It’s no co-incidence that the list of previous Macau winners includes names such as Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. There aren’t many places that make Monaco look easy, but Macau is one of them. The 6.12-kilometre track that runs around the former Portuguese colony is about as unforgiving as the Spanish inquisition, thanks to an insidious cocktail of high speeds, a slippery surface and crash barriers close to the track that form immovable objects to meet irresistible forces. It’s probably the most epic street circuit currently in use, where things can go quite wrong quite quickly…
And once again, we have an example of Formula 3 keeping all the best street circuits to itself – and we thought that F1 was meant to be the pinnacle of world motorsport? But the more compact nature of F3 cars tends to make them more capable of threading the needle of epic venues such as Pau. The southern French circuit, won by no less a figure than Fangio in the past, has a bit of everything: straights, a hairpin, and some vicious bumps – in the middle of what is probably the most beautiful city to host a motor race.
Technically speaking, the 72-kilometre Circuito delle Madonie, better known as the venue for the Targa Florio, is a street circuit. Yes, those streets take in mountains and villages in a terrifying loop around Sicily, but they are streets nonetheless. Quite possibly this was the most dangerous circuit ever dreamed of, requiring the sort of senseless courage you might need for naked bullfighting, so it’s no surprise that it was banned in 1977. But being a street circuit, the track still exists – and some of the roads are still used today for the Targa Florio Rally, which give a flavour of what the original Targa used to be, without the unbridled lunacy.
Are there any other circuits where a cruise liner forms an essential part of the background? At Long Beach, the Queen Mary magisterially presides over the action, having been converted into a floating hotel after arriving there in 1967. Less than 10 years later, Formula 1 arrived as well, in 1976. The track was like nowhere else, consisting of a series of 90-degree corners and a long straight leading to a wide hairpin. Its Formula 1 career ended in 1983 with a remarkable record: in an era where mega-horsepower turbo engines were rife, a turbocharged F1 car never won at Long Beach.
Sir Stirling Moss described Vila Real in Portugal as one of his favourite tracks – and who are we to argue? Vila Real is a crazy rollercoaster rush through the town of the same name in the Algarve, which included a narrow bridge over a vertiginous ravine in its original layout. The track is still used now for the World Touring Car Championship, although unsurprisingly the bridge over the sheer drop has gone. Nonetheless, the current track maintains the spirit of the original with blind crests, next to no run-off, and some buttock-clenching corners – a bit like an urban Nordschleife.
Proving that America is seriously big in everything it does, a Formula 1 Grand Prix was once held there in a car park. Not just any old car park though: it was the Caesar’s Palace car park, for the short-lived Las Vegas Grand Prix, from 1981 to 1982. As there was no permanent track in Las Vegas (in fact, not in the entirety of Nevada) a makeshift layout was laid out using concrete Armco: a bit like a supersized go-kart circuit. The drivers said that the track was somewhat confusing as there was a never a decent view of where the next corner went. Still, Nelson Piquet has fond memories of it – he won the 1981 title there – and it also marks the venue for the last win for the historic Tyrrell team, which triumphed with Michele Alboreto in 1982. That year, Diana Ross even handed out the trophies.
Fair enough: when it comes to charisma and cachet, this might not have the same ring as places such as ‘Monza’, ‘Indy’, or ‘Daytona’. But Birmingham hosted four brilliant and action-packed races from 1986-1989, which were known as the Birmingham Super Prix. The track was a fantastically crazy example of what’s possible when there’s a will to race through the streets. London Grand Prix, anyone?
This was the venue for the Spanish Grand Prix from 1968, alternating with Jarama until 1975, when it was struck off on safety grounds. To be fair it was about as safe as juggling with shards of broken glass, but as a circuit it was truly spectacular, snaking through the park that went on to host the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. Montjuich was dogged by controversy: on one occasion the drivers actually went on strike due to the Armco barriers not being screwed down properly. In the end, the mechanics from all the teams clubbed together to go round the 3.79-kilometre track and do it themselves. Another random fact about the 1975 grand prix at Montjuich: it was the only race where a woman scored F1 points, courtesy of Lella Lombardi.
Renowned as the best Australian track to have hosted Formula 1, Adelaide has always provided drama. One of the best-known moments was in 1986, when Nigel Mansell had a spectacular left-rear blow-out with just 19 laps to go, depriving him of the world title that year. Run through parkland with a very long straight, it was always hard to find a rhythm in Adelaide as there was literally a bit of everything. A notoriously bumpy surface only added to the challenge, but there was a great vibe throughout the whole city – which made it a firm favourite among the drivers.