This year sees the Formula 1 circus travel to previously uncharted waters, well, Azerbaijan. Over the last decade the sport has taken itself to all corners of the globe, and in the last ten years we’ve seen new races pop up in Turkey, Singapore, Russia, India, and of course Abu Dhabi. Add this to new circuits in familiar places like the US, Austria and Mexico.
Many new circuits – so-called Tilke-domes – are divisive among fans. They are often accused of being stale, despite their aesthetical impressiveness. They’re like flat-pack furniture: quick and easy to put up and look absolutely fine, but will never be as good or as cherished as a Queen Anne sideboard.
So which circuits are the Queen Anne sideboards of F1? And what makes them special?
Three-times World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart gives a commentary on a lap of the world’s most fearsome circuit
Long, deadly, and unforgiving; read any autobiography of any F1 driver up to the 1970s and they will say that the only circuit to truly scare them was the infamous Nurburgring. Nick-named “the Green Hell” by Sir Jackie Stewart, the circuit measures 28.2km in length and over the years claimed scores of lives.
Niki Lauda’s horrific accident in 1976 would signal the end for the old track. Despite the circuit still remaining today for public use, a new circuit was built in time for the 1984 season which utilised the pit complex area and southern end. While a shadow of the original, the circuit is still popular with drivers. It was last used in F1 in 2013.
Much like the Nurburgring, the original layout of Spa-Francorchamps was substantially longer than the contemporary incarnation. On paper, the original loop – Mast Kink - past Malmedy, Masta, and Stavelot looks pretty straight-forward, but that was not the case.
It was rough and bumpy and surrounded by trees which claimed the lives of several drivers. Cars would be travelling at top speed, in excess of 200kp/h, with little to no protection. Fortunately, the character of the track remains today, with Eau Rouge regarded by most as one of motorsport’s greatest corners. It is still used today.
Silverstone, United Kingdom
Silverstone was the circuit where the first ever F1 World Championship grand prix took place in 1950. Built around an airfield in the Northamptonshire countryside, the circuit may not boast the daunting climbs and drops of Spa or the Nurburgring, but for flat out, high-speed racing only Monza comes close. The famous Maggots, Beckets, and Chapel corners remain one of the sport’s biggest challenges.
The circuit has undergone several changes over the years, most recently in 2012 when a new infield section was built. Despite this, the circuit remains a drivers’ favourite and is still one of the fastest tracks on the calendar.
Located in the outskirts of Milan, Monza is the de facto home of the tifosi – the Ferrari die-hards. The circuit is steeped in history and since it was first used in the F1 World Championship has adopted several different layouts. The most unusual of these layouts was the 10km one used between 1955 and 1961, where the cars effectively came down the main straight twice: once to start the circuit as we know it today, and the next to start the now-closed banked oval section. The 1961 race would prove fatal as German driver Wolfgang Von Trips was killed when his car flipped into the crowd, resulting in the deaths of 15 spectators.
This layout was only intermittently used, with the revolver-shaped circuit still being the main circuit of choice. Chicanes were added over the years to slow the cars down, and while they do interrupt the flow of the track, the circuit is still recognisable in the Pathe newsreels today. The banked oval still remains today, although unused.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Let’s be honest, these days the Monaco Grand Prix rarely throws up an exciting race. The cars have long since outgrown this small street circuit and today overtaking is usually only done in the pit lane. But that’s the cars’ fault, not the track.
Think back through history and can you imagine what it must have been like to approach the harbour at 200kp/h in a noisy, lethal Lotus, with nothing stopping you crashing into the water other than some hay bales? Love it or hate it, Monaco will always be one of the great tracks because of its prestige and its previously formidable reputation.
The drivers today still don’t have it easy, as the precision required on every turn for 78 laps is mind-bending, and any overtake takes a lot of skill. No other street circuit has ever matched the charm of Monaco.