What happens when tracks crack

F1 historyPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mark Webber, Red Bull-Renault, Montreal, 2008, 470150

The disintegrating track surface at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is threatening the running of tomorrow’s Canadian Grand Prix.

It’s the sort of problem that F1 and other kinds of motor racing have seen in the past, but it’s the kind of thing that Formula 1 has seen little of since the 1980s. Here are three of the more recent track crises.

1984 United States Dallas Grand Prix, State Fair Park

Elio de Angelis, Keke Rosberg, Rene Arnoux, Dallas, 1984, 470313

One of the most infamous occasions was in 1984, when Formula 1 held a street race at Dallas on a street circuit around a park. Two particularly bad decisions turned the race into a farce.

First, the event was scheduled for July in the height of the Texan summer. Temperatures soared into the very high 30s (although records for hottest F1 races are a little unreliable it has been described as the second hottest ever).

Second, the requirement that new F1 circuits be tested with a lower-category race to ensure the durability of the circuit, was waived. The combination of the two, plus the heavy sports cars that shared the race weekend with the F1 machinery, tore the asphalt to shreds.

Those watching qualifying on ITV this afternoon may have noted Martin Brundle raising the alarming prospect of it not being possible to hold the race tomorrow. But he knows whereof he speaks – having lost control of his Tyrrell on the disintegrating surface at Dallas that year he crashed heavily, smashing his feet and ankles, which still causes him difficulty walking.

In the race half of the 26 starters crashed and only two finished the race on the lead lap. F1 never returned to Dallas although it was not necessarily because of the farce of a race – the promoter skipped town with the profits.

1982 United States Detroit Grand Prix

John Watson, McLaren-Cosworth, Detroit, 1982, 470313

That wasn’t the first time F1 arrived in America to find a circuit in less than ideal condition. In fact the Detroit street circuit wasn’t finished when the teams turned up for the first race there in 1982, so practice and qualifying had to be cancelled.

The newly laid surface also began to break up but as the drivers hardly knew where they were going it wasn’t the biggest of their problems.

Read more about the 1982 Detroit Grand Prix: Grand Prix flashback – United States 1982

1985 Belgian Grand Prix: Spa-Francorchamps

This was the most recent event in Grand Prix history that had to be abandoned, although it was run later the same year.

Spa-Francorchamps had returned to the Formula 1 calendar for the first time in its new, shortened form in 1983 and had been a big hit. But when the organisers came to re-surface it for 1985 (the 1984 Belgian Grand Prix being held for the final time at Zolder) they chose a new type of compound that was supposed to be particularly effective in wet conditions.

Given the frequent wet weather in the region this was not an unreasonable decision. But when the F1 cars took to the track they began to peel huge chunks off the circuit.

The organisers took the decision to postpone the race while they resurfaced the track once again. And so F1 came back three months later on the weekend after the Italian Grand Prix for a more successful event.

However the Formula 3000 support race did go ahead on the original weekend and predictably enough it was chaos. Just six of 18 starters completed the 29 laps.

It’s doubtful that postponing the race might be an option for the Canadian Grand Prix organisers though. The cost of flying out all the teams and drivers again would surely be prohibitive. Whereas in 1985 the Belgian round was simply moved from the beginning of the ‘European season’ to the end.

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