Choosing which Grand Prix to go to can be daunting. One idea is to try making the decision less painful by first thinking about what type of Grand Prix circuits are best for spectators. As we’ll see, sometimes the circuits we love to watch on television are not always the best for spectators at the circuit.
With a deluge of new circuits added to the F1 calender over the last 10 to fifteen years, Grand Prix goers are spoiled for choice. It’s a colourful, around the world tour that features some of the worlds great cities and distinctive circuits. From new state-of-the-art, Herman Tilke designed courses; tight street circuits through major cities and million dollar yacht-laden marinas; night races under flood lights; and the historic, evocative circuits of Europe.
Some of the venues like Abu Dhabi and Singapore look dazzling on television. The old classics are loved by fans and drivers alike, and a new breed of somewhat homogeneous circuit have been a point of debate among fans. But which kind of track is the best for the spectator at the trackside? Let’s take a look a these circuit types in more detail and their merits (and lack of them) from the point of view of the spectator in the grandstand.
Dusk/Night Race (eg. Singapore, Abu Dhabi)
They look amazing as a TV spectacle, they do wonders for the image of their host cities, they receive a boost from the sheer novelty factor and surely attract new viewers to F1. But how are they for the spectator.
In terms of atmosphere there is a special feeling in the air when attending an F1 race in the dark of night. The excitement has been building all day and as the sun goes down, the city lights up and there is a sense of something momentous about to happen, it really feels like an event, there’s almost a party atmosphere.
From a spectatorbility standpoint though it doesn’t come off quite so well. While the city looks fantastic in its glowing luminosity, the F1 cars look a little off-colour under the flood light. Capturing a good photo of the cars is going to be a real challenge. Photos are going to suffer from graining and under-exposure due to the lack of natural light.
Street Circuit (Monaco, Singapore)
Having a race in the heart of a city comes with it’s fair share of pros and cons for the spectator. The city adds a level of character to the occasion. Just to be watching Formula 1 cars hurtle around tight streets at insane speeds, as drivers wrestle the car at a hairs breadth from the barrier, it’s a real spectacle.
Then look around and appreciate that you’re in the centre of a city that would usually be thronging with cars, buses, taxis and pedestrians and it’s all the more special.
The downside comes from the very nature of a street circuit. Those buildings all around you that make it such a unique stage for a race also, inevitably get in the way of seeing all of the action. Viewing can often be restricted to a very short piece of track where you are standing. With a bit of luck you’ll have a view of a screen but things are still going to get monotonous pretty soon.
Another problem is the likelihood of ‘downtime’. The Monaco Grand Prix for instance has an 80% chance of a safety car, creating the potential for some long boring waits.
The Old Favourites (Silverstone, Monza, Spa-Francochamps, etc.)
The vanguard of European motorsports, these circuits are as evocative as any name associated with the sport. Even tracks that were only added in the 1990s already have a wealth of history – think Senna and Mansel’s wheel to wheel dual along the main straight in Barcelona in 1991 or Schumacher’s historic first win for Ferrari at the same circuit 5 years later.
Visiting these circuits and walking around the track reminds the knowledgeable fan of all these memorable moments of Formula 1’s historic past. Like a visit to any historic place, being there in person can really bring all the history to life. Without a doubt these circuits would be at the top of any F1 fan’s bucket list.
In the modern world of F1, some of these old venues look a bit, well, old. Facilities are not always the best . As the circuits often developed organically from a road race or a bunch of WW2 airstrips (in the case of Silverstone) they weren’t designed for the benefit of the spectator, and views of the track are sometimes not the best.
Herman Tilke – The Modern Era (Malaysia, Bahrain, China, etc.)
‘Bland’, ‘generic’, ‘lacking character’ – some of the criticisms often leveled at this new breed of F1 circuit. Be that as it may, these facilities are state of the art, designed from the ground up to give maximum entertainment. Long straights leading onto slow corners, the wide track encourages passing. The layouts generally mean that from one point on the circuit you can see many corners at once. In some places, like the main grandstand in Shanghai, nearly the entire track can be taken in from one place.
They may lack the history and character of some of their counterparts and don’t have anywhere near the atmosphere of a good street circuit, but it has to be said, they put on a good show.
At the end of the day there is no one answer to what kind of track is the best for the spectator, and could be debated over and over. They are all with merit and when it comes down to it everyone will have there own opinions and things that they consider most important. Keeping the pros and cons in mind though, and knowing what you value most in a circuit, should help deciding where your next Grand Prix trip will take you, that little bit easier.