F1 circuits history part 7: 1971-4

Ronnie Peterson, Lotus-Cosworth, Anderstorp, 1973In the 1970s F1 continued to visit some of the sport’s great circuits, particularly in South America which boasted the original Interlagos circuit and the extended and very quick Buenos Aires track.

But in Europe the trend was away from road courses and towards ‘safer’ autodromes, although many of these new venues (Paul Ricard, Zolder) soon fell out of use or were substantially altered for safety reasons.

Continue reading the history of F1 circuits below.

Paul Ricard, France

By the start of the 1970s it was clear that F1 cars had outgrown the traditional French Grand Prix venues on road courses like Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand. A purpose-built track at Le Castellet called Paul Ricard was found that fit the bill.

The track formed an unusual long, narrow rectangle and was dominated by the long mistral straight on one side. Terminal speeds on the straight reached well over 200mph as turbo cars arrived in the second half of the 1970s, led by France’s own Renault team.

Today it is a test track (more on that later) the perimeter of which forms the rough outline of the original course, albeit with some of the bends now tightened.

Watkins Glen, United States

Lap times at the original Watkins Glen track had been slahed to just over a minute in 1970, after which the track was extended. The new portions stayed true to the spirit of the original, adding more long, fast, constant radius bends.

The start finish line was also relocated from the straight preceding the ‘S’ to the straight before that one, allowing more room for the pits complex. Sadly in 1973 Tyrrell’s Francois Cevert died in practice for the race in a terrible crash, at the same race his three-times world champion team mate Jackie Stewart was due to retire from the sport. Stewart elected not to race.

By 1980 cornering speeds in F1 were growing at an extraordinary rate due to the development of ground effects, and circuits like Watkins Glen with long, fast corners and minimal run-off were beginning to look perilous in the extreme. But even then the track was dropped for financial reasons rather than safety fears.

A range of other venues competed to secure the space as the second United State race alongside Long Beach in the 1980s. But they all lacked the charm and picturesque appeal of The Glen.

Today the Indy Racing League is the closest the track sees to F1 action, running on a similar configuration to the above albeit with a ‘bus stop’ style chicane at the end of the longest straight which you can see if you zoom in.

Nivelles-Baulers, Belgium

The original Spa-Francorchamps road course was another great old road track to bite the dust in the ’70s. Nivelles briefly appeared as its replacement, but the short, flat, dull autodrome was not popular and only held two races in 1972 and 1974 before being dropped. Today an industrial estate uses the old road.

Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, Italy

The 1971 Italian Grand Prix was the last of the classic slipstreaming races. Five cars, headed by Peter Gethin, crossed the line covered by 0.61s.

The next year two chicane were added to radically transform the character of Monza and end the spectacle of cars circulating in packs, constantly overtaking each other in a fashion we would associate with NASCAR racing today.

Curva del Vialone became the Variante Ascari, named after Albert Ascari who died in a crash while testing a Ferrari sports car there in 1955. That chicane remains more or less as it is today.

But the new chicane just after the start line was more problematic and was last changed as recently as 2000. The original chicane funnelled the cars together tightly and it was there at the start in 1978 that a multi-car collision cost Ronnie Peterson his life.

Interlagos, Brazil

The original Interlagos circuit looks much like the modern configuration at first glance – until you realise there’s twice as much track! The cars looped back on themselves and at one point travelled in the opposite direction that they go in today.

The first three corners (Descida do Sol, Curva 2 and Curva 3) were especially fast and even more so when cornering speeds increased sharply late in the 1970s. The final portion of the circuit is much the same as it is today, and you can still see parts of the old track during the broadcast of recent races. This version of the circuit was last used in 1980, when the fastest lap set by Rene Arnoux was 2’27.310.

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Construction work at Monaco in 1973 forced many changes to the circuit. The construction of Loews hotel made the tunnel longer (and the hairpin formerly called Gare after the station was now called Loews, later to be renamed again to Grand Hotel), a swimming pool was built on the harbour which added four corners collectively called La Piscine, and the old Gasometres hairpin was extended into the tight La Rascasse.

An extra little corner to take the cars to the new start line was also added, named Anthony Noghes after the designer of the original track. The extension increased lap times by five seconds, meaning the race distance was cut by two laps to 78, which it still is today.

Zolder, Belgium

Spa-Francorchamps was too fast to use and Nivelles was too boring – so where to hold the Belgian Grand Prix?

The answer came in the form of Zolder, a 4.2km circuit near Hasselt. It first held the race in 1973, then was the home of the Belgian Grand Prix from 1975-82. But in ’81 and ’82 Zolder saw two fatalities.

Osella mechanic Giovanni Amadeo was killed in 1981 when he fell from the pit wall into the path of Carlos Reutemann’s Williams. The race that year very nearly saw another fatality, as the start was given while Riccardo Patrese’s Arrows was being attended to by his mechanic Dave Luckett. Patrese’s team mate Siegfried Stohr hit Luckett, and the mechanic was extremely fortunate to escape with only a broken leg.

The following year saw the accident which Zolder became notorious for. In qualifying Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari hit Jochen Mass’s car, flew into the air, landed nose-first on soft ground and disintegrated, killing Villeneuve instantly.

The fatality shocked the sport and the next year the first race was held at the revised and shortened Spa. After a swansong appearance in 1984 Zolder was dropped, although it held a round of the Champ Car World Series last year.

Anderstorp, Sweden

The popularity of Ronnie Peterson (pictured at Anderstorp, top) plus fellow Swedish drivers Reine Wisell and Picko Troberg made a Grand Prix in Sweden viable. It was held at the peculiar Anderstorp track from 1973-8. Its unusual pit complex was sited in a different location to the start/finish line. The Norra chicane at the northernmost tip of the track was added in 1974.

The track produced some odd results – the six-wheeled Tyrrell P34 scored its only win there in the hands of Jody Scheckter in 1976, and two years later Niki Lauda won in the Brabham-Alfa-Romeo BT46B ‘fan car’, in its only race before being banned.

That was the Swedish track’s final appearance on the F1 calendar. Peterson was killed at the end of the year at Monza and Gunnar Nilsson, another promising Swedish driver, succumbed to cancer the following month. Last year the circuit held a round of the World Touring Car Championship.

Buenos Aires No. 15, Argentina

In 1974 the Buenos Aires circuit was transformed by the construction of a gigantic extension adding two enormous straights and one very long, very fast corner that looked more like it belonged on an American oval. Constructed on swamp land it was noted for having a particularly pungent smell.

Although the track almost doubled in length, from 3.3km to just under 6km, lap times increased by less than 50% from 1’10s to 1’42s, because the new section was so fast.

The passionate home crowd had Carlos Reutemann to cheer on, and although he qualified on pole for his first ever Grand Prix there in 1972 he never gave them the victory they craved.

In 1980 the track fell apart. On a scorchingly hot day it took a pounding from the phenomenal grip of the ground effect F1 cars and it became granular, sending driver after driver spinning off. The hardy Alan Jones won for Williams.

The 1982 race was cancelled and Reutemann abruptly quit the sport. Argentina was on the brink of war with Britain over the Falkland islands, and the event would not return to the calendar until 1995. The full-length Buenos Aires circuit would not be used for F1 again.

Dijon-Prenois, France

When the Dijon-Prenois track was first used for the French Grand Prix in 1974 it was without the Parabolique loop at the south-east. This meant the fastest lap of the circuit was well under a minute – Niki Lauda taking pole position for that race with a 58.790s lap.

Three years later with Parabolique added the circuit was still one of the shortest used for F1 and in 1979 it gave the sport one of its most celebrated moments. Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux battled thrillingly over second place in the dying stages of the race (watch the video), banging wheels furiously, until Villeneuve finally prevailed.

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3 comments on F1 circuits history part 7: 1971-4

  1. Eric M. said on 12th January 2008, 0:08

    I would really like to see the French GP move back to Paul Ricard. It seems like a nice, fast circuit. I also like the concept of the run-offs they’ve installed there, which have the safety of normal paved run-of, but certain areas (the red zones) are abrasive enough to wreck tires, forcing the driver into the pit for new ones.

  2. Steven Roy said on 12th January 2008, 1:17

    I have lost count of the number of times I have watched a video of Dijon 79. I think it should be compulsory for Max and Bernie to watch it every day until they figure out that we need racing cars that can race.

  3. David said on 2nd December 2009, 13:20

    Agree on Paul Ricard. I miss it a lot.

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