F1 circuits history part 8: 1975-8

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Tracks being altered to include slower corners became commonplace in the second half of the 1970s. Silverstone’s flat-out blast was rudely interrupted by a crude chicane at Woodcote.

The other super-quick circuit – the Osterreichring – was also slowed, although both tracks retained much of their essential character.

And two tracks we are familiar with today appeared in F1 for the first time: Fuji Speedway in Japan, and the Montreal circuit in Canada.

Silverstone, Great Britain

As the second lap of the 1973 British Grand Prix began Jody Scheckter ran wide at Woodcote and spun into the path of oncoming cars, triggering an enormous multi-car crash and stopping the race.

That moment spelled the end of the chicane-free Silverstone configuration and when the race returned in 1975 Woodcote had become a fiddly chicane. But this was only the beginning of the tinkering with the Silverstone layout and in subsequent years much bigger changes would take place.

On F1’s final visit to the circuit in this configuration in 1985 Keke Rosberg set a lap time that would stand as the fastest ever at any track in F1 until Juan-Pablo Montoya beat it at Monza in 2002. Rosberg was the first man to lap at an average of over 160mph (257kph).

Long Beach, United Sates

Long Beach (top image) was added as a second United States Grand Prix in 1976 in a neat arrangement that saw Watkins Glen take the title of United States Grand Prix East while Long Beach, in California, was West.

The track went through several iterations during its F1 lifetime and has changed even more in the years since then when it became a popular venue for Indy Car racing.

Only the distinctive curved ‘straight’ along Shoreline Drive has always remained the same. In the first two years the start/finish line was on Ocean Boulevard at the opposite side of the track, then from 1978-82 the cars started on Shoreline Drive and the finish was given on the Boulevard.

From Shoreline Drive the cars swung sharply right, then left into a series of streets with some steep drops and rises that would be completely unthinkable on a modern circuit. Despite Clay Regazzoni’s terrible crash in his Ensign in 1980, that left him paralysed, Long Beach was a popular venue and many were disappointed when it was eventually dropped for commercial reasons.

Fuji Speedway, Japan

Before its reintroduction last year the Fuji Speedway held two races in the 1970s, and that earlier version of the track is still visible on Google Maps today.

Unlike today it only had five changes of direction, and was exceptionally fast. But just like the 2007 event the 1976 race was held in terrible weather. Championship leader Niki Lauda was one of several drivers to retire because the conditions were so poor, while James Hunt took the third place he needed to win the championship.

In the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix the weather was fair but Gilles Villeneuve and Ronnie Peterson collided at the end of the long main straight. Villeneuve’s car was flipped over the barriers and into the crowd, killing two spectators. Following the tragedy Fuji was dropped and F1 did return to Japan for another ten years.

Osterreichring, Austria

The super-fast Osterreichring was tempered by the addition of the Hella-Licht S in 1977. This followed the death of Mark Donohue at the original corner in thr 1975 event.

Jacarepagua, Brazil

The popularity of F1 in Brazil created pressure to move the Grand Prix around the country rather than hold it in Sao Paulo every year. So the race came to Jacarepagua in Rio de Janeiro in 1978, a flat (but nevertheless bumpy) track built on marshland surrounded by mountains.

The longest straight was dominated by an enormous grandstand from which wide views of the track were possible and the spectators roared their support for the home drivers, particularly Nelson Piquet. Piquet won at the track in 1983 and 1986, and the venue was named after him in 1988 following his third title.

Jacarepagua took over from Interlagos as the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix from 1981. The following year in boiling heat Piquet was first on the road but disqualified, as was second placed Keke Rosberg, the win going to Alain Prost, who had stood on the third step of the podium. Piquet and Rosberg were thrown out as their teams had tried to get around the minimum weight rules by using water as ballast.

Jacarepagua held its last F1 race in 1989. An oval was subsequently built after the track and host CART races from 1996-2000. Former F1 driver Mark Blundell survived a horrific 200mph crash at the circuit in 1996.

In 2005 the circuit fell victim to that dread disease that threatens old racing tracks – purchase by property developers. It will be demolished if Rio de Janeiro wins its bid to host the Olympics in 2016, to make way for facilities for the event.

Montreal, Canada

Mosport was used for the final time in 1977 before the Canadian Grand Prix was moved to a safer track. The circuit on the Ile Notre Dame in Montreal, later re-named after Gilles Villeneuve, was chosen.

Villeneuve won the first race in 1978 to the delight of the home fans, but had to settle for second in 1979. The original circuit was twistier than the current version, with a sequence of fast bends on the eastern side of the track. The pits and start/finish line were originally further north on the circuit, just after the hairpin, and were moved in time for the 1988 race.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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4 comments on “F1 circuits history part 8: 1975-8”

  1. Really interesting series, enoying it a lot.

    Funny to look at tracks like Silverstone and Fuji which basically only had a couple of corners to start with and then look at them today with their multitude if fiddly little chicanes and complexes. Funny, and a little bit depressing. Can you imagine what the tracks we have now will have evolved into in 20-30 years?

  2. I think it was Ronnie Peterson who Gilles Villeneuve collided with at Fuji in 1977.

  3. You’re quite right it was Peterson, have fixed it now. Should have got it right seeing as I wrote this a while ago: Grand Prix flashback – Japan 1977

  4. I think it is your greatest series to date.
    Just adding, Jacarepaguá was already severely harmed by a multi-sports arena built for the PanAmerican Games, held in 2007. And the current rumors on brazilian press say that, winning the 2016 Olympic bid or not, the race track will be demolished anyway, and a new autodrome will be built elsewhere in Rio.
    The point is: why don’t they build the sports complex elsewhere? There’s plenty of space nearby the track, at the Jacarepaguá neighborhood…

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