Top 10 Favorite Formula 1 Circuits

These are my top 10 favorite Formula 1 circuits. First off, I want to point out that I’ve only been watching the sport since 2009, so I didn’t include any circuits that have not held races since then, like Imola or Paul Ricard for example.

If this goes well, I might create another map featuring non-F1 tracks like Le Mans or Laguna Seca.

Also, this is my personal list. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

1. Suzuka Circuit
Home of the Japanese Grand Prix.  This used to be the final race of the season leading to some epic showdowns.  The most famous are the title deciding races between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988, 1989 and 1990.

The Honda-owned track is beautifully laid out, crossing over itself and making a figure eight if viewed from above.

There are so many wonderful corners such as the S curves or the fast right-hander Degner curve, but none can match 130R, the nearly flat-out 130-meter radius turn 15.  The speed drivers pull through this corner is astounding.  One slip-up and they’ll end up in a fence, just like Allan McNish in 2002.

Watching drivers master this circuit is something else.  It amazes me when someone manages to do it so right, like Sebastian Vettel has done in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

I’ve played enough Gran Turismo to know this course like the back of my hand.  Of all the races on the F1 calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka is the one I want to see most.

2. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

Spa is home to the Belgian Grand Prix.  This is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar at 7.004km, which is down from the original 14.1 km layout.

This is also one of the fastest tracks out there.  Sebastian Vettel’s record lap of the current circuit in 2009 had an average speed of 235 kph.

The racing is almost always amazing.  With the long layout, it can be raining on one end of the course while the sun is shining on the other.  This leads to some interesting car set-ups and great overtaking.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Eau Rouge, one of the most famous and difficult corners in the world.  Drivers will take this corner flat-out, going downhill before suddenly turning right and going uphill.  If you fail to take this corner correctly, you won’t be set up for the long straight that follows.

This is a speed comparison between F1 cars and FIA GT cars at Eau Rouge.

3. Silverstone Circuit

Home of the British Grand Prix and the second longest circuit on the calendar at a distance of 5.901km.

Of historical note, in 1950 Silverstone  hosted the first race in the first Formula One World Championship.  Before that, the track was actually an RAF airfield.  The original track was essentially just marked out with barrels around the airfield that first year.

The track has changed a lot in the past 64 years, but it still produces some of the best racing out there.  The technical, high-speed corners favor drivers willing to push the limits of their car’s grip.

4. Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace – Interlagos

Interlagos, home of the Brazilian Grand Prix, sits in the middle of Sao Paulo and has been both the first and final race on the calendar.

This is a short-circuit, coming in at only 4.309km long.  The track rests on a hill, giving it a bit of an uphill/downhill feel.

Sebastian Vettel’s drive in the 2012 race led me to fall in love with this course.  Dropping down to 22 in the order and fighting the rain, Vettel came back to finish fourth and clinch his third consecutive title.  The look in Fernando Alonso’s eyes after the race are something I’ll never forget.  That season he fought tooth and nail with Vettel, only to be lose out in the end.

5. Autodromo Nazionale Monza

The land of Ferrari.

That should sum of the feel of Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix.

This track has held an F1 race every year from 1950 to now, save 1980 when the track was being revamped.

This is the fastest track on the F1 calendar, with an average speed of 250 kph and the drivers at full throttle for 74 percent of the lap.  This leads to some clever engineering on the cars, the goal being to reduce drag and gain top speed, which is about 340 kph.

While there are only eight corners, a driver must attack each one perfectly in order to get on the power early and maximize the use of the long straights.

Rubens Barrichello’s 2004 lap record still stands 10 years on, unlikely to be broken in this age of downsized engines and focus on efficiency over outright speed.  It is a must-watch video.

6. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

The Canadian Grand Prix takes place on a man-made island in the St. Lawrence River in Montreal, Canada.  The circuit is named after Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, widely considered one of the greatest F1 drivers to never win a championship, who passed away in an accident in 1982.

This track has produced some spectacular racing.  My personal favorite is the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix.

This race was the longest race in F1 history, due to a long rain delay.  Winner Jenson Button’s final time was 4 hours 4 minutes 39.537 seconds.

Button fought through tire punctures, five pit stops, an accident that knocked his teammate out of the race, and serving a penalty that put him in last place to make 27 on-track overtakes and win the race on the final lap.

7. Istanbul Park

While Istanbul Park and the Turkish Grand Prix are no longer part of the F1 calendar, the track made quite a mark in its short history.

The final few laps of the 2010 race were some of the most stressful both Red Bull and McLaren fans have ever experienced.  One team won out, the other ended up in a feud that didn’t end until Mark Webber retired at the end of 2013.

Istanbul Park features one of my favorite corners, the four-apex turn 8.  Drivers must hit every one, every lap in order to get around faster than the other guy.  The on-board footage here is fantastic.  I count every apex aloud as the driver flies through this sweeping left-hander.

It saddens me to know that great tracks like Istanbul are dropped in favor of newer, flashier circuits.

8. Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit – Albert Park

OK, so I know the Australian Grand Prix might not be the favorite of a lot of F1 fans, but the 2009 race  was the first grand prix I ever watched.

Late in 2008, I decided I wanted to start watching Formula 1.  I can’t recall what prompted it.  Maybe I was bored of NASCAR.  Maybe I just wanted to be that one guy who talks about that one thing that no one else is into, but doesn’t notice so he keeps on.

Well, I’ve accomplished my goal.

The 2009 Australian Grand Prix was the start of something wonderful, both for me and for F1.  Brawn GP, the team built from the ashes of the former Honda F1 outfit, made a turnaround that people still talk about to this day.

The team wasn’t even sure they could make it to the grid.  They had no money, no sponsors and no engine supplier.  Brawn essentially retrofitted a Mercedes-Benz engine in the place of the Honda motor and sent it out.

Jenson Button went on to win six of the first seven races and the 2009 World Driver’s Championship, while Brawn GP captured the World Constructor’s Championship.  At the end of the season, Button was signed by McLaren and Mercedes-Benz bought out Brawn GP and turned it into a factory works team.

Now, I don’t recall many details of the race, other than Button won, but I don’t think it matters.  It piqued my interest, and I’m still watching races today, always looking forward to the next.

9. Circuit of the Americas

This is supposed to be the race that saves F1 in the United States.  We’ll see in a few years time.  Maybe if Gene Haas’ team works out and NBC continues to give coverage, it could finally work.

While they’ve only been racing on this track since 2012, the potential is there.  The racing has been exciting, the location seems great and the drivers seem to enjoy it while still finding a challenge.

My favorite feature has to be the steep uphill climb to turn 1.

From the bottom.

From the top.

Imagine trying to judge a braking point while going uphill.  You lose speed in the climb, so you’re forced to accelerate harder to make up for it.  Your braking distance is shortened because of the speed loss, but because of the way the track widens, there is no “proper” racing line to take, making it difficult to judge when and where to brake.

Brake too early and you let the other guy pass you.  Brake too late and you’ll run off the track.

10. Marina Bay Street Circuit

Home of the Singapore Grand Prix and F1’s first night race.

This track gets a lot of flak.  It’s understandable.  The race is long, the track is hot and because it uses public roads, it can be a bit of a rough ride for the drivers.

I don’t care.  I really enjoy watching this race.  I feel it’s the closest thing I’ll get to an endurance race in F1.  Driving these cars isn’t supposed to be for the faint of heart.

This circuit is really stunning at night.  Watching the cars go around this track is like nothing else.  You can see blue flames spitting from the exhaust and the red glow of the brake discs.  The drivers’ eyes are visible through their thinly-tinted visors.  Drivers who don’t watch themselves and take too much curb pay the price.

Singapore is a race I’ll show to a friend who has never watched F1.  The sights and sounds distract from the occasionally bland racing, but if you really want to see a driver work, watch Singapore.

The Blazer

This is essentially a copy and past from my previous blog.  Since not many people saw it and since I’m focusing on WordPress now, I figured I would post this here.  Going back and reading this makes me realize I’m developing a bit of a theme and possible unhealthy obsession with my vehicles.

DSC_0006

My 2002 Blazer was the less practical 2-door model, but honestly, I loved the look much better better than the 4-doors.  Practicality be damned.  Two-door Blazers featured a steep rake in the rear window, only two seats in the back, second row windows that were simple triangles with old fashioned pop outs.  I didn’t have to chauffeur my friends around because no one wanted to climb in the back or split the bill when it came time to refuel.


Plus, it came with a full size spare that took about about 1/5 of rear cargo space – a very nice place to hide a tool set but a bit of a pain in the ass any other time.  


In short, my Blazer looked and drove like every other Blazer on the street.  


Dad and I decided it we couldn’t have that, so before he handed to keys to me, we made a few modifications.


First, we lowered the car using a combination of springs, shocks and blocks on the leafs.  Since it wasn’t 4WD, we had no real concern about ground clearance.  Yes, the ride was a little more stiff, but I wasn’t afraid of rolling over when I took a turn a little too fast, which was all too often.  Somehow though, oversteer was a problem.  I’m not sure if it was the fault of the suspension or me being 16, but several times in the rain I managed to spin the truck.


Actually, it had to be the Blazer.  All teenagers know perfect car control.


Second, we swapped the stock alloys for a set of ’60s Chevy rallyes, powder coated black.  They contrasted nicely with the crimson color of the truck.  The center caps were chrome ’60s police caps, with the bow tie in the center.  We wrapped those in BF Goodrich Radial T/As, with a slightly taller sidewall in the back to give the car a slight forward rake.  


Unfortunately, the speedometer was never accurate after that.  I estimated it was off at a 12-to-one ratio, meaning that if the speedo said 65 mph, you were actually only going about 60.  


We always talked about doing something under the hood or with the exhaust, but as time went on and I racked up miles, the ideas sort of fell by the wayside.


The great thing about these changes was that everyone knew my Blazer.  Even after my brother took the keys, I would still get messages from friends that said they saw me driving around town. 


Most of those texts were from my male friends.  The ladies never quite understood.  Their loss.  Who doesn’t want to be seen cruising around town with this guy?  


Most of them, apparently.


That truck took me everywhere.  Female occupancy in the passenger seat varied.  I drove it from June 29, 2005 until the day I bought my GTI on May 6, 2010.  That’s 4 years, 10 months and 7 days of ownership.  There might have been a total of 10 days during that entire time where I didn’t put keys in the ignition.  


I put more than 70,000 miles on the truck.  I left a note for Dad the day I crossed the 100k threshold.  

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That 4.3L V6 ran strong until I handed the keys to my brother.  That 4.3L also loved to drink gasoline.  Fuel mileage was disappointing at best, shocking at worst.  I don’t think I ever achieved more than 19 mpg.  


It had the same 4L60-E 4-speed auto that was equipped in every other truck that GM sold at the time.  I wish it had the manual transmission, but that’s more of a desire, not a complaint.  Well, it is.  The gearing was awful.  70 mph meant about 3500 rpm.  You could actually watch the fuel gauge move.  It probably wasn’t any different in the manual, but at least I could row my own.


I used the Blazer for everything.  I took it on road trips, dates and to work.  It hauled fiberglass insulation, guitars, amps and friends.


During one of those road trips, I almost got into a fight with some assholes who decided the paint on the Blazer could be improved by leaning on it while wearing studded belts.

Highway driving was tiresome.  As previously mentioned, the transmission wasn’t geared for highways speeds.  The engine roared at higher revs, but it wasn’t a nice noise.  All you ever heard was the fan.  The steering had a dead area in the center, so you constantly had to correct it or you would start drifting.  There was plenty or torque, so passing was never an issue.  I just wouldn’t recommend going more than 80 mph.


On the other hand, city driving was a breeze.  All that torque meant moving through traffic took little effort.  The seats were relatively comfortable, and the window was just the perfect height to rest your arm.


Because of the airflow around the car, you could have the windows down at 50 mph and get a nice breeze to pass through the car without being assaulted by wind. 


For me the perfect windows-down weather is between 72 and 78 degrees, depending on the time of day, and having the windows down helped me eek out a bit more economy from the engine.


Dad did put a new stereo in the truck.  A Sony something or other.  It helped me get a number of noise complaints, since my tastes in music at the time consisted of various genres of loud.


“Just turn it down when you drive past there,” Dad said.  Thanks for understanding.


He wasn’t so understanding when I first got pulled over.  Then I explained the situation.


Chevrolet, along with many manufacturers who produce trucks, SUVs and vans, has a factory option for rear window tint.  Now in the state of Alabama, tint cannot be darker than 35% on the front.  My factory optioned rear windows came in at a cool 18%.  Dark, yes.  Illegal?  No.

Alabama Tint Regulations

The Blazer clearly falls under the second category.  The officer who handed me a ticket clearly disagreed.  The judge, who threw out the ticket, told me I should have had the windows replaced when I purchased the car.


Bullshit.


The only major problem I can recall is the time we had to have the camshaft replaced, which was quite major.


The car had been running rough for a while.  Finally, it just wouldn’t start.  It turns out the cam was made of a different type of metal than the distributor.  The gears that meshed just wore out.  


Fantastic.


At least regular maintenance was relatively cheap.  I love my Volkswagen, but I cringe when I think of something as simple as an oil change.


But really, the Blazer was nothing special.  There were literally hundreds of thousands on the road.  Why did I take the time to write this up?  


Love.


There are people in the world who don’t understand, can’t understand, the love a person can have for a vehicle, whatever it may be.


It’s not like the love someone has for another person.  That involves a give and take.  


It’s more like the love I have for my dog.  Whenever I see her, she is always happy to see me.  Whenever I want to play, she’ll play.  Whenever I want to relax, she can keep me company.  No conditions, no fights, just ready to go whenever you are.


It’s the same with an automobile.  You take care of a car when you love it.  You fill it with fuel, wash it and take it for drives for no reason at all.  And you enjoy it.  You don’t mind those moments at the gas station because you know that it just means more time with the thing you love.


Automobiles, especially gas sucking ones like the Blazer, are more and more frequently being frowned upon.  Electronic nannies are taking the human element out of driving.  Regulations are being introduced to make things safer and more efficient.  


Fine.


But there will always be people like me who want something simple, something inefficient and visceral.  I love my GTI, but there is something special about pushing the accelerator and knowing a little cable is opening the throttle body, sucking air into a normally aspirated engine.  The sound of the hydraulic steering pump working when you’ve got the wheel at full lock.  The clunk of the transmission when you put the car in drive.  


The Blazer never excelled at any one thing, but it did a lot of things well.  What more could I ask for?  I loved that car, and for all the feelings I have for my GTI, you’ll never forget your first.


*Technically my first vehicle was a 2000 Chevrolet S-10.  My mother destroyed the engine, so Dad gave me his Blazer.  I’ll discuss the “the black truck” in another post.

Roxanne

My baby, Roxanne

2006 Volkswagen GTI

So, I paid off my car this week.  It may not be a big deal to you, but it is a huge deal to me.  I just wanted to share.

I was 20 when I bought my 2006 Volkswagen GTI.  It was my affordable dream car.  I wanted one from the time I started really learning about cars.  And, thanks to my father’s searching and willingness to co-sign a loan, this car was mine.  Well, after four years of monthly payments.

After I got the keys, I used to drive around Huntsville looking at other cars, asking myself what would I take over my GTI.  Very rarely did I come across anything I would rather own.  I would sit at red lights and wonder why anyone would buy anything else.

I suppose this is a love letter of sorts.  I could go on about how my GTI is never boring to drive.  I could talk about how, even eight years after it was produced, I still get comments, questions and stares.  Maybe it’s because of the “Tornado Red” paint and the tartan interior.

But, if I’m honest, this car is everything I could want in a vehicle.

It’s relatively fast.  It’s economical.  It’s practical.  It’s comfortable and quiet.  But, more than anything, it never, ever gets old.  As much as I love cars, driving can be a chore.  But in the GTI, I never seem to mind.

Mine comes with the classic three-pedal setup.  While not as fast as the dual-clutch transmission(the first GTI I drove was a fully loaded Fahrenheit edition with all the bells and whistles), the manual transmission has made me a better driver.  You pay attention more when you have a manual.  Plus, I’m not sure I would enjoy this car as much if I could be lazy and slide the shifter into drive when I’m driving to work.  Though it might be fun to pretend to be Sebastian Vettel as a play with the paddle shifter.

I’m not going to go on about the engine or the way it drives.  There are YouTube videos of Jeremy Clarkson flogging this car around the Top Gear test track that prove my point better than I could ever write it.  It’s all been said a hundred times and more.  All I know is that I still pull harder in a straight line than my friend’s FRS, and that’s enough for me(although the FRS would lose me if we ever came to a corner).

My point, beyond patting myself on the back for being a responsible adult and paying bills on time, is to find something you love and go after it.  For me, it was a car.  Not just any car, but a MKV GTI.  If you have to spend any length of time in a vehicle, find something that’s not boring.  It will make every trip just a little bit better.