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Ten forgotten Formula 1 circuits

Submitted by on April 23, 2014

Fittipaldi at Brands Hatch in 1972Ten former Grand Prix circuits that thrilled, tested and, on occasion, terrified those who tried to tame them.

As the 2014 Formula 1 returns from doing its thing around the vast, soulless, super-safe Shanghai circuit in last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, it seemed appropriate to pick out 10 tracks that were the antithesis of the modern, multi-million-pound autodrome.

Start of the 1986 British GP1. Brands Hatch, Great Britain
GPs held: 14
First race: 1964
Last race: 1986

Fast, narrow and undulating with a blend of spectator-friendly bowl and wooded blasts, Brands Hatch was adored by F1 racers and F1 racegoers for 20 years before the sport outgrew the Kent venue in the mid-80s. Watch any of the single-car qualifying laps from the circuit’s final F1 hurrah in 1986 and you’ll see why.

Amon at the 1972 French GP2. Clermont-Ferrand, France
GPs held: 4
First race: 1965
Last race: 1972

This terrifying, five-mile rollercoaster snaked its way around the side of a dormant volcano in the Auvergne mountains and featured almost no run-off. The stony circuit edges caused injuries to drivers – Helmut Marko lost the sight in one eye after a stone pierced his visor in the final GP – and were responsible for numerous punctures. Not for the faint of heart.

Long Beach 1983 GP start3. Long Beach, United States
GPs held: 8
First race: 1976
Last race: 1983

The Californian street circuit became the template for American city-centre venues and its 40-year unbroken run hosting Formula 5000, F1 and IndyCar races since 1975 has proved its credentials and longevity. The fast and wide track, which included a plunging downhill right-left section and a flat-out seafront blast into a tight hairpin, hosted eight GPs, each of them producing a different winner.

1968 Canadian GP4. Mont-Tremblant, Canada
GPs held: 2
First race: 1968
Last race: 1970

The Quebec venue, known also as St Jovite, only hosted two world championship GPs but it left an indelible mark on the drivers who experienced its 2.6-mile switchback layout. Mention of ‘The Hump’ strikes fear into those caught out by the blind crest along the return straight of the South Loop. Trembling Mountain, anyone?

Rindt at 1969 Spainish GP5. Montjuic Park, Spain
GPs held: 4
First race: 1969
Last race: 1975

Perched high up in wooded parkland above Barcelona, this incredible street circuit consisted of a super-fast section and a twisty, technical section – both with kerbs, buildings and park benches for decoration. The infamous final GP, in which Rolf Stommelen’s Embassy Hill vaulted the poorly fitted barriers and killed spectators, proved that F1 had outstayed its welcome.

Jim Clark 1964 German GP 6. Nurburgring Nordschleife, Germany
GPs held: 22
First race: 1951
Last race: 1976

The most famous of the world’s outlandish and outlawed F1 circuits, the Nordschleife’s reputation is well-deserved. Steep climbs, sudden drop-offs, banked curves, blind summits and long straights combined to create a lethal concoction in the Eifel Mountains. And when Niki Lauda cheated death in 1976, enough was enough for a place that appeared to come straight from the devil’s own circuit-design team.

Start of the 1978 Austrian GP7. Osterreichring, Austria
GPs held: 18
First race: 1970
Last race: 1987

Hugely fast, with long, neck-snapping corners, including the downhill plunge of the Jochen Rindt Kurve, the original Osterreichring was a mid-80s, titanium-skid-plated turbocar mecca. Nelson Piquet’s pole lap for Williams in 1987, the circuit’s final hurrah, was set at almost 160mph, which tells you everything you need to know.

Fangio 1957 French GP8. Rouen, France
GPs held: 5
First race: 1952
Last race: 1968

Laid out over four miles of public roads in the Grand-Couronne, Rouen-Les-Essarts was rated by many as the finest French circuit. And its plunging downhill right-left-right sweep after the pits into the iconic Virage du Nouveau Monde paved hairpin, followed by a wooded uphill test of horsepower, was the reason for that. Frenchman Jo Schlesser lost his life in the final grand prix in 1968 after he crashed his Honda RA302.

Piquet and DeAngelis at the 1979 USA GP9. Watkins Glen, United States
GPs held: 20
First race: 1961
Last race: 1980

The beautiful autumnal colours of the wooded upstate New York venue greeted the F1 circus each October for what felt like an end-of-term event. The layout, lengthened for 1971, included the challenging blind Esses that claimed the life of Francois Cevert in 1973, the Loop and The Boot. The Glen’s popularity was surely measured by the disappointment that the US GP moved to a Las Vegas hotel car park for 1981.

Start of the 1980 Dutch GP10. Zandvoort, Holland
GPs held: 30
First race: 1952
Last race: 1985

The most-capped of our 10 favourite lost venues, Zandvoort snaked majestically through the Dutch seaside dunes, offering a fast, flowing challenge. Highlights of its 30 races included maiden wins for BRM (1959), the Cosworth DFV (1967) and James Hunt and Hesketh (1975), but the track will always be associated with the deaths of Piers Courage in 1970 and Roger Williamson in ’73.

Hill in Portugal 1995Honourable mentions

These 10 didn’t quite make the final cut, but deserve a mention. Let us know if you disagree with our selection or if we’ve forgotten any.

Adelaide, Australia (11; 1985-1995)
Anderstorp, Sweden (6; 1973-1978)
Bremgarten, Switzerland (5; 1950-1954)
Dijon, France (6; 1974-1984)
Donington, Great Britain (1; 1993)
Estoril, Portugal (13; 1984-1996)
Imola, San Marino (27; 1980-2006)
Kyalami, South Africa (18; 1967-1985)
Mosport, Canada (8; 1967-1977)
Zolder, Belgium (10; 1973-1984)

Photos available through The Cahier Archive

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