Ranking All The Formula One Circuits
Updated: Jan 22
We all like a nice league table, don't we?
It shows, without fear or favour, exactly where our supported team or individual stands amongst their immediate competitors, enabling much braggadocio if you are fortunate to support someone ranked highly.
It can be a little more difficult if you're unfortunate enough to have to look a long way down before you come to whoever you support, but there is still solace in the thought that you know exactly what you must do to rise up the table.
Rising up might be even better than spending an entire competition or season atop the rankings, because after all, sport is all about the triumph out of adversity, isn't it?
Triumph out of adversity is a phrase that could easily be applied to this season's Formula 1 World Championship calendar. Just as the coronavirus pandemic began to paralyse the globe in March, F1 was revving its engines and about to mark lights out on its 2020 season. And then came lockdowns and quarantines, and the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was postponed before the pinnacle of motorsport was indefinitely shut down.
Somehow, despite not getting the season going until July, F1 managed to stage a season consisting of 17 races. Yes, many were back to back on the same circuit ('70th Anniversary Grand Prix', I'm looking at you) but the sport must still be applauded for fashioning 17 Grands Prix out of this mad year.
In honour of that, and in hope of a return to a more regular-looking calendar in 2021, coupled with that love for league tables sport fans share, I thought it would be nice to rank the 2021 circuits. I've drafted in some help for this one in the form of my resident F1 expert, my friend Jack, because my F1 knowledge, while passable, is not particularly deep. This man, on the other hand, can tell you who put in the fastest lap of the 2009 Bahrain Grand Prix without breaking a sweat.
There are 22 races confirmed for next year, but given that Circuit Zandvoort and the Jeddah Street Circuit, hosts of the Dutch and Saudi Arabian Grands Prix, respectively, haven't seen any top-level use in the time either of us have been watching (in the case of the latter, it hasn't even been built yet, so rather difficult to pass judgement there) we've come up with our list of 20 circuits to rank.
Shall we begin?
20) Circuit Paul Ricard, France
I refuse to talk about it for too long. It's ridiculously flat, mistakes aren't punished, and it makes for terrible racing. It's bad. Get your maison in order, Paul Ricard.
Jack: I refer to this one as "Paul Ricar-park" because of the huge areas of run off.
19) Baku City Circuit, Azerbaijan
What is that castle section? F1 is supposed to be about overtaking, and you can barely fit one car width through turns nine and ten, let alone two. Baku's only kept off the bottom by the fact that it has hosted the odd eventful race. Still very poor.
Jack: Yes, the odd eventful one, but they were mainly due to crashes and safety cars than anything to do with the track.
18) Sochi Autodrom, Russia
Uninteresting. Honestly, has anything of note ever really happened here? It's hosted a grand prix seven times, and not a single one sticks in the memory.
Jack: It once had a crash at the start between Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen, but other than that? Dull. Cast it into the depths.
17) Yas Marina Circuit, UAE
Twisty Yas Marina was once given a four letter condemnation by Räikkönen, and I'd agree it's quite poor. The twilight race idea is nice, but that doesn't do much to save it. However, there is something that could be done, and I'll invite Jack at this point to identify what that something is...
Jack: It's just a few redesigns away from being great. If just a few corners were changed, you'd have a far better circuit.
16) Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain
It's just a bit... 'meh' isn't it? Much like Russia, it's hard to find a Spanish Grand Prix that sticks in the memory, but with one notable exception. It's ahead of Russia because somehow Pastor Maldonado ended up atop the podium here, in 2012. It deserves a little bump for that.
Jack: Nothing much happens unless there's a crash. Generally uneventful.
15) Shanghai International Circuit, China
It looks intimidating, all giant grandstands and metallic structures, as though you've landed in some industrial futuristic dystopia. That said, the massive back straight works in its favour, because F1 is all about the speed, and boy do they get down that straight at a rate of knots prior to a huge stamp on the brake for the turn 14 hairpin. Shanghai's not the worst, but it's a long way from the best.
Jack: Fun fact: it has a grandstand that was used for the first ever race, in 2004, and has never been used since.
14) Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico
I wanted to put this one higher, because the designers here had the slightly bonkers idea to have the last sector run through an actual baseball stadium, but Jack vetoed me because apparently that's the exact problem. I'll take his advice.
Jack: Overtaking is extremely hard in that final sector.
13) Circuit de Monaco, Monaco
Monaco is the first of two circuits I've actually been to, although not for a race, and you'll find out the other one in a bit! Despite that, I'm not really a fan. If designers approached F1 bosses with plans to build the Circuit de Monaco now, they'd be laughed at. This is nothing to do with the fact I'm truly terrible at Monaco on Codemasters' F1 video games, barely able to set a lap time below one minute 20 *cough*, but more to do with the fact it's simply a procession. The prestige bumps it up, but as a circuit, I'd opine that it's quite poor.
12) Albert Park Circuit, Australia
Think back to school. When you had to go to the front of the class to do a presentation, or anything of that ilk, how many people volunteered to go first? Of course, virtually no one. I accept Albert Park in Melbourne is a pile of tarmac, concrete, and garages, and can't think for itself, but it does still have the uneasy role of being F1's curtain-raiser. Largely, it passes that role, uneventfully opening the season, and for that reason, it's safely buried in the middle of the pack on this list.
Jack: Just occasionally, there's a bit of drama at Albert Park. There was a huge start pile-up in 2002, and Fernando Alonso had a scary crash in 2016.
11) Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain
It's not one of my favourites, but Bahrain can produce some very exciting racing, and *that* battle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in 2014 bumps it up a couple of places on its own.
10) Autódromo José Carlos Pace, Brazil
Into the top half we go. Generally, flat circuits do very little for me, so I I like Brazil's undulating, hilly offering. On top of that, as the saying goes, it's the little things; in this case, those little things are the colours of the kerbs being Brazil's green and yellow, which for some reason I'm also a fan of. Don't ask. Still a good circuit.
Jack: Definitely most well known for Lewis Hamilton's final-corner overtake to win his first world championship in 2008.
9) Red Bull Ring, Austria
When people look at a sporting event and say "SCENES" they usually mean something shocking has unfolded. A more appropriate word for the Red Bull Ring might be "SCENERY". The backdrop is nothing short of stunning, and the circuit, although a bit short, is of good quality. Extra points for fitting the shape of the circuit into its logo.
8) Circuit of the Americas, USA
That first corner is iconic; one of the steepest inclines of any track on the calendar, and the rest of the circuit isn't half bad either. Full of colour and vigour, F1 finally has the home it has long craved in the United States.
Jack: The designers incorporated elements of existing circuits for this one, including Bahrain, Silverstone, and Turkey.
7) Hungaroring, Hungary
It's a good job for the Hungaroring that I'm compiling this list, and not anyone from F1's tyre supplier Pirelli, as I suspect the Budapest circuit would fall rather fast down any ranking they might propose. Famously hot and twisty, the Hungaroring is notoriously hard on tyres. That makes it a good challenge of the drivers' skill in that regard, and in recent years it has come up with the goods in regards to exciting racing too.
6) Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore
Singapore is the other of the two circuits I've actually been to, although again, not for a race. We simply popped by a few weeks after F1 had breezed through the city-state, wandering up and down the start/finish straight like the tourists we were. I've always liked the Marina Bay track too; Singapore lit up at night is a sight to behold. I think if I get to go again I might very well have to coincide my visit with F1's.
Jack: Singapore is far and away the best street circuit.
5) Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Canada
Bon! Far better than the other circuit at which you'll find the locals speaking French. That monster back straight is lots of fun on the F1 video games, and Canada has given us some brilliant races in recent times, including Daniel Ricciardo's maiden win in 2014. Add in the occasional groundhog sightings around the track, and you've got the ingredients for a top five contender.
4) Suzuka International Racing Course, Japan
Really quite underrated, I feel. Suzuka rarely gets talked about among the best F1 circuits, but it's definitely up there. It has so many distinctive features that make it really good - the Spoon Curve and the distinctive figure of eight layout to name just a couple. This one brings us onto the real heavyweights.
Jack: Suzuka has everything you could want from a circuit.
3) Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, Italy
While it's now truly a global sport, Formula 1 has always had an intrinsic relationship with a small group of countries, and one of those select few is most definitely Italy. The sport's oldest and most successful team are Ferrari. Giuseppe Farina won the inaugural drivers' championship. And Monza is a giant among circuits, not least for one simple thing - it is the fastest circuit on the calendar. I love it.
2) Silverstone Circuit, UK
I feel I should stop being a bit of a humbug when it comes to F1 because as a sport fan living in the UK, I'm very lucky to have Silverstone as my nearest circuit. It's truly world class, and I did say in a previous post it's among the top ten sporting destinations I most want to visit. Jack has been many, many times, and he always returns with a glowing review.
1) Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
It's got a super speedy hill that drivers take in eighth gear and it's so long it can be fully wet at one end and fully dry at the other. Honestly, change my mind. Spa is king.
And so we crown a winner! The home of waffles and top quality chocolate also hosts the best circuit on the Formula 1 calendar.
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