“It was that close,” Jody Scheckter, the 1979 World Champion, has said of the attempts of F1 to revive the South African Grand Prix.
A return to the iconic Kyalami circuit after an absence of three decades seemed on the horizon for much of last year with F1 representatives going as far as making the trip to sign the deal, but in the words of Scheckter the agreement collapsed when the local promoter “got greedy.”
So near yet so far for South Africa, then. But which tracks from yesteryear would we most like to bring back to the calendar?
F1’s hunger to return to South Africa stems from the basic belief that a World Championship gains more credence when a race is held on every continent on the globe.
Yet to focus too heavily on the commercial and status aspects of a return is to underestimate the appeal of Kyalami, a permanent fixture on the calendar from 1967 to 1985 before briefly returning in 1992/93 following the end of apartheid.
The reinvention of Mexico and Zandvoort as two of the most vibrant and popular races of the modern era serve as a template for what can be achievable when grands prix from the past are made to work in the present.
If the German Grand Prix struggled to capture the public’s imagination at the height of Sebastian Vettel’s dominance and when Nico Rosberg was winning a World Championship for Mercedes, there is little hope now there is just a single German driver on the grid.
Hockenheim has hosted the last four German GPs stretching back to the first year of F1’s hybrid era but has not held a race since 2019 (won by Max Verstappen and best remembered for the slippery run-off area at final corner).
Even though the circuit no longer runs into the nearby forest, its layout contains plenty of the character and features of the original, with the Turn 6 hairpin providing opportunities for close racing on the charge back towards the famous stadium complex.
Can it really be a decade since the Nurburgring hosted its last grand prix as part of its sharing of the German GP with Hockenheim?
Only once since then, late in the Covid-interrupted campaign of 2020, has F1 returned to one of its most recognisable venues (under the Eifel GP banner).
The modern circuit may pale into insignificance compared to the original Nordschleife layout – the intimidating 13-mile, thrill-a-second circuit that surrounds it and snakes its way through the Eifel mountains – but at its best the new ‘Ring, with its own micro climate, is like a mini Spa.
Given a choice, any fan with motor racing in their bones would sway towards Suzuka as the stately home of the Japanese GP – but Fuji may also hold a special place in their hearts.
Perhaps the most picturesque circuit on the planet, the Speedway at the foot of the mountain was the site of the legendary season finale of 1976 and also delivered when it last featured on the F1 calendar in 2007 (Lewis Hamilton’s forgotten great wet victory) and ’08 (Fernando Alonso’s less controversial win for Renault).
A mile-long main straight is its main feature, before the track becomes more technical and challenging as the lap develops.
Almost 25 years after it hosted the inaugural Malaysian GP, Hermann Tilke’s first attempt at an F1 circuit still stands as his very best.
The heat and humidity – and sometimes the lightning storms – of Kuala Lumpur only added to the challenge of the wide and undulating Sepang track, remembered mostly fondly as scene of the Red Bull Multi-21 affair of 2013.
The highlights? The high-speed left-right complex of Turns 5/6, followed later in the lap by the dipping and rising Turns 12/13/14 section – providing a test of car placement, precision and braking under very high load.
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The only slight regret from F1’s return to Istanbul in 2020/21 is that, on each occasion, both qualifying and the race were held in the rain.
Fans were denied the sight of the extreme-downforce cars of the previous ruleset monstering at full speed through the quadruple-apex Turn 8 – one of the great corners of this or any era – but most would happily settle for the more raceable, ground effect cars doing it today.
Not only a formidable driving challenge, Istanbul also proved itself to be a great racing arena too, even the slow section at the end of the lap bringing seemingly endless possibilities for all manner of switchbacks and sudden dives in the general direction of an apex.
If Sepang must be considered Tilke’s finest piece of work, Istanbul is very close behind.
Having targeted a return for years, the pandemic proved to be the leg up Imola required to become an annual fixture on the calendar once again. Portimao, meanwhile, remains on F1’s fringes.
The Algarve circuit was the great revelation of the 2020 season – a modern and stylish grand prix venue with stunning elevation – and put on another good show the following spring before emerging as the leading contender to replace the cancelled Chinese round in 2023.
The failure to get that deal over the line was a blow to Portimao’s long-term hopes, a second year in succession without a grand prix leaving it still on the outside looking in.
Other emergency circuits – Imola, Istanbul and Portimao to name just three – proved to be far better suited to a permanent place on the F1 calendar during the Covid season in 2020, but none captured the imagination and won the affection of fans quite like Mugello.
With the circuit synonymous with motorcycle racing, F1 at Mugello came with the naughty thrill and sense of adventure normally reserved for a student skipping class. We’re not supposed to be here really, but we’re going to enjoy it for as long as we are.
An F1 car tackling the Arrabbiata corners was as fun as most anticipated – never more so than when George Russell dipped a wheel in the gravel and maintained full commitment in qualifying – but the lengthy red flag stoppage to recover Lance Stroll’s crashed Racing Point seemed to confirm Mugello, at least in its current configuration, is not fit for F1’s needs.
F1’s return to France in 2018 was the right move to the wrong circuit, four uneventful trips to Le Castellet proving beyond doubt that Paul Ricard – with those garish run-off strips – is a test track with ideas above its station.
For such a key motor racing heartland France – with the obvious exception of Le Mans – is not blessed with an assortment of great circuits but Magny-Cours, home of the French GP between 1991 and 2008, is currently the best of the bunch.
The two quick chicanes of the middle sector – creatively named Nurburgring and Imola – are the main features of the lap, closely followed by the long, winding Turn 3 right-hander of Estoril where drivers hang on for dear life while attempting to maintain a high minimum speed.
Some will argue that the Buddh International Circuit was loved by very few people outside India and even that, with attendances falling dramatically from its first race to its last, was debatable.
But no circuit in F1 history has been a greater victim of circumstance, the New Delhi venue written off after three races between 2011 and 2013 in which Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull led every single racing lap.
Beneath the repetitive results, however, was a fun, challenging circuit and an event carrying a distinctly Indian flavour – the orange, smoggy haze reaching across the track as the sun lowered straight from a Test match in Mumbai.
Still a key market, a revived and reinvented grand prix – with the full force of Liberty’s promotion behind it – could help F1 take off in India.
Bahrain Outer: The hidden gem of 2020 and proof of what is possible when F1 gets creative. How many more Bahrain Outers are potentially out there, we wonder? Could the greatest circuit ever seen be sitting idle somewhere in a Silverstone car park?
Osterreichring: Rumours in 2016 of a return to the old Austrian GP layout ultimately came to nothing. It sure would have brought more fun to F1’s Styrian double headers in 2020/21…
Buenos Aires: The more races in South America, the better. F1 back in the land of Fangio would be pretty special.
Indianapolis: Almost two decades on from the six-car mess of 2005, all is forgiven and F1 in the United States has never been so popular. So where better than back to the highest-capacity sports venue in the world?
Watkins Glen: On second thoughts…
Adelaide: It was revealed late last year that Melbourne’s current deal prevents a second race in Australia until 2035. So you’re saying there’s a chance after that?