Formula One announced last week that it will race at the famed Mugello circuit in September. That’s a thrill as the Tuscany circuit is well-known as one of Ferrari’s test tracks and has a great heritage of racing history. Could this signal F1’s return to the more classic, ‘natural’ circuits?
Formula 1, in its now 70-year existence, has raced at many legendary venues. Much of the early racing was on public roads in Europe, which evolved into several classic circuits that are still active today. Mugello, during the September weekend, also will host Scuderia Ferrari’s 1000th Grand Prix since the modern age of F1, beginning in 1950.
But in the past two decades, not surprisingly, Formula 1 has followed the money. Bernie Ecclestone did not get richer than the Queen by bowing to lack of funds by countries that didn’t want to provide deep enough pockets to host and adapt safety to keep going to the classic tracks. Most of the financing for promoting a Grand Prix comes from that country’s government.
It seemed that every year, you could set your watch by the British Racing Drivers’ Club and Ecclestone in heated negotiations to keep a British Grand Prix – let alone keep it at Silverstone. Other great circuits had gone by the wayside and major modifications were made to others.
I would just about gag every time race-driver-turned-track-designer Herman Tilke revealed another cookie-cutter, exaggerated go-kart track for F1. The worst of these offenses was modifying and bulldozing the Hockenheimring’s long-looping forest section, retaining only the stadium portion – I still haven’t gotten over that.
In a conversation I had a few years ago with mechanic-turned-television-commentator Steve Matchett, he pondedred, “You can build manmade islands (in the UAE) but you can’t build racetracks with any elevation change.”
Fortunately, Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, does have elevation changes, but few of the tracks built in China, Russia, United Arab Emerates and India have much personality. I love tracks like Road America, Laguna Seca, Spa Franchorchamps and Watkins Glen that flow with the topography. John Morton, famed Datsun racer told me, “I love Road America because every lap is like going on a trip.”
Mugello is one of those circuits. It is amazing that it has never hosted a Grand Prix before. Needless to say, it is well known – and has hosted MotoGP. It has natural terrain and beauty around it like many of the classic circuits built or adapted at the same time.
There are the great street circuits as well. Monaco, Long Beach. At one time, Long Beach even had elevation change as the circuit climbed and descended from Ocean Avenue.
It is also pleasing that F1 has committed to return to Zandvoort in the Netherlands. They would have this year, however, it’s 2020. The circus also visits Spa Francorchamps (modified); Monza; the A1-Ring, formerly known as the Österreichring (modified); what’s left of the Hockenheimring (modified); Autódromo José Carlos Pace at Interlagos; Circuit Paul Ricard (modified) and Silverstone.
It may be just me, but I would love to see them go back to Reims…