Many of the greatest racing circuits exist only in dim memory brought back to life in the flickering images of old newsreels, Victims to a stronger emphasis an both driver and spectator safety, economic or even political upheaval. The ever increasing speeds of modern race cars have made many of these classic tracks obsolete even though la Sarthe, Monza and Monaco live on some of their character has been emasculated with the addition of artificial chicanes.
New circuits in emerging commercial markets have been built with little thought to local interest with World TV being the final arbitrator. Holding a major race such as a Formula One Grand Prix has become a way for nations to promote their countries prowess even in the face of their own automotive industry’s limited accomplishments.As antidote we bring you the great circuits of Grand Prix Racing.
Length: 19.29 km (11.98 miles)
Fastest Lap: B. Rosemeyer (1937) – 4 min. 4.2 sec. 284.31 km/h (176.7 mph)
The name of the circuit is actually the initials of the proper name; Automobil Verkehrs und Ubungs Strasse which translates roughly to Automobile Traffic and Practice Street. In 1907 the Kaiserlicher Automobilclub (KAC) association devised a fee-financed circuit, as both a motor-sport venue and a testing track for the motor industry. However, a lack of finances and official authorizations delayed the start of construction until spring 1913. Work was halted during WWI and was not completed until 1921.
The track was composed of two two-lane roads each 9.78 km (6.08 miles) separated by an 8 meter (26 ft) grass median strip. At the south end was a chicane while at the north end was a wide-radius loop later rebuilt with a 43 degree banking. In comparison the banking at Daytona International Speedway never exceeds 31 degrees! With a vertical concrete retaining wall at the top of the banking this was definitely a corner that would separate the men from the boys. The circuit was open to the public at a charge of ten Marks but it’s doubtful if the actual banking was accessible.
On 11 July 1926 the track played host to the first international German Grand Prix for sports cars. The race was won by a then unknown Mercedes-Benz car salesman by the name of Rudolf Caracciola.
Length: 7.28 km (4.52 miles)
Fastest Lap: B. Rosemeyer (1936) – 2 min. 34.5 sec. 170.0 km/h (105.64 mph)
Bremgarten was built as a motorcycle racing track in 1931 in a large park within the Bremgartenwald (Bremgarten forest) in the north-west of Bern. The circuit itself had no true straight, instead being a collection of high-speed corners. It hosted its first automobile race in 1934, which claimed the life of driver Hugh Hamilton.
Because of the Swiss ban on motor racing after the tragedy at Le Mans in1955 the Swiss Grand Prix is no longer being held but in the 30’s it was considered one of the premier tracks in the world, a real drivers circuit. Situated in a forest and located North – West of Bern it was scene of many great battles and was the brainchild of a certain Monsieur Huber. A special signaling area had to be built on the inside of the track due to the distance of the actual pits.From the outset, Bremgarten’s tree-lined roads, often poor light conditions and changes in road surface made for what was acknowledged to be a very dangerous circuit, especially in the wet. It was inevitable that during that era the race was dominated by the German teams and their drivers with the winners including Bernd Rosemeyer for Auto Union and Mercedes drivers Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang.
Prior to the previous race at Monza, Auto Union’s Achille Varzi had gone missing and team members were dispatched to go and look for him in Rome. He then duly showed up for the Swiss race but now it was clear that there was something seriously wrong with the Italian ace. While Varzi was on the circuit practicing for the 1936 Swiss Grand Prix, Auto Union team manager Dr. Feuereissen made an secret inspection of Varzi’s hotel room finding both Varzi’s mistress Ilse Pietsch as well as drugs in the room. Varzi would still finish second in the race but his career continued it’s downward spiral.
Caracciola was a Bremgarten specialist and won there three times but in 1952 he was seriously injured driving a Mercedes 300 SL sportscar during a support race prior to the Grand Prix which effectively ended his racing career. His brakes locked up going into a corner and the car skidded off the road and hit a tree.. The track had already claimed the life of another great driver of the 1930s, Achille Varzi dying in an accident in 1948 during practice at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo.In the race Italian driver Piero Taruffi scored his only win in a World Championship race, driving for Ferrari.
Length: 29.14 km (18.10 miles)
Fastest Lap: R. Caracciola (1937) – 11 min. 59.3 sec. 145.9 km/h (90.66 mph)
The Masaryk Ring near Brno at slightly more than 18 miles was the longest circuit used in Grand Prix racing during the 30’s. The site of the Czech Grand Prix was named after their founding President Thomas Garrigue Masaryk. Half the circuit used the national highway and the other half was on local district roads. Starting on the south-western outskirts of Brno itself, the course ran anti-clockwise up to the hills and through the villages of Kohoutovice and Žebětín, through a series of hairpin bends to Ostrovačice and then a series of long straights and fast kinks to the next village, Bosonohy.
After dodging the houses and shops through a series of fast bends, the course headed along the main road back to Brno. The automobile races were organized by the Ceskoslovensky Automobilovy Klub pro Moravu a Slezsko. The first race was won by the German driver Hermann zu Leiningen in his Bugatti, with Louis Chiron taking the next three victories
Prior to the 1934 race a local mechanic/driver, Josef Brázdil found himself in jail. Louis Chiron appealed to the authorities to release Brázdil so he could take part in the Grand Prix, returning to jail after the race. Early on Friday morning before the track was officially closed for practice, Brázdil, who had gained his temporary freedom went out with his Maserati and disappeared. On his very first practice lap his car hit a tree and Brázdil was thrown out and died from a broken spine. An investigation into the accident found no sign of braking or any problems with the car, and astonishingly ruled the crash a suicide! The race itself seemed almost like an anti-climax and was won by Hans Stuck driving an Auto Union. The following year the race would see Bernd Rosemeyer win his first race also in an Auto Union.
Because of the length of the circuit crowd control was problematical. In 1937 Herman Lang lost control and crashed into a crowd of spectators who were standing in a prohibited area.Two spectators were killed and 12 others were left injured. The organizers suggested to Mercedes team manger, Alfred Neubauer that he get Lang out of the country as quickly as possible before his driver got arrested pending an investigation.
Length: 3.18 km (1.98 miles)
Fastest Lap: R. Caracciola (1937) – 1 min. 46.5 sec. 107.49 km/h (66.79 mph)
“For days on end I went over the avenues of the Principality until I hit on the only possible circuit. This skirted the port, passing along the quay and the Boulevard Albert Premier, climbed the hill of Monte Carlo, then passed round the Place du Casino, took the downhill zig-zag near Monte Carlo Station to get back approximately to sea level and from there, along the Boulevard Louis II and the Tir aux Pigeons tunnel, the course came back to the port quayside. Today, the roads comprising this circuit look as though they were made for the purpose. But then!”
This is how the birth of the famous round-the-house circuit was described by cigarette magnate Anthony Noghes, Founder-President of the Automobile Club de Monaco took place in 1928. The first race, held on 14 April 1929 and was won by William Grover-Williams driving a Bugatti. In 1934 the Monaco Grand Prix was one of the first races to award grid positions based on qualifying times rather than a lottery.
Heavy rain in 1936 contributed to a series of accidents, while a broken oil line on the Alfa Romeo of Mario Tadini led to so many wrecks in the chicane out of the tunnel it was almost impassable. The Mercedes-Benzes of Chiron, Fagioli, and von Brauchitsch, as well as the Auto Union of newcomer Bernd Rosemeyer were all eliminated. Tazio Nuvolari in the Alfa Romeo 8C benefited from the chaos, only to suffer brake fade, and Rudolf Caracciola went on to win for Mercedes followed by the Auto Unions of Varzi and Hans Stuck. 1937 saw a fierce battle between Mercedes Benz drivers von Brauchitsch and Caracciola after the former driver had ignored team orders and won the race over his more senior team member. The race was run until 1938 before experiencing an eleven year hiatus because of money and political problems.
1970 saw any chance of a race win falling away lap after lap yet Rindt driving his Lotus on the ragged edge it seemed certain that he must crash. Rindt would later remark that he had never driven a car faster than that day and hoped he would never have to again. Still there seemed no chance for victory but as stated earlier other factors were hard at work. With four laps to go Brabham was still nine seconds in front but on lap 77 he encountered Jo Siffert’s weaving March as he attempted to find the last drops of fuel to make it back to the pits. Five seconds were lost before Brabham was able to make his way past. The gap was now 2.4 seconds and Brabham sensing that things were getting a little dicey increased the gap the next time around by 2 seconds as Rindt loss time in one of his many near-misses with the Armco. Rindt then matched Brabham’s fastest lap of 1m24.4s with his own time of 1m23.3s.
It was now the final lap and at Tabac, Brabham came upon three backmarkers and had to struggle to get pass. Rindt just behind forced his way through and was now just behind the leader but still it seemed impossible that he could get past, another lap maybe but not now. Approaching the Gasworks hairpin Brabham came upon the slow moving de Tamaso of Piers Courage. Left or right – all seemed closed off. Brabham for an instant thought of following the stricken car through and had he done so all might have been different but fearing that Rindt was closer than he actually was decided to pass but by then he had missed his braking point and in an instant he was in the straw bales as Rindt flashed past. Rindt could actually be seen looking across at Brabham and shaking his head in disbelief. The next scene saw the famous cap thrown in the air signifying another win by one of Chapman’s cars.
The race, still largely unchanged is now the most prestigious event on the Formula One calendar.
“It’s difficult to say why he was so special, but he had such a charisma, you know, with his cap, his moustache and his sense of humour. He would sit in the sun, enjoying a beer and when the fans came he would listen to them all and have a joke with everybody. Even the French were charmed by him, and you know sometimes we are not so good with humour.”
Rosie Bernard, proprietor of the legendary Rosie’s Bar, Monaco describing Graham Hill five-time winner of the race.
Length: 12.492 km (7.762 mi)
Fastest Lap: L. Chiron (1934) – 5 min. 6 sec. 147.0 km/h (91.3 mph)
Industrialist Alexandre Lamblin hired René Jamin to design the 2,548.24 metres (1.58 mi) oval shaped track for up to 1,000 kg (2,205 lb) vehicles at 220 km/h (140 mph). It was initially called Autodrome parisien, and had especially high banking. A road circuit was added in 1925.
The first race, the French Grand Prix, was held on 26th of July, organized by The Automobile Club de France Grand Prix. It was a race in which Robert Benoist in a Delage won; Antonio Ascari died in an Alfa Romeo P2. The Grand Prix revisited the track in 1927 and each year between 1931 and 1937. In 1939 the track was sold to the government, deprived of maintenance, and again sold to Union technique de l’automobile et du cycle (UTAC) in December 1946.
The first race, the 1925 French Grand Prix, was held on 26 July 1925 and organized by the Automobile Club de France. Robert Benoist in a Delage won; but Antonio Ascari died in a crash of his Alfa Romeo P2. France, the birthplace of motor sport, was now behind the Italians and the resurgent Germans in the Grand Prix pecking order. In an effort to reverse their fortunes the French government instituted the Prix du Million to encourage constructors to build new cars.
The prize was a million francs to be awarded to the French car and driver winning a race against the clock at the famed Montlhéry circuit. For the speed attempt Dreyfus drove a specially prepared Delahaye. The peculiar rules stated that the car must do 200 kilometers at an average speed of at least 146 km/h from a standing start. The difference in this race over others was that only the clock was your opponent and the clock never made a mistake. Everyday that summer they tested and when the day finally came there was a large crowd including reporters from all of the major newspapers. After the standing start there would be no turning back without a tremendous loss of face. He was off – faster and faster he drove trying to raise the average speed to the magic number.
By mid distance he was there, but on lap 13 disaster struck. The Dunlop tires were showing the white warning strip and the Dunlop man was gesturing for Dreyfus to abandon the attempt. Nothing could stop Dreyfus now, he had come too far. On lap sixteen the flag fell and the deed was done. See more .
Length: 6.99 km (4.35 miles)
Fastest Lap: T. Nuvolari (1938) – 2 min. 34.2 sec. 163.26 km/h (101.44 mph)
Built in 1922 by the Milan Automobile Club it allowed Milan to wrest control of the Italian Grand Prix from the rival club in Brescia. Situated in an old royal park in the town of Monza just north of Milan. Work began on May 15th with completion date set for August 15th: 3,500 workers, 200 wagons, 30 lorries, and a narrow gauge railway 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) long with 2 locomotives and 80 cars were employed. The autodrome was completed in the record time of 110 days. The circuit incorporates a banked speed bowl with 13 grandstands facing the main straight.
1924 saw a dominating victory of the Alfa Romeo team and their new P2 with Antonio Ascari leading four other Alfas to victory with the veteran driver Louis Wagner coming in second. During much of its life it was famous for close slip-streaming racing but in 1934 it was temporarily shortened with new chicanes added in the hopes of favoring the Italian teams over the new German race cars.This was all to no avail as the German teams won the next five races with Nuvolari scoring the final victory before the beginning of WWII driving and Auto Union.The Grand Prix cars would not return to Monza until 1949.
In 1957-58 they held a race they called The Race of Two Worlds. The 500 Miglia Di Monza was meant to be a contest between ten of the best of the Old World against an equal number from the New World. The race utilized the banked portion of the track leading to concerns among the European drivers that flat-out racing on the banking would be too dangerous, and ultimately only the Ecurie Ecosse and Maserati represented European teams. The American teams had brought special Firestone tyres with them which were reinforced to withstand high-speed running on the bumpy Monza surface, and the race was dominated by the Americans who showed their experience and the fact that their cars were meant for this type of racing, taking the first three places with Jimmy Bryan taking the victory and the prize of $26,801, an enormous amount of money for a European event.
In 1971 the fans at Monza were treated to one of the closest Formula One battles of the modern era. Heading towards the Parabolica, the last corner, François Cevert had victory in his sights, leading Ronnie Peterson with Peter Gethin up to third. Eyes lighting up with the prospect of victory, Peterson threw his March down the inside of Cevert’s Tyrrell, taking the place but forcing both cars slightly wide. As Cevert and Peterson scrambled for grip, Gethin pounced, positioning the BRM perfectly to blast past both his rivals on the run to the line. Gethin somehow found time to raise his fist as he crossed the line, leading home a blurring flash of cars – Gethin, Peterson, Cevert, Mike Hailwood – all covered by 0.2 seconds, with Ganley a further 0.4 seconds back. Across 25 lead changes, the eight separate leaders set a record that stands to this day, and Gethin’s winning margin stood at 0.01 seconds – the smallest possible margin given the timing system of the time. It remains a record for closest finish by time between first and second, but also from first to third (0.09s), first to fourth (0.18s) and first to fifth (0.61s).
Length: 22.80 km (14.17 miles) (Nordschleife)
Fastest Lap: H. Lang (1939) – 9 min. 52.2 sec. 138.5 km/h (86.06 mph)
The origins of the Nurburgring can be traced back to the Kaiserpreis in 1907. After the success of this inaugural race it was felt that Germany needed its own permanent circuit to be competitive with the French who dominated racing in the beginning of the century. A location in the Eifel Mountains near the town of Adenau was selected as a means of alleviating the crippling unemployment in the Coblenz-Cologne region. World War I intruded and the project never got beyond the planning stages.
After the war it was revived as a way to bring tourist and employment to an area of the country that was in desperate need of both. The organizers were led by a Councillor for the Eifel District, Dr Otto Creutz. The original plan as conceived by Dr Creutz was for a 28.27 km (17.56 miles) circuit consisting of two loops, a Sudschleife 7.75 km (4.81 miles) and a Nordschleife 22.8 km (14.17 miles). With the support of the government a veritable army of 25,000 construction workers built a course with 172 corners. With 88 left-handers and 84 right-handers the circuit rose from 310 m (1017 ft) above sea level to 616 m (2020 ft) at the start / finish line. A massive pit, grandstand and paddock complex was constructed. The paddock contained 70 garages similar to Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis. The entire complex cost a staggering 14.1 million Reichmarks. On September 27th 1925, Dr Fuchs, Supreme President of the Rhineland laid the foundation stone for the “first German mountain and essay track” and within two years 150,000 fans saw the inaugural race and the legend of the Nurburgring began.
The well known British journalist W.F. Bradley would remark,
“The dominating impression is that a drunken giant was allowed to reel around the Eifel mountains, and then road contractors followed in his tracks”.
The sharpest corner on the circuit is the Karussell with a radius of 32m (105ft). The track climbs steeply uphill to the Karussell and at the exit of the 180 degree corner the road continues climbing to Hohe-Acht. The corners’s banked section used today was originally an unpaved drainage ditch with the circuit running above the ditch. Legend has it that prior to the 1931 German Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz mechanics Wilhelm Sebastian and Willi Zimmer drove Rudolph Caracciola’s racing car on the unpaved banked ditch. After checking the ground clearance they discovered the quickest way around the corner was to use the drainage ditch. Sebastian informed Caracciola who used the information to win the grand prix. It wasn’t long before other drivers were using the drainage ditch and it was soon paved over to become the standard line through the corner.
In 1966 rising star Jacky Ickx entering his first Grand Prix at the Nürburgring driving a Matra MS5-Cosworth 1-litre F2 car, entered by Ken Tyrrell. qualified third on the grid, behind only two more powerful 1.5-litre F1 cars. As Ickx was racing in the separate F2 class, he started the race behind all of the F1 cars, but within four laps of the 28 km circuit he was up to fifth place, having overtaken twelve F1 cars.
Length: 5.911 km (3.673 miles)
Fastest Lap: N. Lauda (1975) – 1 min. 34.85 sec. 224.29 km/h (139.37 mph)
Set into an Austrian Styrian foothills in , the Osterreichring has gone down in F1 folklore as one of the sport’s most exciting circuits. Dramatic elevation changes and super-fast sweeping curves made it a real drivers’ circuit and the small run-off areas and ludicrously-narrow pit straight made it exceptionally dangerous. Most dangerous of all was the 180 degree Bosch-Kurve, where close barriers all the way around the outside loomed ominously to punish the slightest mistake. At the start of the lap drivers immediately faced a steep climb that led to Hella Licht, a blind right-hander over a brow taken at close to top speed. The cars then proceeded at full speed along the side of a hill towards a fast and banked right-hander at the Dr Tiroche-Kurve, where the track almost doubled back on itself, and they then crested the brow of a hill and reached the fastest part of the track before a downhill approach to the Bosch-Kurve.
Austrian Gerhard Berger once noted that at this point of the Österreichring track while on a qualifying lap in the heights of the sport’s turbo era with 1400 bhp behind him ‘you felt like you were sitting on a rocket’. The Bosch-Kurve was a long and plunging downhill right-hander, where a barrier and a grandstand awaited on the outside for those who got it wrong. Following this, now on the downhill leg of the track, there was the Texaco-Schikane, which was not actually a chicane in the modern sense. Then another brow, and another downhill plunge to the fast Rindt-Kurve, another banked 180 degree turn with little leeway for error. The Österreichring was popular with drivers as well as local spectators who would be joined by the tifosi from across the border in Italy.
As the grid formed up for the 1975 race, there were reports of rain at the far side of the track. Thunderclouds were forming ominously and the cars were returned to the pits to change to wet tyres. Austrian Niki Lauda led off from pole followed by James Hunt and Patrick Depailler who had shot up from the fourth row. Before the end of the first lap Vittorio Brambilla had shot through the spray to gain a magnificent third place, with Ronnie Peterson leaping from tenth to fourth.
By lap 15 Hunt had passed into the lead as Lauda began to fade but with an engine operating on only 8 cylinders he was soon being challenged by Brambilla’s March. Passing some backmarkers Brambilla seized the lead. With conditions only getting worse the race was called on lap 29. As Brambilla took the chequered flag, he crashed into the barriers but was able to extricate his damaged car! Brambilla, the oldest driver in the race at 37, had won his first and only Grand Prix.
Length: 25.80 km (16.03 miles)
Fastest Lap: A. Varzi (1935) – 10 min. 35 sec. 146.25 km/h (90.9 mph)
The longest and probably most dangerous circuit in Formula One history held just one championship grand prix in 1957. The layout consisted of two long straights joining the towns of Capelle, Monte Silvano and Pescara as well as a wild ride through the Abruzzo hills, a mile of which was on cliff-top roads with 500 foot drops to one side.
The circuit was used by manufactures in Italy to test their motor bicycles, motorcycles and cars. In 1924 the course hosted the first Coppa Acerbo automobile race named after Tito Acerbo, the brother of Giacomo Acerbo, a prominent fascist politician. Following Italy’s defeat in World War II, and the consequent demise of fascism, the race was renamed the Circuito di Pescara, and in some years was also referred to as the Gran Premio di Pescara. The first race was won by a then-unknown junior driver by the name of Enzo Ferrari driving and Alfa Romeo and from then on a victory in the Coppa Acerbo was considered a victory above all others and was dominated in the early years by home-grown cars and drivers, chief amongst these was Alfa Romeo which won seven of the first nine races. Alfa Romeo’s domination of the race came to an end with the introduction of the 750 kg Grand Prix regulations in 1934, a race that was also marked by tragedy when Guy Moll, one of the most promising young drivers of the day, was killed. Fagioli would take a somber victory for Mercedes. Germany’s Silver Arrow teams of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union would come to eclipse all their rivals for the next five years.
During the 1952-53 seasons when F2 cars were run in the World Championship the organizers of the Automobile Club of pescara decided to organize a sportscar race, the 12 Ore di Pescara which was won by Ferrari in both years. Finally on 18 August 1957 a Formula One motor race was held on the circuit which was won by Stirling Moss driving a Vanwall in front of 200,000 spectators. Ferrari had decided not to participate in protest to the Italian government’s proposal to ban road racing. Describing the circuit 40 years later in Richard Williams’ The Last Road Race, Moss said of Pescara:
“I thought it was fantastic. It was just like being a kid out for a burn-up. A wonderful feeling. What racing’s all about.”
Length: 7.83 km (4.86 miles)
Fastest Lap: H. Lang (1939) – 2 min. 32.9 sec. 182.46 km/h (113.38 mph
The Reims circuit was used for the first time in 1925 for the inaugural Grand Prix de la Marne organized by the Automobile Club of Champagne. Thirteen years later the Automobile Club of France used it for the French Grand Prix; it held F1 races between 1950 and 1966. Reims included a massive permanent grandstand as well as permanent pits that were unmatched in their day. The triangular course utilized the Route Nationale No 31 before reaching a very tight right-hander onto the finish line straight then downhill again to the village of Gueux. Right turn and uphill the cars would race towards Garenne.
Reims competed yearly for the honour of being the fastest road course in Europe, with its two long straights (approximately 2.2 km in length each) they allowed maximum straight-line speed, resulting in many famous slipstream battles. The first Formula 1race held on the circuit saw Juan Manuel Fangio put in a stunning display with a 116 mph practice lap. In 1953 the circuit was the scene of what is popularly known as the “Race of the Century” because of the sixty lap battle between Briton Mike Hawthorn and the Argentinean Fangio. Hawthorn won the duel after they reportedly swapped the lead at virtually every corner on the Reims circuit. In addition, after 500 km of racing, the four lead cars were less than 5 seconds apart.
On July 4, 1954 Germany reemerged as an international automobile racing power. Mercedes Benz rejoined Formula One motor racing after a fifteen year absence, sweeping the 1954 French Grand Prix in futuristic new streamlined Silver Arrows cars. As if they had never left the Mercedes of Fangio and Kling finished the French Grand Prix in nose-to-tail formation as per team orders, more than a lap ahead of the third-placed Ferrari.
No history of Reims would be complete without some mention of Toto Roche, the flamboyant local race official. Invariably it was Roche who held the starter’s flag and his technique was to give the start at any time after the 30 second board. This meant that the drivers had to keep their cars in gear for over half a minute. Racing cars are not designed to be held on the clutch with no air passing through the radiators for that length of time. Roche’s “piece of resistance” was to give the starting signal while standing in the middle of the road. It must have crossed the mind of more than one driver to start the race with a French hood ornament were it not the damage it would have caused their race.
Length: 6.542 km (4.065 mi)
Fastest Lap: J. Rindt (1968) – 1 min. 56.1 sec. 202.85 km/h (126.047 mph)
From its opening in 1950, Rouen-Les-Essarts was recognized as one of Europe’s finest circuits, with modern pits, a wide track, and spectator grandstands. The circuit (which originally ran on public roads) had a few medium straights, a cobbled hairpin turn (Nouveau Monde) at the southernmost tip, and a few blind corners through a wooded hillside The appeal was greatly enhanced by the downhill start to the climb from Nouveau Monde at 56 metres to Gresil at 149 metres. The circuit had a number of different configurations. From its construction in 1950 until 1954 it was 5.1 km (3.2 mi) in length. In 1955 major works increased the circuit’s length to 6.542 km (4.065 mi), its most famous configuration.
In 1952 World Championship promoters switched their races for the next two years to Formula 2 cars and the Ferrari of Alberto Ascari won the Grand Prix that year leading a Ferrari 1-2-3. Non-championship races were held for the next two years before the French Grand Prix returned in 1957. In 1964, American Dan Gurney won driving a Porsche 804, the only F1 victory ever claimed by the Porsche as a chassis builder. Gurney would repeat his victory two years later now driving a Brabham. Rouen hosted five Formula One French Grand Prix races, the last one in 1968 resulting in the tragic death of Jo Schlesser in a Honda, at the fast downhill Six Frères curve. Spectators claimed that they heard the engine cut out at the worst possible moment for the popular local French driver he car slid wide and crashed sideways into a bank.
Construction of a new Autoroute across the circuit saw a new section of track built and the length of the circuit reduced to 5.543 km (3.444 mi). Finally, in 1974 a permanent chicane was built at Six Frères and this part of the circuit was renamed Des Roches. The circuit continued to host major Formula 2 events until 1978, after which it was used for various French Championships. The circuit was closed down in 1994 due to economic and safety reasons, since it is very hard to organize a race on public roads if modern safety standards are to be met.
Circuit De La Sarthe
Length: 13.492 km (8.384 mi)
Fastest Lap: Hawthorne (1955) – 4 min. 6.6 sec. 196.963 km/h (122.387 mph)
Rivaling Indianapolis as the most famous racing circuit in the world, Le Mans can undoubtedly lay claim to the distinction of hosting the most famous race in the world. The 24 Heures Du Mans has been an annual institution since 1923, the only interruption coming in 1936 (due to the poor state of the economy) and from 1940 to 1948 (World War 2).
Racing had been held in the Le Mans area by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) since 1906, but the familiar layout we see today derives from a 10.71 mile course from Pontlieue to Mulsanne and Arnage, first used in 1921. The circuit rose to international prominence thanks to the 24 Hour race, the origins of which can be traced back to a letter received by Georges Durand, secretary of the ACO, on October 9, 1922. It was from Emille Coquille, director of the French subsidiary of Rudge Whitworth Wheels. Coquille offered 100,000 francs to help the ACO to organize a race – and set no stipulation as to the format.
Seizing on the offer, the ACO decided on an endurance test for production cars to help drive technology forward. The first race took place on May 25 and 26 1923 and was won by Lagache and Léonard in a Chenard-Walcker. Amazingly, 30 of the 33 starters made it to the finish.
In 1926 a fierce argument broke out between the ACO and some of the landowners on which some of the facilities were built. The ACO moved its main grandstand and paddock to a racecourse adjacent to the circuit but by the following year a financial agreement was reached and the circuit returned to normal. That year also saw the Pontlieue to Mulsanne section asphalted and car parks for some 3,000 vehicles constructed.
The first major alteration to the circuit layout was made in 1929, when a link road was inserted to bypass the section through the Pontlieue suburbs. The Rue du Circuit left the Pontlieue road 440 yards before the houses and joined the Route Nationale to Tours via two right-hand bends. However, by 1932 even this had been rendered unsuitable for the racing cars, with the section leading to it considered too narrow to be safe. As a result, the ACO purchased a strip of land from the pits to Tertre Rouge, constructing the Dunlop Curve and the famous Esses as a new link road.
World War 2 provided an unhappy interruption to proceedings, with the circuit taken over during the German occupation to serve the airstrip which ran alongside. It took until 1948 to revive the circuit and the race resumed the following year. While the roads had survived the war intact and in good condition, all of the circuit facilities had been razed and needed to be re-built. Five new covered grandstands were constructed, along with a new pit building and shops, with restaurants and bars soon also springing up.
Length: 4.711 km (2.944 mi)
Fastest Lap: R. Peterson (1973) – 1 min. 16.3 sec. 223.544 km/h (138.904 mph)
The end of Second World War had left Britain with no major race track but an abundance of airfields. One of these surplus airfields was located outside the village of Silverstone and being roughly in the middle of England was seen as an ideal location, to bring back international motor racing to Britain.
By 1948 The Royal Automobile Club arranged a 1 year lease with the Air Ministry in the spirit of optimism and possibility that characterized the times. An ex-farmer, James Wilson Brown, was employed by the RAC and given just two months to turn the site from a wartime airfield and farm into a race track for the first RAC International Grand Prix. On the 2nd October 1948, with hay bales and ropes protecting the piggery and the crops in the middle of the circuit, and canvas barriers stopping the drivers from being distracted by cars coming the other way, an estimated 100,000 people flocked to see Luigi Villoresi beat a field of twenty others in his Maserati. Silverstone racing history had started. Silverstone was also the site where in 1951 Froilan Gonzalez driving a Ferrari had won their first race and beaten the Alfa Romeos.
The Turbo Era year of 1985 saw cars approaching the 160mph mark during qualifying and on his very last lap Keke Rosberg decided to go for broke. Just as he had on his first flyer, Rosberg driving his 1000-bhp Williams-Honda approached his final lap with maximum attack, his car wriggling, sliding and spewing sparks as he wrung out every last drop of performance. He’d stop the clocks at 1m 5.591s for an average speed of 160.924mph. “It was probably one of the few occasions when I felt I had lost my self-control,” said Rosberg on reflection. “I should have stayed in the garage and said: ‘I’ve got pole, thank you very much.’ But sheer enjoyment overtook professionalism…” It would be another 17 years before the Finn’s monumental average speed record was surpassed, by Juan Pablo Montoya during qualifying at Monza in 2002.
A contemporary report from the 1973 British Grand Prix summed up the reason many grand prix fans were buying tickets for the races at that time:
“Watching Ronnie Peterson drift a Lotus 72 through Woodcote Corner was worth the price of admission alone.”
Length: 14.50 km (9.06 miles)
Fastest Lap: H. Lang (1937) – 5 min. 05 sec. 175.6 km/h (109.1 mph)
Early in 1920, a meeting at the Hotel des Bruyeres, between two people well-know in the car racing world at the time, Jules de Thier, manager of the newspaper ” La Meuse “, and Henri Langlois Van Ophem, Chairman of the Sports Commission at the Royal Automobile Club Belgium dreamt of a racing circuit taking taking the rough form of a triangle drawn by the roads connecting the villages of Malmedy, Stavelot and Francorchamps in the Ardennes woods south-east of Liège.
The first event to take place on the track was a race for motorcycles held in 1922. Two year later saw the 24 Hours of Francorchamps, only one year after Le Mans. In 1925 the first real big international race for single-seaters, the European Grand Prix, was run in 1925. Seven cars took part in this event which saw the victory of an Alfa Romeo driven by Antonio Ascari.
The circuit quickly gained a reputation for its broad sweeping curves with numerous overtaking areas which when you are driving a Mercedes W154 along the Masta straight at 310 km/h (193 mph) should not have been a problem! The most famous curve in all of racing, Eau Rouge still reigns supreme, in fact there used to be a hairpin just after the curve which was eliminated in 1939 allowing a tremendous run up the hill to Les Combs. Always treacherous because of the unpredictable weather, Spa was the scene of Richard Seaman’s fatal crash in 1937 while driving for the German Mercedes Benz team.Because of it’s length it was notorious for raining on one part of the track while another was in bright sunlight.
Jimmy Clark never liked Spa thinking it too dangerous, though he won the race four times in succession, something that was later duplicated by the Brazilian Ayrton Senna. The 1960 Belgian Grand Prix was Clark’s introduction to Spa and only his second ever Formula One race, at the extremely fast and dangerous circuit. Two drivers would lose their lives that day Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey who was Clark’s teammate. Clark was later quoted as saying in a 1964 interview: “I was driving scared stiff pretty much all through the race”, even though he finished 5th and scored his first points finish.
The famous British motorsport journalist Denis Jenkinson rated Spa above all else, in fact he would just as rather declare the winner of Spa as that year’s World Champion. Seeing Stewart on the course flashing past someone remarked that next time through he’d better take the Masta Kink at full speed, where upon hearing this Jenks noted that at least now he had the entire lap to think about it.
Stewart had suffered his own serious accident at Spa back in 1966 when he ran off the track while driving 165 mph in heavy rain. Stewart proceeded to crash into a telephone pole and a shed before driving into a farmer’s outbuilding. A ruptured fuel tank filled the cockpit with fuel, and could have ignited at the tiniest spark with Stewart trapped inside. He was extracted from what could easily have been a fatal crash, having suffered shoulder and rib injuries. Stewart, as was commonplace at the time had been driving without a seatbelt when he crashed. Stewart emerged from the experience a lifelong champion of safety reform and never again drove without a seatbelt, full-faced helmet, and fireproof racing suit.