With Formula 1 already braced for more calendar rethinking as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause complications into 2021, the topic of stand-in circuits is being discussed again.
Imola and Portimao appear to be the leading contenders at the moment, but 2020 proved that F1 is open to surprising us when adlibbing together a schedule amid global craziness.
So which circuits do we want to see get call-ups if substitute venues are required? We opened it out to our team of writers – saying they were welcome to pitch their favourite of the 2020 stand-in tracks, or to get creative with alternatives.
One of the great joys of last season was seeing how teams and drivers heading to unfamiliar circuits reacted. Despite prodigious simulation work and detailed advance preparation, brand-new F1 tracks like Algarve and Mugello created fresh challenges and a little more scope for variability. Some adapted better and understood the new tracks faster than others.
In that spirit, Motorland Aragon just outside Spanish city Alcaniz is an ideal candidate. It has the necessary paperwork to host a grand prix and the experience of hosting top-level motorsport with MotoGP. What’s more, it does have a car racing pedigree with Formula Renault 3.5 the highest level to race there.
Admittedly, it’s not the ideal venue for F1. The main overtaking chances are into the hairpin at the end of the back straight and then on the approach to Turn 1 that follows after a right/left shimmy through the final two corners, making it well suited to a double hit of DRS. The rest of the track will also make followingly closely tricky, but that’s hardly a problem unique to Aragon.
But those criticisms aren’t the point because what really matters is that candidate circuits are realistic and unfamiliar. This is a ready-to-go circuit located in a convenient location that would be a good stand-in, as well as presenting a brand new challenge for F1. – Edd Straw
One of the few disappointments within the surprise 2020 calendar additions was the drivers lamenting the track surface at Istanbul Park, which they felt had robbed them of the joy of driving the circuit.
It’s always worth remembering in such circumstances that F1 doesn’t exist to serve the drivers’ interests. It exists within a sport that’s designed to test them, and entertain fans.
The tougher life is for the drivers, usually the more interesting it is for those watching. The 2020 Turkish Grand Prix was a spectacular endorsement of that.
If F1 was to go back to Turkey, chances are the surface would be a little more forgiving. But it would still be a challenge. And that’s exactly what we want to see.
F1 can’t just add the tracks it wants, but it’s clear that organisers in Turkey felt the country’s return to the calendar needn’t be a one-off. Commercially, it might just be possible.
And of the 2020 additions to the schedule, though every circuit offered something in the way of good racing or a good grand prix, I think Istanbul Park’s controversial surface gave it an edge in those stakes.
So having Turkey as a leading contender again seems like something of a win-win situation. – Scott Mitchell
Providing F1 is able to look beyond Europe for its stand-in races this year, Sepang fits the bill perfectly. It’s a great track – one of Hermann Tilke’s best – and the circumstances around F1’s need to fill gaps in its schedule potentially removes the commercial factor that was behind the Malaysian Grand Prix dropping off the calendar in the first place.
Sepang chiefs made the decision that the extortionate cost of hosting F1 wasn’t backed up by the fan interest they could generate, while MotoGP offered better terms and a much healthier crowd coming through the gates. Assuming F1 is once again willing to put aside race hosting fees as it did in 2020, Sepang is a worthy circuit that the teams and F1 itself know is more than capable of hosting a grand prix.
We know the track can produce good racing as well, and there’s always the added variable of unpredictable weather. The drivers are unlikely to complain about the chance to throw the current breed of cars around Sepang’s flowing, challenging layout one last time – as long as it’s not too hot! – Glenn Freeman
F1 turned to Portimao last year in its hour of need, so why should that be any different if the situation changes in 2021?
It’s hard to imagine now, but the 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix took place with real-life fans in attendance. Not as many as was originally stated, but people were allowed in throughout the whole weekend nonetheless. It offered organisers revenue that most other tracks couldn’t and fans the chance to return to a version of normality, even if it was only for a few days.
Not only did it come to the rescue of Formula 1, but of MotoGP as well – stepping in to hold the season finale when other races were being cancelled with COVID-19 cases rising around the world. From a practical standpoint, Portimao more than proved it’s worth during the 2020 season.
It seemed like a no-brainer last year and continues to do so in 2021, with the world in much the same situation. Throw in some unpredictable weather, undulations, and great scenery and you’re onto a winner. – Megan Cantle
MONZA… WITHOUT THE CHICANE
Let the temple of speed at least partly return to its rapid glory with an extreme experiment of running flat from Parabolica, through Curva Grande, and all the way through to the Roggia chicane.
Audi Sport did just that in its pre-Le Mans private testing during its LMP Hybrid phase in the last decade. You can witness the mesmerising evidence here.
Imagine the spectacle, the top speeds, and the slender rear wing arrangements! It would likely guarantee the fastest Grand Prix of all time and some outrageous top speed peaks.
Curva Grande would be a blur and the braking area to the chicane would probably need its own padded safe-house!
But, if the DRS were managed properly, a bit of extra run-off at Curva Grande could be found then why not?
Even the slightly stilted hybrid acoustics would sound impressive resonating through the royal parks trees. After all, a cathedral needs its choral echo! – Sam Smith
Any look at a Slovakia Ring onboard will expose it as a long shot even for a theoretical F1 race – it’s ultra-wide in some parts, narrow in others, with a distinct lack of asphalt run-offs and barriers uncomfortably close in some sections, and the kind of undulation that at one point in its FIA championship history necessitated a makeshift tyre chicane so that cars would stop taking off.
But it is also a permanent track with a litany of layouts, and presumably quite modifiable. Slovakia Ring is currently Grade 2, but we live in a world where Zandvoort was able to change itself up enough to get a Grade 1 license – where there’s a will there is a way.
And there really should be a will for the Slovakia Ring because the racing in it, whether in GTs or WTCC/R or particularly entry-level German formulae, is reliably a delight, both in terms of the optics and geometry of the lap and actual overtaking.
Maybe the changes F1 would require would ruin all that, or maybe (almost certainly) making it appropriate for a stand-in F1 race would simply not make any financial sense. But though Slovakia’s not exactly an obvious major market for F1, its track is good enough to be worth thinking about. – Valentin Khorounzhiy
Image courtesy of Hermann Tilke
KUWAIT MOTOR TOWN
Someone predicting Formula 1 racing at Portimao, Mugello and Imola last year ahead of the season would have appeared unusual at best, but it happened. So why not an F1 race in Kuwait?
The Kuwait Motor Town was opened in 2018 and the Hermann Tilke-designed circuit looks like one of his best. Long straights crucial for current F1 overtaking and some beautiful, complex, undulating, and off-camber corners could create such a phenomenal spectacle.
Its F1 layout would likely be the ‘Grand Prix’ version, which is 5.6km long with 20 corners, but the venue does have other layouts F1 could explore.
As well as the testing nature of the circuit, the sandy nature of the surrounding area could make the track surface unpredictable and therefore another interesting challenge for Pirelli and the teams.
Geography-wise, Kuwait borders Saudi Arabia – also set to host an F1 race in 2021 – and the circuit is a similar distance from Kuwait’s capital as Istanbul Park is to Turkey’s famous capital.
Plans are afoot for a continuation of the $160 million venue with shops, hotels and other amenities. But there still appears to be work needed on the infrastructure around the circuit with little being reported or made public in the western world in terms of development.
Clearly, this is a bonkers suggestion that requires a bit more knowledge of the region and how F1 would be received in the country. But its coronavirus numbers are much more preferential than some of the places F1 has visited and theoretically the track is ready to go as it already has the F1-standard Grade 1 licence according to reports.
But if it needs to slot an extra race into the Bahrain leg of the calendar, why not look at this as an interesting alternative to a second race at those venues? – Jack Benyon
When the “sort of almost oval like” (Ross Brawn’s own words, I’m not arguing it WAS an oval) Sakhir Outer got the nod for 2020 race slot, one of my first thoughts was that if F1 was up for using a shorter layout of an existing venue and it fancied approximating the intensity of short oval racing, it should’ve asked Silverstone to use the National layout for its second race.
Ovals are, of course, left-turn only. Oval isn’t just about that, though – at its best it’s also about ultra-short laptimes, congested circuits, the strategic challenge of how easy it is to go a lap down, and every corner being a potential passing place.
Head over from the Wing to the old Silverstone pits, pitch up on the 1.6-mile National circuit that turns sharp right at the start of the Becketts section to join the National straight down to Brooklands, be generous with the DRS zones and chilled-out with blue flag rules (so drivers battle to stay on the lead lap rather than leaping aside) and that might be the closest F1 could get to of oval.
Which doesn’t mean I’m saying Silverstone National is an oval. But it’s a brilliant little venue for racing, and though I doubt F1 there would be as close-fought as Formula Ford 1600’s Walter Hayes Trophy or British Touring Car Championship rounds on that layout, it would certainly be intriguing.
And the F1 pole time there would be about 39s, in case you’re wondering. At least based on my colleague Scott Mitchell’s simracing antics. – Matt Beer
WHAT OF THE OTHER 2020 STAND-INS?
You might be wondering if the absence of Sakhir Outer, the Nurburgring, Imola and Mugello in the above list means we don’t think they deserve another shot this year.
Well, in most cases we do, we just only allowed each writer one choice and some of us got carried away with leftfield ideas.
It would be intriguing to see if Sakhir Outer could repeat the trick and offer another epic race, answering whether it was the short track or the one-off circumstances of George Russell’s Mercedes shot and Sergio Perez’s charge from the back that made that weekend so unforgettable.
And just take it as fact that we’ll want Mugello on the F1 calendar – especially as fears of a dull race with no overtaking proved unfounded. And also because we suspect they’d take a different approach to safety car restarts this time.
Imola and the Nurburgring, though… There was certainly much to love about Imola’s F1 comeback but it’s hard to argue it ahead of the 2020 stand-ins discussed above and it’s fair to say that the 2020 Eifel GP would’ve been very near the bottom of our ranking of every New Nurburging F1 race ever.