Approaching the end of its 68th season, Formula 1 now visits its 57th grand prix in the United States this weekend. That’s not bad for a discipline that is meant to be very European (at least in its origins). But the most startling statistic of all is the number of times that this race has moved around. Leaving aside the 11 editions of the Indy 500 that were also valid for the Formula 1 World Championship between 1950 and 1960, the 55 United States grands prix to be held up to now have been distributed over 10 different circuits. No other race has adopted such a gypsy lifestyle. But America is well-known for road movies, so it’s logical enough for this trend to be continued even in the rarefied world of F1. And with all these different venues, there are many fascinating and colourful stories to be told.
More than a third of the races hosted in the United States (20 out of 57, including the forthcoming race in Texas this weekend) were held in Watkins Glen. The Atlantic coast circuit, close to New York, was extremely fast. The key points to note were rapid corners and plenty of changes of elevation: even in 1970 Jackie Ickx set the fastest lap with Ferrari at an astonishing average of more than 210kph. Unfortunately, there was not always the safety to go with the speed: In 1973 Frenchman Francois Cevert slid under the guard rail in his Tyrrell and was killed on the spot, practically decapitated by the barrier that was meant to protect him. The following year, another race at the Glen was firmly in the spotlight. It was the final grand prix of the 1974 championship and the two title protagonists were Clay Regazzoni for Ferrari and Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi for McLaren. Ferrari’s legendary technical director Mauro Forghieri arrived at the circuit late after missing his plane. By the time he got there it was already Saturday and he found a Ferrari riddled with a number of technical problems. Even Forghieri could not magic a solution out of the ether, so in the crucial race Regazzoni was outclassed by Fittipaldi, who secured his second world title two years after he won his first with Lotus.