Spa-Francorchamps’ spot on the Formula 1 calendar is once again under threat, Stefano Domenicali saying “24 is the right number” and he wants the sport to have an African Grand Prix.
That, depending on what report you’re reading, could be bad news for the Belgian Grand Prix which only signed a one-year extension for 2023.
Vanessa Maes, head of the organisation in Francorchamps, recently said she’s confident a new contract, saying she is “much more optimistic than a year ago”, but according to De Telegraaf the Spa-Francorchamps race is first on Domenicali’s chopping block.
The F1 chief has made it clear “24 is the right number” but says the sport’s bosses have made “no secret we are still seeing if there is a chance to go to Africa – it’s the only continent missing”.
And if Africa, South Africa’s Kyalami Circuit to be precise, finds a spot that means one of the existing venues will have to be dropped as China will return next season. That’s 25 venues for 24 spots.
Spa, though, should not be the circuit dropped. In fact none of the following on our list should ever be on the chopping block, F1 best served by giving them life-long immunity.
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
The Belgian Grand Prix has been held at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit solely since 1985, and it’s clear to see why.
Although the 14.1 km track has been reduced to a 7km circuit and many of the corners revamped to make them safer, there’s still a thing of beauty in racing around the Spa circuit.
From La Source to Eae Rouge, Les Combes to Speakers Corner, Stavelot to Blanchimont, the circuit runs through the Ardennes offering a forest background unseen at any other F1 circuit. Yes the track has been sanitised in recent years, understandably, but it’s still much-loved by drivers and fans.
And yet, somehow, Spa’s place on the calendar has been under threat for several years because of finances and aged infrastructure.
At a time when F1’s Middle Eastern venues are paying an estimated $55m to host a race, the Belgian track and government cannot afford that. But surely the circuit, once billed as Michael Schumacher’s living room, brings more to the sport than just money?
One would think that with seven of the 10 Formula 1 teams calling England home, Silverstone would be a guaranteed spot on the calendar. And yet, like Spa, unfathomably it is not.
Silverstone, run by the British Racing Drivers’ Club, has invested heavily in the circuit in the past decade, upgrading the ‘Silverstone Wing’, which houses the pit garages, the podium, and the media centre and also resurfacing the track.
The redevelopment of the circuit was one of the requirements from former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone to secure Silverstone’s place as the host of the British Grand Prix.
The facilities are without a doubt a step in the right direction while the track has also undergone a few changes, one for 2023 will see the catch fencing at the Wellington Straight into Brooklands and Luffield moved forward to allow fans to get closer to the action.
But while that’s just the modernisation of the venue, the actual circuit is one of Formula 1 history from Jim Clark’s 1967 victory to Michael Schumacher winning while in the pit lane in 1998 to Lewis Hamilton overcoming a 10s penalty to win in 2021 and reignite his title hopes.
The Northamptonshire track very rarely delivers a boring race, processions may be part of British pageantry but they hold no sway over British Formula 1 fans who pack the circuit from Friday to Sunday to watch F1 action. In atmosphere alone, Silverstone deserves a spot on the F1 calendar.
Autodromo Nazionale di Monza
Home of all things important in Italy when it comes to motor racing – Ferrari and its Tifosi – Monza should forever have a permanent place on the F1 calendar. Even if the facilities are aging.
From its five-car battle for the win at the 1971 race, Peter Gethin taking the chequered flag just 0.01s ahead of Ronnie Peterson to Sebastian Vettel’s victory in 2008, Toro Rosso’s first-ever win in F1, to Pierre Gasly’s in 2020, you never know what will happen at Monza.
The circuit has long been on F1’s hit list, again a case of aging infrastructure and a government unable to foot the bill, but try to imagine Formula 1 without Monza, it’s as impossible as thinking about the sport without Ferrari.
It may not be the circuit of yesteryear, one could argue for a return to the banked cornering given the likes of Zandvoort now have it too although not to the extent Monza’s old layout did, but every metre of that asphalt is imbibed with F1 history. Curva Grande, Lesmo, Variante Ascari, Parabolica, it’s all part of the fast-flowing circuit known as the ‘Temple of Speed’.
The only thing missing from Monza, and the one thing that would guarantee its future? An era of Ferrari domination.
Circuit de Monaco
Ah Monaco, the most divisive race on the Formula 1 calendar… can we even call it a race?
The Monte Carlo street circuit offers up the best and worst of Formula 1. The best up close action you’ll ever see, but some of the worst racing.
Last season Formula 1 hit a top speed of 351.7km/h, Kevin Magnussen clocking that in Mexico, but in Monaco the cars hit a top speed that is almost 100km/h slower.
And even when they are showing a turn of pace, overtaking opportunities are few and far between the circuit is all of 10 metres wide in most parts.
But while it doesn’t always offer much in terms of racing, unless of course there’s a drop or three of rain, qualifying at Monaco is something to behold if you ever want to see drivers on the limit. It’s perfection to the millimetre, never mind inch.
It’s also the place for the teams to schmooze which opens wallets, and if there’s one thing F1 teams need it’s money.
Whether it’s more your cup of tea than your high octane, there’s a reason why Monaco has been a part of the F1 circus almost since the beginning of the World Championship and that’s why it should stay.
Suzuka International Racing Course
Formula 1 first visited the Suzuka circuit in 1987, that race won by Gerhard Berger, and since then the circuit has delivered some of the sport’s more memorable races.
The drivers rate the 5.8km track from its Degnar Curve to its fearsome high-speed 130R to Spoon Curve as one of the best – ever – to drive. That drivers pay the price for mistakes only adds to the thrill.
“I mean, when you speak to everyone, we all think Suzuka is an amazing track to drive,” said Max Verstappen, “because it’s one of these last old-school tracks that when you make a mistake, and you go off, you are really off!”
Best, favourite, tough and challenging are some of the descriptions with Lewis Hamilton adding it’s “always special when you do your first lap out; you think of all the legends.”
Those legends include Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost crashing, twice, Kimi Raikkonen’s stunning P17 to P1 charge in 2005 and Damon Hill putting in arguably his best wet-weather drive ever to beat Michael Schumacher in 1994.
It’s a circuit that despite only being around for just over three decades is steeped in F1 history for the sport’s fandom, encapsulates everything a Formula 1 track should be, and let’s not forget the ever enthusiastic Japanese Grand Prix fans – no where else, except maybe China, do fans wear replica cars as hats.
The Autódromo José Carlos Pace, better known as Interlagos, is a circuit that was built back in 1940. It became host to the Brazilian Grand Prix four decades later, that 1973 race won by São Paulo local Emerson Fittipaldi.
It is one of the very few venues that has nearly seen a race cancelled on safety grounds, the F1 drivers protesting at the 1980 race. They eventually agreed to race but it was the last time Interlagos, as a 7.9km track, was used.
After a 10-year hiatus, the track undergoing major renovations and shortened to today’s 4.3km circuit, F1 was back in 1990 with Alain Prost taking the win.
Interlagos has played host to title-deciders such as Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 victory, that Sunday saw Felipe Massa as World Champion for all of 38 seconds, as well as Fernando Alonso’s championship win over Michael Schumacher in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel’s over Alonso in 2012.
And let’s not forget Giancarlo Fisichella’s win back in 2003, that race red flagged as Alonso ploughed into Mark Webber’s crashed Jaguar on a day where six cars crashed into the barrier at Turn 3 after spinning off on a small river running across the track.
A fun weekend at a track that all the drivers love, Interlagos is another venue that has to fight tooth and nail every time for an extension in light of finances, facilities and competition from alternate venues.
But given that it is never a procession, the weather alone offers uncertainty lacking in a lot of races, Interlagos is one track that deserves its place on the Formula 1 calendar, and more than most.
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is perhaps one race that has been overly sanitised in the name of safety, the Wall of Champions alone moved back away from the racing line year in and year out. And yet somehow it has still held onto its charm.
With its ‘Salute Gilles’ on the start line, the Senna ‘S’, the Hairpin Curve, you’d be hard-pressed to get through a weekend without a trip or three across the gravel or grass because it’s a track that still makes a driver pay for their errors.
On the calendar since 1982 barring a few skipped years, the Montreal track has seen the likes of Nelson Piquet, Gerhard Berger, Michael Schumacher and Jean Alesi step onto the top step of the podium. It’s also seen Lewis Hamilton do so seven times, the Briton matching Schumacher’s record for the most Canadian Grand Prix wins.
From Mansell celebrating too soon in 1991 to Hamilton driving into Kimi Raikkonen in the pit lane in 2008 to Jenson Button stopping six times on his way to the 2011 victory, it’s also seen some bizarre moments while Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Schumacher gave the Wall of Champions its name in 1999.
It may not be the most iconic track, lacking the prestige of Monaco and the speed of Monza, but Montreal is a venue that all F1 fans look forward to every year. It rightly deserves a long-term place on the F1 calendar.
Agree with the list or not? What’s your the one track you believe should have life-long immunity?