And there are three more new venues set to host F1 races in the next two years – Abu Dhabi, India and South Korea.
The Formula 1 calendar could look very different – and much longer – in a few years’ time. Here’s how.
Valencia Street Circuit, Spain
In recent years new Formula 1 venues have generally been purpose-built facilities near major cities. This allows the race promoters to attract crowds from major urban areas, but not worry about noise restriction regulations limiting the number of events they can hold – a problem today for old venues like Brands Hatch and Zandvoort.
But both the new F1 venues for 2008 will be street circuits, and more are planned for coming years. What has prompted this change in philosophy?
Street races certainly make it easier for promoters to attract a crowd. And the fact that existing roads are used can reduce the investment needed – although the expense of building, dismantling and rebuilding temporary circuit constructions is not to be underestimated.
Racing through a city has undeniable appeal as a spectacle – and in Valencia and Singapore F1 has gone for something much more impressive than the old right-angled courses at Pheonix and Detroit.
The new Valencia circuit runs by the city’s harbour. It will host the European Grand Prix, which from 1995-2006 was held at the Nurburgring to better capitalise on the popularity of Michael Schumacher. Now Spain is the flavour of the moment following Fernando Alonso’s back to back title wins.
The nearby Valencia racing circuit, used by F1 teams for testing, was considered as a potential venue. But the fact that a temporary circuit was chosen over a permanent track (though admittedly not one really big enough for an F1 race) indicates how keen Ecclestone has become on bringing F1 to cities.
Pity the poor Finns, who have had three world champions (including last year’s), four world championships, and no F1 track. Perhaps a street circuit in Helsinki should be next? It has been done before, for touring cars…
Singapore Street Circuit, Singapore
Singapore will hold its first F1 Grand Prix on a street circuit around the capital this year. Raising the bar even higher, it will host F1’s first ever night race.
This present a significant logistical challenge for the organisers. Not only do they have to construct a safe street circuit, but illuminate it well enough for drivers, spectators and TV viewers to see everything.
Surely this is a sign that, after the traumas of 1994, the sport’s governing body is content that its safety standards are up to scratch and it can begin adding more varied and challenging circuits to the F1 calendar?
Hosting a race in the far east at night allows it to be broadcast at a more convenient time in Europe, where the majority of F1’s television audience is. Other eastern venues including Sepang are believed to be considering holding night races in the future.
Slated for a debut in 2009, Abu Dhabi will host its first ever Grand Prix on a purpose-built facility on the man-made Yas Island.
The plans for the venue are highly exotic, mixing a road course with a street section to create a hybrid circuit with an unusual combination of fast and slow corners. The organisers have already signed a seven-year deal for the event and the race will be sponsored by Etihad Airways for the first three years.
India and South Korea
Two more new venues are expected to join the F1 calendar in 2010.
India has already experienced a massive upsurge in interest in F1 in recent years. Narain Karthikeyan became the first Indian to race in F1 in 2005, for Jordan. Now the country has its first F1 team, Force India, owned by Vijay Mallya. Mallya is believed to be eyeing GP2 racer Karun Chandhok for a race seat in time for the first Indian Grand Prix in 2010.
Less is known about the plans for a South Korean Grand Prix in 2010. In October 2006 Bernie Ecclestone announced a deal with the Korea Auto Valley Operation to build a 5.45km (3.39 mile) track in the south west of the country. The track will be designed by Hermann Tilke at a cost of $264m (£134m).
It is Ecclestone’s second attempt to bring F1 to South Korea. A deal struck in 1996 to hold a race in Kunsan City from 1998 collapsed.
If these three new tracks arrive in 2010 and no other tracks are dropped, then F1 will have a 21-race calendar in two years’ time…