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Six of the Best: Short-lived Grand Prix circuits

2 October 2013

The Korea International Circuit at Yeongam is one of the least-loved circuits on the contemporary F1 calendar.

A remote Tilkedrome seemingly clad in a permanent state of grey, with an uninspiring layout around an underdeveloped marina playing host to usually tepid racing in front of an almost uniquely uninterested crowd, it's safe to say that the Korean Grand Prix has yet to capture the imagination of the F1 circus.

With perennial doubts about Korea's ability to fulfill its commercial obligations casting fresh aspersions on the likelihood of the recently announced 2014 race, the chances of the Korean Grand Prix running the duration of its projected agreement through 2021 seem optimistic at best.

Still, this weekend stands set to see the fourth coming of Yeongam as a Formula One destination, which is more than can be said for these six short-lived, rarely lamented, ghosts from Grand Prix racing's past…

Tananka International Circuit, Aida, Pacific Grand Prix, 1994-95:

One of many failed early attempts to broaden the international scope of Formula 1 came in the mid-90s, when the Tanaka International Aida circuit in Japan was awarded a race under the moniker of the Pacific Grand Prix. The idea was to capitalize on Japan's ardent enthusiasm for F1 with an early championship round, bookending the European season with trips to the Far East.

Built at a cost of £61 million as a vanity project by golf course mogul Hajime Tanaka, the TI Circuit set new benchmarks for remoteness; deep in the mountainous Aida countryside and surrounded by endless undulating woods and scrublands. The circuit was 12 miles along narrow roads from the nearest town, and accommodation for fans and team personnel was scarce – leaving many having to travel up to 40 miles to access the track.

Upon arrival, the circuit itself failed to set the drivers' pulses racing. A short, narrow and twisting 3.7km of uninspiring sprints between a succession of tight corners, the TI circuit's sub-Tilke layout was not conducive to close quarters combat, nor demanding enough to prove a supreme test of drivers' skills.

Michael Schumacher was F1's sole victor in Aida, coasting to victory in 1994 after a first corner collision took out pole-sitter Ayrton Senna, and repeating the trick in 1995 by blitzing the Williams pair of David Coulthard and Damon Hill to seal his second world title.

When the 1995 race moved from its spring billing after the devastating Kobe earthquake to form part one of a Japanese double-header, the back-to-back comparison with Suzuka did Aida no favours. The fans voted with their feet, and the race was quietly dropped for 1996 - leaving the TI Circuit as one of the least inspiring canvasses ever to be blessed with the brushstrokes of a Grand Prix World Championship race.

Pescara Circuit, Pescara Grand Prix, 1957:

Officially the longest circuit ever used for a championship Grand Prix at 16 miles, Pescara can also lay claim to the unofficial title of most dangerous; a death-defying jaunt along narrow coastal roads surrounding the picturesque seaside town of Pescara on the Italian Adriatic Coast.

The circuit's bizarre Dorito-shaped layout started between Madonna and Pescara on the waterfront, heading through Pescara's town centre before turning inland and blasting through multiple hilltop villages, with the course exposed to a 500ft cliff drop in sections. The circuit turned towards the water at Cappelle taking a five mile straight line to the seaside village at Monte Silvano, where an acute turn through 100 degrees pitched drivers back onto the coastal road to Pescara.

Although the circuit was used for racing from 1924 to 1961, only once, in 1957, did the Pescara Grand Prix make up a round of the Formula One World Championship. The race, the penultimate round of the season, certainly had no problem attracting spectators, with over 200,000 fans lining the 16-mile circuit in sweltering August heat.

In protest at a proposed ban on road racing in Italy, and as a conciliatory gesture following Juan Manuel Fangio's capture of his fifth world title, Enzo Ferrari withdrew the Ferraris of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins before the race. In the absence of the Maranello outfit, the Pescara GP was set up as a straight fight between Fangio's Maserati and Stirling Moss's Vanwall.

After three hours of racing, the 16-strong starting field had been reduced to just seven runners, and Moss emerged victorious, cruising home to beat Fangio by over three and a half minutes – even enjoying time to stop for a drink halfway through the race! Although Formula One would never return, Pescara continued to host motor racing for four further years before eventually succumbing to slowly evolving concepts of driver and spectator safety.

Ain-Diab Circuit, Casablanca, Moroccan Grand Prix, 1958:

The exotic environs of Casablanca played host to one of early F1's classic title showdowns in the inaugural and ultimately sole Moroccan Grand Prix in 1958.

Motor races had been held on dusty public roads around Casablanca 1925, but only in 1957 did Formula One cars arrive for the first time to tour the new Ain-Diab circuit configuration – built at the personal bequest of King Mohammed V to celebrate Morocco's recent independence. The 1957 non-championship race attracted an elite field and proved popular, leading to an upgrade to full championship status as the final round of the 1958 season.

In suitably Hollywood style, Casablanca played host to a title showdown between two dashing protagonists, Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss, bidding for theirs and Great Britain's maiden world championship.

The season had seen a classic tortoise and hare race for the prize, with Hawthorn's steady accumulation of points and a sole victory for Ferrari giving him the edge over Moss, whose three wins were counteracted by repeat poor reliability from his mechanically volatile Vanwall.

Moss knew that he had to win and set fastest lap with Hawthorn finishing no higher than third around the Ain-Diab circuit to take the title. Moss upheld his end of the bargain, taking a dominant win by a minute and a half, but a second place for Hawthorn saw him sneak the championship by one point.

Any goodwill accrued by the race was sullied however by a tragic coda that befell Stuart Lewis-Evans. On lap 41, the talented Briton skidded on oil and crashed into trees, his Vanwall bursting into flames as a fuel pipe ruptured. Lewis-Evans died six days later in hospital, and Tony Vandervell withdrew his Vanwall team, who had just won the inaugural Constructors' Championship, from full-time Formula One.

International motor racing wouldn't return to Morocco until 2009, and the Casablanca event is destined to forever remain an obscure oddity on F1's international roll call of honour.

Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, Caesar's Palace Grand Prix, 1981-82:

Formula One has suffered a frequently difficult and enduringly peripatetic relationship with the United States through the years, and no race better illustrates the cultural clash of American glitz and Formula One's then conservative European power base than Las Vegas' Caesar's Palace Grand Prix.

When Watkins Glen, the traditional home of the American Grand Prix, could no longer afford to host Formula One, Vegas and Caesar's Palace stepped in. The city was eager to shed its shady mafia image and generate some good publicity, and the casino keen to profit from the extra revenue guaranteed by a back-yard sporting jamboree.

Built away from the iconic Strip in the Caesar's Palace car park, the circuit's myriad problems included the desert heat, an absurd and flatly repetitive 'M' shaped layout, an overly narrow makeshift pit-lane without garages, tiny crowds, and an anti-clockwise direction that, when allied to the heavy-braking stop-start nature of the lap, placed a terrible strain on the drivers' necks.

Stepping in to Watkins Glen's breach, Caesar's Palace assumed the role of season-closer, bringing the curtain down on the 1981 and 1982 campaigns – both of which went to the wire.

In 1981, Nelson Piquet pipped Carlos Reutemann and Jacques Laffite to the title in a three-way showdown, overcoming exhaustion and severe neck strain – throwing up in his helmet during the race - to bring the car home in fifth place and beat Reutemann by one point.

For 1982, the equation was equally knife-edged, with Keke Rosberg and John Watson battling for the Drivers' title. A fifth place behind maiden winner Michele Alboreto was enough for Rosberg, but a paltry crowd of 30,000 illustrated the extent to which the race had failed to capture the imagination.

Three American races didn't go into two for the 1983 calendar, and Caesar's Palace was the odd-man out, quietly kicked to the kerb as the first of many failed races across the US in the 80s and early 90s.

Avus, Berlin, German Grand Prix, 1959:

Formula One circuit maps are uniquely distinctive, the iconic shapely curves of Spa or Monaco instinctively alluding to racing history just through a cookie-cutter silhouette. However, for every classic layout, there are those forgotten circuits whose indistinct outlines represent nothing more than incidental squiggles. And then there's AVUS, a one-off substitute for the old Nürburgring which hosted the 1959 German Grand Prix.

The Automobil-Verkehrs und Übungs-Straße, to give its full name, is the single most bizarre setting to ever have been decorated with a Formula One Grand Prix. An abridged autobahn on the outskirts of Berlin, in its motor racing configuration AVUS was a unique four-corner circuit which saw two long straights joined at each end by tight corners; a literal hairpin with a flat 180-degree south curve and an infamous red-bricked, 43-degree banked and barrier-less north curve to complete the lap.

Despite a long heritage of multiple class motorsport harking back to the twenties, as well as a non-championship Formula One Mercedes exhibition race in 1954, AVUS was still a surprising choice to host the German Grand Prix in 1959. Due to concerns over tyre wear, the race was uniquely scheduled as two 30-lap heats, with the winner to be decided based on the aggregate of the two parts.

The event was somewhat overshadowed by the death of Grand Prix front-runner Jean Behra in a support race on the Saturday, starkly illustrating the dangers of the circuit. The race itself was a Ferrari procession, with the scarlet Maranello cars of Tony Brooks, Dan Gurney and Phil Hill respectively taking the three podium positions in both races – Brooks taking the chequered flag at a then-record average speed of 143.3 m/ph. AVUS' abiding image though remains Hans Hermann's miraculous escape from his barrel-rolling BRM, incredibly captured on photo and film.

Formula One was destined not to return to Berlin, with the 1961 ban on banking and evolving attitudes to safety and high-speed straight-line racing putting paid to AVUS as a Grand Prix destination.

Fair Park, Dallas, Dallas Grand Prix, 1984:

The search for a home for Formula One in the United States took in many street circuits through the 1980s and 1990s, encompassing Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Phoenix and, most ingloriously, Dallas, in 1984.

The layout of the temporary circuit in downtown Dallas' Fair Park was itself well-received, despite its tight and twisty nature, but the issues for which the Dallas Grand Prix are remembered were more deep-rooted.

A lack of run-off areas were and remain commonplace at street circuits, and the 100-degree plus heat was an occupational hazard of scheduling a mid-summer race in Texas. The track surface however was a unique variable; a bubbling volcanic potion of metamorphic tarmac that flared and fractured throughout the weekend - much to the detriment of the low-ride height Formula One cars expected to traverse 67 laps on raceday.

With rumours of cancellation abounding throughout the weekend, and a drivers boycott proposed on Sunday morning, the entire weekend operated under a cloud – a mood heightened by Martin Brundle's leg-breaking accident during Friday practice.

Waved off by Larry Hagman and under the watchful eye of former President Jimmy Carter, when it eventually started the race itself was an attritional farce, with the unpredictable surface and abrasive conditions accounting for 18 of the 25-strong starting field.

Keke Rosberg won for Williams-Honda, attributing his success to a specially water-cooled helmet, allowing him to literally keep a cool head while those around were losing theirs - famously including pole-sitter Nigel Mansell, who unnecessarily tried to push his Lotus home after a late breakdown, ultimately collapsing onto the track with exhaustion and dehydration.

Citing the oppressive heat and borderline comic conditions, Formula One beat a hasty retreat from Texas after only one outing, replacing the Dallas Grand Prix with the infinitely more popular Australian race in Adelaide from 1985.


Will Saunders
@formulawill


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