GRAND PRIX CIRCUITS – FROM FAMOUS TO FORGOTTEN
As Formula 1 looks to grow its global audience, more races away from Europe are being placed on the calendar. In 2000 70% of races were held in Europe, now it’s less than 50%. The consequence of this is more race circuits losing their place on the F1 calendar and either closing or falling into disrepair as the money from Formula 1 dries up.
Closing of motor racing circuits is not a new thing. As rule changes and safety regulations came into effect, and ever faster cars took to the track, some road circuits after the second world war were deemed unsuitable for modern racing. Most pre-war racing took place on road circuits and dedicated private tracks did not become popular until after the WWII when a surplus of military airfields, particularly in Britain, closed and became available for development into circuits.
Some of the best and most iconic racetracks on the planet have been lost over the years and yet if you go looking, the remnants of those heady days of glamour and classic confrontations can still be found.
Also known as the Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet, the circuit was 3.4 miles long anticlockwise configuration, built and opened in 1977 near Rio de Janeiro. The track hosted 10 Brazilian Grand Prix between 1978 and 1989 before the race was moved back to Interlagos in 1990 following new investment and a desire to take it back to Ayrton Senna’s hometown.
The Rio track was extremely demanding with sweeping bends taken at high speed. As is typical in Brazil the heat always played a part in the racing there with many drivers exhausted by the end. The circuit was closed and partly demolished in 2012 in preparation for the 2016 Olympic games.
The last F1 race held there was won by Nigel Mansell in a Ferrari.
Mellaha Lake circuit was established on an airfield built in 1923 by the Italian air force. The circuit played host to the Tripoli Grand Prix between 1925 and 1940 when racing ceased due to German occupation of the airfield as part of the WWII North African Campaign.
Between 1912 and 1927 Libya was an Italian colony known as Italian North Africa. As motor racing was extremely popular in Italy, the circuit was built as a means to encourage tourism in the region. In fact, the Italians threw so much money into making the venue a success, with drivers hosted in 5-star luxury by the Marshall of the Italian Airforce, it was considered, along with Monaco as the most glamourous race of its era.
Racing was also competitive with the circuit being crowned as the fastest in existence between 1933 and 1938.
The 1933 race was marred by rumours of race fixing involving some drivers in order for ticket holders of the state lottery to benefit from the prizemoney. These stories have been unsubstantiated.
After the war the airbase never opened its doors to motorsport again.
As with many of the circuits of the pre-war era Pescara was a road Circuit over 16 miles in length which still holds the record as the longest ever Formula 1 circuit.
Established in 1924, the lap consisted of 2 fast stretches punctuated by a series of narrow and bumpy turns through towns and villages. This made the track, as with many road circuits, very dangerous.
The course was undulating on the stretches through the hills around the city of Pescara while flat through the parts of the circuit which touched the coastline. It was particularly well known for its 3.4 mile straight-line sprint along the coast between Montesilvano and Pescara where the start/finish presided.
Formula 1 races were held at the circuit from the early 1950’s, with a world title race held there in 1957. The track was considered by some to be too dangerous for racing, highlighted by the fact that Enzo Ferrari never allowed his team to race there due to his concerns for the safety of his drivers.
The circuit was last used in 1961 following further concerns for drivers and spectators.
The Automobil-Verkehrs- und Übungsstraße (AVUS) today forms part of the Bundesautobahn 115 carriageway in Berlin, Germany. The circuit was devised in 1907 both for racing and as a test facility for the burgeoning German motor industry. The circuit took 8 years to build mainly due to a curtailing of construction during WW1. Following completion, it was opened as a public toll road. The circuit opened in 1921 and hosted the first ever German Grand Prix in 1926.
The circuit was unusual due to it’s simple layout of 2 long straights with a large banked hairpin at one end and second hairpin corner at the other end. The main straights ran through the Grunewald forest as does the surviving carriageway to this day. The original lap length was 12 miles however this was shortened over its lifetime.
Racing was suspended during WWII and didn’t return to the circuit until 1951 with the first Formula 1 race held in 1954. The first world title race was held in 1959 with Tony Brooks taking the win for Scuderia Ferrari in a Dino 246.
Reims-Gueux was a 4-mile road circuit established between the villages Gueux and Thillois, North East France. The circuit was first used in 1926 and earned a reputation for its top speeds with its long straights and sweeping bends.
The track was widened during its lifetime to increase safety, passing opportunities, and demands from Formula 1’s organisers. The last Formula 1 race was held on the course in 1966 and the circuit was used for racing the final time in 1972.
Today some of the circuit is still evident with a selection of the original pit and paddock buildings still standing.
If you’re planning a trip to the Champagne region of France you may want to take a trip to Gueux where It’s still possible to drive a lap around the original circuit that was in place up to 1953.
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