I have been a motorsport fan for years and over time have been fortunate enough to visit some of the greatest racetracks in the world. Here’re five of my favorite F1 circuits:
Monza is a track close to the heart of any racing fan out there. Simply standing near the home straight doused in the engine roar takes one on a nostalgia trip, powered partly by the track’s long and varied history and partly by the passion of the Tifosi at their home race, the Italian Grand Prix. The circuit’s high demand for efficiency and speed (80% of the race is run on full throttle) serves as a litmus test for the cars, with 2/3rds of the winners at Monza going on to win the constructor’s title. The old banked curves, even though not parts of the track anymore, are still well maintained and visited by devoted fans. The fastest track of the calendar has seen every legend score a win (from Ascari-Fangio to Schumacher-Vettel) and has also been the unfortunate last race of champions like Rindt and Peterson. Rich with history and lush with trees, Monza provides a beautiful setting for some incredible on-track action. Frentzen’s epic crash after taking the curva grande at full speed in 2001 and Hamilton’s last lap lunge on Raikkonen after the parabolica in 2007 have become parts of F1 folklore.
(Pro tip – If you get to sit in the grandstand, try to score a seat about 200m down from the S/F line. As the race starts – thanks to the wind – you can smell the cars as they begin Lap 1)
Spa-Francorchamps is another classic F1 circuit from the pre-Tilke era. Spa-Francorchamps (located neither in Spa or Francorchamps, but in Stavelot), replete with action packed corners and unpredictable weather, is situated in the breathtaking Belgian countryside, which births the old F1 adage – “it’s impossible to click a bad photograph at Spa”. Eau Rouge is quite possibly the most famous stretch in motorsport, with cars bottoming out at 200mph over the curve making hearts skip a beat in drivers and audience alike during the Belgian Grand Prix. Probably F1’s most famous overtake – Hakkinen’s slingshot over Schumacher around Zonta – took place immediately after Eau Rouge. Eau rouge aside, Spa is a track where every corner is iconic. The weather only adds to its character, where one can see the cars splashing puddles at La Source and then negotiating Rivage under the dry hot sun in the same lap. The colorful history and character of this circuit makes it a contender for the top spot on every racing fans to-do list.
Suzuka is a track that can be described like one would describe Japan and its culture – unique. The only figure-of-8 track in the F1 calendar, Suzuka crosses over itself near the 130R corner, making it the only circuit to run both clockwise and anti-clockwise. Suzuka has historically been the last race of the calendar, causing it to be the title decider for about half of the championships in the last 30 years. Technically demanding on the cars and physically draining for the drivers, it has witnessed a variety of historic incidents. The Senna-Prost battles of 1988 and 1989, the Senna–Irvine fistfight of 1991; Schumacher earning the “Rainmaster” nickname in 1994, Alonso ending Schumacher’s reign in 2005, all stuff of legends came about at Suzuka. Reachable by a short bullet train ride from Osaka, Suzuka can require one to carry an umbrella, a sunshade and a sweater all for the same day. It is popular among the drivers because of the challenge that it throws at them, but has also witnessed the death of Jules Bianchi, F1’s first death in 23 years. A visit to the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka promises you a unique experience and unparalleled racing action and drama in the vast paddy fields of South Japan.
Singapore is a newbie on the Formula 1 calendar, but is a glitzy and glamorous addition to the F1 fans’ bucket list. It took F1 to a new realm when it hosted the first night race on the streets of Singapore near Marina Bay in 2008. Watching the floodlit race with a backdrop of skyscrapers where cars race around well-manicured tight corners and unforgiving walls is an extraordinary experience. The overtaking opportunities are limited only to the two long straights that have thus seen few nail-biting fights. Although the race is not as intense and dramatic as many others on the calendar, Singapore has seen its fair share of controversies with Piquet Jr’s deliberate crash and Felipe Massa’s flame engulfed car which eventually led to a ban on refueling in pit stops. A visit to the Marina bay Street circuit is warranted by the spectacle that the Singapore Grand Prix offers.
No fan’s list of watching a Formula One Grand Prix live is complete without an obligatory visit to the nerve center of F1 tracks – Monaco. While speed and technology has far overtaken the racing opportunity that Monaco provides, the race – anachronistically – maintains its spot on the calendar every year. The imposing stature and prestige that the Monaco Grand Prix carries makes it one of the all-time great F1 circuits. The Circuit almost never provides an action packed race and qualifying is still king. Whatever little strategic overtaking happens, takes place in the pit lane. But one can still tirelessly watch the cars swerve through the wavy diamond-studded streets of Monte Carlo for 78 laps, maintaining skillful precision in the tight corners trying to avoid kissing the walls or other cars. The right bending flat out curve under the Loews hotel is a classic F1 corner and taking a walk on the sidewalk through it gives one a feeling like no other. The tight and twisty circuit requires 54 gear changes per lap and cars are at full throttle for a measly 40 % of the time. But even with its restrictions, the Monaco grand prix remains a special race, and almost every fan considers it the (triple!) crown jewel of the F1 calendar.