Some people revel in Formula 1™ for the circus atmosphere and accompanying sound, others for the vibrant colour schemes and intense activity which goes on behind the scenes at every race on the calendar. But it is often the diversity of circuit layouts around the world which represents the compelling reason to immerse themselves in this crackling high tension pastime.
Take the British Grand Prix, which has been a cornerstone of F1™ ever since the official title contest was inaugurated in 1950. As Giuseppe Farina aimed his Alfa 158 through the strawbales and oil drums which delineated the makeshift former aerodrome circuit, Bruce McLaren was still a teenage racing fan who had never strayed far from his family home in Remuera, a comfortable and leafy enclave of Auckland. Another eight years would pass before young McLaren would make his grand prix debut driving an F2 Cooper in the British GP at Silverstone.
Even during that period concerns about track security – from both sides of the spectator fencing – began to work up a head of steam, which led to the safety crusade driven largely by Jackie Stewart throughout the ensuing decade. During that period most tracks did little more than cosmetic upgrades; levelling off part of the paddock area, perhaps, or another rudimentary grandstand to benefit the mud-caked spectators. Of course, places like Monaco, which held its first race as long ago as 1929, were totally dependent in the topography of the roads chosen by the organisers. So nothing much has changed at Monaco in this respect. Bruce was proud to have won there in 1962, his only victory through the streets of the Principality - although the cars bear his name have achieved this distinction many times down the decades.
Safety considerations and the need to make alterations with this in mind have been one of the key driving forces behind the manner in which Grand Prix circuits have evolved over the decades. Harnessing the perimeter roads of a disused aerodrome might be one thing, but by the 1950s the legendary engineer John Hugenholz designed the Dutch seaside circuit at Zandvoort, where Lauda and Prost scored a memorable 1-2 grand slam in the 1985 Dutch GP and was then commissioned to design the spectacular figure-of-eight Suzuka circuit in Japan which has been a happy hunting ground for McLaren since 1987.
The Californian coastal city of Long Beach triggered another major shift of emphasis when it staged its first F1™ street race in 1976 where James Hunt’s McLaren M23 crashed out of the race after tangling Patrick Depailler’s Tyrrell. A year later McLaren was grabbing the headlines at the same circuit when he vaulted his M23 over the back of another competitor who had slowed suddenly right in front off him. Or maybe James wasn’t paying attention.
Long Beach was one of the great race tracks of the modern era, its concept helping to spawn similar street circuits at Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix, Arizona which came and went depending whether or not their promoters had sufficient cash to pick up the tab to pay for the privilege of joining the exclusive F1™ club.
The US races feature significantly on this list of venues, the adaptation of Indianapolis to enable the cars to run in an anti-clockwise direction was ready for an inaugural event in 2004. This fixture was duly succeded by the US race at Austin, Texas, this very season which was an unqualified success at its first running a few weeks ago. Seems that F1™ is still hard on the throttle for expansion with the promise of more new races in the not-too-distant-future. A heartening state of affairs by any standards.