The Pit Stop: F1's cookie cutter calendar


There are few sports which take in quite so many diverse and exotic locations in a nine-month season as the FIA Formula One World Championship.

Already this year the paddock-dwellers have stamps for Australia and Malaysia in their passports. By the end of the season they’ll have racked up thousands of air miles, criss-crossing the globe, taking in China, India, the USA and more.

What a pity, then, that when they turn up at the latest additions to the F1 calendar, the teams are greeted by increasingly similar ‘cookie-cutter’ circuits.

The F1 calendar has never been as homogenous as it is today. Pick a track at random and odds are it’ll be slightly over five kilometres (3.1 miles) long, have 15-18 turns and allow cars to hit a top speed of 320kph (199mph).

There are a few exceptions to the rule, and these are among the fans' favourite venues on the calendar.

Majestic Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium is over seven kilometres long and boasts several of the fastest and most challenging corners on the calendar. Many British fans forego a trip to Silverstone to make a pilgrimage to the Ardennes.

Interlagos in Brazil is short (a lap takes around 71s, well below average) which helps keep the field bunched up and tends to produce excellent racing.

Monza’s long straights and few corners allow F1 cars to hit their highest top speeds of the year – 350kph (217.5mph) – a good 20kph faster than anywhere else. 

Then there is Monte-Carlo in Monaco. A glorious anachronism: short, tight, slow and utterly unlike anything else. It may not always produce great races, but as a spectacle it cannot be faulted, as drivers thread their cars through its narrow confines and unforgiving walls.

What these circuits – and other great venues like Silverstone and Suzuka – have in common is that they’ve been around a long time. It’s not just a case of rose-tinted spectacles to say that modern venues are insipid and uninspiring by comparison.

Take Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi. Built on a man-made island at a reputed cost of £800 million, the track is mainly comprised of slow corners and chicanes. Corporate guests may coo over the illuminated hotel which spans one part of the track, but the dreary layout has been pilloried by fans.

Some of the more outspoken drivers have voiced their opinions about the new circuits. Kimi Raikkonen spoke for many when he said that, of Yas Marina’s 21 corners, only two were worth keeping.

Mark Webber described another new venue, Valencia's street circuit, as being "like a Tesco car park". Its layout closely resembles Abu Dhabi's, only with more walls and without the fancy hotel.

Much of the blame for the dreary design of modern tracks has been laid at the feet of architect Hermann Tilke, whose company enjoys near-monopoly status on designing new tracks.

However, it’s also true that strict limits on the design of new circuits are laid down by the sport’s governing body.

It is for this reason we’re unlikely to see a new Spa or Monza ever appear on the F1 calendar. And that's why preserving the historic tracks which are still on the calendar should be a priority for the sport.

As F1 expands outside Europe, these tracks are increasingly at risk. From next year the Spa race looks set to take place in alternate seasons only, a development which cannot fail to disappoint every fan of the sport. 

Chinese Grand Prix early betting

Raikkonen is currently priced at 20.0 to win the Chinese Grand Prix which is definitely worth a look. The Lotus is clearly a quick car, but problems in qualifying in the first two rounds kept it from achieving its potential.

Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic