Top ten: Longest Formula 1 grand prix circuits

Top Ten

Posted on

| Written by

By the standards of past circuits, the Formula One tracks of the 21st century are a homogeneous bunch. The creeping Tilke-isation of the calendar means race tracks increasingly resemble each other in length, corner numbers and character.

Of F1’s current venues, all but Monaco and Spa are between 4.3km and 5.9km long. Almost all of them have between 15 and 20 corners, minimal elevation change, similar average speeds, and almost entirely made up of slow corners.

But it was not always this way. For the first few decades of the world championship, before the FIA’s notion of maximum circuit length had been born, Grand Prix’s regularly took place on circuits far longer than we see today.

Given the costs involved in building long race tracks, and the difficulties of properly managing them, it is perhaps understandable that the FIA now recommends new circuits to be no longer than 7km. And it also means that the following ten circuits are unlikely to be surpassed as the longest in F1 history.

1. Pescara, Italy

Temporary road course: 25.579km (1957)

Before anyone thought to build tracks to race cars on, grand prix racing originally took place on public roads. Some of these courses were monsters measuring in excess of 100 kilometres taking in several towns.

As the world championship began in 1950, closed road tracks were increasingly bring replaced by shorter, permanent venues such as Monza, Silverstone and Indianapolis. But the early years of the world championship continued to feature scaled-down versions of the old super-tracks.

The Pescara circuit on Italy’s Adriatic coast was one such venue: three-and-a-half times the size of the longest track on the calendar today, Spa-Francorchamps. The circuit took in the undulating Italian countryside in a triangle between the towns of Pescara, Cappelle and Montesilvano. It was split roughly into two sections – a long, twisty first half followed by two six-kilometre straights to complete the lap.

Pescara first staged races in 1924 and held its sole world championship grand prix in 1957, documented in Richard Williams’ superb book The Last Road Race. The fastest lap, set by race winner Stirling Moss, was almost 10 minutes long, underlining what a colossal track this was.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2. Nurburgring Nordschleife, Germany

Permanent road course: 22.835km (1967-76 version)

Considered the greatest and most challenging circuit ever devised, the original Nurburgring – infamously nicknamed the “Green Hell” by Jackie Stewart – was a 160-turn behemoth that wound its way through the Eifel Mountains of western Germany.

Built under the Weimar government of the 1920s (not, as is often falsely recorded, the subsequent era of Nazi rule), it regularly held grands prix into the world championship era. However the Nurburgring became a target for the Grand Prix Drivers Association’s demands for safer circuits.

In 1970 the GPDA flexed its muscles and refused to race at the Nurburgring until a substantial barrier-building programme had been undertaken. This was completed and the Nurburgring regained its place as Germany’s world championship venue from 1971.

However the difficulties of providing adequate marshalling for such a long track remained a problem, and ahead of the 1976 race the drivers were determined not to return to the track again. Niki Lauda’s fiery crash in the subsequent race, which almost cost him his life, served to highlight that point.

Seven years later the World Endurance Championship also said farewell to the ‘Ring. This was the last world championship event at the track until the World Touring Car Championship visited this year for a pair of three-lap races. In 2007, F1 made a brief return when Nick Heidfeld piloted a BMW Sauber for three exhibition laps of the track.

3. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Temporary road course: 14.120km (1950-56 version)

Spa-Francorchamps is over a kilometre longer than any other track on the current F1 calendar, yet the original layout dwarfs the current one at over twice the size.

Spa held its first race 90 years and like most circuits of the era it was laid out on public roads. It followed roughly the same route as the modern circuit until Les Combes, a which point the road would branch off to the left and snake through the Ardennes countryside, reconnecting at Blanchimont. While the Nordschleife was an unending sequence of tortuous curves, Spa challenged drivers with a series of high-speed bends with zero margin for error.

The dangers of the circuit were spelled clear in 1960, when Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey were killed in separate accidents during the race, and Stirling Moss was badly hurt during practice. Jackie Stewart endured a terrifying experience in 1966, trapped inside his damaged car while fuel spilled from its tank.

That inspired him to spearhead the GPDA’s drive for safer tracks which, three years later, led to a driver boycott of the circuit. After a final visit in 1970, F1 did not return to Spa until the modern circuit was constructed 13 years later.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

4. Monza, Italy

Permanent road course: 10km (1955-61)

For a short time in the 1950s and ’60s, the Monza circuit near Milan used a layout that combined both the traditional blast through the forests and the steeply banked oval into one giant lap.

The result was a terrifying, flat out, 10-kilometre figure of eight circuit. It was used on only four occasions and for the third of those, in 1960, several British teams boycotted the race on the grounds that the track was too dangerous.

Twelve months later the extended layout was used again. This time Wolfgang von Trips, who was vying for the title with Ferrari team mate Phil Hill, crashed into the crowd at the Parabolica. He was killed along with 14 spectators, and the banking was never used again for F1.

5. Sebring, USA

Permanent road course: 8.369km, 1959

While the Indianapolis 500 counted towards the world championship until 1960, Sebring was the first true host of F1 in North America. The Florida circuit hosted the 1959 season finale, which crowned Jack Brabham as champion for the first time, in its one and only F1 appearance.

The circuit bore some resemblance to its modern day successor which continues to host American sports car races, but was substantially longer. Like many of its contemporaries of the era, it was built on a former air field in 1950, with wide, flat straights laid out along vast concrete runways.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

6. Reims, France

Temporary road course: 8.347km (1953 version)

The original home of the French Grand Prix, Reims was another of the great circuits of the era laid out on public roads. Like Pescara, it followed a rough triangle shape between local villages, and consisted mainly of long straights with only two tight corners.

The circuit was altered twice in its first few seasons on the calendar. In 1953 it had reached its full extent of 8.3km, and Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn caused a stir by leading the Maseratis of Juan Manuel Fangio and Jose Froilan Gonzalez to the flag, the trio separated by 1.4 seconds.

The lap record was set 13 years later by Lorenzo Bandini, at an average speed of almost 230kph. Reims last hosted a grand prix in 1966, and the roads have long since ceased to be use for racing. However, some of the structures used in its heyday, such as pit garages and main grandstand, remain standing, monuments to a bygone era of motorsport.

7. AVUS, Germany

Temporary road course: 8.3km (1959)

Few circuits have been shortened for such pressing reasons as AVUS: having measured almost 20 kilometres before World War Two, it was trimmed after hostilities ceased as part of the track now lay in the sector of Berlin which had fallen under Soviet control.

The Automobil Verkehrs und Ubungsstrasse was a true freak of a circuit, as it comprised little more than the opposite sides of a dual carriageway connected by two hairpins, one of which featured a staggering 43-degree banking. Around four times steeper than the Indianapolis banking and lacking a barrier, this was something to make even the bravest of drivers question their career choice.

A truncated eight-kilometre version of the circuit held the German Grand Prix in 1959 which, due to concerns about tyre life, was uniquely run as two heats. The event was marred by the death of F1 driver Jean Behra in a support race. After F1 left further shortened versions of the track remained in use until the late nineties, but in many ways it’s a surprise this strange and dangerous configuration remained in use that long.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

8. Clemont-Ferrand, France

Temporary road course: 8.055km (1965-72)

The Charade circuit near Clermont Ferrand was eight kilometres of almost incessant twists and turns. The winding, undulating course through the hills of central France only featured one proper straight, and was something of a Gallic Nurburgring.

The circuit hosted the French Grand Prix on only four occasions between 1965 and 1972, before, once again, safety concerns contributed to its demise as an F1 venue. The rock strewn surface was a particular problem, and in 1972 driver Helmut Marko lost his sight in one eye when he was struck by a stone thrown up by another car.

9. Interlagos, Brazil

Permanent road course: 7.96km (1973-77 version)

This weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos will take place on the shortest permanent circuit on the calendar, but in its original iteration the track measured almost twice as long.

Unlike many truncated circuits like Hockenheim or Spa, the new Interlagos is based on almost entirely the same site as its forerunner. This is because the original track was niftily coiled up on the same small patch of hillside. Much of the now unused sections of the layout are still visible around the course- keep an eye out for them during the race coverage.

Despite its twisty nature, the original Interlagos was a spectacular circuit. It was a huge physical challenge, with seven consecutive left hand corners around the perimeter – 540 degrees of rotation – testing the drivers’ necks as well as their bravery and skill. Among its distinctive corners was the long right-hander Curva do Sol, so-called because drivers rounded it while squinting into the light, which is now the third turn of the course and is tackled in the opposite direction.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

10. Ain-Diab, Morocco

Temporary road course: 7.618km (1958)

Another one-off championship venue of the fifties. Morocco held a non-championship race in 1957 as a prelude to its sole appearance on the world championship calendar the following year. Sadly the race, which saw Hawthorn crowned as champion, was overshadowed by the crash which claimed the life of Stewart Lewis-Evans.

The track, located to the west of Casablanca, was fast and its proximity to the sea presented drivers with additional challenges: windy conditions, dusty air and the occasional mist blowing in.

Over to you

Which of these ten circuits do you remember most fondly? Do you think F1 ought to include more long distance circuits on the calendar?

Have your say in the comments.

F1 top tens

Read more top tens

44 comments on “Top ten: Longest Formula 1 grand prix circuits”

  1. The original Interlagos is more like a giant Go-Kart track, absolutely insane! I would love to see more diverse tracks on the calendar, a behemoth track and a super short 4 or 5 corner circuit

    1. Super short tracks would be bad for backmarkers/traffic, long tracks are bad for qualifying.

    2. Agreed, I would love to see a 10km+ track, that way it can’t be learnt easily and the drivers and teams would have to learn during the race.

      Maybe a rich middle eastern country could build one in the middle of the desert, no barriers just a long stretch of tarmac. It would be safe and challenging… And entirely unrealistic.

      1. Long tracks are nice for tv.. but not cool for visitors at the track.
        It’s the biggest letdown at Spa every year. You only get around 45laps.
        Other tracks get 60 or more laps. So much more value for money.
        Sure you can say it’s Spa, not just any track and that’s true.
        But being from Belgium I’m spoiled and get to see the track many times a year :)

    3. That nicely sums up Indycar’s calendar – short ovals at 7/8 mile, superspeedways at 2.5 miles, the behemoth that is Road America, and various other road and street circuits. That’s what I call diversity, love it!

  2. I would love to see AVUS back, a true engine test, just because i think a little variety to all the twisty tracks is good… nice article too.

  3. I love finding out more about the old tracks, would love to see more replicas of them in games (lets face it we won’t see any of them raced again – for good reasons)

    Great article, thanks @greg-morland, it was some previous track history articles that @keithcollantine wrote ages ago that led to me finding this site –

    1. @ginja42 They should all exist – those tracks are all in GPL for instance, except for Ain-Diab, with Pescara as an alpha (same one for rFactor).

    2. 100% agree about the games! How great would it be to race classic championships on these old tracks?

      P.S. Great job Keith, I love these kind of blog posts

  4. Interlagos is the best track as far as racing is concerned today.
    It’s got everything , overtaking opportunities, passionate crowds, character, history. Rarely fails to produce good racing.

  5. These old tracks + modern racecar (F1, GT, LMP) = epic..(only in the games, except Nurburgring)

    1. Most seem to acknowledge that the Nordschleife takes the cake as far as epic old school tracks go… but Long Monza and Old Spa-Francorchamps look like brilliant tracks to drive.

      The Pescara track stands out, partly because of its length, but mainly because of its layout. It turns out the Italians are more nuts than the Germans. Imagine trying to set up the car for that track… do you go for massive straight line speed down the 2 long straights & compromise the twisty portion of the track, or try to find a balance? Crazy!

  6. Zantkiller (@)
    12th November 2015, 13:36

    If you look down the autobahn you can see the clearing where they would have built the sudkurve banking at AVUS.

    A model was built in the forest which sadly has been left to fall apart.

  7. I would absolutely love to see some longer tracks in F1 today. Maybe not 25km, but I believe a 10km track would be viable, may even 12-15km.

    As commented elsewhere, it would be much more difficult to learn, and would make strategy calls even more important to get right. It would make an interesting change.

  8. I hate to be nit-picky (in fact, I don’t), but I don’t think that “Tilkisation” is an accurate term for the equalisation of track lengths and corner numbers in F1. Sure, it works as a polemic catchword, because everybody hates Tilke …
    But I’m afraid Tilke has absolutely nothing to do with this article. None of the tracks mentioned were in any way altered by him, in fact, all of them were revised or abandoned altogether a long time before Tilke got involved in F1. Most of these layouts were already ancient history before he had his engineering degree.
    But enough with Tilke, let’s look at what the calendar looked 20 years ago:
    5 out of 16 tracks were shorter than the mentioned arbitrary 4.3 kms of length, two of which being at least 4.25 kms long (thus only falling 50 metres short of that criterion), two tracks were longer (Spa and Hockenheim).
    11 out of 16 tracks meet the 15-20 corners criterion, with 5 tracks being shorter.
    4 tracks have been significantly altered between 1995 and 2015. Hockenheim is the only track that shrunk, Hungaroring and Spa gained a few (hundred) metres, Silverstone became much longer.
    Hardly anything has changed. If anything, F1 tracks were shorter than they are today.
    ==> This is not a question of Then vs. Now, as there’ve been many Nows since the Then this article talks about. These Nows are pretty different from the Then, and closer to each other, but they’re far from showing a linear development, AND they have nothing to do with Tilke.

    1. So “When will Then be Now?” :D

      1. Now.
        Nice Dark Helmet reference!

    2. To be fair, it’s only a few Tilke circuits which I think aren’t so good, and others are great. I think the cars are more to blame for poor racing than the circuits: I think Sepang, Shanghai, and Istanbul are very good tracks. I thought Buddh was fun in-game but don’t have much of an opinion on it. Valencia and Bahrain were normally boring with one or two exciting races that took place; Sochi is very strange, I personally don’t like but we may see a situation like Valencia/Bahrain where a GP under unique circumstances becomes exciting. Korea was unfortunate – I really didn’t like that design overall, although I think drivers did enjoy those last twisty bits even if they aren’t that interesting for racing. Finally, I think COTA is excellent, even if corners do mirror those of other Tilke tracks.

    3. I think the point has been missed here, the article is called Top Ten: Longest F1 circuits. It’s just a factual list, and it’s a fact that they are all from pre 1980. It’s a factual list of factual info.

  9. Great article! Learnt an awful lot.

    We need more circuits like spa and interlagos on the calender. Elevation and the topography of the land make the circuits so much better

    1. Yes, elevation and topography makes everything. Without elevation change, even the great Eau Rouge would be nothing!

  10. I actually a photo taken by my grandpa at the moroccan GP with the car been pushed to the grid

  11. Great article. However, with regards to AVUS:

    it was trimmed after hostilities ceased as part of the track now lay in the sector of Berlin which had fallen under Soviet control.

    This is a fairly common misconception. The whole track actually ended up entirely within the confines of the American Occupation Zone, it’s just that for some other reason they decided to use a shorter layout that had previously been used for motorcycle races. If it had ended up in the Soviet sector of Berlin, then we would have lost the famous banking, as that was closer to the eastern part of the city! ;)

  12. Great article, much thanks! Yeah a little variety would be much appreciated, enough with the Tilkedromes. I’d heard that MCV(Jolyon Palmer’s dad company) is about to begin building a new five-mile track in France. Why can’t we use that as a new site for the French GP? Ah, of course, it’s not a Tilkedrome and won’t be boring enough for F1

    And of the 10 longest tracks, while some, such as Pescara and Avus are ridiculous, the original Interlagos is my all time favorite. A shining example of what wonders can you do even with very limited space

    Also, the recent version of Sebring while smaller is still 6km of very nice track which could be great for F1(with extensive resurfacing)

    Also, F1 could do with more of the smaller tracks 2.5-3 miles in length. They can create a lot of good racing and very good for the spectators both because you can see more of the track and because there are more laps. And speaking of which, can we have the 10 shortest F1 tracks as the next top ten please @greg-morland ?

    1. @montreal95 The Sebring track operators have stated that they have no intention of ever resurfacing WWII runway that still has the extremely rough, original concrete that serves as the back straight. Everyone says that the Sebring 12 hour race is tougher on cars than the Daytona 24 hour race. There is a reason why Audi always conducts part of their pre-season testing at Sebring.

      1. @forrest well then my idea will forever remain just that:) Still, never say never. Owners change and ambitions change too. Not saying that would be a necessarily a good thing for Sebring, just a place I’d like F1 to go to, personally

    2. @montreal95 Yep, it’s something I’m considering for next time- though admittedly the shortest circuits are generally a less interesting bunch

      1. @ned-flanders I agree they’re less interesting, but there are some gems there, like Monaco(obviously), Long Beach, Adelaide, Brands Hatch. And if you can find some excuse for kicking out Zeltweg airfield(yawn)/Nivelles(double yawn)/Caesar’s palace car park(triple yawn) then there are Montjuic and Dijon waiting at P11, P12 ;)

        1. @montreal95 I actually think some of those “yawn” circuits would be good additions to the list, simply because they are so unique. A four corner circuit, or a circuit in a car park, is just crazy!

          1. That’s PARKING LOT to you. “Car park” sounds like the car equivalent of a dog park.

  13. Great article. Clermont Ferrand is I think a very under-appreciated circuit that fell under the shadow of Spa and the Nurburgring. What you can’t get a sense for from a 2D map is the elevation changes, as the track clung to the edge of a mountain/hill (when does a hill become a mountain?!) and followed its contours for an incredibly high speed roller-coaster ride. When men were men!

    1. Have a look at this
      and this one
      I’ve never been to CF, looks seriously narrow!

    2. @unicron2002 I agree, it was splendid, magical. And it is definitely a mountain, more accurately a volcanic cone which was what led to its demise as volcanic stones thrown into the drivers heads by the car in front, was what made it so dangerous

      1. That and the twisty route were the did hazards. Why no one thought to do any road-sweeping before each track session in those days is beyond me. Charade doesn’t appear to be any-more dangerous than the old Nurburgring, or even Mount Panorama. If those tracks could still host racing, I’m sure classic Charade could in SOME form. Get rid of that stupid roundabout at the old Manson corner – or widen the road through there – and classic Charade is back in business!

  14. I don’t know if its already in the works, but I’ld actually like to see a top ten list regarding the shortest tracks.

  15. Do any of you have any links to youtube of sim racing on any of these cool tracks? I would love to see what a lap looks like form inside the car. Thanks guys! I know Rfactor might have some stuff but i didnt know where to look.

  16. For those of you that didn’t know their was a version of the Nurburgring that included the Sudschleife (South Loop) that brought the total length to 28km. This was pre-war grand prix racing, though.

  17. I found a good video of the first lap of ’79 Brazilian GP at the 4.9 mile Interlagos (commentary is in German)

  18. Great article. There is a portion of the Reims video that shows cars racing out in the countryside on a beautifully smooth piece of track, and nothing but fields and farm land in the distance. No spectators anywhere. Totally surreal. I guess this is why I love to watch rallying – which is the only thing close to that today.

  19. I’d be fascinated to see how a modern F1 team would approach the Pescara track as the layout is so unique. Downforce needed for the corner sections but would be offset by 2 x 6km straights where it’s all about drag – where does the compromise lie. Changeable conditions would be a nightmare too – imagine getting your timing wrong and being on the wrong tyre for a whole 25km lap

    Also, suspension would need to be softer for a bumpy road course but hard enough to cope with compression at high top speeds. Fuel saving would also be different because running at maximum speed for so long would burn fuel very quickly so drivers may have to intentionally stay below the limiter or deliberately hover in the slipstream of a car ahead. This would be a great topic for an F1 magazine

  20. Please spell “Eifel” with only one F. Thank you!

  21. With increasing speed from 2017 F1 needs new standards for circuits as well. 7-9 km would fit well.

  22. When the 1967 French Grand Prix was announced for the Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans, there was actually a private push among the drivers to use the full 13.461 km Sarthe circuit instead. Most found the Bugatti track boring and would rather have used the full track. Unfortunately it never happened and 1967 was the only time the championship visited Le Mans.

Comments are closed.