“Never go back,” they say.
In only the past few years, Formula 1 has visited Mokpo (South Korea), New Delhi (India), Valencia (Spain) and Istanbul (Turkey), and it seems like there’s little impetus to return. So, it’s slightly novel that this week we’re headed back to Spielberg for the first Austrian Grand Prix in more than a decade.
The Austrian Grand Prix has been one of motor racing’s great on-off events. To be precise, it’s been an on-off-on-off-on-off-and-finally-on-again event. The race first made the calendar, at nearby Zeltweg, as a one-off in 1964. It resumed at the glorious and mighty Osterreichring between 1970 and 1987 before safety concerns caused it to be dropped for a decade. It was revived as the A1-Ring – basically a truncated version of the wonderful old track – in 1997, and was then dropped again, seemingly for good, after the 2003 race.
Few races get a second chance; even fewer get a third, or even fourth, bite of the cherry. And that got me thinking: if we were to concoct a grand prix calendar that mirrored this season’s 19-race timetable, but were to pick only from races that had slipped from the current calendar, what would that season look like?
It was an intriguing task – one littered with both possibility and mystique.
I gave myself only one proviso – I couldn’t pick circuits that either wouldn’t satisfy, or couldn’t be modified to meet, today’s FIA safety standards. For that reason, it meant losing giants like the Nordschleife and Pescara, and also – for reasons of general safety – meant that it wouldn’t really be sound thinking to go back to Rouen-les-Essarts or Reims.
For the sake of sheer sanity, I also glossed over Avus (can you imagine?!) and a couple of other circuits (Ain Diab and Bremgarten) that, while not impossible, would be difficult to conceive nowadays.
So, a 19-race world championship that isn’t the world championship – what did I come up with?
1 Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
Through much of the 1980s, Jacarepagua was where the world championship exploded into life. A perfect venue for pre-season testing, it may have been overshadowed by Interlagos, but it’s a great dragstrip of a circuit – a perfect racing track and a venue for a great slipstream-fest. It’s a fabulous place to kick off my new season.
2 Buenos Aires (Argentina)
I’d back-to-back this with Rio (I put some thought into this, see?), so we’d pack up and head en masse to Buenos Aires, returning to the old-style Autodromo Juan Y Oscar Galvez, with the tight infield karting-style track complemented by two long straights and the huge, bowl-like right-hander, the Curvon Salotto. Why Argentina? Simply because Buenos Aires is a beautiful South American city and the race hits the spot for injecting colour and passion into the global calendar.
3 Long Beach (USA)
My pre-season flya-ways would continue into North America – with a return to arguably the greatest street circuit on that continent, Long Beach. Again, I’ve chosen it because it’s a place where gladiatorial skills come to the fore – and because a visit to the West Coast is much needed by the sport. By round three, the season would be revving up quite nicely.
4 Kyalami (South Africa)
I’ll concede that I’ve lost the original circuit – half-bulldozed to oblivion to build a housing estate, sadly – so I’ll settle for the revised version that briefly graced the calendar back in the early 1990s. Why? Because Africa has been an uncharted continent on the F1 radar for too long – so where better to bring it back than at its spiritual home?
5 Imola (Italy)
Talking of spiritual homes, this is where we’d kick off the European season. Imola in the springtime is one of the great places to be, and the magnificent autodromo, despite its sad legacy, is a truly brilliant racetrack, much missed by the F1 fraternity. This is where my European season would kick off.
6 Montjuich Park (Spain)
My rules state that we must unfortunately lose Monaco, but we gain Montjuich instead. Okay, I’m pushing my rule that it would meet the FIA’s current stringent circuit safety standards – but if it works for Monte-Carlo, then they can surely make it work here. This would be a little jewel in the crown at the sharp end of the European season, and, being based in the heart of Barcelona, could become a real magnet for fans from across Europe.
7 Istanbul Park (Turkey)
A springtime visit to a great, lost racing circuit. The Turkish Grand Prix never really took off, which was a great pity, because the track itself was a pretty wonderful piece of circuit design. Inspired by some of the ‘best bits’ of other tracks, Istanbul Park blended together perfectly, melding a tough infield section, a glorious flat-out blast, and, finally, a nook-and-cranny series of tight bends – textbook circuit design.
8 Mont Tremblant (Canada)
The grand prix circus loves its mid-season jaunt to Canada, so why change a good thing? Mont Tremblant is just 150km (93 miles) from beautiful Montreal, and a classic rolling road course. What better than a flight into Montreal, a 150km (93-mile) road trip through the forests, and a week operating out of the empty ski resort chalets, coupled with a brilliant and fiddly Monaco-esque grand prix among the pines?
9 Mexico City (Mexico)
From Montreal, we’d fly en masse to groggy Mexico City for the second race in a week – at the revamped Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Another old-school grand prix track – but one of two distinct halves, a serpentine series of S-bends that culminate in the huge, banked Peraltada, which spits cars out onto the huge main straight. Awesome!
10 Clermont-Ferrand (France)
After a two-week break, it’s back to the action with a spot of sunshine in rural France – a visit to the Auvergne for the first race at Clermont-Ferrand in more than 40 years. Admittedly, the track would stretch the FIA safety statutes to the very limit, but I think we can be forgiven for including a mini-Nurburgring on the calendar. The full circuit is a thing of beauty, and the local cuisine utterly sumptuous. A great race to take the family, too.
11 Brands Hatch (UK)
While it’d be nice to spend time relaxing in the middle of France, I’d back-to-back Clermont with the British Grand Prix, returning Formula 1 to its other, British spiritual home – Brands Hatch, in Kent. Brands ran into noise issues owing to the proximity of local residents – however, with this new hybrid formula, we’d likely lose that issue, which would mean F1 would be welcomed back with open arms!
12 Zandvoort (Netherlands)
A trip to the seaside. I like the idea of constructing a string of classic races as the backbone of the European season, and Zandvoort is definitely a circuit that belongs on F1’s list of all-time classics – it joined the calendar as far back as 1952. The track would probably need a bit of re-profiling to get it to F1 standards, but the Dutch are F1-mad, so their passion and enthusiasm would simply make it happen.
13 Anderstorp (Sweden)
Sweden in high summer? Lovely. Again, this is a circuit with deep roots, and a venue that would add spice and variety to F1’s European summer. The Swedish Grand Prix was a short-lived affair, lasting for most of the 1970s before quietly fading away, but there’s a lot to like about a return to Scandinavia. Like Hungary, it would doubtless draw a large contingent of Northern European motorsport fans.
14 Estoril (Portugal)
The Italian Grand Prix at Monza has traditionally brought the curtain down on the European season, but, with the famous autodromo out of the question, a restful weekend on the Portugese coast would be a great alternative. The re-profiled track isn’t quite as fear-inducing as the old, barrier-lined version – and that’s a good thing – but the fast, sweeping curves remain, and the entry into Turn One now offers a better opportunity for overtaking than anything from before.
15 Watkins Glen (USA)
In 1976, James Hunt won back-to-back races at Watkins Glen and Mosport, so I’ve recreated that classic pairing, returning F1 to the Glen for the first time since 1980. Nascar legend Tony Stewart memorably drove a McLaren grand prix car there for a Mobil 1 event in 2011, and the place was packed. A full-scale grand prix return would have the place rammed to the rafters. And upstate New York has always been spectacular in the fall…
16 Mosport (Canada)
It’s a 450km (280-mile) haul from New York state to Ontario, home of Mosport. Yes, I know two visits to Canada in a season doesn’t make much commercial sense – but these are my rules, and the differences between Mont Tremblant and Mosport are such as to justify our making two separate trips. Mosport is a real rollercoaster, full of swoops and sweeps; incredibly tough to master. The race here would be fast and relentless – exactly the ingredients you need to spice up the end-of-year championship fight…
17 Las Vegas (USA)
My sole concession: I’d rip up the track and start again. But, given that the original circuit was laid out in a flat, featureless car park, what’s to stop my imagination running riot? Without Singapore, what’s to stop us turning a race in Las Vegas into the ultimate glitz ’n’ glamour fest? It’d be a night race (natch), taking in all the neon the Strip could offer, and would be the craziest and most outrageous race on the calendar. You know what they say: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!
18 Fuji (Japan)
From the West Coast, we’d jet to Japan for a feisty penultimate round. Even in its current guise, the Fuji Speedway is a mean and unforgiving track, with the local weather almost guaranteed to play a role in proceedings. The 1.0km (0.62-mile) main straight would suit the new DRS-turbo cars down to the ground, resulting in some spectacular racing. And if that weren’t enough, the backdrop of the mighty Mount Fuji volcano on the horizon is the sort of stuff dreamt up by Hollywood scriptwriters. Gripping stuff.
19 Adelaide (Australia)
The gnarly finale – I’d bring the Australian Grand Prix back to Adelaide. The street race in South Australia was always a bit of a humdinger – scrappy, unpredictable, attrition-filled and exciting. Where better to bring our hypothetical season to a climax than in a country full of sports-mad fans, and at a venue that almost guarantees spectacular racing? I’d turn it into a night race, then the whole city could party the night away as the curtain came down on a truly unforgettable season.