Ten worst… F1 tracks

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren-Mercedes, Shanghai, 2005 | Daimler ChryslerThe Shanghai International Circuit is next – and it’s my least favourite track on the calendar. Yes, most people hate the Hungaroring and I can see why – it’s narrow, tight, slow and produces terrible races.

But Shanghai annoys me because it’s a missed opportunity. With the amount of money they spent they could have built a genuinely stunning track (or thousands of hospitals but that’s a different matter). Instead they built stunning buildings and facilities around a track that is flat and dull.

But it’s not the worst track F1 has ever visited – these ten surely rank below it.

Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Galvez No. 6

Buenos Aires, Argentina – 1995-8

It was named after the legendary Argentinian road racer Oscar Galvez, who on his day could teach Juan Manuel Fangio a thing or two. But in its final incarnation as an F1 track the Buenos Aires circuit was no longer worthy of the association.

The fast loop out into marshland and two enormous straights were chopped off completely and a tight new infield constructed. It even had that cursed addition of practically every mid-’90s circuit – a stupidly tight chicane which they then had the effrontery to name after Ayrton Senna.

Zolder

Belgium – 1973-84

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Zolder for being the place where Gilles Villeneuve died. It sprouted several chicanes as it struggled to contain escalating F1 speeds and was never really wide enough anyway. It was not missed when it was dropped in 1984 after holding 10 F1 Grands Prix.

Phoenix

United States – 1989-91

The last in a long line of American street circuits some of which were great (Long Beach), others gruelling (Detroit) but none quite so wretchedly dull. The original configuration used in 1989 featured 13 corners, 10 of which were right-angles. Racing speeds were low and the first event was stopped at the two hour limit with only six cars still circulating.

Despite this it was inexplicably upgraded to the season opener for the next two years. In 1991 they reconfigured it, and a pair of reasonably quick corners. But it did nothing to improve local interest and infamously a nearby ostrich race drew a larger crowd.

F1 never went back although Champ Car were supposed to be using a track incorporating a couple of the same streets for its season finale this year, which has since fallen through.

Caesar’s Palace

United States – 1981-2

For two years in the ’80s F1 chose to host its championship deciders in the car park of a Las Vegas casino. The track was reasonably quick but totally flat, devoid of character and simply doubled back on itself over and over to make best use of the space available.

Construction work at the site has now obliterated the former track. It’s not a loss to get upset about.

Bugatti au Mans

France – 1967

The Le Mans 24 Hours at the Circuit de la Sarthe is a fantastic race, a jewel in the crown of international motor sport. But the abridged version of the Le Mans circuit proved a dull venue on the sole occasion it held the French Grand Prix in 1967.

It didn’t help that France wasn’t short of decent tracks at the time – the following year the race was at picturesque Rouen and in 1969 it was at Clermont-Ferrand. The Bugatti circuit does host some excellent races in other categories though – the DTM will race there again next year.

Zeltweg

Austria – 1964

Just like Bugatti au Mans this was a one-off venue. Not to be confused with the mighty Osterreichring, which is sometimes referred to as Zeltweg.

This was a bumpy, four-turn track on a former airbase that the cars lapped in under 70 seconds and thus required 105 laps for a Grand Prix distance.

Nivelles-Baulers

Belgium, 1972-4

It twice held the Belgian Grand Prix when the original, long Spa-Francorchamps fell off the calendar in the ’70s. It couldn’t hold a candle to its mighty sibling, being a largely flat and featureless autodrome.

In 2002 an industrial complex was built on the site but the track is still clearly visible on the aerial photograph above.

AVUS (Automobil Verkehrs und Ubungs Strasse)

Germany – 1959

AVUS was little more than two enormous straights (that took almost a minute to cover) connected by a pair of 180-degree bends. It was used pre-WWII, and had to be shortened afterwards because a portion of it was within the Soviet-controlled area.

It only held one world championship Grand Prix, in shortened form, and that race saw F1 racer Jean Behra die in a Porsche during a support race.

Tanaka International Circuit

Aida, Japan – 1994-5

The tiny, tight circuit that twice held the Pacific Grand Prix was on the small side for club racing – never mind Formula 1. After producing two awful and boring races it was dropped. It certainly did not deserve to be the scene of Michael Schumacher’s second championship victory in 1995.

Kyalami

South Africa – 1992-3

Kyalami was one of the most beloved of old circuits and F1 stained its reputation by continuing to race at it well into the eighties, by which time international pressure on the Apartheid regime was enormous and many other sports were boycotting South Africa.

When F1 returned in 1992 it was to a badly mutilated circuit. Only two of the original corners remained – Sunset and Clubhouse, although like every other corner these were now named after sponsors. The latter was supposed to be referred to as ‘Yellow Pages’ without a hint of irony…

More seriously, the new track was generally slow. By today’s standards it might actually be considered quick, and the lack of run-off in some spaces would be more of a concern. It opened the 1992 and 1993 seasons, and Williams routed the field in both events.

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25 comments on Ten worst… F1 tracks

  1. Eric M. said on 4th October 2007, 8:29

    I’m not a big fan of the Shanghai circuit either. It’s far too bland and sanitized for me, has a weird layout, and acres and acres of run-off. The pit staight is the worst part for me, with the overblown architecture completely overwhelming the race track below, making it look tiny.

    Yet the drivers seem to like it though.

  2. Daveo said on 4th October 2007, 10:32

    For me the post-Senna Imola Autodrome for the San Marino Grand Prix is rubbish.
    Yes, its quick, yes, it has undulation but it also has almost no overtaking. I remember I think in 2004 that the only overtaking manouevre I saw after the first lap (and not including pit stop gains) was about 5 laps from the end when Massa’s Sauber nerfed someone out the way and I was half asleep by then so I cant even remember who that was.

    The good battles between Alonso and Schumacher in 05 and 06 were smalll highlights in otherwise typically dull races and again proves my point that you just cannot overtake on todays ‘San Marino’ circuit.

    Will the revised configuration at the end / start of the lap provide more excitement and will we ever find out ? I doubt it ..on both counts.

  3. Scott Joslin said on 4th October 2007, 11:07

    I would add Jerez in Spain! Too tight, too twisty. Bar 1986 and the Mansell-Senna battle, but they would have had an exciting battle on a scalextix track!

    The thing about Shanghi is it does not feel like there is any soul or character in the track. It is almost as if it was designed on an etch-a-sketch!

    Oh how could I forget….Magny Cours!

  4. AndyJ said on 4th October 2007, 11:53

    any track that has been herman tilke’d has surely got to be on the list…

  5. Daniel said on 4th October 2007, 14:02

    Don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but, in my opinion, the most boring race on the calendar is the Spanish Grand Prix, at Circuito de Catalunya, Barcelona…

    I don’t think the track is itself dull, but perhaps because everyone runs there so much during testing sessions, it usually happens to be a race won by who’s first after the first corner (like it was this year, when Massa delighted me by closing the door at Alonso’s home race!), since everyone knows it so much that there’s no room for pure talent, for unexpected strategies or for brave overtaking…

  6. quick fix: It is spelled Phoenix, not Pheonix.

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2007, 18:04

    Yes, you’re quite right – although in my defence I did check it and then discovered the place I’d checked it also had it wrong…

  8. Eric M. said on 4th October 2007, 20:10

    We musn’t forget about the appalling Hockenheim redo, easily one of the worst circuit “modernizations” ever commited, right up there with the A1 Ring and Kyalami. Why the FIA felt the need to demand that the circuit be shortened (by over 2km!) and those magnificent high speed blasts into the forest removed is beyond me. The Hockenheim was classic and unique, and overtaking was genuinely possible there, but now it’s just another completely boring Tilke-drome.

  9. Daniel said on 4th October 2007, 20:56

    Totally agreed, Eric! Hockenheim was killed by its “modernization”!

  10. I agree about Zolder. Its atmosphere is nice, but it’s otherwise just a twisted up dogbone design. So is Dijon; despite a certain memorable comeback, I’m surprised it isn’t listed here.

    Several of the tracks listed here suffer from “over-creation” of sorts, instead of using the local terrain to create natural elevation changes and a variety of flowing and sweeping curves, places like Shanghai, Bugatti, and the infield of Indianapolis were simply bulldozed into existence and could have taken on any layout desired. Bugatti has slight charm, as each of its hairpins have different radii, and despite the rain, I quickly learned to appreciate rehashed Fuji for the same reason.

    In fact, Fuji is good contrast. Its designers wanted to bulldoze it into existence; the drenched track we watched was to be an infield for an enormous oval, but the hillside, and the builders’ credit scores, could not handle the full, intended project. I also learned that the turns after 9 do not offend me as much as I thought they would, the Panasonic corner is taken a lot faster than it looks on paper.

    At least F1 don’t try to close airports and hold a race on its runways anymore.

    Enough rambling for now.

  11. John said on 5th October 2007, 2:49

    OK, I’ve checked three websites and they all say that Lorenzo Bandini won the lone championship race at Zeltweg. Am I missing something obvious? If not, where did Graham Hill come from?

  12. Eric M. said on 5th October 2007, 6:00

    No, your right. Bandini won the race. Graham Hill actually retired after 5 laps from mechanical failure and finished last.

  13. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th October 2007, 7:41

    Er… yes that’s quite a mistake I’ve made there isn’t it, because it was Bandini’s only win. Thanks for the spot and I’ve fixed it now.

  14. Tommy B said on 5th October 2007, 12:41

    For me Hungary should be on there,how is it still on the calender!? Suprised the shortened Hockenheim wasnt on their to be honest, It would be an OK track but it ruined the best one to become that

  15. What about bahrain! surely thats the same as shanghai,

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