Think of Formula 1 circuits and the likes of Monza, Imola and Spa-Francorchamps are the first to pop into the mind of any F1 enthusiast. But these tracks have been around for nearly as long as Formula 1 itself! What about those tracks that have cropped up on the F1 season calendar within the last decade? Well, sometimes races there run with clockwork precision. Sometimes things all come undone. Vaishali Dinakaran takes a look at the newer F1 tracks:
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX
Held at: Bahrain International Circuit
First race: 2004
The first-ever Bahrain Grand Prix was so well organised it received the award for the Best Organised Grand Prix from the FIA. Getting Formula 1 to Bahrain was no easy task — the country had to compete with the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon to host West Asia’s first-ever Formula 1 race. The circuit itself was well received, with its massive run-off areas, which made it one of the safest racetracks on the F1 calendar and also prevented dust from coming onto the track. While race attendance in Bahrain was great in the first few years, the numbers dwindled as the novelty of the sport wore off. In 2011, the race was cancelled due to protests in the country. However, Bahrain is present on the 2012 F1 calendar.
Drivers like the Turkish GP simply because of the challenge that is the Istanbul Park Circuit. The Hermann Tilke-designed track draws inspiration from some of the best circuits around the world, and Turkey is known for its elevation and contour changes, as well as the famed Turn 8 (nicknamed ‘Diabolica’ after Monza’s ‘Parabolica’), a four-apex corner reminiscent of the old Nurburgring track in Germany. However, despite some great racing action at the track, ticket sales were on a steady decline and Turkey will not be on the 2012 calendar after Bernie Ecclestone (president of Formula One Management) failed to reach a new deal with the event organisers.
When the first-ever Chinese Grand Prix was held at the Shanghai International Circuit, people were waiting to see just what the track would hold in store. After all, at $240 million, it was the most expensive F1 facility ever built. But during the very first race itself, a loose drain cover damaged the McLaren of Juan Pablo Montoya. Not a good way for a track to mark its F1 debut. Then at the 2005 race, when Narain Karthikeyan crashed into the barriers, it took an awfully long time for marshals to help him out of his Jordan GP car.
Another black mark against the race. And after the 2011 edition of the race, where grandstands were empty, the organisers refused to pay the licence fee to host the race 2012 onwards. But, in order to keep Shanghai on the calendar, Bernie Ecclestone slashed the prices, allowing a new contract to be signed by which F1 will return to China until 2017.
Formula 1’s first-ever night race, the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix was a sell-out event. Not only was the novelty of a night race a huge crowd puller, the race was also packaged and marketed well. The organisers sold complete 10-day packages for Singapore that included various events and F1-themed parties that would ultimately lead to the Grand Prix. In terms of race organisation, there was no finding fault with Singapore. The organisers had met the challenge of ensuring a safe night race -- the lighting used was impeccable, marshals were well trained and arrived at each accident site at Singapore in good time. As of now, Singapore looks set to grace the F1 calendar for many years to come, packed grandstands and all!
The first day-night race in Formula 1, the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was run with no glitches. The lights over the track were switched on from the very beginning of the event, so as to ensure seamless transition between day and night. Tickets to the first event were sold out, but over the last two years Abu Dhabi has had empty grandstands galore. The track already has a contract to host Formula 1 races until 2016, however. Last year, it was the title decider. But, with the 2011 world championship already having been decided, Abu Dhabi is dead rubber this year. That’s probably why the event organisers have roped in several popular music stars to perform during the race weekend. Ticket sales might see a small spike.
There were doubts as to whether or not the first ever Korean GP would happen at all. With the race scheduled for October, just a month before the event Bernie Ecclestone declared that the track was unlikely to be ready in time. However, on the 12th of October 2010, just twelve days before the event, FIA race director, Charlie Whiting gave it the go ahead. The final layer of tarmac had been put down just 10 days before the race itself, making the track surface slippery. Ticket sales in Korea were poor in the first year of the event, and fell further in 2011. With the race organisers losing the same amount of money via ticket sales that they paid the FIA for licence fees, the GP could be axed from the calendar soon. Unless of course Bernie cuts them a new deal.
INDIAN GRAND PRIX
To be held at: Buddh International Circuit
First race: Scheduled for October 30, 2011
The circuit is ready, although the landscape around the track is rather bare. But if the race is well organised and manages to go off without any glitches, India could seal its future on the F1 calendar rather nicely. In fact, the race has already been scheduled in the 2012 calendar as well. Provided the marshals do their jobs right and the medical teams manage to get things spot on in the event they are required to, the race has the potential of becoming a crowd puller. As for empty grandstands, no such thing! Seventy per cent of the tickets have already been sold. Add to that the fact that prices for the remaining tickets have been slashed drastically, and the first-ever Indian GP looks set to be packed! Can it sustain this? That remains to be seen.