Maurice Hamilton’s Top Grand Prix Circuits

Maurice Hamilton’s Top Grand Prix Circuits


By Maurice Hamilton

As a working Formula 1 journalist, there are two ways to view a Grand Prix circuit: the ease of working at the track, and its attraction as an atmospheric venue. The two perspectives are not necessarily the same. In fact, they can be dramatically different. Monaco is a very good example.

Arguably one of the most famous sporting venues in the world, the circuit winding through the streets and around the Principality’s glittering harbour is, in many places, unchanged since the first Monaco Grand Prix in 1929. It is the essence of chocolate box glamour, topped by a royal castle and filled with the rich and famous, many drawn from the nearby Cannes Film Festival. For race fans, seeing powerful F1 cars racing at such close quarters is as unequalled as it is unforgettable. 

But as a place of work, Monaco is a nightmare, the temporary nature of the track meaning the paddock is some distance from the pits which, in turn, are remote from the media centre, with the added frustration of having the often-devious access routes changed on a whim by police and officials. Nonetheless, Monaco remains a ‘must see’; albeit an expensive one.

Melbourne is a happy medium, a vibrant atmosphere generated by Australia’s love of sport and a knowledgeable crowd enjoying a day out at an easily accessible and well-managed track within a tram ride of a cosmopolitan city centre. Montreal scores for similar reasons, but with the added attraction of an island location in the Saint Lawrence; a unique setting enhanced further when the sun shines in early June. For sheer majesty, however, the Red Bull Ring in Austria’s Styrian mountains takes some beating, even if the track itself is short and not particularly taxing.

For me, atmosphere means a lot. The seaside track at Zandvoort, a short train-ride from central Amsterdam, has always generated a friendly and enthusiastic charm; the sand dunes providing an unusual natural grandstand. Interlagos may have a very different location in a sprawling down-at-heel suburb of Sao Paulo, but the Brazilian fans bring a rowdy, colourful presence to a challenging racetrack, particularly if – as happened during a memorable championship finale in 2008 – a local driver is in the running.

For a pulsating mood, mixed with frayed tradition and a hint of menace, there is nothing to beat the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on a warm September afternoon. Monza simply oozes passion from the moment you enter the gates of a royal park in which the track is situated and make your way through the trees to a venue constructed in 1921; a pistol-shaped circuit that has remained fundamentally unchanged in terms of high-speed spectacle.

Closer to home, Silverstone also maintains links with a reputation for maximum performance established when the former airfield track, straddling the Northamptonshire/Buckinghamshire border, staged the very first round of the Formula 1 World Championship in 1950.

Silverstone has been steadily developed to match the F1’s changing demands but, along with Wimbledon and The British Open, the efficiently-organised Grand Prix remains one of the highlights of Britain’s sporting summer. Camping has become such a popular choice that the aroma of bacon and eggs defines Silverstone as surely as the popping of champagne in Monaco or the irresistible beat of a samba band in the heat of Interlagos.


About the author

Maurice Hamilton has been a Formula One journalist since 1977, and he has attended over 500 Grand Prix as a working journalist. Previously an award-winning writer for leading British newspapers, including The Observer, The Guardian and The Independent; Grand Prix editor for Racer magazine; editor of the Autocourse Grand Prix annual; and Commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live at Grand Prix events, Hamilton is also the author of more than twenty books.

 The fully updated second edition of Formula 1 Circuits is out now.