The fastest circuit: Monza
Juan Pablo Montoya’s lap of 1m19.525s during the first part of qualifying for the 2004 Italian Grand Prix is the fastest ever lap recorded in Formula 1, with an incredible average speed of 262.242kph. The layout at Monza is like no other in modern F1, with long straights separated by chicanes producing those huge speeds. Drivers spend around 75% of the lap time on full throttle. The emphasis on straight-line speed is so great that teams run their cars in low downforce configuration, reducing drag and increasing the top speeds even further. That’s why they call it the Temple of Speed.
The slowest circuit: Monaco
Stand trackside during Monaco Grand Prix weekend, and ‘slow’ is probably not the word that will spring to mind as you see the drivers wrestling their cars around the narrow streets as quickly as possible without hitting the barriers. But without any long straights or high-speed corners, modern F1 cars operate a long way short of their ultimate potential in Monaco, even if the drivers are working just as hard as anywhere. The Loews hairpin is the slowest corner on the F1 calendar: it’s so tight that teams have been known to modify their suspension and steering just to make it around.
The longest circuit: Spa-Francorchamps
The Belgian Grand Prix venue is the longest track on today’s F1 calendar at just over seven kilometres. Incredibly, it used to be more than twice as long though, with the original track measuring nearly 15 kilometres in length over public roads. In 1979, they added a shortcut, running downhill from Les Combes at the end of the long Kemmel Straight to Stavelot. The length of the lap, together with its location in the Ardennes, plays a big part in one of Spa’s most notable features: the fickle weather. It has often been known for it to be raining over one part of the track and sunny over the other.
The most fan-friendly circuit: Austin
If you want fan-friendliness, look no further than the United States. The Americans just get it when it comes to making people feel welcome and laying on every facility you could think of, from a mechanical rodeo horse to Tex-Mex tacos whose size defy description. Given that the USA is still comparatively new to F1, everything is arranged to make the sport easy, fun and intuitive for fans to follow – with a merchandise area that looks more like a shopping mall. Thanks to a grandstand atmosphere (even including legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer) and plenty to do, Austin makes a brilliant destination for fans.
The most difficult circuit: Suzuka
In the past, Spa has frequently been described by drivers as the most difficult circuit, but today it’s often Suzuka that takes top prize in this particular category. Unlike Spa, the Japanese circuit is still lacking in much run-off area, while it’s fast, twisting and undulating nature makes it tricky to get right. The 130R left-hander near the end of the lap is the quickest corner but it’s the much slower Degner curves that often catch drivers out, with many a car seen sliding helplessly wide into the gravel trap on the outside.
The easiest circuit: Red Bull Ring
It’s hard to pick an F1 circuit that could genuinely be considered ‘easy’, but for sheer simplicity it’s hard to beat the Red Bull Ring. The longer Osterreichring track on the same site in the Styrian mountains was a fast and dangerous circuit, but the modern incarnation is somewhat tamer, with just seven proper corners. That makes it an easy one to learn, although considerable undulation and some big gravel traps provide at least some level of challenge.
The most atmospheric circuit: Silverstone
There are many circuits steeped in history and tradition, but perhaps none more so than the place where the whole story began: Silverstone. The British track hosted the very first world championship grand prix in 1950, which was won by Giuseppe Farina in an Alfa Romeo, on what was then a blustery, post-war airfield marked out by straw bales. And while the track has changed beyond recognition since, the ghosts of the past still remain, sowing the seeds of a culture that has made Britain the centre of Formula 1 ever since.