F1 Feature - Thailand, Portugal, France... where could F1 race?
6 February 2016
Several news and existing venues hold an FIA Grade 1 licence to hold an F1 event... Crash.net takes a look at some interesting options.
Last month saw the roar (well, the sound) of F1 engines firing up on French soil for the first time for a few years as Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren do their bit to assist Pirelli and its two-day wet weather tyre test around the Paul Ricard Circuit in the south of France.
While the choice of Paul Ricard is more down to facilities that allow a regulated dousing of the circuit for its intended purposes, rather than for nostalgic reasons, it is one of only a few venues (other than those on the calendar) that is allowed to accept an F1 car with only comparatively little prior notice.
As it stands, only FIA Grade 1 accredited circuits can host a Formula 1 event and though the most up to date list is filled with either current venues or tracks that have hosted races relatively recently, there are a handful that could – in theory – be prepared to pitch if they so wished.
Chang International Circuit
The newest addition to the Grade 1 listing, the Chang International Circuit's classification paves the way for Formula 1 to forge into another potentially lucrative Asian market. Inaugurated in 2014, the venue has already welcomed almost 90,000 people for its first World Superbike round, while its first international event – a Super GT race – drew a mammoth 130,000 people.
In many ways, a race in Thailand is a no brainer for F1. A vast Asian market brimming with potential sponsors, the support base for motorsport is already well established and it would likely help bolster the sport's foothold in Asia.
Downsides include a less-than-ideal location in the lesser travelled Buriram region – making it another plane journey from Bangkok -, while the fast, flowing layout has been designed more with MotoGP in mind. Then again, with a 50,000 capacity grandstand that has been specially built to overlook the entire circuit, it could well prove one of the more fan-friendly additions to the calendar…
Though Imola has been earmarked as the most likely candidate to step in as Italian Grand Prix host if Monza slips off the schedule, the Mugello circuit could also potentially bid. Better known for its role in hosting the Italian MotoGP, F1 mileage around the undulating venue has been largely limited to Ferrari tests over the years.
Indeed, despite its Grade 1 listing, Mugello has made no hint of a desire to pitch for an F1 race, which is perhaps just as well since the drawbacks of it hosting an event will be familiar to MotoGP fans. Located 40km north of Florence, Mugello is notoriously tricky to get to and though bike fans will always make the effort to catch a glimpse of their hero Valentino Rossi, the Tifosi will likely prefer the draw of Monza or Imola by comparison.
That said, with its undulations, sweeping turns and huge home straight, the drivers themselves are unlikely to be too put off by the idea of Mugello being included.
Paul Ricard has of course previously held F1 races, but you have to go back to 1990 for the last time the lights went on one. Arguably the biggest omission from the F1 calendar, talk of France getting back onto the schedule hasn't progressed beyond the speculation stage, despite it having two venues ready to go if Ecclestone was willing to relent on the fees or someone in France was prepared to stump up the cash.
Though not exactly renowned for thrillers, the challenge of Magny-Cours is still missed by the few remaining drivers who got a chance to sample it, but Paul Ricard presents a more unusual proposition for all the right reasons.
Superb facilities and a layout that offers multiple configurations makes it a favourite amongst those with something to test and, while those who have visited vouch for the stunning surroundings. It also has the unusual – but no doubt richly appreciated – deterring run-off areas that can harm tyres.
It even has a fan in Bernie Ecclestone and owners have signalled a desire to pitch for a spot on the calendar, but – as ever – fees remain the sticking point, with Ecclestone not willing budge on his price and the French government unwilling to pander to them.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Perhaps surprisingly, given the effort that went into getting Abu Dhabi on the calendar, there had never been much talk about taking F1 to Dubai given its 'Autodrome' was inaugurated in 2004. With a full Grade 1 license, vast facility and excellent nearby facilities, Dubai seemed a natural fit for F1, but to date its high-profile motorsport events have been limited to A1GP, GP2 Asia and the FIA GT Championship.
Of course, the Yas Marina Circuit around 45mins up the road sates the UAE appetite for F1 action, leaving the Dubai Autodrome to mere local events and the all-comers Dubai 24 Hours sportscar race…
Located 100km from Russia's capital city, the questionably dubbed Moscow Raceway had the honour of bringing international motorsport to the world's largest country before the Sochi Autodrom stole the limelight as the host for its maiden F1 race in 2014.
With Formula Renault 3.5 inaugurating the venue in 2012, World Superbikes and WTCC went on to visit too, but the venue has slipped off all three calendars now. As of writing, it features on no major motorsport schedule, though owners Yakhnich Motorsport (whose team won the 2013 World Supersport Championship) unexpectedly re-emerged this month as a title partner of the Pramac Ducati MotoGP team, suggesting Dorna is at least considering the prospect of a new two-wheel Russian endeavour.
In its favour, the Moscow Raceway's layout won quite a few fans with its blend of challenging corners, sweeping crests and a massive back straight, but – despite its grading – it is perhaps too tight for F1 and the facilities pale into comparison to that of the better positioned Sochi Autodrom.
Losail International Circuit
Qatar has made no secret of its desire to get on the F1 calendar, but while Bernie Ecclestone has also made positive noises about it happening, vetoes from Bahrain appear to stand in its way – at least for the time being. Should Qatar indeed land a spot on the schedule, the preference is for a street circuit to show off the oil-rich nation's soaring skyscrapers and intricately forged reclaimed land in the background, but its existing Losail International Circuit could also provide a short-term solution.
Equipped to host a night-race – as it does in MotoGP -, the pancake-flat layout hasn't exactly won many fans and, save for the long home straight, the winding layout is unlikely to inspire much racing action. However, after some years focused on bike competition, Losail hosted the World Touring Car Championship for the first time in 2015, at least placing it on the FIA's radar.
And the rest…
Mexico and Austria have shown in recent years that a multi-million nip and tuck can be enough to swoon Bernie Ecclestone in the pursuit of a return to F1. Should they feel obliged to do so, the following venues have at least completed a fraction of the hard work by assuring their Grade 1 listing…
Not seen on the F1 calendar since 1996, Estoril tickles the nostalgia bone for Portuguese F1 fans, but the newer and revered Portimao circuit (Grade 2 listed) near Faro is probably considered the more enticing option if the country happened to decide on a return. With Portugal's wobbly economy, neither is likely to appear on the calendar soon, but Estoril (or Portimao) as a winter testing venue seems an attractive compromise.
In a way, the Fuji Speedway never got a chance to really establish itself on the calendar. A stunning location for an F1 race, though Mt Fuji provided an incredible backdrop, it contributed to some wild weather patterns (even for Japan), creating plenty of headaches on the two most recent occasions it hosted in 2007 and 2008. However, the biggest drawback for Fuji ever returning (beyond the somewhat critical fact owner Toyota doesn't race in F1 anymore) is it would replace the much-loved, Honda-owned Suzuka Circuit. Given the protestations of drivers, teams and fans last time it nabbed the Japanese Grand Prix – not to mention Honda's return to F1 – we won't be seeing Fuji on the calendar any time soon.
Of all the former venues on this list, Imola is arguably the most-missed. Though the venue will forever be etched in F1's history for the most tragic of reasons, its heritage – both positive and negative – still gets all passionate F1 fans misty-eyed. Ironically, the modifications that came in the wake of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna's death were, many felt, responsible for some dull racing thereafter as the comparatively slender layout had its overtaking opportunities neutered. It is hoped modern-day DRS-equipped F1 would resolve that, but the layout remains little changed.
Istanbul Park, Turkey
Like Imola, the loss of Istanbul Park is still mourned by drivers, who largely regard it as the one Hermann Tilke-designed circuit they really enjoy. Perhaps a little ahead of its time, Istanbul Park was an expensive new venue in a developing nation without any motorsport heritage at a time when belts were being tightened globally. Poor spectator numbers – starkly highlighted by the frankly absurd 155,000 capacity capability – accelerated its disappearance off the calendar, but with Turkey recently putting a huge effort into its tourism and global exposure (getting Lionel Messi to front your Turkish Airlines campaign doesn't come cheap), perhaps this perceived 'white elephant' will trumpet again.
Korea International Circuit, Korea
Speaking of white elephants, the Korean International Circuit will surely rank as one of F1's most expensive missteps… for Korea anyway, since it is still paying some fees to see out a contract of a race it isn't hosting. If the race was near to the vast capital city Seoul – or at least a sizeable hub -, it might have stood a chance, but instead Mokpo was the location of choice. A strangely dystopian place for a race, Koreans – in another country with no racing heritage – voted with their feet and the race lasted just two years. The circuit is still used, but there is seemingly no desire for the venue to do any more than host the odd local event.
Indianapolis, United States
If F1 has always been a hard sell to Americans wherever it goes, F1 fans themselves would struggle to be convinced by a return to Indianapolis. Of course that shambolic 2005 race is going to be hard to forget, but even without that, F1 being put in direct comparison with IndyCar and NASCAR the Brickyard was always a risky move, while the drivers despised the 'micky mouse' infield, simply going through the motions before tackling admittedly fun novelty of a steeply banked final curve. Interestingly, it was always one of the best attended events on the calendar, but even if COTA (begrudgingly) falls of the schedule, F1 won't be going back (not that many would want to)
Rather candidly referred to as 'Magny-Bore' by some, Magny-Cours isn't remembered terribly fondly by fans, its nondescript central France location and a layout that didn't inspire marvellous racing, even if drivers enjoyed its challenge in isolation. Still, France is perhaps F1's most obvious absentee and many would no doubt accept Magny-Cours back if it meant the 'tricolore' was on the schedule again (even if everyone is privately hoping for a street circuit in Paris…)
Buddh International Circuit, India
India's brief foray into F1 was much heralded, albeit shortlived. The Buddh International Circuit had a thumbs up and the rise of Force India – not the mention the passionate support that remains across one of the most populated nations – means a spot on the calendar is arguably more logical than most. Unfortunately, politics is responsible for India's absence, with local governments seemingly more stubborn than Ecclestone, who – in fairness – probably has this at the top of his list if he could choose one to reinstate.
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