F1 circuits history part 6: 1967-70

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Graham Hill, Lotus-Cosworth, Jarama, 1968Today’s look at the history of F1 circuits features some of the most popular tracks of the 1970s that were phased out of F1 in the 1980s as the sport looked to improve safety – and make more money.

They include Kyalami in South Africa (where political pressures were also at work) and the Osterreichring in Austria. Others like the famous Montjuich Park street circuit in Barcelona or Mosport in Canada were replaced with nearby circuits during the seventies.

Are many of them better than the tracks we have today? Take a look at more of F1’s past venues.

Kyalami, South Africa

After East London the South African Grand Prix moved to Kyalami near Johannesburg, where it found a successful and poular long-term home. A very quick circuit, it yielded some memorable races. Gilles Villeneuve outfoxed team mate and home driver Jody Scheckter in a wet/dry race in 1979, and Alain Prost raced from the back to win in 1982.

The 1981 race was deemed a non-championship race due to a political row between the teams aligned to the FIA (FISA as it was then) and FOCA, the constructor’s association led by Bernie Ecclestone.

The circuit held its last Grand Prix in its original incarnation in 1985, by which time cars were lapping the track in 1’2s – 26 seconds faster than in 1967. But the politics of racing in Apartheid South Africa where racial segregation was practised put pressure on F1 to leave the country.

Indeed F1 was one of the last major international sports to sever ties with South Africa at this time – and a 1986 race might have happened had the money to support it been found. It wasn’t, and the track was dropped from the calendar. A revised version returned in 1992, which will feature in a later instalment.

Bugatti au Mans, France

France may have had the beautiful Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand tracks but still it experimented with other venues. In 1967 the French Grand Prix was held at the Bugatti Au Mans circuit, a short track the included some parts of the La Sarthe track used for the famous 24-hours.

The plain layout was very unpopular and never used again. Tellingly when Papyrus software chose to re-create the 1967 season for their computer game Grand Prix Legends they purposefully ignored Bugatti and used Rouen instead…

Mosport Park, Canada

Mosport held the first world championship Canadian Grand Prix in 1967. The track was fast and very undulating, and the limited run-off made it especially dangerous. Manfred Winkelhock (father of 2007 F1 debutant Markus) was killed in a sports car race at the track in 1985.

That was eight years after the final F1 race at the track, when the circuit was phased out on safety grounds.

Jarama, Spain

Some tracks really give the lie to the idea that every track used for F1 in the ’60s and ’70s was a bona fide classic. The horrendously dull Jarama (pictured top) is surely at least as bad as anything modern F1 has to offer?

And yet its final race was far better than it had any right to be – a celebrated encounter that saw Gilles Villeneuve hold up a four-car train of rivals for 66 laps (read more about that famous race here).

Mont Tremblant, Canada

Mosport briefly shared the Canadian Grand Prix with a second venue, Mont Tremablant, which held the race in 1968 and 1970. I had never seen video footage of the circuit until the Champ Car World Series visited the venue last year – and it looks beautiful.

The configuration used by Champ Car last year was very similar to that used by F1 four decades ago, albeit with one chicane added. It is also still very narrow, which was part of the problem with it on the two occasions Formula 1 visited. What breathtaking scenery, though.

Montjuich Park, Spain

If Jarama was ridiculous, Montjuich Park was sublime – and ridiculous. Based on around the roads of a public park in Barcelona, Montjuich was halfway between being a challenging road course with the added obstacles of being a confined street circuit.

It held four Spanish Grands Prix in odd numbered years from 1969-73 while Jarama held the others. It was around this time that F1 car designers were starting to get to grips with using wings for downforce, which was pushing up corner speeds.

The bumps and crests of Montjuich made the situation especially perilously for the cars with their large wings mounts high atop the car on flimsy pylons. Wing failure put the Lotuses of Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill out of the 1969 race in enormous accidents.

Worse followed in 1975 when a face-off between the race organisers and drivers over safety standards threatened to cancel the race. Only when the organisers threatened to impound the teams in the Olympic Stadium (south on the aerial photograph) did they agree to race, but on the condition that the barriers around the circuit were secured properly, a job the teams’ own mechanics had to do.

Even then there was insufficient time to complete the work, and so when Rolf Stommelen crashed into an unsupported section of barrier during the race his car was thrown into the crowd, filling four spectators. The race was stopped early and F1 never raced at Montjuic Park again.

In sixth place that day was Lella Lombardi, who became the only woman to date to score in a Grand Prix event, earning half a point.

Hockenheimring, Germany

By 1970 drivers were becoming more out-spoken with their concerns about safety standards. One of the biggest concerns was the Nurburgring Nordschleiefe, and safety fears precipitated a move to the Hockenheimring for the 1970 race. Ironically, the track was best known for being the place where Jim Clark was killed in a Formula Two race in 1968.

The German round returned to the Nurburgring the following year, and substantial sums were spent improving the track’s safety facilities and installing Armco barriers to keep the cars out of the trees. But this was just postponing the inevitable – Niki Lauda’s near-fatal fiery crash in 1976 spelled the end for the Nurburgring and Hockenheim became the home of the German Grand Prix.

Osterreichring, Austria

The Austrian Grand Prix moved up the road from the Zeltweg airfield to the nearby Osterreichring – indeed, so near that it too is confusingly referred as Zeltweg in some publications.

The wide and fast Osterreichring nabbed the title of ‘F1’s fastest track’ away from Silverstone – Jo Siffert’s fastest lap at the track in 1971 was 216.1kph (134.27mph) compared to Jackie Stewart’s 212.2kph (131.85mph) at Silverstone. But soon the race organisers had to think about cutting speeds.