What happens when tracks crack

F1 history

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.

F1 history


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13 comments on What happens when tracks crack

  1. Ray said on 8th June 2008, 0:22

    You’re forgetting who’s still in charge aren’t you Keith? Leave it Max! He’ll make sure costs soar and fans lose out :o)

    Seriously though, we have Mark Webber leading the chorus. A man who couldn’t drive his way out of a paper bag. If Hamilton was complaining, I’d start thinking the situation was serious.

  2. Right on, Ray. No matter what the situation, Mark Webber is there willing to talk to anyone who’ll listen about his analysis and give them his two cents and then some. For some reason the F1 media thinks that we need an unbroken feed of Mark Webber opinion at all times.

  3. Jonesracing82 said on 8th June 2008, 6:16

    esp is oz! all we hear about is how he took a crap when he got up……………….
    seriosly tho, surely they can fix it temporarily and run the race, they do it in champcar all the time!
    it wont b clean like f1 tracks seem to be but i reckon it’s a challenge for the drivers and they’ll have to deal with it, just the same as thier contemporary’s used to in yrs gone by!

  4. Derek said on 8th June 2008, 9:23

    Didn’t we have a bad surface at another US GP in a Las Vegas car park. Oh and John Watson won in a McLaren!!

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 8th June 2008, 10:38

    Derek – Yep and there have been others earlier than that. Buenoes Aires fell apart in 1980 (I think), Zolder did in the ’70s. But since that race at Spa it’s rarely happened. It probably started to become a problem when tyres got wider and turned into slicks in the seventies, and downforce increased as wings came in.

    Watson won at Detroit in ’82 but at Las Vegas it was Alan Jones who won in ’81 and Michele Alboreto in ’82 if memory serves me correctly.

  6. Derek said on 8th June 2008, 10:53

    I think theRoswellite has the answer to keep the race on, they should have the bad corner under ‘yellow flags’ for the whole race. This will allow everyone to take the best line and avoid any debris or marbles.

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 8th June 2008, 11:06

    It’s a nice idea but how do you enforce it? If you had one driver consistently going a few tenths quicker through there than everyone else there would inevitably be complaints.

  8. qazuhb said on 8th June 2008, 15:30

    how about a tyre chicane just before the bad corner??? Not the cleanest solution for sure, but…

  9. MacademiaNut said on 8th June 2008, 15:49

    Hamilton, in the interview after qualifying, mentioned that he too saw that turn 10 was an issue; and that he found a solution to it. I wonder what that is.

  10. MacademiaNut said on 8th June 2008, 15:50

    Here’s the snippet from the interview.

    Q: It was difficult conditions with the track starting to break up and a difficult choice between the two Bridgestone tyres.

    LH: For me the choice was not very difficult. I made the choice before I even went into qualifying. I said this is going to be the tyre and we will try and get it right now. The track is breaking up at a couple of corners, turn two, the exit of turn seven where you saw Mark Webber go off and also the apex and exit of turn 10. There is loads of debris there, the road is just coming up, and I had to try and get around that and try and stick it out there as that is where everybody was losing their time. I think on the last lap I found a solution to it perhaps and managed to find a bit of time.

  11. A Hamilton fan complaining about too much Webber in the media?
    Are you havin a laugh?

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