The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
F1 top tens
- Top ten: Worst world championship title defences
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- Top Ten: Track masters
- Top Ten: Memorable qualifying sessions
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- Top ten: Unbeatable Formula One records
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