istanbul pit straight

Photo Courtesy of Ph-Stop

There will be more races added to the calendar over the next few years, not just Sochi in Russia and New Jersey in the US but the likes of Thailand, Greece, Argentina and Mexico are planning circuits, there’s also existing circuits looking to get races back though.

A few years ago there were few if any circuits of the right standard to host formula one, which weren’t already hosting it: that standard including not just the track and its safety standards but facilities for spectators, guests and press and infrastructure including most importantly transport links.

Magny Cours left the calendar partly due to poor road links, since improved, the transport links for Paul Ricard have been questioned regarding their suitability recently by the French Government. Other circuits that are closer to F1 standards though but currently don’t host F1 include Jerez, still used for testing but a little dated, Estoril a little dated now and the circuit fell out with F1 with a last minute cancellation in 1997.

Then there’s Portimao, a testing circuit without enough facilities for a major race, the same is true for Valencia (Circuit_Ricardo_Tormo), the permanent circuit rather than the street circuit. There’s Imola which would need some safety improvements to host F1, which may not be practical without redesigning the layout. There’s also the Red Bull Ring, previously the A1 ring and before that, the site at least, of the Österreichring, no races have been held here since 2003 but Dietrich Materschitz has bought it up to standard.

The Red Bull Ring could host races right now and so could Istanbul Park, off the calendar for no reason but lack of spectators and

Turnouts for testing aren't bad: pre-season 2011, photo by Gil Abrantes

Pre-season testing 2011, photo by Gil Abrantes

therefore lack of money to compete with better offers Bernie Ecclestone is getting from elsewhere. Magny Cours as mentioned could host F1 now too and may even get a chance in 2013 to fill in for the postponed inaugural American Grand Prix in New Jersey.

Probably the only other current track that could potentially host F1 in the world right now is Indianapolis and we can discount that for at least the rest of Bernie’s lifetime.

What future for these circuits that have the overheads of maintaining an F1 standard circuit but no F1? There will however be more in the near future, especially in Europe where Bernie wants to slash the calendar down to only a handful of European races, with numbers as low as four mentioned.

The Nurburgring could be gone from the calendar very soon as the circuit is in financial trouble and may be unable to maintain a contract going forwards even if it finds a buyer and even on the current basis on which it shares the German Grand Prix with Hockenheim alternating each year. Hockenheim may struggle to finance a race every year, Barcelona and Valencia’s Street Circuit will alternate but neither circuit is completely safe.

Spa Franchorchamps’s medium term future is safe with a new contract signed this year (2012) and Silverstone has a long contact, Monaco isn’t going anywhere and the same can probably be said for Monza. The Hungaroring’s owners should feel a little nervous then, especially with a race in Russia at the Black Sea port of Sochi, ensuring a race in Eastern Europe.

For those who dream of the return of classic tracks like already mentioned Imola as well as Brands Hatch or Zandvoort there seems to be no room for this sadly and Tilke’s grip on designing circuits doesn’t seem to be set to end, with the exception of the new Piraeus Street Circuit on the edge of Athens. Speaking of Greece in fact they may not only be planning this circuit but a F1 standard circuit at Patras is also tabled, though if this does become a reality testing is the only way it is likely to see F1 action.

Ok so that’s the situation now with over supply of F1 circuits so what can be done with them? Well maybe we will see the rise of the super sub circuit?

A few times in the past races have been cancelled and then moved elsewhere, often last miunute: teams, drivers and FOM prefer to keep a round in place and ideally on the same day and time to fit in with pre-planned TV schedules; not to mention ensuring the championship isn’t cut short when a race could be crucial for the championship. In the past though there weren’t any circuits ready to fill in these gaps. If Bahrain had been cancelled this year there was talk of the race going to Turkey the year before Magny Cours was the only circuit mentioned as a replacement and this never looked likely.

Estoril being replaced for the last round by Jerez in 1997 was the last time a swap actually took place, the last minute cancellation of the last round really wouldn’t have been an option with the championship so finally poised.
In future though circuits could keep themselves ready to cash in on other circuits not being able to host a race, and financial problems aren’t uncommon for circuit owners nor are problems completing work on time.

A circuit able to quickly get ready for a race could cash in with reduced fees, if any, and get fans in as a result by not needing to charge as much, though some tracks would have less trouble anyhow with the Hungaroring for example always well attended and with a big market in Scandinavia and central and Eastern Europe who would jump at the chance to go to a race without having to travel as far.

The Sochi Park circuit is due to have its track put down after the Winter Olympics on the same site at the beginning of 2014, there should be time but this could be one opportunity for a super-sub circuit and more immediately Bernie Ecclestone would like to add in a race to replace the cancelled New Jersey race and has said he would be happy to do a deal for a French Grand Prix at Magny Cours or Paul Ricard, which he happens to own.