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. S.R.J.M. said on 5th August 2010, 12:46

    Sorry, if I go mad on you for a mistake you probably already recognised, but AVUS is absolutely wrong on this list! If you type in “Avus 1959″ into google and search for images, you might get an idea, that this circuit owned a quite steep banking which cannot be called as “usual”. In fact, touring car races were held at the AVUS until 1995 and until the AVUS’s closing in 1998 it held absolute cult status among German motorsport fans.
    But of course, it was a very dangerous track.

  2. Robert said on 20th October 2010, 21:29

    I have to disagree with at least three of the selections on the 10 worst list.

    Zolder was actually quite a decent track. Back when F1 ran there, several of the corners were banked, and you had three, good, high-speed stretches to work with. It also had that steep hill, which made a few of those turns very daunting.

    Aida (Okayama) was short, but it had three good flat-out stretches into reasonable braking zones, a number of quick corners, and plenty of elevation changes. Also, that turn leading onto the back stretch was something quite unique to that track.

    And then there’s the re-done Kyalami. I’ll be the first to admit it’s no match to the original, but it’s still a very good track, especially compared to much of what is on the current schedule. I would say that I rank the new Kyalami about even with the new Nurburgring, before they added the Mercedes Arena in place of the Castrol Esse.

    AVUS can’t really be classed alongside any other F1 track. And regardless of that, it produced some excellent slipstreaming battles. The North Curve was something to behold and to be feared. It was paved in bricks, and banked at 45 degrees. For reference, Daytona’s turns are banked at 31 degrees. So, the inclination at AVUS was like adding the banking at Fontana to the banking at Daytona.

  3. Robert said on 20th October 2010, 21:34

    I should add that, one track that definitely belongs on that list instead of one of the four mentioned about is Dallas. That track was very tight and twisty, slow overall, extremely difficult to actually race on, broke a lot of cars, and broke up very badly over the Grand Prix weekend in 1984.

  4. Shanghai, flat yes, dull maybe, but one of the worst circuits? Not a chance – clearly you are joking.

    Shanghai is a stunning track, it may not provide the most interesting races, but is unbelievably fun to drive, and is easily the best “new” circuit on the Formula One calendar.

    So where are Singapore and Valencia on the list?

    They are easily the most disgracefully bad tracks to be added to the F1 calendar in recent years.

    Abu Dhabi is a big waste of money too.

    To be honest, almost everything Tilke designs these days sucks.

    They need to get somebody else with some imagination to design tracks for the future.

  5. You clearly have some personal vendetta against Shanghai – I don’t even see how you could possibly call it:

    “the worst circuit F1 has ever visited”

    …that comment is almost a disgrace to your intelligence!

  6. Kyle W said on 1st November 2010, 21:17

    I have to say that I’m shocked that the farcical Dallas track isn’t listed. To me that is the worst circuit visited in the 30 years that I’ve followed F1. The layout wasn’t great to begin with, but the track kept breaking up and overtaking was impossible because there were disgraceful potholes everywhere. I’d say the 10 worst I’ve seen (since 82) are: Dallas, Hungaroring, Bahrain (or Bohraing if you will), Kyalami 92-93, Phoenix, Jerez, Nurburgring-GP Stecke, Shanghai, Hockenheimring 02-pres., Circuit de Cataluna.

  7. Hun-gay-o-ring! So true!

    I don’t see the Hungarian GP lasting past 2011.

    They’ll replace it with something good.

  8. Joey Zyla said on 3rd January 2012, 9:25

    How can you not like Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Galvez, Zolder, Phoenix, Bugatti au Mans, Nivelles-Baulers, Tanaka, or Kyalami? I have no idea why you guys don’t like Hungary or Hockenheim, they’re both great circuits. Shanghai is great, too.

  9. Joey Zyla said on 3rd January 2012, 9:58

    I also enjoy Singapore, Catalunya, Valencia, Jerez, Abu Dhabi, and pretty much everything you guys have listed.

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