Five tracks that should be on F1’s shortlist to replace China

Oliver Harden

Formula 1’s cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix has left a vacancy to be filled on the sport’s 24-race calendar for 2023.

If we are to assume the urge to add a fourth race in the United States can be resisted, the extra spot is likely to be contested by some of the most-loved circuits from F1’s recent history… and poor Paul Ricard, too.

Here, we pick out five tracks that could take Shanghai’s place…

Portimao

Of all the circuits to reappear on F1’s radar during its two pandemic-interrupted seasons, Portimao was arguably most suited to a permanent place on the calendar.

With great facilities, modern safety standards and a challenging track with stunning elevation, it ticked almost every box as a stylish and modern grand prix venue.

And it produced quite exciting racing too, with a compelling race in cool conditions in October 2020 – in which Kimi Raikkonen memorably gained 10 places in the first two laps – followed by a fun battle between Mercedes and Red Bull the following April in a race eventually dominated by Lewis Hamilton.

At the time of writing, the Algarve track is widely regarded as the leading candidate to take Shanghai’s spot with the promoter of the Portuguese Grand Prix said to have the funding required to stage the event.

Istanbul

If Portimao was the stand-in circuit most deserving of a regular spot on the calendar, Istanbul was not far behind.

Indeed, there are many who will feel it should never have been dropped at the end of 2011 with the circuit’s outstanding features – most notably the quadruple-apex Turn 8 – making up for its lack of spectators.

If F1 delivered upon its return to Turkey – the scene of one of F1’s most iconic moments in 2020 as Hamilton clinched his record-equalling seventh title – the only regret was that both weekends were affected by rain, denying fans the pleasure of observing the previous-generation cars at their best through all those wonderful corners.

Those cars may be ancient history now but the sight of Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc – even Lance Stroll, the shock polesitter here in 2020 – attacking this track would one to relish regardless of the machinery.

Sepang

Almost a quarter of a century after it hosted the inaugural Malaysian Grand Prix, has any addition to the calendar in the years since matched the splendour of Sepang? Hermann Tilke’s first F1 circuit still stands as his very best.

In some ways Sepang was Asia’s answer to Spa-Francorchamps, with a challenging and undulating layout acting as a test of both driver skill and car competency and the threat of rain never far away.

A mid-race storm famously brought an early end to the 2009 race and produced another thriller in 2012, when it was difficult to ascertain whether the greatest shock of all was Fernando Alonso winning in an uncompetitive Ferrari or Sergio Perez almost doing the same for Sauber.

A year later, Sepang was the scene of the Multi-21 saga as Sebastian Vettel ignored Red Bull’s orders to pass team-mate Mark Webber for the win.

When it dropped off the calendar after the 2017 event, it was said that the success of neighbouring Singapore’s night race had cramped Sepang’s style and led to dwindling interest – which made it all the more bizarre that the final two Malaysian GPs were placed next to Singapore on the calendar.

Could a return to its classic early-season slot in 2023, combined with F1’s worldwide surge in popularity, give Malaysia the leg up it needs for a full-time return?

One can only hope.

Kyalami

If the sport’s global expansion had continued as planned, F1’s return to South Africa would already be confirmed for 2023.

A return to Kyalami as a replacement for Spa had been mooted for much of this year, only for the Belgian GP to receive what many interpreted as a stay of execution when a one-year extension was announced in August.

But could the dropping of China open an alternative route for Kyalami and produce a people-pleasing scenario in which F1 travels to both Spa and South Africa in the same season instead of pitting one against the other?

Perhaps not.

At the time the 2023 talks collapsed, it was reported that a South African round was lacking sufficient government support with Kyalami also requiring a range of updates – worth up to $15million – to elevate it to FIA Grade 1 standard.

It appears there are quite a lot of hurdles to be jumped in quite a limited amount of time, so while F1’s return to South Africa seems inevitable, April 2023 is likely to come slightly too soon.

Paul Ricard

Given the choice between a Paul Ricard reprieve and a four-week break from racing between Australia and Baku next April, a surprising number of F1 fans may opt for the latter.

That’s how poor an impression the French GP made on the masses following its return to the calendar in 2018, with Ricard dismissed by many as a test track with ideas way above its station.

Viewed objectively, it was an interesting circuit – with celebrated signature corners such as Signes and Le Beausset – with an unfortunate habit of producing painfully boring racing.

That would have been more forgivable had it not been the most sophisticated test circuit in the world with the opportunity existing to try countless alternative layouts.

Yet desperate times call for desperate measures and with a full-time place on the calendar until 2022, France would be well placed to organise a grand prix at relatively short notice.

So, an instant return to Le Castellet, anyone?

Well, maybe, but on one condition: the race must be held on Ricard’s equivalent to the Bahrain Outer track.

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