Earlier this month we featured an introduction to F1 racing, one of the most popular events in the sporting calendar. With the amazing technology and talent involved in this test of endurance and logistics, you probably think either the cars or the drivers are the stars of the show. What good, however, would either of them be without the sleek circuits that allow them to achieve record-breaking speed?
Here are the most intense F1 tracks in the world.
Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo
The jewel in the crown of the F1 season is the Monaco Grand Prix. Racing first took place on the Principality’s streets back in the 1920s and today they are still allowing cars capable of over 200 mph loose on the tight, twisting, barrier-lined asphalt overlooking the Cote d’Azur. Why is racing still taking place in front of the Monte Carlo Casino? Perhaps it’s the number of multi-million dollar business deals signed on the yachts in the Mediterranean harbor? Perhaps it’s the ultimate test of a driver’s ability? Perhaps it’s the opportunity for the fans — and movie stars visiting the nearby Cannes Film Festival — to get within touching distance of the cars? Retired F1 driver Nelson Piquet likened racing in Monte Carlo to “trying to ride your bicycle around your living room.” The margin for error, particularly at 185 mph through the tunnel, is minuscule. Hit the wall and your race is over. Win the Monaco Grand Prix in front of the Monaco royal family and your name will forever be etched into the history books. So for now, the love affair between F1 and Monte Carlo continues.
Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, Italy
There is no racing circuit on the planet quite as emotive or as spiritual as Monza. The Italian Grand Prix has been held at Monza virtually every year since the Formula 1 World Championship started in 1950, so nostalgia abounds as drivers race in the wheel tracks of their predecessors. Set in the Royal Villa of Monza park, the track is characterized by long straights interspersed with chicanes whose intention is to slow the cars down. Still, top speeds of over 215 mph are reached today and the trees within the park means that there is little run-off when something go wrong. No one has ever had a small accident at Monza. The old banking, too steep to walk to the top without getting on all fours, remains in situ, slowly being taken over by nature: a reminder of the drivers lost in past crashes. Finally there is the crowd, the passionate Ferrari-mad fans who live and breathe for those cars that zoom by.
Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore
Situated on the streets of one of the great success stories of entrepreneurial economics, a circuit has been laid out around the Marina Bay district of the vibrant Asian city of Singapore. On the start/finish straight, a permanent pit building sits next to the ‘Singapore Flyer’ Ferris wheel and from there a 5 km track snakes under a freeway, around the former colony’s imperial buildings, past the cricket club and over the 102-year old Anderson bridge before returning (underneath a grandstand) to the start of the lap. And to top it all off, the Grand Prix event that takes place at the Marina Bay Street Circuit happens at night under floodlights with the towering illuminated skyscrapers as a stunning backdrop. The Singapore Grand Prix’s first race was in 2008 and each year has been a success, with every CEO and chairman of a multi-national company wanting to attend and do business. Singapore’s history, financial worth and tortuous track makes it worthy of a long future on the Formula 1 calendar.
Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (Interlagos), Brazil
If you approach Interlagos at 7 am on race day morning, you’ll hear the local Paulistas chanting and belting out a rhythmic samba on their makeshift drums. By midday, the grandstands are a sea of humanity celebrating motor racing as they call out the names of their local Brazilian racing heroes. The Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo is truly one of the most exciting venues the sport visits. The facilities may be old and crumbling, but the track itself — originally built on the outskirts of the city — has now been swallowed up by the urban sprawl. The area next to the circuit may be a slum of poverty and crime, but its full of life and energy. The passion and atmosphere, particularly for the Formula 1 season finale, is extraordinary. Many F1 personnel cite the finale as their favorite event of the year. The circuit itself is old-school, rising and dipping with fast sweepers and technical hairpins. The drivers and the fans love it.
Suzuka Circuit, Japan
Japan’s Suzuka Circuit couldn’t be more different from Interlagos. Set in a quiet part of coastal Japan, the track is the epitome of order. The Japanese fans are knowledgeable and passionate and will line up obediently for hours for a chance sighting of one of their heroes. They will stay long after dark in the main grandstand opposite the pits, just watching mechanics fettle their cars for race day. In the middle of all this dedicated fan activity is one of the greatest driving challenges in the world. The unique figure-eight Suzuka track, built in 1962 and designed by John Hugenholtz, features a unique crossover point so it technically runs both clockwise and anticlockwise. With very little run-off, the margin for error here is tiny. Narrow high-speed switchbacks, double-apex bends, sharp hairpins and the daunting 170 mph 130R corner –Suzuka has it all, and the famous showdowns in 1989 and 1990 between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost only added to its luster.
Cover Photo Credit: Michael Elleray – flickr.com