F1 circuits history part 9: 1979-84

Posted on

| Written by

The major changes were happening to the F1 calendars in the early 1980s. Several attempts were made to find new homes for the United States Grand Prix after Watkins Glen and Long Beach were dropped. In addition to the several American circuits below F1 also looked at holding a race in New York, which came to naught.

Meanwhile two of F1’s greatest circuits were making comebacks – Spa-Francorchamps and the Nurburgring, although only one of them found immediate popularity

Continue reading the history of F1 circuits below.

Hockenheimring, Germany

Hockenheim was supposed to be the newer, safer home of the German Grand Prix, but in testing in 1980 Patrick Depailler was killed was his Alfa Romeo crashed at the fast Ostkurve bend.

A chicane was installed to slow the drivers before the corner, and it was there that the lapped Eliseo Salazar punted Nelson Piquet out of the lead of the race in 1982. Piquet launched a flurry of punches and kicks before commandeering the only course car to take him back to the pits, leaving the Chilean to walk home.

Imola, Italy

The only occasion the Italian Grand Prix was not held at Monza was in 1980, when it moved to the Imola circuit, named the Autodromo Dino Ferrari. The following year the Italian Grand Prix returned to Monza but Imola stayed on the calendar as the host of the ‘San Marino’ Grand Prix – a thinly-veiled dodge around the ‘one circuit, one race’ rule that lasted until 2006.

Following Ferrari founder Enzo’s death in 1988 the track was re-named after himself and his son as the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, and remained in broadly the same configuration until 1994. The two fatalities on the weekend of that San Marino Grand Prix would have gigantic implications for Formula 1 and the wider motor sport world, to say nothing of the Imola track itself.

Caeser’s Palace, Las Vegas, United States

Consider some of the awesome racing circuits that had held Grands Prix up to this point: the Nurburgring, Brands Hatch, Watkins Glen, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and countless others.

Now look at this perfunctory scrawl of a layout. A dusty parking lot in Las Vegas was the scene of two championship-deciding finales in 1981 and 1982. There’s no justice, other than that this unworthy little track is long gone.

Long Beach, United States

Long Beach has always been an example of how to do a street circuit properly, even though the layout itself went through various changes.

This configuration was used as a one-off in 1982, when it was one of three American rounds on the calendar along with Caeser’s Palace (above) and Detroit (below), all street tracks.

Detroit, United States

Preparations for the first ever F1 Grand Prix at Detroit ran late and practice for the race was so badly delayed the drivers only got a handful of laps each. Inevitably there was a substantial crash at the start and the race had to be re-started, but it only proved the prelude to an exceptional win by John Watson from 17th on the grid.

The start line was along the waterfront after a chicane, leading into a sweeping right-hander before a pair of 90-degree right handers. Shortly after this point the original 1982 track had an extra hairpin, but this was removed from 1983.

Angular and repetitive, Detroit was not well-liked, least of all by Alain Prost who detested the circuit. Nonetheless F1 made seven visits to the track and plans were made to switch it to a new course on Belle Isle. But F1 dropped the venue and Indy Cars used the Island track instead for many years, and the Indy Racing League returned to it last season.

Long Beach, United States

Long Beach’s last F1 race was in 1983 and again the circuit configuration was changed. The new, shorter track produced another exciting race but Bernie Ecclestone and race promoter Chris Pook fell into a disagreement over costs and the race was dropped.

Pook put on Indy Car racing instead and (not for the first or last time) Ecclestone was taught the lesson that America does not need F1 as badly as F1 needs an American round. Given that he dropped the United States Grand Prix for similar reasons last year it seems the lesson still hasn’t sunk in 25 years later…

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Very few circuits make a successful transition from being great old tracks to similarly beloved modern venues. But the revised Spa-Francorchamps circuit was an instant hit with F1 and the race has remained at the circuit.

This might have seemed unlikely in 1985 when the teams turned up for the second race at the circuit to find the track falling apart. The F1 race was cancelled and put on later in the year (why couldn’t they have done that at Indianapolis in 2005?), but the hardy Formula 3000 racers braved the gravel-like surface and put on a race that wasn’t all that much more chaotic than usual…

It might have lost the epic corners at Burnenville and Masta but new Spa had the double-apex plunge Pouhon, and it retained Eau Rouge and Blanchimont. And despite further changes to the track since then, they remain to this day, on what is unquestionably F1’s best-loved track.

Dallas, United States

Like Spa in ’85, Dallas in ’84 also suffered from a disintegrating track surface. But F1 never returned to the Fair Park track in Texas, which was a pity for, as street circuits went, the layout was fairly imaginative and not as packed with right-angle turns as Detroit or, later, Pheonix.

The problem was that someone decided July was a good time to hold a race in Texas. The temperatures soared, the track fell apart, botched attempts at repairs were made, and the drivers threatened not to race until Ecclestone gave them all a good talking to.

Despite all this the race was eventually rather good, Nigel Mansell and Keke Rosberg staging a superb battle for the lead which Rosberg won, aided by the canny investment of a water-cooled skull cap. Mansell finished sixth, pushing his broken Lotus towards the finishing line on the final lap before collapsing in typically Mansell-ian theatrics.

Nurburgring, Germany

The Nurburgring’s rebirth as a modern racing venue was not received as warmly as Spa’s. The sanitised ‘new’ Nurburgring stood in stark contrast to the monster that cast a shadow over it.

The map above shows the track in its pre-2002 configuration which was actually very similar to how it was when it was first used for the European Grand Prix in 1984. On that occasion the chicane before the final bend was gentler, and that stretch of track is still used today during the 24 Hour race where cars used both the modern Grand Prix track and the massive Nordschleife.

In 1985 it took over as host of the German Grand Prix as a one-off, but did not return to the calendar for another decade, after which the chicane had been tightened with input from Michael Schumacher.

Estoril, Portugal

The compact Estoril circuit had all the hallmarks of an antiseptic, purpose-built venue, but boasted a couple of challenging corners. The long final corner Parabolica was one, leading onto a substantial straight, then the first two corners were also very quick.

It held its first F1 event as the last race of 1984 when Niki Lauda beat team mate Prost to the title by half a point – the narrowest margin an F1 title has ever been won by. Ayrton Senna won his first Grand Prix in heavy rain at the track in 1985 but was involved in controversy four years later when he tangled with Mansell, the Briton having passed a black flag on several occasions.

In 1992 Riccardo Patrese was fortunate to escape a terrifying crash on the main straight without injury. He launched his Williams off the back of Gerhard Berger’s McLaren, narrowly missed a bridge and nearly landed on the pit wall. Two years later Estoril was among many circuits to rush in changes in response to the Imola fatalities.

Author information

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

10 comments on “F1 circuits history part 9: 1979-84”

  1. On behalf of all Americans, I would like to apologize for the Las Vegas circuit… gross…

    1. i don’t think the europeans will accept your apologies so easily, mate! that track was a disgrace to f1. i dunno why they accepted to race on a parking lot.

  2. theRoswellite
    16th January 2008, 6:04

    I’m not in an apologetic mood, as this little adventure in the desert brought out all the worst aspects of F1 racing in this country (USA). Let me see, where do you start………….well, let’s take the whole show to someplace we can make some money, and certainly no need to even try to have a legitimate track. And, the worst part of the whole mess was…you could have staged a fantastic race in the Las Vegas area by building a really unique track. The US GP could still be going there. A short sighted misadventure of the worst kind. OK, I’ll join Nico in an abject apology…..(so sad)

  3. I was at the final Las Vegas GP in 1982, but I didn’t find it all that bad. Yes, the track layout was awful, but the tight course allowed me to see much of the track from my grandstand seat. And access to the race was the easiest ever… a five minute walk from my hotel room to my seat and the racetrack was just 10 minutes from the airport.

    There were also several memorable moments – Alboreto’s first win, Andretti’s last grand prix and watching both championships decided by the results of the race (Ferrari win good, Rosberg’s win… not so much). Not a classic race, but it was a fun F1 weekend.

  4. 1994fanatic
    9th July 2009, 21:01

    F1 vegas, very good idea actually. Cheap flights to vegas anywhere in the lower 48 states and cheap hotel rooms as well. That should get some american f1 fans out there. But as with most of the tracks of today it was junk. F1 needs cool tracks with fast corners going to slower corners for passing, forget new rules to cars for passing create opportunities on the tracks.

    1. F1 needs cool tracks with fast corners going to slower corners for passing, forget new rules to cars for passing create opportunities on the tracks.

      All the modern Tilkedromes have those features, in an attempt to create passing. Look at the amazing racing that has resulted. ;)

  5. Texas F1 Fan
    10th July 2009, 17:43

    Bring back Dallas GP!

  6. why old spa no in f1 calendar? is better then new one fast dangerous, you can hit in the house why bernie you destroyed everthing what is good in f1, tradition old circiuts ,why no f1 cars look like in 60 s? now look like electronics drive no drivers, boring races,,, uh that is that i think that no better f1 races like in 60 s good old days

  7. How could the writer forget the Indycar races held on the Caesar’s Palace circuit in later years, including when it was run as an oval?

    1. Probably because he dislikes Caesar’s Palace *that* much?

      “The 1985 Belgian Grand Prix was cancelled and put on later in the year – why couldn’t they have done that at Indianapolis in 2005?”

      Quite simply: Bernie wasn’t so corrupted by power in ’85.

Comments are closed.