F1’s drivers are preparing for an arduous schedule of grands prix this year. The 21-race 2016 schedule – featuring six back-to-back races – is the largest the sport has ever seen.
But how many stops on the 2016 tour are they actually looking forward to? F1 drivers are usually too PR-conscious to say anything negative about the sport’s hosts, but it’s not hard to tell which venues ones inspire genuine warmth and affection – and which ones get token appreciation at best.
When drivers genuinely like a circuit, they rave about it. Less popular destinations are vaguely and quietly described as being ‘technical’ (i.e. ‘slow’) or ‘not a favourite’. Proper drivers’ tracks are generally not those where the first thing they talk about is the importance of tyre preservation.
With that in mind, here’s what they’ve had to say about every venue on this calendar in recent seasons:
The whole vibe and atmosphere is just amazing. It’s busy and there is always something going on. The track is fun. I’ve always liked street circuits. I think it’s a great and fast flowing circuit.
Bahrain International Circuit
It’s a track I like to drive, since the first race, which I don’t remember when it was, I was with Sauber – 2005 or 2005? It’s a nice track.
It’s a track that has a lot of long straights, heavy braking, traction. I don’t know, I just like it.
Shanghai International Circuit
The circuit in Shanghai is not particularly one of my favourite tracks, nevertheless it’s a demanding one, especially the first few corners and the corners before the back straight.
In some ways the Sochi track reminds me of Singapore and Abu Dhabi. That’s because there are lots of 90 degree corners and acceleration zones, which put high energy through the rear tyres. There are some quick parts of the lap too. Turn 12 is quite difficult because you are pulling high g-forces and braking for turn 13 at the same time.
Circuit de Catalunya
It’s fun to drive. The first two sectors have a really good flow to them, which is pretty cool. The last sector is a bit more about tyre management on the modern layout but the rest is exhilarating.
The track is incredible. It’s the one track we have which is special on another level and it generally always turns our to be one of the most amazing weekends of the year.
Monaco is definitely one of the highlights of the racing year for any driver. It’s a special sort of track where you always want to show that you are fast, because it’s a very challenging circuit where the driver can make the difference.
Carlos Sainz Jnr
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Possibly winning has made me love it a little bit more but really I’ve loved it since my first lap, back when I was driving for Toro Rosso. I remember coming back into the pits and saying “what a circuit,” I was amazed at how good it was – and I’d only done an install.
It’s just a ridiculous amount of fun. You can jump across the kerbs and really get the car bouncing around. It’s like getting back to go-kart days, you really feel like you own it – and I love that. You can get aggressive with it, and aim to just brush the wall. There’s a lot of risk but that brings a lot of adrenaline with it. It’d be wonderful if you were doing it in isolation but with 100,000 screaming fans urging you on, it’s just mega.
Red Bull Ring
It’s definitely considered one of those ‘mini-classics’: not so complex in terms of its configuration, but fun to drive.
Driving the Silverstone circuit is always immense fun for all the drivers, and it’s definitely one of my favourite racetracks. The combination of Maggotts-Becketts has legendary status for good reason, and it’s one of the most exhilarating corner combinations of any circuit on the Formula One calendar.
A historical track with some great corner combinations. I love to drive there, Silverstone is one of my favorite tracks.
It’s a tough track on the driver – narrow, very twisty and usually very hot. It’s one of those circuits where you can really show your skill and that makes it a good challenge.
A track that I always liked a lot. I have great memories of it as I raced there in every category during the early stages of my career. I won a GP3 race there in 2010. Hockenheim consists of a few straights, which can be a challenge for us. It is a technical track with its high-speed corners and the hairpin after the long straight.
Entering the stadium is a very fast corner, and the following ‘Sachskurve’ is a tricky one. The last two corners before the finish line are also interesting.
I especially enjoy all the downhill section from the big long hairpin to Pouhon, the right-left at the end of sector two… It’s just a really exceptional track.
Carlos Sainz Jnr
Spa is my favourite circuit on the calendar. The track is unique, having a lot of high-speed corners and a great corner combination. As a driver you get a nice flow going through these corner combinations.
Lewis Hamilton (asked if Spa was “one of your favourite tracks”)
Monza is completely unique – a fantastic circuit, so much history, great fans, and huge fun to drive. It’s always special to go there year after year to experience the atmosphere, and the way the car feels when you drive on that track is completely different to any other.
The emotions on the podium is incredible. If we take this away from the calendar for any shitty money reasons I think you are basically ripping our hearts out. We are here, we are racing and this makes it so much more worthwhile. It’s what we’re here for. You stand on the grid, you look to the left, you look to the right, people are just happy to be part of it and it makes our day.
The first sector is quite long and fine but then you get to sector three where it’s corner after corner, where you need to think about your rear tyres, your braking point, the throttle is a big issue and you slip and so on so they are both very challenging in different ways but I don’t think there are any tracks which are easy nowadays in Formula One.
Sepang International Circuit
My favourite. My first pole, my first podium, race that won more times. Best place to get my 200 races in F1.
I first raced there in 2008 as part of the GP2 Asia Series and I really loved the circuit. It’s nice and wide, with fast flowing corners and a lot of undulation which makes it great fun to drive.
The last corner is a tricky one, but I enjoy everything about racing there. Well, maybe not the heat and humidity, but at the end of the day it’s just another challenge for the drivers.
It’s a very special track. It’s got great history, a good feeling and also a lot of proper balls-out corners, which I like. It’s a really cool circuit.
Suzuka is definitely my favourite circuit of the year. Every driver has races that are special to them for one reason or another – a home Grand Prix, or the venue for their first win maybe – but I think if you ask most racers they will tell you there’s just something about this place that’s a little bit different.
Japan is one of my favourite races of the season, not only because of the track layout but because of the huge community of fans that are incredibly passionate about the sport and create one of the best atmospheres of the season.
Suzuka immediately became my favourite track because of the high speed and the special corner combinations. Sector one is especially fun to drive because it is a bit like a rollercoaster with its quick changes in elevation.
Suzuka has also become one of my favourite tracks along with Silverstone and Spa. I really got on well with the Japanese people and I just loved that weekend.
Carlos Sainz Jnr
Suzuka, my favourite track! It is the most beautiful race track along with the Nordschleife and Macau, it is a dream to drive.
Circuit of the Americas
Of the newer tracks on the calendar I think Austin is probably my favourite. The variation of corners makes it good fun to drive and they’ve designed a very nice facility. The track is smooth and it’s easy to find your rhythm.
A circuit I’ve personally enjoyed a lot the last few years. I think it’s not only fun to drive but for racing it provides… I honestly think it’s the best circuit on the calendar for overtaking. I think there are more spots around the lap here for overtaking opportunities than any other, so that’s always exciting.
Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez
The circuit is definitely a big challenge, but it’s good fun to drive. It’s very technical and quite tricky to get it right. Sectors one and two, after the straight, are quite twisty and low-speed: the grip levels are very low, due to the new Tarmac, and it’s very easy to make a mistake.
I like this track, even though it’s very short, because if you tackle it properly, it’s great fun to drive. [In 2014] the track was resurfaced and the grip level was high, something drivers always like as it means you can be more aggressive.
It’s a fantastic track and there’s no part of it that isn’t great. It really suits my driving style. It’s a big challenge at every turn. There never seems to have a part where you relax. Even the main start-finish ‘straight’ isn’t boring as it starts uphill with some interesting camber, then gradually turns before finishing at the downhill turn one, where it’s so easy to out-brake yourself. If I had to pick favourite parts of Interlagos, I would say the first and last corners; the first corner is really technical and punishes you if you get it wrong, and the last corner is so fast and really puts quite a stain on your body. As a driver I really enjoy these corners. It’s an old style track, so very hard to pick out a single element; I’d say everything is pretty good in Interlagos; I love it!
It’s one of the classics. It’s got good changes of elevation, it’s quite a quick, short lap and there are some good overtaking spots. It’s nice to drive; it has a good flow to it with some good high-speed corners, which is what drivers always enjoy.
There’s just not a corner that gives you any real satisfaction. I don’t want to make it sound dull, because it isn’t, but like Russia, there isn’t a corner that makes you go Woooo-Hoooo! It needs a few more corners and something really high speed. There’s a couple that look good on paper but because of the cambers, you never really have the grip to go barrelling in. The crowd really gets your heart-rate up before the sessions, so you want to be really on it but instead have to be very patient.
It’s not one of my most favourite circuits. I think it’s too much stop-and-go and it’s missing a flow.
The layout is not my favourite – there are too many second gear corners for my liking.
Baku City Circuit
There is one track on the 2016 calendar which all the drivers are yet to make their minds up about – because none of them have driven there yet. The Baku City Circuit will host Azerbaijan’s first round of the world championship.
The track looks very much what you’d expect from a Hermann Tilke-penned street layout: a tour of local landmarks featuring an abundance of slow corners. The most interesting aspects could be the narrow section through the old part of the circuit – surely a magnet for Safety Cars? – and the high-speed run back to the start/finish area.
But will it be any good? We’ll find out in June.
Over to you
Which of the tracks on this year’s calendar do you want to visit? Join in the discussion here:
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