker.

Indianapolis/California Speedway/Charlotte Motor Speedway

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    Seth Rossman/Associated Press

    Oval racing remains the top-drawing form of motor racing in the U.S., so why not run a grand prix on an oval?

    (You could actually spend all day making a list of very good reasons why not, but for the sake of our imaginations let's consider the positives first.)

    There would be no better way for F1 to connect with the oval-loving American fan than by turning up and staging a grand prix on an oval used by NASCAR and IndyCar. One of the bigger ovals would be betterF1 at Bristol would be a little too crazy.

    The racing would be different to anything we currently experience, the challenge for the drivers would be immense and we'd almost certainly see F1 speed records broken.

    Major ovals in or near big cities have great travel links and plenty of hotel rooms, so there would be no complaints in that area. Capacities at such speedways are also huge.

    But there are obvious issues. F1 cars can quite happily travel at 240 miles per hour, but they're not designed to do it for a prolonged period of time. Nor are the tyres.

    Even if they could be made to, carrying such speeds through banked corners with no run-offeven with SAFER barrierswould be far too dangerous for F1 to consider.

    The race distance would also need to be modifieda standard 305 kilometre race would be over in under an hour. But the current cars couldn't do a significantly extended race distance, because refuelling is banned.

    Verdict

    Maybe in 20 years. But probably never.

Las Vegas Street Circuit

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The prospect of a street race in Las Vegas reared its head in mid-October. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone told The Independent's Christian Sylt, "Vegas say they are ready to go and it would be on The Strip for sure."

    But according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Eventswhich describes itself as the "exclusive major special events agency for the city"had no idea what he was talking about. And a grand prix would very much be a special event.

    Whether the potential grand prix is real or not, Las Vegas would be a great city for a race, providing it was in the right place. It would have to be in the part which is recognisably Las Vegasthe bit with all the huge casinos. That's The Strip.

    A half-decent street circuit could easily be constructed, and The Strip itself would made a very nice straight. If one of the other street races disappeared, Vegas would be most welcome.

    But one has to wonder why the city would go for it. A grand prix is a massive event, which would require road closures and removal of street furniture, as well as temporary grandstands and lots of engineering work to get the place ready.

    It would bring in a few hundred thousand visitors, but Vegas already gets 40 million of those every year.

    And it would advertise the citybut does anyone not know where and what Las Vegas is? The city doesn't need F1.

    Verdict

    It would be good for the sport, and the circuit which could be constructed would probably be better than those in, for example, Singapore or Abu Dhabi.

    But I can't come up with enough good reasons for the city to accept such massive disruption to its economic heartbeat. The benefits to F1 are obviousthe benefits to Las Vegas are not.

    This one's a maybe, but it seems unlikely.

Port Imperial Street Circuit

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    All the way back in 2011, New Jersey governor Chris Christie announced F1 was coming to the Port Imperial Street Circuit, across the Hudson River from New York City.

    The circuit was already designed, promotional photos were taken and it was due to start in 2013.

    Of course, it didn't. Finance was the problem then, and again when it was supposed to start in 2014. And again in 2015.

    It's unfortunate, because Port Imperial would be a good circuit. Yes, it's a street circuit, and there are enough of those already, but putting that aside, the layout isn't over-the-top on 90-degree corners and some of the quick sections look very nice indeed.

    And that's ignoring the location. F1 cars buzzing around with the New York City skyline in the background would be incredible publicity for the sport.

    But financial difficulties continue to plague the project, and it is even further away from becoming a reality now than it did in 2011.

    Verdict

    If Bernie Ecclestone pays for it himself, yes.

    If he doesn't, put it down as a maybe.

Daytona Combined Circuit

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The last time F1 raced on a combined course, it was at Indianapolis. The circuit was, with the exception of the bit run on the oval, horribleflat, boring and altogether uninspiring.

    A race on the Daytona combined course, which is used for the 24 Hours of Daytona, would be different. The 3.87-mile (6.23-kilometre) circuit is mostly made up of the oval, with two short and slow forays into the infield.

    The layout has two long full-throttle zones to facilitate overtaking. The cars would accelerate through all the main banked oval corners and go flat-out through the kink on the pit straight, which would add a unique air to the grand prix.

    Infrastructure wouldn't be an issue.

    But there would be problems. The circuit may end up with a faster average speed than Monza, resulting in a very short race.

    It's also unlikely the Pirelli tyres would enjoy the banked turns, the paddock area isn't F1-standard and the close proximity of the walls through the high-speed corners would be a major safety issue.

    Verdict

    F1 in Daytona would be fun, andjust as importantly for somewould bring the sport to a world-famous venue. The "different factor" would be off the scale.

    But to some degree or another, it suffers the same problem as a proper ovalthe cars just aren't designed to run on high-speed banked turns. The danger would again be too great.

    Not happening in the foreseeable future.

Final Thoughts

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    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    The United States has some magnificent race tracks, but it doesn't seem worth stripping them of their souls to host grands prix there.

    A little like Brands Hatch in the UK.

    Ovals are also out. But at least the two proposed street circuits are, by street circuit standards, fairly interesting-looking.

    Hopefully the fanbase will continue to grow and the States will have a second race some time soon.

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