From the days of 14-mile monsters like the Nurburgring to today’s computer-designed autodromes in exotic venues like Shanghai, the evolution of F1 circuits reveals how the sport has expanded beyond its European heartland and how attitudes towards safety have radically changed racing.
The first instalment looks at the seven tracks that made up the original calendar of 1950 – four of which were still being visited by Formula 1 last year.
Silverstone, Great Britain
The venue of the first ever World Championship Grand Prix, Silverstone opened in 1948 on the site of an RAF airfield. In 1950 the track had eight corners – today it has twice as many. Originally the landing strips that criss-cross the site were incorporated within the circuit.
The first Monaco Grand Prix was held in 1929. After its appearance in the first world championship the race was absent from the calendar until 1955, and has been a permanent fixture since then.
The pits were originally on the harbour side of the straight and in 1950 the track was much simpler than it is today in configuration – the track was almost straight from Tabac to the hairpin, with no swimming pool complex and no Rascasse. Sainte Devote was also a more open corner and the chicane at the harbour front was faster.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, United States of America
The Indianapolis 500 was part of the Formula 1 calendar until 1960 despite the cars being built to largely different technical regulations. None of the drivers who won it in that period won any other F1 races. However F1 returned to the venue – albeit on its road course – in 2000.
The Swiss circuit at Bremgarten near Bern held many races in the pre-championship years. The part cobbled surface exacted a heavy toll on machinery.
The final Grand Prix at the circuit was in 1954. The following year motor racing was banned in Switzerland due to the 1955 Le Mans disaster which killed a driver and over 80 spectators.
Spa in Belgium remains on the calendar today – but at just under 7km it is half the length it was in 1950. Instead of turning right at what is Les Combes today, back then the circuit weaved left towards Burnenville and looped slowly around to the right before re-joining the modern circuit just before Blanchimont.
Zoom in halfway along the southernmost straight and you can see the fearsomely fast Masta Kink. And before the distinctive hairpin at La Source the approach is straight – no Bus Stop Chicane in those days.
The original Reims circuit was a classic road course, navigating a triangular course between the villages of Thillois (east), Gueux (south west) and Muizon (north west). Courses on public roads such as this were common in the 1950s but were steadily being replaced with more purpose-built tracks. The long straights meant races at Reims became flat-out slipstreaming battles like those at Monza (below).
The image at the top is of Juan Manuel Fangio racing at Reims in 1954, by which time the track had been re-routed away from Gueux.
Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, Italy
The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was and still is sited in a park north of Milan. The 1950 configuration looks very similar to today’s with two major differences. First, there were no chicanes. And second, the final corner before the start/finish line was Vedano, a double-right hander, used before the modern Parabolica.
In later races the huge banked oval was also incorporated – as we will see in a later part of this series. Here are some pictures of the Monza banking.