Formula One’s Forgotten Circuits – five that were lost in time

Reims-circuit

In an interview with F1 commentator Martin Brundle at last weekend’s Indian Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone suggested that “two or three more” European races may be cut from the F1 calendar as the sport continues its global expansion into new markets.

The inability of the series to ‘stick’ in the United States has been answered with moves into other lucrative emerging economies. Since 2004, we’ve seen Bahrain, China, Turkey, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Korea and India added to the Grand Prix calendar, with the number of races in a season expanding from 16 to 20.

At the end of the 1990s, 70% of F1 races were held on European tracks, whereas in 2012 that number is down to 40%. Remove 3 of those European races and we’d be down to just 25%.

Adelaide Circuit anthony cramp G2 636x424 Formula Ones Forgotten Circuits   five that were lost in time
Adelaide Circuit anthony cramp Formula Ones Forgotten Circuits   five that were lost in time

With New Jersey now looking unlikely to join the calendar in 2013, other non-European circuits are waiting eagerly in the wings including Russia, with Thailand, Mexico and South Africa also being mooted.

This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if these new circuits were a match for the classics, however Formula One is all about the hospitality these days, so while the latest facilities on offer are very impressive (as we’ll see at next weekend’s Abu Dhabi GP), the circuits are mostly derivative, with little in the way to challenge the best drivers in the world.

It wasn’t always this way. Circuits were still conceived by Architects, as shown by the Gustav Eichler designed Nürburgring – carved out of the Eifel mountains surrounding the medieval castle and village of Nürburg. But they were designed to showcase the talents of drivers rather than pander to the needs of global television and corporate hospitality.

The man we have to blame for the mass-produced feel of modern F1 circuits is 57-year old engineer and racing driver, Hermann Tilke.

Of the 20 circuits on the F1 calendar, Tilke has worked on 13 of them – 9 of them from scratch (Malaysia, China, Bahrain, Valencia, Singapore, Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and Austin) and radically overhauled 4 others (Catalunya, Silverstone, Hockenheim and Monza).

So perhaps it should not come as a surprise that the circuits untouched by Tilke are also some of the best, namely: Melbourne, Monaco, Montréal, Budapest, Spa Franchorchamps, Suzuka and São Paulo.

Even more worrying is what happens to Formula One circuits once they lose their premium status. Within the busy calendar of national motorsports here in the UK, former F1 circuits such as Donington and Brands Hatch still remain popular and in regular use.

Designing a new Formula One circuit is not cheap – the Indian Buddh International Circuit cost $US 400 million to construct. But remodelling an existing track to bring it up to the specifications of today isn’t exactly inexpensive either – Silverstone’s latest “Arena” configuration cost £5 million ($US 7.75 million).

And when circuits get dropped from the season for not being up to specification, they suddenly lose a massive source of revenue. Some survive but others are left to fall into disrepair, their removal no more financially viable than renovation. Circuits which once echoed to the gladiatorial battles of Moss and Fangio, or Stewart and Rindt, now lie abandoned or in some cases redeveloped into leisure and industrial parks.

But the fascinating thing about these lost sites today is that the tools to rediscover them are a part of our everyday digital life. The scars that a race-course leaves are visible from the air, and of course, Google Maps.

Steph Wood uncovers five of her many favourites:

Ain-Diab Circuit – Morocco Grand Prix, 1958

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Distance: 4.734 miles (7.618 km)
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In the early days of Formula One, plenty of circuits were not purpose-built raceways: any collection of interconnected roads could be designated as a circuit, as long as the local authorities were willing to stop the traffic and stick a few hay-bales on the corners. Whilst this would all change in the seventies when drivers started calling for better safety measures, it did mean that if a location could be easily travelled to, a race could be held there.

The 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix was the first F1 World Championship race held on African soil, in the Ain-Diab suburb of Casablanca (though a non-championship race was held the preceding year, as was common at the time).

New roads were constructed between the Coastal road and Azemmour to Casablanca main road, but the circuit was only used once, the death of British driver Stuart Lewis-Evans contributing to its quick decline.

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Monsanto Park Circuit – Portuguese Grand Prix, 1959

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Distance: 3.380 miles (5.440 km)
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Even when circuits were off the streets in the 50s they weren’t necessarily surfaced in the way we now expect. Monsanto Forest Park, hosted several races between 1954 and 1959, but only the last was considered a Formula One World Championship race.

The course is remembered for inconsistent surfacing and a twilight finish for race winner Stirling Moss: the intense sun was avoided with a late start. The roads still remain in use, visible through tree-top cover.

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Charade Circuit – French Grand Prix, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972

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Distance: 5.005 miles (8.055 km)
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Only recently falling out of favour, the French Grand Prix spent the sixties and early seventies jumping between venues: between 1962 and 1972, there were no fewer than five circuits.

Four of these races were held at the dramatic sounding Charade circuit, in France’s central Auvergne region. Featuring many twists and turns, Charade sounds like the kind of circuit a James Bond villain would build: a mountainous track built around the sides of an extinct volcano.

This gimmick would ultimately be the full circuit’s undoing: first when Formula One races ended there the year after ubiquitous stones on the track ended Helmut Marko’s career (1972) and later when it became clear that larger runoff areas would be prohibitively expensive to implement in the wake of the death of three marshals at a touring car race (1980).

The full 8km circuit is still visible on the mountainside, with a circuit less than half the size still active to the south for Formula Three races.

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Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet – Brazilian Grand Prix, 1978, 1981-1989

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Distance: 3.403 miles (5.476 km)
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Formerly known as the Jacarepagua, this circuit was a regular fixture during the eighties F1 World Championships before the event was relocated to Interlagos.

Built on reclaimed land and full of long straights and lengthy corners, it was perhaps simply not interesting enough as a track – nonetheless, it survived as a CART and Moto GP track until 2004. After this, the future of the circuit became uncertain: commercial development on the eastern half has rendered it unusable.

And even though the circuit is recognisable from the air for now, the site is expected to be demolished to make way for an Olympic Training Centre for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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Adelaide Street Circuit – Australian Grand Prix, 1985 – 1995

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Distance: 2.349 miles (3.780 km)
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The importance (and thrill) of street circuits hasn’t diminished, even if they’ve become less regular in recent years. The Adelaide Street Circuit made it possible for Australia to stage its first World Championship race.

Racing continued until the event was moved to Melbourne in 1996. But the move at least came after the circuit gave us an infamous championship conclusion in 1994: one point separating Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, the two crashed and Schumacher walked away with his first and most controversial championship.

The longer form of the track, running up to Rundle Road in the north is no longer in use for racing purposes, though it is and has always been a public road. Racing on a small course (solid line, above) is still held.

Steph Wood is a content writer for Nationwide Vehicle Contracts with an interest in Formula One history.

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Other forgotten circuits

If you’ve been inspired to look for other forgotten F1 circuits, we’d love to hear from you and either post a link to your own site, or add your insights to the five already mapped above.

We’ve excluded circuits that used to host grand prix racing, but are still in use for other forms of motorsport, instead we’re interested in those which have been closed, destroyed or abandoned to nature.

Reims, France
Deep in France’s Champagne country, Reims is perhaps the most ‘haunted’ of former grand prix circuits which closed its doors in 1970.
Pescara, Italy
At 16-miles long, Pescara is the longest ever F1 circuit. Located at the foot of the Abruzzi Mountains near Rimini, the road circuit hosted the 1957 Italian GP.
Monza banked circuit, Milan
Although Autodromo Nazionale Monza is still in use today, F1 stopped using the fearsome high-speed banked curves in 1961 after Wolfgang von Trips collided with Jim Clark’s Lotus, killing himself and fifteen spectators. The last race run on the banking was the 1000 km of Monza in 1969.
Crystal Palace, London
A 2-mile circuit built within the local park hosted non-championship F1 races up until 1972.
Avus Circuit, Berlin
Once the world’s fastest race track, the 12-mile circuit was formed of two straights joined at each end by flat large radius curves. It hosted the 1959 German GP.
Rouen les Essarts, France
The 4.065-mile circuit, built from public roads hosted five F1 French Grand Prix, but closed in 1994.
Brooklands, Surrey
The world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, now partly consumed by Mercedes-Benz World.
Nürburgring Südschleife, Germany
The 4.7-mile southern loop of the Nurburgring was much shorter and less challenging than the more famous Nordschleife. It fell into disuse in the 1970s and the start/finish area was destroyed when the new GP circuit was built. Some of it now forms an access road to parking areas.
Keimola, Finland
The Keimola Motor Stadium in Vantaa hosted F2 racing until it closed in 1978.
Dubai, UAE
Run on 4th December 1981 to celebrate 10 years of the United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Grand Prix featured many star drivers of the day including John Watson, Nigel Mansell and Keke Rosberg.
Österreichring, nr. Zeltweg
The Österreichring was a 3.673 mile circuit which was shortened, rebuilt and renamed the A1-Ring in 1996. It was a fast and dangerous circuit, especially the 180-degree right-hand “Boschkurve”.

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  • RICHARD TAYLOR

    why cant some cicuits be opened as heritage sites and also be given the chance to show people what race tracks used to be like.

    • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

      I totally agree Richard. Have you ever visited Monza? I’m so glad they agreed to stop demolishing the old banked circuit and have now taken steps to preserve it.

  • Andrew Holloway

    I would love to know how much of the pre Tilke Silverstone circuit remains.

    • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

      Most of the older Silverstone circuit is still there – the much-missed Bridge corner remains but is no longer part of the main circuit, re-profiling has drastically changed the views across the circuit but it still feels broadly the same to drive, especially from Copse all the way to Stowe.

      I spent a very enjoyable morning 5-years ago with Clive Bowen of Apex Circuit Design. They submitted an innovative proposal for the Silverstone redesign, but unfortunately Tilke won the business (there’s a surprise). I preferred Clive’s design of Vale and Club corners, which if I remember were banked and would have been much more of a challenge.

      You may remember back in the Drivers Republic days that we had a media partnership with Silverstone, so drove it a lot (pre-Tilke)..