If the rumours are true, the 2011 Turkish Grand Prix will be the last. Which is ironic, because it’s the most eagerly anticipated race at Istanbul Park since the first one back in 2005. As a race destination, though, it's been a failure: the attendance is always miniscule and all those empty seats create a chilly atmosphere. If it really is over for Istanbul Park, it won’t be missed. But that isn't true of all withdrawn tracks – there are a few that get F1 fans misty-eyed just thinking about them. Six of the best for you...
The Le Castellet circuit – built on the French Riviera with the fortune of drinks magnate Paul Ricard – hosted its first F1 race in 1971 and alternated with the other great Gallic circuits until the mid-1980s when it took over as the permanent home of the French Grand Prix. It was the centre of French racing, confirmed by the presence of a racing school that taught Patrick Tambay, Didier Pironi, Alain Prost, Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis. Ricard’s reign coincided with a high point in French F1. In 1982 René Arnoux won for Renault, and Alain Prost followed suit a year later. Prost would go on to win again in 1988, 1989 and 1990, driving for first McLaren and then Ferrari. Then disaster struck: the French Grand Prix moved to Magny-Cours. Thanks to a fair amount of political patronage and (whisper it) a whiff of corruption, the circuit in Nevers took the race, in spite of terrible access and little accommodation for the 150,000-plus spectators. What annoyed the establishment most was being dragged away from the Cote D’Azur and dumped in a field. Full of cows.
The Green Hell was the ultimate racing circuit. Unending miles of twists, turns and hairpins carved into the Eifel Mountains. F1 stopped using the circuit after Niki Lauda’s near-fatal crash in 1976. The length of the circuit meant the marshal’s posts were too spread out to provide adequate first aid. Driver pressure got the race moved to Hockenheim, much to the disgust of race fans. Lauda was peripheral to the decision, but nevertheless he took the full force of their ire when the German Grand Prix was run at Hockenheim in 1977.
'I drove to the starting grid and the whole stadium booed,' recalls Lauda. 'They thought I killed the Nürburgring because of my accident the year before. That was bullshit. We drivers had agreed, the cars were developing too quickly, they were going too fast, and we had agreed not to race there in 1976. There were five of us on the committee. Three said we should race, because the Nürburgring had invested a lot of money to improve the circuit as we had asked. I agreed because the majority were for it, so I raced. But it was over anyway. Even without my accident. So when I was booed, I was pissed off. I won the race – and the same public applauded. I was very tempted to drive past giving them the finger.'
Watkins Glen hosted the US Grand Prix from 1961 to 1980. Its role of honour includes multiple wins for Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and James Hunt. Carlos Reutemann won twice, Villeneuve, Jones, Lauda, Rindt and Peterson also got their name on the trophy. The Glen wasn’t perfect. It fell behind other venues in terms of safety, the town and access routes were too cramped for major competition, and by the time F1 left, the sight of shirtless rowdies with beer kegs wasn’t the image F1 wanted. But the Glen was a proper racing track, following the maxim that to build a good circuit you start with the side of a mountain and cut away the bits you don’t need. The venues that replaced Watkins Glen – Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, Las Vegas – were dreadful circuits that effectively killed F1 in the US for a decade. Hopefully Austin will bring back some of the magic, but it will have to go a long way to emulate the Glen.
The Most Serene Republic of San Marino has just the right cadence to sound like the sort of exotic European location that should have a grand prix. The only problem is this wealthy enclave is the size of a thimble and most of it is vertical. Fortunately, neighbouring Emilia-Romagna has the excellent Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in the town of Imola. As the name would suggest, Imola is close to the ancestral home of Italian racing, and the sea of red that washed over the circuit during every grand prix was worth the price of admission alone. Unfortunately for Imola, the weird triangular paddock, hemmed in by the main straight on one side and the Santerno river on the other, didn’t leave much room for the modern motorhome. So F1 departed in 2006. The old pit buildings have since been dynamited and the paddock remade – but a European country that wants two grands prix better have a world champion to sell it.
Jacarepagua translates as 'shallow pond of alligators’, but when F1 raced in Rio de Janeiro it was a big hit with the crowds as well as the driver managers. Picking the venue for the Brazilian Grand Prix has always meant a tug of war between São Paulo and Rio, with the race generally being awarded to whichever metropolis has a favourite son in the ascendancy, hence the emergence of Nelson Piquet ensured that Rio’s Jacarepagua became the permanent home from 1981. The race stayed until the end of the decade as Piquet picked up three World Championships, with two victories on his home track, which changed its name to the Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet. But by that point Ayrton Senna was in the ascendancy and the race went back to Interlagos where it has stayed ever since.
Another on-off race, which these days is definitely off. The track that would eventually become the Circuit Oscar Galvez was F1’s first South American adventure. With Fangio, Gonzalez and their contemporaries becoming a powerful force in the sport, Argentina was an obvious early stop for the F1 World Championship and it first appeared there in 1953. It had a good run until 1960, another long run in the 1970s and came back for four years in the mid-1990s. Notable features were the bumpy asphalt and the collision between Jordan team-mates Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella as they squabbled over second in 1997. But what everyone really liked about racing in Buenos Aires was Buenos Aires the city. Few things impress F1 garage dwellers, but an enormous steak so fresh it moos and reasonably priced red wine usually does the trick.