The roar of engines reverberating off buildings, inches away from disaster at any second: street circuits provide visceral thrills like no other.
It’s a spectacle that even Las Vegas hasn’t been able to resist; residents enduring months of disruption as it created a circuit that runs right down the Strip in the heart of Sin City.
The backdrop is undoubtedly spectacular, but how will the track itself rate against F1’s finest? Here are 10 of the best street circuits in the history of the sport that — in no particular order.
Does your favourite make the cut?
Albert Park, Melbourne
The old F1 season opener might have lost its prime slot at the top of the calendar, but Albert Park remains as popular as ever, with 2022’s edition a sell-out.
Racing around the Albert Park Lake, the circuit is constructed on public roads in around six weeks and has hosted the Australian Grand Prix since 1996.
It has undergone changes for this year’s race but has always been a challenge for the drivers with the public roads lined with barriers ready to punish any mistake around what is a pretty quick track.
Deceptively quick corners and a winding layout means overtaking is not always as easy as some might like, but the Aussie fans are always out in full force whatever happens.
The atmosphere around Albert Park is always one of the better ones in F1, with fans eager to soak up as much of the action as well as the sunshine.
It has become a staple in the F1 calendar, Covid permitting, but expect a raucous crowd as F1 returns to the spiritual season opener this year.
Montjuïch Park, Spain
The technical challenge of Monaco, a lap speed not far off Zolder, and the skyline of Barcelona. Fantastical is the word for the circuit around Montjuïch Park, which rose up from the start/finish straight before sending cars diving down towards a left-hand hairpin at 150mph: a rollercoaster start to grands prix that showed the best and worst of racing.
19 turns thread their way over 2.1 miles, making it the longest lap on the Formula E calendar, and in terms of character Rome has just what many other FE circuits lack: decent gradient changes and challenging corners. Cars almost jump over crests as the asphalt elegantly rises, with the track also one of the fastest in the championship – speeds top out at 240 km/h on the back straight.
Further adding to the atmosphere is the warped grandeur of the Mussolini-era architecture which towers over the track, giving it a truly unique ambience in world motor sport.
Last year’s pair of damp races turned into humdingers, with frenzied overtaking manoeuvres up and down the field and several high speed incidents.
Lucas di Grassi told Autosport he thought of the track as a “mini-Macau”, going on to say, “You have jumps, different tarmacs, different grips, high-speed and difficult braking, uphill, downhill.”
The Brazilian added that the track’s “imperfections” add to the “old-fashioned” feel – which is what makes it so good. Hear, hear.
Monaco represents everything that is good, bad and in between about Formula 1.
Previously a playboy’s hideaway only seen to most through grainy black and white photographs, it evolved in tandem with the championship’s development in the ’60 and ‘70s to become the living, breathing embodiment of F1’s risk-taking, glamour and decadence.
The iconic layout has produced some of F1’s standout moments on which the championship now projects its brand: Ayrton Senna’s incredible ’88 pole lap as well as his famous loss of concentration in the corresponding race; Lewis Hamilton’s masterful win in the rain in ’08; not to mention Alberto Ascari’sLancia crashing into the harbour and Graham Hill forging his ‘Mr Monaco’ moniker.
The circuit wraps itself around landmarks which are like no other – the 150mph+ steeplechase up to Beau Rivage, the sweep of Massenet and edginess of Casino are indelibly linked with the championship, whilst F1 acoustics reach their most ear-piercing in the Tunnel, and then Nouvelle Chicane rewarding only the bravest overtakes.
The crescendo of Tabac, Chiron and Swimming Pool still manages to make the hairs stand up as the lap comes to its conclusion. Unfortunately, processional races have become common in recent years, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Monte Carlo street circuit is a special track which still deserves its place on the calendar.
Marina Bay Circuit, Singapore
As far as striking locations go, you’ll be hard pressed to find a venue more impressive to look at than the Marina Bay Circuit.
Host of F1’s first ever night race back in 2007, it has been a fixture in the calendar ever since as the Singapore Grand Prix.
The circuit has undergone slight changes since that inaugural year, mainly the removal of the old Singapore Sling chicane, but it remains a spectacle on TV and in person.
Usually there’s a reliable chance of at least one safety car during the race to spice up the action, not to mention the precision required for a pole lap.
Lewis Hamilton’s 2018 effort was a spellbinding watch as he pushed the limits around Marina Bay, but the drama hasn’t been limited to Saturdays.
The ‘Crash-gate’ scandal back in ’08, a fiery exit for Heikki Kovalainen in 2010 and start-line smash in 2017 that set the title on a different course, Singapore has seen pretty much everything.
It has been imitated in recent years and is no longer the only night race on the calendar, but there’s still no beating the original.
The mist that frequently hangs in the Ardennes forest only embellishes the fearsome reputation of the old Spa layout: a nine-mile breakneck blast that used Eau Rouge and Raidillon to launch cars beyond Les Combes, where the modern circuit now turns right, stretching left through Burneville, Malmedy and on to a flat-out run down the infamous Masta Straight and Kink.
Drivers described it as exhilarating, but they may have just been mistaking it for terror, as they raced past houses, farm buildings, walls and trees with a crash barrier here and there offering only a nod to safety.
In 1960, Spa claimed the lives of Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey within a few laps of each other, while Stirling Moss was severely injured in a crash. Brian Redman told Motor Sport that his fear of the circuit never left him — and that he considered retiring after his first practice session. “I couldn’t believe how fast we were going – all the time!” he said.
One moment, they are hitting 235mph on F1’s longest straight; the next they are preparing to weave past the unforgiving barriers on Baku’s medieval streets. It’s a combination that has delivered some of F1’s most exciting races since the circuit’s addition to the calendar in 2016 when it hosted the European GP.
Who can forget Red Bull team-mates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen colliding and taking each other out in 2018? Verstappen’s tyre blowout in 2021 that cost him the race — and then Lewis Hamilton’s error as he led the restart, dropping him outside the points.
On-track battles can be just as intense and drama-filled. Valtteri Bottas has had his fair share of heartbreak in Baku, but the Finn memorably pipped Lance Stroll to P2 back in 2017, winning second position by a matter of metres on the run to the chequered flag.
A career maker and a car breaker, the circuit sees Formula 3 cars hitting speeds up to 174mph on the wide straights, followed by the tightest of corners that initially seem to narrow to navigate. Mastering Macau remains a formidable test for young drivers aiming to reach higher categories.
Montjuïc Park is often thought of by those in the 'know' as the great lost F1 circuit – but there might just be one track on the calendar which shares many of its virtues
Lucas di Grassi described the 6.12km (3.8 miles) circuit as a cross between Monaco (difficulty) and Spa-Francorchamps (length). The Guia Circuit is said to be the road to F1 stardom: Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher are among those to have ascended from Macau victory.
It has been home to memorable race finishes, such as the tight battle between race leader Sérgio Sette Câmara and Ferdinand Habsburg on the closing laps of the 2017 Macau GP. In their desperation to beat the other, both drivers outbraked themselves and headed straight into the wall – leaving Dan Ticktum to take a last gasp win. Habsburg crossed the line for fourth, albeit with a broken front suspension.
A win in Macau is always special, with victory usually separating the promising from the true greats.
Anything fiery from the French Auvergne region is inevitably linked with the volcanoes dotting the landscape. But it wasn’t magma bubbling deep underground that gave the Charade circuit its spirit: the rocky remnants of past eruptions formed a circuit that curved and twisted like few others.
With 50 corners over five miles and barely a straight to speak of, the tarmac rose and plunged with the land in a dizzying test of skill and bravery: “A superb test of driving skill with the best machinery that makes ordinary mortals like you and me mop our brow and mutter Cor!’,” wrote Denis Jenkinson in Motor Sport.
Nowhere was that better demonstrated than the 1972 French GP where a puncture robbed Chris Amon of a commanding lead. Resuming in ninth, the New Zealander whipped around the circuit setting lap record after lap record on his way to a podium finish.
It exemplified the challenge of street circuits, wrote Jenks who bemoaned FIA guidelines that corners should open up: “For me one of the most satisfying types of corner is the complete opposite, one which tightens up on you when you least expect it, so that you have got to be just right on your approach and entrance or you are in dead trouble.”
Sadly dead was the word after 1972, the final year that Charade hosted the French Grand Prix. There were complaints over the circuit length, the quality of facilities and safety. And when you consider that mountainside run-off areas were made up of catch-nets, it’s hard to argue with that decision.
Targa Florio, Italy
Greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s saying something when we’re considering the 44-mile Piccolo Madonie circuit on winding Sicilian roads. But the location, the bruising sports cars that competed and the fanatical crowds — half a million lined the route — made the Targa truly epic.
It was a test for the greats: Nuvolari, Moss, Vacarella, Elford and Siffert. Not just their speed and skill, but also their restraint on broken tarmac, around unsighted corners and skirting sheer drops.
The Targa Florio isn‘t just a race that’s lost to a previous era, it’s a way of racing itself.
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Even as one of the most recent additions to the current F1 calendar, the Jeddah Corniche Circuit has quickly made an impression as one of the most action packed yet controversial races the series has to offer.
Second fastest after Monza and second longest after Spa, Jeddah sets a unique challenge for drivers, who are awarded for their bravery with significant time gained, but punished heavily for mistakes – Mick Schumacher’s shunt in 2022 being an memorable example.
Since its debut in 2021, the circuit has undergone numerous safety changes, many coming ahead of the 2023 grand prix, but its blend of blind corners can be a dangerous obstacle for drivers to overcome.
The circuit is set to remain on the F1 calendar until 2030.
Long Beach, USA
The street circuit at Long Beach California, may have began life as a humble Formula 5000 circuit, but quickly became a seasonal favourite after it joined the F1 calendar in 1975. It’s blend of high speed straights, quick corners and hard breaking zones gave fans limitless action, and crowned seven different winners including Niki Lauda, John Watson and GillesVilleneuve.
But with fears of bankruptcy growing due to the expensive nature of hosting an F1 event, the Long Beach circuit made the switch to CART IndyCar for 1984, signing the contract one day before hosting its greatest grand prix. Starting last, Watson raced through the field to beat McLaren teammate Lauda by almost half a minute, with Rene Arnoux finishing third for Ferrari.
The Long Beach circuit has remained on the IndyCar calendar ever since, and has remained one of its biggest spectacles.