Formula 1 is a multi-million dollar business, and establishing permanent tracks worldwide is an extremely expensive exercise. Obtaining permanent hosting status on the annual calendar is the goal of all owners and promoters, but fans may still wonder if all F1 tracks are permanent.
Not all F1 tracks are permanent. While some are purpose built racetracks, others are street circuits that transform for the race weekend but go back to public use afterwards. Some tracks are permanent in the sense that they appear on the calendar every year, while others are temporary fixtures.
Below, we’ll go into more detail about which F1 tracks are permanent, and we’ll discuss what goes into making an F1 track in the first place. We’ll also consider the costs of building and maintaining an F1 track, and the importance of temporary tracks.
Not all F1 tracks are permanent. Permanent F1 tracks have the advantage of the complete infrastructure that can be easily upgraded to meet new regulations, and host F1 races during a season, but building these takes significant time and financial investment.
We’ll touch more on the numbers soon, but it’s also worth considering what makes an F1 track permanent. While permanent can in one sense mean it is always used as a racetrack, it can also mean it is permanent on the F1 calendar.
Permanent On The F1 Calendar
The 2021 season saw a record 22 races, and 2022 is set to see 23. On this calendar are tracks that have hosted Grands Prix almost every year since 1950, like Silverstone and Monaco, along with newcomer Miami and the returning favorites of Imola and Zandvoort.
While permanent in the sense of the F1 calendar doesn’t mean the track has featured every year since 1950, it can be interpreted as a track that has a running contract with Formula One. This means the track “permanently” features on the calendar from year to year.
F1 tracks that are currently contracted beyond 2022 include:
- Albert Park – Until 2025
- Baku City Circuit – Until 2024
- Silverstone Circuit – Until 2024
- Hungaroring – Until 2027
While permanent racetracks in the physical sense, tracks like Intercity Istanbul Park in Turkey and Portimao in Portugal have only been temporary fixtures on the F1 calendar, both appearing in 2020 and 2021 (and several times in the past as well). But the other type of temporary track in F1 is the fan-favorite street circuit.
What Is A Street Circuit In F1?
A street circuit in F1 is a track designed using common roads that wind through a town or city. The circuits are bumpy, narrow, and challenging, with special safety barriers placed around the track. Outside of the F1 race weekends, all or parts of these circuits are used by the public.
Driver error is punished severely on street circuits, and the safety car is almost always a factor in deciding the outcome of the race. Street circuits continue to form part of the F1 circus but are temporary tracks, incorporating public roads. Famous street circuits include the Circuit de Monaco and the Baku City Circuit.
The majority of an F1 season will see the use of permanent tracks situated around the world. There are many reasons for this, and safety and infrastructure are priorities. The track also has to have an FIA Grade 1 rating, and most permanent tracks qualify. Attaining this requires meeting strict criteria, which makes permanent tracks favorable to provide safe, reliable venues.
F1 has improved driver safety continuously in the construction of cars, and the speeds attained are phenomenal. With these high speeds, permanent circuits have enlarged run-off areas, with new, safer impact barriers. Some of these safety features are simply too costly or logistically difficult to implement into temporary circuits.
Track surfaces are usually smoother on permanent F1 tracks than on street circuits as they’re not used by the public every day, and track width usually allows for more overtaking opportunities on permanent tracks too.
Spectator safety is also at a premium and the grandstands create vantage points for the enthusiast to get close to the racing action. F1 is a traveling circus and ardent fans travel huge distances to follow the races and can enjoy the camping facilities and entertainment provided on race weekend. Having designated space for the fans makes permanent tracks favorable too.
Becoming A Permanent Fixture
So, while permanent, purpose built racetracks are favorable over temporary tracks, becoming a permanent fixture is another consideration altogether. Generally, a 10-year hosting deal will be struck for new circuits. The deal is essentially designed to recoup the costs of building the circuit and hosting the various Grands Prix over the years.
How Are F1 Tracks Chosen?
F1 tracks are chosen depending on two criteria, the first of which being the issue of financing. The available track owners and promoters tender for contracts to run an F1 race. The second key criterion is that the track must be an approved FIA Grade 1 circuit.
Reaching FIA Grade 1 requires meeting various other criteria. Some of these include the track being 12 meters wide at all points, and having a starting grid with a width of 15 meters. There are minimum widths for pitlanes, and the track must also meet minimum criteria for drainage, safety barriers, and medical centers.
Usually, the owners will seek to sign a contract for several years in an attempt to recover their costs of reaching this grade. The potential income from F1 supporters runs into millions of dollars, for the organizers, the city and the country, multiplied by the number of years the contract is set to run for.
How Does F1 Make Temporary Tracks?
To make temporary F1 tracks, several potential sites are chosen in the city and then, through a process of elimination, the final design and layout are selected. The all-important overtaking opportunities and DRS zones take priority in the design.
Temporary safety barriers are erected, as are stands for optimum viewing. Once the race day is over, the roads go back to public use, and the entire operation can take weeks or months to complete, from start of setup to finalizing the deconstruction.
Temporary tracks and street circuits will continue to be used in the coming seasons of F1. Miami is the latest street circuit on the 2022 F1 calendar and it will circle the Hard Rock Stadium. This is just one of 7 street circuits on the F1 calendar in 2022.
A new F1 track can cost anywhere between $300 million to $500 million depending on the length, infrastructure, and extra facilities surrounding the track. Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina cost in the region of $900 million to complete.
Modern F1 tracks are state of the art constructions, and specialists are employed for selecting the location, design, and layout of the track. Input from F1 teams, current drivers, and even ex-F1 drivers are all encompassed in the final decision to start construction.
Corner sequences, undulations, drainage, and straights are all taken into consideration to enhance overtaking opportunities and spectator appeal. All of these things come with a cost, and this is why the creators of new circuits try to strike long, expensive contracts to recoup the costs.
F1 tracks are maintained in various ways, including track resurfacing, general repairs to the track surface and surrounding runoff areas and barriers, and repainting of markings. Vast maintenance teams carry out these jobs throughout the year on the runup to the Grand Prix.
The surface of an F1 track usually lasts about 10 years, but maintenance to any cracks or potholes will require that specific section to be replaced. The replaced surface must be smooth and not create any bumps, and so meticulous care is taken when any alterations or repairs are made to F1 tracks.
Kerbs in particular take a hammering and require replacement and painting before any major event. The FIA inspects a circuit months before the event and will list any repairs and improvements required to satisfy the safety criteria, before signing off on the track.
Not all F1 tracks are permanent, as some are temporary street circuits. While many F1 tracks are purpose built racetracks, they may not feature on the F1 calendar every year, and so are temporary fixtures instead. Building new F1 tracks takes time and money, making permanent tracks more favorable.