F1 circuits history part 17: 2008-2012

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Five years ago F1 Fanatic ran a series looking at every F1 circuit which has appeared on the world championship calendar and how they had changed.

It’s time to bring the series up to date including the six most recent additions to the world championship calendar and the revisions at Silverstone.

Valencia Street Circuit

Spain appeared on the world championship calendar as early as 1951 and the race moved between several homes over the following decades. But the sport enjoyed a lukewarm reception even after it found a permanent venue at the Circuit de Catalunya from 1991.

That changed when Fernando Alonso arrived on the scene and won back-to-back world championships in 2005 and 2006. Suddenly the Circuit de Catalunya was building more grandstands to meet demand and a second round of the world championship in Spain seemed a viable prospect.

It arrived in 2008 in the shape of a street circuit in Valencia, a short distance from an F1-standard circuit where teams have often gone testing.

The venue had a lot going for it: great weather and beach-adjacent. But the stop-start track failed to inspire and produced a succession of dull races. Last year’s race was an exception, with Alonso climbing from 11th to take a popular home win.

However that may prove to be the last race at the circuit. The recession bit hard in Spain and both its tracks have suffered poor attendance. The circuits are supposed to be sharing the Spanish Grand Prix as of this year, but it remains to be seen if F1 will make a return to Valencia’s little-loved street course.

Singapore Marina Bay

Singapore broke new ground for F1 by becoming the first venue to hold a race under floodlights at night. The ambitious project brought F1 into the heart of one of Asia’s major business cities.

Unfortunately the inaugural 2008 race became infamous after it was discovered Alonso’s victory for Renault had been aided by team mate Nelson Piquet Jnr deliberately crashing his car.

While the track may fail to capture the imagination it stands out as one of the longest and most gruelling races of the year, held in punishing temperatures even after night fall. Last year’s race failed to go the distance and was stopped when the two hour time limit was reached.

Each passing year brings questions over whether it would be possible to race at night in wet conditions, but aside from a few damp practice sessions this remains an unknown.

Singapore’s contract was recently extended to 2017 and the race organisers have raised the prospect of altering the circuit with an eye on removing the inelegant turn ten chicane.

Yas Marina

Yas Marina has given plenty of ammunition to critics of modern track design. Despite being built on a man-made island at a reputed cost of $1bn the circuit is conspicuously lacking in imagination with far too many slow corners and chicanes.

The facilities themselves can’t be faulted, nor can the impressive architecture. And the spectacle of a race taking place as night falls is impressive. But Yas Marina has generally not produced great races.

The difficulty of overtaking at the track was demonstrated in the 2010 season finale, when Alonso became stuck behind Vitaly Petrov’s Renault and sensationally lost the world championship to Sebastian Vettel.

However last year finally produced a race to remember thanks to Vettel’s demotion to the back of the grid following a technical infringement in qualifying. Even so it’s hard to view the track as anything other than a missed opportunity.


The track which held the first round of the world championship in 1950 looked set to disappear from the Formula One calendar when Bernie Ecclestone announced a deal to take the race to Donington Park. That fell through and a new 17-year deal was duly signed with Silverstone.

In the meantime the track had secured a deal to host Britain’s round of the Moto GP championship, which prompted a change in track configuration to excluded Bridge, which was deemed too dangerous for bikes.

Silverstone is one of few recent examples of F1 track design work being carried out by anyone other than Hermann Tilke. Architects Populous tried to retain as much of Silverstone’s high-speed nature as possible and introduced a quick pair of bends in place of the Abbey chicane. This feeds into a pair of slow corners.

In 2011 a new pit building was opened on the old Club straight and Silverstone became one of few tracks to relocate its start-finish line. The old pits remain in place for lesser events.

Korea International Circuit

Just weeks before the first Korean Grand Prix was held there were still doubts over whether it would actually go ahead. Late-running construction work meant the track was barely ready in time for its first race.

That was then thrown in jeopardy by a race-day downpour which caused a lengthy interruption. The race eventually finished as night was falling.

Twelve months later the teams returned to find the track had seemingly been untouched in the intervening period. Grand plans for buildings to spring up around the final part of the lap failed to materialise.

Little had changed in 2012 either, though the promoters raised their game by bringing in Korean pop star Psy. But the fundamental problem remains that the circuit is a long way from the South Korean capital Seoul and has difficulty attracting spectators.

The track itself is a by-the-numbers modern affair enlivened by a few quick corners in the latter part of the lap. It will hold its fourth race this year but the promoters have already lost over 100m on the venture and you have to wonder how long they will continue tolerating that. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this track go the way of Istanbul’s F1 circuit.

Buddh International Circuit

Indian representation in Formula One began with Narain Karthikeyan in 2005 and was followed by the arrival of Silverstone-based Force India three years later.

The Buddh International Circuit was built as part of the Jaypee Greens Sports City in Greater Noida, south-east of New Delhi. The track proved a popular addition to the calendar when it held its first race in 2011, but neither of its first two races produced much in the way of spectacle.

But the sport received a warm welcome and hopefully has a bright future in this vast and rapidly-growing country.

Circuit of the Americas

The USA has had more Formula One tracks than any other country yet failed to find a permanent home for its race.

That may be set to change. The Circuit of the Americas became the tenth in 2012 and proved an instant hit, drivers lauding the track and teams enjoying a friendly Texan welcome.

The opening sequence of fast bends is modelled on Silverstone’s sequence of Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel. It provided the dramatic moment of the inaugural race as Vettel was briefly delayed by a backmarker and Lewis Hamilton pounced to pass him for the win.

Tavo Hellmund drew up the original plan for the race in 2007, but was no longer part of the project by the time the race was finally held. He is now working on a plan to bring F1 back to Mexico.

The run-off areas were given a suitably American look with a stars and stripes motif, but they were removed before the F1 weekend on the instructions of Bernie Ecclestone.

Over to you

What do you think of the six most recent additions to the Formula One calendar? Have your say in the comments.

You can find all of the F1 Circuits History series here.

F1 circuits history

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...

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42 comments on “F1 circuits history part 17: 2008-2012”

  1. Great to see this feature return.

    It was actually this feature that got me to this site on the first place. Would love to see more break-downs of tracks and their history (as far as the track layout goes), including proposals for changes that never saw the light of day etc.

    Good job.

    1. It was actually this feature that got me to this site on the first place

      I Recognize that feeling, it wasn’t the first, but it was one of those that made me a regular reader of F1Fanatic.

  2. Absolutely HATE every single circuit mentioned in this article, apart from Silverstone and COTA. Boring races in flashy and expensive environments… But for the moment F1 has to go International instead of European in Ecclestones opinion, so we will just have to deal with it I guess… pity!

    1. Agreed, COTA is the only descent new circuit in years.

    2. I don’t believe silverstone is any more entertaining than most of these tracks. Its a very average track in terms of on track entertainment.

      1. As someone who has only seen F1 on TV, I see where you’re coming from about Silverstone. But it is also a rare high-speed challenge for the drivers and (from what I’ve heard) it’s a great spectator track, with the British public producing a lot of the most devoted fans, so it deserves its place as a classic venue. After all, it’s nowhere near as dull as Monaco, and no-one even considers taking that off the calendar.

        1. @olliej

          After all, it’s nowhere near as dull as Monaco, and no-one even considers taking that off the calendar.

          Absolutely, Monaco is probably the most challenging track for the drivers. Apparently it’s great fun to drive as well and I remember Jeremy Clarkson saying that he thought it worked for the location but once he’d driven it he realised it would be a great track even if it was in the middle of a field!

        2. The problem with Monaco is that the cars have so much downforce and don’t visibly slide any more that it almost looks easy to race there.
          When you watch old races and see guys like Prost and Senna pushing like mad with the car sliding and squirning it’s way through the streets you’re on the edge of your seat with your heart pounding wondering when they’re going to go crashing into the armco. Watch a modern race, at least in the dry, and the cars look so planted you can’t get a sense of just how hard the driver’s are working just to stay on the track.

          The same problem shows itself in different ways at different tracks, CIrcuit de Catalunya has produced some great races in GT and motoGP but it’s hard to think of many great F1 races there over the years and even Silverstone can be a bit dull and processional some years.

          I often wonder if I’d have loved Singapore, Valancia, Korea and Yas Marina if they’d been on the calender back in the 80’s & 90’s before downforce became such an all consuming aspect of F1, it may be that they’re very good tracks and that the problem isn’t with their design but the design of modern F1 cars.

          1. I agree, the current cars were supposed to significantly reduce the aero dependency and the turbulence that creates, but they aren’t much better than the previous formula for overtaking, that’s why artificial overtaking aids like drs and kers were needed. I think if you watch some old gps on old circuits that are still used you will see how bad the current formula is for overtaking. Just look at 60s and 70s at monza, used to be crazy slipstream battles, now its a relatively boring race because of the lack of the current cars ability to race right behind another car, therefore completely ruining high speed battles.

    3. In the opinion of companies who make millions of dollar investments, it’s preferable to race where the markets exist to help them recoup that investment. THE HORROR!

      I adore classic tracks, but this *grumble grumble, men in sheds, racing in fields* attitude is just so silly to me. Faulting the sport for moving forward (to say nothing of the fact that F1 hasn’t be “pure” in almost 45 years, so it’s not like this is new…) completely misses the point in my opinion.

      Old classic tracks, while brimmed with nostalgia and imagination, are just impractical for an exciting modern Formula 1 race. If it wasn’t for Pirelli/DRS/KERS and all those bits designed to contrive excitement, tracks like Spa, Silverstone and Monaco would be entirely processional. Aerodynamically dependent cars can’t race close and hard on high-speed, high risk circuits. I think it’s time to face facts that modern F1 tracks fit modern F1 cars pretty well.

      Now, I’m all kinds of in favor of a return to cigar bodied, low/flat rear winged Formula cars, but let’s please try and keep the rose-colored driving goggles and silk scarves out of the discussion of modern Formula 1.

      1. ‘If it wasn’t for Pirelli/DRS/KERS and all those bits designed to contrive excitement, tracks like Spa, Silverstone and Monaco would be entirely processional.’
        Please! Moving forward? everytime a new circuit is created people say: “wow, it has a lot of elements from silverstone, spa and more ‘old’ circuits. Don’t get me wrong, i’m all about moving forward in terms of safety and car innovation. But a solid gravelpit or some highspeed stretches like Blanchimont are just part of the excitement! why not copy that sort of stuff? Sebastian Vettel would be happy after Belgium 2012 ;-)

        Spa was very good this year btw and without DRS/KERS it would work as well. The moves some drivers pulled of at the busstop-chicane were amazing!

      2. @hwkii That may be true for Silverstone and Monaco, but there’s no way Spa would be processional without the overtaking gimmicks. DRS arguably makes the racing worse at Spa, as you can easily pass down the long straights instead of having to go either side of Ricardo Zonta to make your move stick.
        Also, don’t forget the weather at Spa, more often than not it adds unpredictability, which always makes for classic races. One of the disadvantages of Silverstone is that it hardly ever rains, despite all the stick British weather gets. Even when the place was practically flooded out in 2000 and 2012 it stayed dry on the Sunday.

  3. I love the challenge Singapore offers the drivers, the punishing nature of the circuit and the level of concentration required to complete it is great and I really hope they don’t change anything about it.

    All the other circuits apart from Yas Marina (which is awful) are okay, but they’re not particularly original. I understand why they want to take features from other circuits, but I think it would be better if they tried to give new circuits more of their own identity. When the drivers were talking about the Indian circuit last year they mostly compared it to other tracks, rather than solely talk about the circuit in question.

  4. Why wouldn’t the Singapore GP be able to be held in the rain? Other sports that use floodlights don’t seem to have a problem when it gets a bit wet.
    I do love the Marina Bay circuit – the endurance aspect really appeals to me and I always prefer longer races anyway (Monza is great but the race is always over too quickly). A wet Singapore GP would make it even better, with the tough track and slippery conditions it would be a big challenge for the drivers and there’d no doubt be some great action.

    1. I think its because other cars rear ends dont kick up as much water as an F1 car

    2. I think a wet night race might also be a challenge for TV viewers.

    3. The lights may bedazzle the drivers with the huge amount of spray that F1 cars kick up. I think it would be okay but as far as I’m aware it’s unlikely that it will rain during the race due to the time at which it is run.

      1. Its mainly because Singapore is about 2 degrees north of the equator so when it rains here its torrential downpours as in the kind the stopped the Malaysian race half way through a few years back. If does rain like that during the race or massively before it, and early evening heavy rain is very common occurrence in Singapore, that would be the end of it period due to the massive amounts of surface water – nothing to do with the lights.

  5. The rules and regulations which restrict circuit design are ridiculous. The recent international expansion of F1 was a great opportunity to create a whole host of brand new circuits that were a challenge for the modern F1 car and produced races that were exiting and varied. Instead we got bland, uninspired tracks which, for the most part, produce boring races. Such a waste.

    There are so many little things that would produce better races. More punishing run-off areas (i.e. not tarmac), less random chicanes and corners with no thought to the flow of the race, more elevation changes and more passing zones. It’s time the regulations were loosened and circuit design was livened up a bit.

  6. Of these new ones only Singapore is a good one, cota and Yas have something going for them. Silverstone’s alright.
    But Budh just an eyesore.

  7. I guess I’m in the minority (vast, it seems) that does not hate the Valencia circuit. Although it is rather ugly, when compared to most other F1 venues, it does feature something lacking in most newer tracks: penalty. The unsightly blue walls as well as kitty litter in the run-off areas are preferable, IMO, to the seemingly endless tarmac. Unlike some of the other tracks listed, it proved that it produce an epic race…if only once.

    1. +1
      I actually like its flow on the f1 games, unlike most modern circuits

  8. On Silverstone and Moto GP, they’ve just announced they’re not using the new pits for this year’s race:

    British Moto GP to use old National pits

  9. What to me makes a good Circuit is knowing where the driver is when you see them on the screen and knowing how soon the next passing attempt might be made.

    1.) If you have no idea where they are is a rubbish Circuit.
    2.) If you know its going to take another min & half for them to get to the next passing point its a rubbish Circuit.
    3.) Supporters at the track!

    So whats good and whats bad?

    Good: Silverstone, Buddh, Circuit of the Americas
    Bad: Valencia, Singapore, Yas Marina

    1. Absolutely agree with your point about Singapore the night format for me produces a viewing experience that reminds me of driving through tunnels.

  10. For me personally the following tracks are good/descent enough
    Silverstone, COTA (stupid name though), Singapore

    I don’t like Korea and Valencia not even Buddh that had a lot of promise but turns out to be nothing more than another Tilke monster

    Yas marina however is a track that could be a lot better if they had made the promised changes.

  11. I have always thought the best way to design a circuit is to simply draw a line following the natural topography; there isn’t a formula for good circuit design which is the impression Herman Tilke gives. It appears the bad tracks are made because of a lack of understanding on how F1 cars overtake.

  12. Very interesting article.
    Good track or bad track. So much depends on factors not under the control of the circuit – bit like trying to analyse a good night out.
    Having seen the first GP2 race at Valencia, I thought the track was going to be great, but it only produced one good F1 race in those four years. And yet, I still think it’s worth another go but only if the track can lose some of the ‘industrial’ quality it seems to have. In wider terms, I’m not sure the mix of marinas and motorracing necessarily guarantees a success. Monaco, yes; Valencia, probably not; Yas Marina, no; and Korea – wasn’t there supposed to be a marina here too? Not sure it would have saved the races from obscurity given the location, though.
    The only real success seems to be COTA and that’s probably because of the elevation changes that have been rather skilfuly used by the circuit planners. Silverstone? I’m not sure about it. It certainly looks better on the screen than it does if you’re visiting. I can’t recall finding anywhere on GA where you could see the track without looking through a chain link fence. Depressing.

  13. I love Singapore most out of these. It is a delight to see the drivers completely exhausted after the race and really earn their paycheck for once. Also, this is the only track where you see sparks from the cars now. Something that used to happen only in the early 90s and before.

  14. Can someone explain to me why did Bernie told the organizers of the USA GP to remove the stars and stripes motif of the run off areas?

    1. @toiago I think it was something to do with putting the drivers off when they go past at high speed. I might be wrong though

      1. davidnocoulthard
        16th February 2013, 13:30

        It’s got something to do with the sponsors, I believe.

  15. Now this is what I call a great read! The various track designs never cease to amaze me and of course F1 used tracks are the pinnacle. On point now I think it is essential to differentiate a good track from a good race and Singapore comes to mind as it is a “bad” track but somehow produces exciting races. From the rest of the list nothing I think will become a classic in the years to come.
    Silverstone is ruined it may be still fast but much of its flowing nature is gone -much like Imola after the Tamburello and Villeneuve redesign.
    Cota, 2 things stand out the first corner following the uphill straight and its slippery surface!
    India, it just doesn’t do anything to me
    Korea – only the last corner seems interesting
    Abu dhabi – the back to back long straights and the night-day transition are the only worth mentioning features
    Valencia – only the scenery.

    Apart from all that I think that this Tilke era though heavily criticized, is much better than much of the 80-90’s boring circuits. I refer to the trend of that era for shorter circuits with 600-700m straights characterless scenery and forgettable designs. An era that spawned circuits like Argentina, Estoril, Hungaroring, Nurburgring gp, Donnington, Jerez, Kyalami, Magny cours, Barcelona (albeit with a decent straight). Of course I also miss some tracks from that era Imola (even the redesigned one), Mexico and A1 ring.
    The current trend for longer approx. 5,5 km long tracks offer better scenery, long straights, modern facilities and a fantastic circuit -Istanbul. (Obviously it is dropped but this isn’t relevant at the moment.)
    That’s why when I see a tilkedrome I say to my self don’t complain we’ve had worse!

    P.S. Now while we are at it would nice to make a poll consisting of all the tracks which are perfectly capable of hosting a race, meeting modern standards that is, (in their current form of course) unfortunately the previous versions of Hockenheim, Silverstone shouldn’t be included, and let that F1FANATIC members decide their dream calendar!
    That should be exciting

  16. An odd opinion, but for some reason I really like the Korean track. I thought the first race was fantastically entertaining (although that had more to do with the weather) and while the last few races haven’t been classics there’s always been something interesting to watch such as Alonso v Rosberg v Massa in 2011 along with a fantastic duel between Hamilton and Webber, and this year had some great overtaking as well. Take away Vettel’s dominance and I think it’s a decent track which has definitely entertained me the past few years.

  17. I would love to see Singapore in the rain. If it happens, I hope the stewards let them race as true professionals that the teams are.

  18. Circuit of the Americas is a perfect example of how to do it properly in the modern era. They chose an appropriate location close to a major city, built a circuit from the hills that were already there and it put on a great race. Remember the drivers comments about how the track wouldn’t be very exciting? I was convinced as well but the first 5 laps of that race changed my opinion on the track completely.

    Also it was very cool to see a massive crowd and the cityscape in the background, contrast to Korea which looks like its been built on Mars.

  19. I like most of the new circuits except Silverstone, I like the new pit complex but the track has to much carpark runoff for my liking.

  20. There’s no doubt in my mind being that I’m in Austin, Texas that the Circuit of The Americas was/is the best new track we’ll see. It was my first F1 race to attend live and the TV doesn’t do a good job showing the elevation change.

    If you have the chance to come to Austin in the future to see the race please do so, you won’t be upset.

  21. Some have commented that they wish that the rules that govern circuit design would be loosened up a bit, and I have discovered a small revelation… that they have! I don’t think anyone noticed the rule change, but the result, the Circuit of the Americas, seems to validate the change to an extent.

    Keith might recall posting a revealing article just over 5 years ago which quoted some of the regulations from Appendix O of the International Sporting Code:
    A particular rule, 7.4, ‘Longitudinal Profile’, dictated an extremely conservative formula R=V^2/K for the rate of transition of the track from climb to descent or vice versa, such that any new circuit designed with its own Eau Rouge roller coaster corner would fail to gain FIA approval. Presumably, in spite of its gross contravention of the rule, Spa-Francorchamps always gained approval on the basis that events had already successfully been run on the circuit, which is a clause in rule 7.3 for tracks which are too narrow.

    I just checked the latest version of Appendix O, and on the 1st of April 2012, rule 7.4 was relaxed, with the offending old section crossed out:
    Any change in gradient should be effected using a minimum vertical
    radius calculated by the formula R=V^2/K, where R is the radius in metres, V is the speed in kph and K is a constant equal to 20 in the case of a concave profile or to 15 in the case of a convex profile. The value of R should be adequately increased along approach, release, braking and curved sections. Wherever possible, changes in gradient should be avoided altogether in these sections.

    in its place, new, more lenient text had been added:
    “Changes in gradient, either convex or concave, must be made using vertical radii adequate for the performance of the cars. In general, changes in gradient should be avoided in high speed braking or curved sectors or where acceleration is strongest.(*)”

    Note that this last sentence was retained, and cunningly circumnavigated by Circuit of the Americas:
    “The gradient of the start/finish straight should not exceed 2%.”

    I tiny part of me can’t help but wonder if I played a tiny part in instigating this change (well, along with Keith)… In July 2011, I was lucky enough to be part of a tour of the Mercedes F1 team’s factory, and Ross Brawn was kind enough to spare time to talk to our group briefly. I asked him why there was an FIA rule which prohibited any new Eau Rouge’s from being designed. He said that he didn’t know such a rule existed. That was that, but it turned out, 9 months later, the rule was relaxed… Just sayin… ☺

    (Similarly I think I might have invented sculpting of rear wing endplates 15 years ago when the rules narrowed the cars, as I suggested them to a visibly surprised McLaren aero chap at a talk, only to find them first introduced about 5-6 weeks later on the new McLaren and none of the other new cars launched.)

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