An ideal Formula One calendar
Inspired by a thread on a discussion forum, I’ve come up with a much better 20-race calendar than the 19-race calendar F1 will be using next year, free of many of the charmless circuits that the circus visits this year. Yes, this does mean sacrificing visits to lucrative areas Bernie Ecclestone wants to tap into, but I think for most people, it’s more important to have interesting races at historic venues with character – so no Shanghai, Yeongam, Buddh or Yas Marina circuits to be found here. But I will be keeping it fairly realistic, sticking to (or close to) the safety requirements the FIA stipulates – so no Nurburgring Nordschliefe or Le Mans either.
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Round 1: 16/03 – Brazilian Grand Prix – Interlagos
Back when I started following F1 in the 1990s, Brazil used to be the second stop on the calendar after Australia. Before that, it was the season opener. While the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo has done a fine job hosting the season finale or penultimate race, I’d rather see it at the beginning of the season. It’s a great circuit, one of the few to not be completely neutered down the years, and the unpredictable climate has led to numerous wet races, including the infamous 2003 race won by Giancarlo Fisichella in a dreadful Jordan-Ford.
Round 2: 23/03 – Argentine Grand Prix – Potrero de los Funes
Argentina’s round on the calendar has always been held at the Autodromo Juan y Oscar Galvez in Buenos Aires, with races held on the longer, faster layout in the 1970s and early 1980s, and on the twisty, narrow layout, derided as a “go kart circuit”, in the 1990s. It would be a logical host again, but it would be far more special if the race was held at the spectacular Potrero de los Funes circuit in San Luis Province, which runs around a lake in the mountains. It has been updated to modern standards and has hosted rounds of the FIA GT1 World Championship, so would just about be adequate for F1.
Round 3: 06/04 – Bahrain Grand Prix – Sakhir
Of all the modern circuits designed by Hermann Tilke, the Sakhir Circuit is perhaps the one with the most redeeming features. It doesn’t have the most challenging layout but has always produced good racing (except for the one race held on the long circuit in 2010, one of the most tedious races in F1 history), and it is uniquely set in the middle of the desert, making it immediately identifiable. While the reasons for it being on the calendar are, let’s say, questionable, it would be wrong to deny the Middle East a spot on the calendar entirely considering this is a world championship, and I’d rather this than Abu Dhabi.
Round 4: 27/04 – San Marino Grand Prix – Imola
Despite being heavily modified after the infamous 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Imola remained one of the most popular venues on the calendar until it was unceremoniously dropped from the calendar after the 2006 race. It has since undergone further changes, with a new pits complex and start/finish straight bypassing the old Variante Bassa. Unlike most modern circuits, it has elevation changes and things to see beyond the circuit walls, which makes up for its lack of overtaking places. It’s also guaranteed to get a good turn-out from the tifosi, who will attend to cheer on their local team, Ferrari; the circuit is named after the team’s founder Enzo and his son Dino.
Round 5: 11/05 – Spanish Grand Prix – Jerez de la Frontera
Jerez hosted the Spanish Grand Prix from 1986 to 1990, before being replaced by the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. But it is best known in F1 history for being the venue of the 1997 European Grand Prix, which saw Michael Schumacher try and fail to take Jacques Villeneuve out of the race in an attempt to become world champion for the third time. The circuit was banned from hosting F1 races after that after the mayor invited himself onto the podium, but it still hosts occasional test sessions. The reasons for the ban are trivial and no doubt could be bypassed if necessary, and it’s a more interesting venue than Catalunya and the Valencia street circuit, which has also hosted F1 in recent years.
Round 6: 25/05 – Monaco Grand Prix – Monte Carlo
The race at Monaco is traditionally considered the jewel in F1’s crown. By rights, it should have been abandoned decades ago for being far too unsafe, and it is the most difficult circuit to overtake on. But this is Monaco – a densely-populated tax haven in the south of France beloved by the wealthy, and because of this, the sponsors love it too. The rich and famous line up on the narrow grid every year, soaking in the atmosphere, before allowing the drivers to thread their way through the streets between the unforgiving barriers for 78 laps in the greatest driving challenge today. Yes, this reads like something Murray Walker would say, but every cliché is accurate – Monaco is an incredible spectacle.
Round 7: 08/06 – Canadian Grand Prix – Montreal
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, named after the man who won the first race at the circuit in 1978, usually throws up one of the most entertaining races of the season. It’s another circuit which flirts with the regulations, with very little run-off area between the circuit and the concrete walls that line it. It’s one of the few circuits where you can really trash an F1 car these days. There is no better example than the final chicane, which has claimed numerous high-profile victims down the years, to the point where the concrete wall on the outside is known as the Wall of Champions.
Round 8: 15/06 – United States Grand Prix – Indianapolis
Look, I’ll admit it: I don’t like the much-hyped Circuit of the Americas in Austin. Yes, it has a few nice corners and a hill, but like most of the other modern circuits on the calendar, it lacks that je ne sai quoi. Instead, I’d rather see the race at a genuinely historic venue, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which hosted F1 on its road course layout from 2000 to 2007. The racing was usually good, only for the event to be blighted by the farcical 2005 event when all the teams running Michelin tyres (that’s all bar three of them) were forced to withdraw. It has since been modified for bikes, and will again change to host IndyCar this year. Alternatively, the race could be held at the New Jersey street circuit if they bother to finish it.
Round 9: 29/06 – French Grand Prix – Paul Ricard
The Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France hosted the French Grand Prix from 1971, when it was considered one of the most modern circuits in the wall, to 1990, when it was replaced by Magny-Cours, a flat, featureless circuit in the middle of nowhere. Paul Ricard was bought at the turn of the century by Bernie Ecclestone, who funded a conversion of the track into an ultra-modern testing facility. In the last few years, it has begun hosting races again, and a return to the F1 calendar has been mooted. For me, this could only be on the classic layout, using the full length of the Mistral Straight to test the engines and the fast Signes curve to test the bravery of the drivers.
Round 10: 06/07 – British Grand Prix – Silverstone
Though I am no great fan of the new layout, Silverstone is a must for the F1 calendar. The former airfield hosted the very first F1 World Championship event back in 1950, and has been the permanent host of the British Grand Prix since the famous 1987 race, when Nigel Mansell overtook Nelson Piquet late on to win in front of a passionate home crowd. It remains one of the fastest circuits on the calendar, with the Maggotts/Becketts complex rated amongst the most challenging in F1, while the new arena section provides the circuit with the overtaking opportunity it perhaps lacked in its previous form.
Round 11: 20/07 – German Grand Prix – Hockenheim/Nurburgring
The German spot on the calendar currently alternates between two of the most famous circuits on the calendar. However, both are shadows of their former selves. After Niki Lauda’s near-fatal accident in 1976, the 14-mile long Nurburgring, arguably the most challenging circuit in the world, lost its spot on the calendar to Hockenheim, famed for its flat-out blasts into and out of the surrounding forest and the atmospheric stadium section after it. The owners of the Nurburgring then decided to build a new circuit next to the old one, similar in character but on a much smaller scale, and it hosted races in 1984 and 1985. However, it proved that you cannot replicate 14 miles in just 3 – it was immediately unpopular. However, in the 1990s, it returned and has gradually become established on the calendar. However, the owners of Hockenheim also decided to truncate their circuit, reducing it to a short Tilke-designed sprint between various hairpins and stadium sections. Both are no longer as magical as they used to be, and have been in serious financial trouble in recent years, but with Sebastian Vettel dominating F1, the German Grand Prix remains a fixture.
Round 12: 27/07 – Hungarian Grand Prix – Hungaroring
The Budapest venue was one of the least popular venues on the calendar for many years. One of the first circuits designed on a computer, the first F1 circuit to the east of the Iron Curtain was initially considered far too twisty and dusty. However, in the three decades since, what was once considered a weakness has now become its strength; with F1 circuits becoming increasingly about high speed corners, the Hungaroring has become increasingly unique and has thrown up many surprise results, including Jenson Button’s first win in 2006 and Heikki Kovalainen’s only win in 2008. The race here remains one of the most interesting of the year, despite the lack of overtaking.
Round 13: 24/08 – Belgian Grand Prix – Spa-Francorchamps
After the summer break, F1 returns with a visit to one of the greatest circuits in the world. Despite increasingly forgiving run-off areas, Spa remains one of the great challenges in F1, and includes arguably the two most fearsome high-speed corners – Eau Rouge and Blanchimont. The elevation changes are astounding and would surely be illegal if being built today, while the weather is genuinely unpredictable. It’s also the longest circuit on the calendar, with just 44 laps in a race.
Round 14: 07/09 – Italian Grand Prix – Monza
Monza is another unique circuit, being one of the oldest circuits on the calendar and the last of the true high-speed circuits left. Only here will you find the almost-vertical rear wings fitted to the cars to reduce drag. It’s also heavy on the breaks, with three low-speed chicanes after long straights. The circuit is enveloped by trees and contains the crumbling relic of the concrete oval, abandoned in the 1960s. The tifosi help make it one of the most atmospheric venues on the calendar. It’s a special place.
Round 15: 14/09 – Austrian Grand Prix – Spielberg
The circuit formerly known as the Osterreichring and the A1-Ring returns to the calendar in June 2014 as the Red Bull Ring, after it was bought in the mid-2000s by the drinks company’s owner Dietrich Mateschitz. It last hosted an F1 race in 2003, before it was forced out by the increasing Asian presence on the calendar. Though the Hermann Tilke-designed layout, which was constructed in 1996, isn’t particularly challenging in contrast to the frighteningly fast old circuit, it was always great for overtaking, and as it is in roughly the same place, it retains some of the character of the Osterreichring – the Styrian Mountains make for one of the most spectacular backdrops in world motorsport.
Round 16: 28/09 – Welsh Grand Prix – Ebbw Vale
From one mountainous circuit to another – albeit one that hasn’t actually been built yet. Yes, it’s self-indulgent, but when has there been a better time to consider the possibility of F1 in Wales? I’m confident that the Circuit of Wales will be a great venue for motorsport. F1 seems very unlikely at this stage but it is being built to the highest possible standard, and the layout looks great, especially if you factor in the elevation changes. The high altitude will also add in another factor for the teams to consider, and an F1 race in Wales in autumn will inevitably have a high probability of rain. Until it’s built, the European Grand Prix would be held at Brands Hatch or Donington Park in this slot.
Round 17: 5/10 – Portuguese Grand Prix – Estoril
Back on familiar turf here, with the venue that hosted the Portuguese round of the championship from 1984 (where it decided the championship in Niki Lauda’s favour by half a point from Alain Prost) to 1996, after which it was dropped for failing to improve its facilities. It has since done so, and is also now far safer than it once was, albeit with the loss of the first two fast corners. Nonetheless, it’s still recognisably Estoril, and while the list of successful Portuguese F1 drivers isn’t particularly long, it’s not as if we haven’t had a second event on the Iberian peninsular as a whole. The Algarve Circuit in Portimao perhaps might get a shot in alternate years too.
Round 18: 19/10 – Singapore Grand Prix – Marina Bay
Of all the circuits added to the calendar in the last decade, the only one that I’ve taken to is Singapore, because it’s the only new circuit to have been designed old school style. It’s a proper street circuit, unlike Valencia which has been purpose-built for the occasion and might as well be a permanent circuit. It has walls and buildings next to the road, markings on the tarmac, and even a tunnel. And it was also the first venue for an F1 night race, which adds the final touch to one of F1’s greatest events.
Round 19: 02/11 – Japanese Grand Prix – Suzuka
Honda’s Suzuka Circuit has been relatively unchanged since it was built in 1962 as a state-of-the-art testing venue. Designed by Dutchman John Hugenholtz, the Tilke of his day (but better), it features a rare crossover and some thrilling corners, including the double-apex First Corner which often causes a first lap collision, the Snake, Degner, and 130R, the super-fast left-hander at the end of the Back Stretch where Allan McNish trashed a Toyota in 2002. Back in the day, you could spot Suzuka straight away with its distinctive pits complex (now replaced by an equally-striking building) and the slightly different filming technique used by Fuji TV, which gave coverage a slight haze. Today, you can spot Suzuka straight away because it’s one of the most famous venues on the calendar.
Round 20: 16/11 – Australian Grand Prix – Adelaide
This might prove controversial, as Albert Park is one of the most popular venues on the calendar and has become the traditional season opener. However, a decade and a half or so ago and Adelaide was the traditional finale. Both circuits were/are hard on the cars and challenging to drive. But I’m giving the edge to Adelaide because it was that little bit tougher. Races would often run closer to the two-hour limit, and very few cars would finish. However, it also had a charm all of its own – the race was borne out of the need for the so-called City of Churches to revitalise its image, and they threw everything at it. Melbourne has so many sporting events that the Australian Grand Prix almost seems to be an after-thought. Sensational Adelaide, with its blue, yellow and red branding, created a unique image which Melbourne hasn’t quite yet replicated. I’d include both if Australia could sustain two races, but it can’t, so Adelaide will get the nod.