At the end of 1990s Formula 1 began to look east. With the teams hit by ever-tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, and eastern countries offering less tight restrictions, moving the sport beyond its traditional heartland made good commercial sense. The fact that it bolstered the sport’s claim to being a ‘world’ championship was merely a bonus.
The return of the United States to the calendar was a shot in the arm for that particular claim as well. But while the Indianapolis road course was a far better venue than many that had been tried in the 1980s, F1 repeatedly shot itself in the foot, and the race was dropped last year.
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia
As the millennium turned Tilke’s influence over the F1 calendar continued to grow. His next project was an all-new circuit in Malaysia, just outside the capital Kuala Lumpur.
This was the beginning of a new direction for F1. The enormous economic potential of the eastern nations was starting to be realised, and you didn’t have to be Bernie Ecclestone to realise that F1 had to have a presence there. Malaysia might not have had much in the way of a developing motor racing culture, but now it had a Grand Prix track.
When it first opened, Sepang International raised the bar for F1 tracks. The course was entirely purpose-built, mixing fast corners with slow corners and vast, long, wide straights to encourage overtaking. Large gravel traps bordered the track and in the nine F1 races since 1999 there have been few instances of a car hitting anything solid – other than another car.
Its first race in 1999 saw controversy as Ferrari were disqualified from first and second places for a technical infringement – only to be re-instated a few days later.
The local conditions make the race especially challenging. The race is invariably held in suffocatingly hot and humid conditions, plus the off heavy rain shower thrown in for good measure as in 2001. Having recently signed a contract extension Sepang is likely to remain on the F1 calendar for many more years to come.
The first chicane at Monza was changed once again in 2000, the original Rettifilio double left-right having seen several start line crashes. It was replaced with a single, extremely slow chicane, and drivers warned it could easily cause another major start line crash.
The racers tiptoed gingerly around it at that first start in 2000. Then at the next chicane a host of cars tangled and debris from one struck marshal Paulo Ghislimberti, killing him.
Indianapolis, United States
Formula 1 returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2000. It was the first race that counted towards the world championship at the track since 1960, and the first United States Grand Prix since 1991.
The track used one of the oval’s corners (pictured top), run in the opposite direction (clockwise), and a road course using some interior sections of the track.
The circuit was not considered very challenging but it did allow drivers to slipstream down the long straight and overtake into the first corner. At the third race on the track Ferrari chose to stage a choreographed ‘one-two’ which resulted in Michael Schumacher inadvertently giving the victory to Rubens Barrichello, a move that did not go down well with the public.
It got worse in 2005 when the Michelin-supplied teams discovered their tyres were disintegrating due to the forces exerted by the banked corner. Attempts to broker a compromise toallow them to race failed, and the event went ahead with just six cars.
That fatally wounded F1’s chances of remaining at the venue. Bernie Ecclestone failed to come to a new agreement with circuit owner Tony George, and after the 2007 race F1 was without a United States Grand Prix once again. However several sponsors and hinted have hinted at their displeasure about this, so a return to the country sometime soon cannot be ruled out.
The right-left bend at the start of the modern Nurburgring was replaced with a new, Hermann Tilke-designed complex in 2002. It featured a tight hairpin followed by a couple of slow corners to bring the cars back to the track.
This inelegant solution did at least make overtaking a little easier.
Attempts to make the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve safer have always been compromised by the tight confines of the island track. So to increase run-off at the Casino hairpin the organisers moved the hairpin up the track, creating more space to contain an accident.
Further changes to the barriers are expected at this part of the circuit this year following Robert Kubica’s huge crash in the 2007 race.
Although the Hockenheimring had not been well-liked when it first appeared on the F1 calendar over the years it had acquired the distinction of being the track where F1 cars reached their highest speeds.
However the sports’ governing body decided it was too unsafe to have F1 cars blasting through a forest at well over 200mph and so the track was substantially reworked by the now ubiquitous Hermann Tilke.
He drastically shortened the circuit and added some more complicated corners including his trademark combination of a big straight followed by a sharp hairpin.
The resulting track may be somewhat soulless compared to the original, but it has allowed cars to race more closely to each other. The venue now co-hosts the German round of the championship with the Nurburgring – Hockenheim is on the 2008 calendar as it was the turn of the Nurburgring last year.
However the Hockenheimring owners have refused to share the title of German Grand Prix with the Nurburgring. It used the title of ‘European’ Grand Prix last year, but that will be at Valencia as of this year. If no compromise is made the round could be called the Luxembourg Grand Prix as it was from 1997-8.
Photo: Renault F1 media