How Are F1 Tracks Built? (Process Explained)

Building an F1 track is a massive undertaking that requires a great deal of thought, a huge amount of planning, and hundreds of millions of dollars. Many people assume the track itself is the only concern, when in fact there are many things that need to be considered to build an F1 track.

Making an F1 track is a difficult task. There needs to be space for up to 200,000 spectators, and a lot goes into planning for sanitation, safety, medical centers, and much more. With an average cost of about $270 million, every detail needs careful planning for a track to meet FIA standards.

The difficulties around building an F1 track are numerous, even if it’s a temporary circuit. Ensuring the track is entertaining, provides every amenity necessary for spectators, and is as safe as possible is incredibly complex. Let’s look at the standards needed to build an F1 track in more detail.

How Are Locations Chosen For F1 Tracks?

Locations are chosen for F1 tracks if they meet a satisfactory grade required by the FIA. Among six gradings, only Grade 1 tracks can be considered. The amenities need to be great, the track has to fit the FIA’s criteria, and there has to be space for up to 200,000 fans.

Existing Formula 1 tracks bid for a contract to hold an F1 race for that season, and the cost of hosting one can range from anywhere between $15 million (Monaco) up to $55 million (Qatar and Azerbaijan). Tracks such as Monaco are so ingrained in Formula 1 folklore, that fans expect to see these kinds of races every year, hence the lower fee.

New Fans, New Money

While F1 is an incredibly rich sport, the need to find new fans, new sponsors, and new circuits means that countries with no prior F1 history are always being considered to hold a race. Of course, this means a new track would have to be built, and over the past few years, real inroads have been made into expanding the reach and appeal of F1.

The new Miami F1 track in Florida is a prime example of F1 trying to broaden its consumer base, as was the first Saudi Arabian race in 2021. The Saudi Arabian circuit, designed by F1 track designer Carsten Tilke, was a perfect opportunity for F1 to expand into the Middle East. Tapping into a nation of almost unlimited wealth where new fans and sponsors can be courted is a no-brainer for F1.

F1 History

Some locations are simply expected in a Formula 1 calendar. Monaco, Monza, and the British Grand Prix are usually always included on the calendar due to their history and popularity. The fee to be able to hold a race at Monaco is noticeably smaller than at other tracks. Long-term costs, however, are high, so a reduced bid allows the race to offset this slightly.

Many newer F1 circuits don’t have the history behind them to compete with Europe’s greatest tracks. These newer venues have made efforts to make their circuits and the overall experience of the new races as exciting and different as possible.

Night races have intrigued fans and offer something different, and the track owners and sponsors of the new circuits hope to build their own legacies and bring F1 to new countries and cultures. As F1 develops over the coming years, it is hoped that these newer venues will become part of the F1 calendar on a regular basis.

How Are F1 Tracks Made?

F1 tracks are made according to very high standards. A track must meet FIA regulations, and specifics from the tracks to the gravel traps must be adhered to. Many circuits are created by designer Hermann Tilke, who makes sure every track is built to the required specifications.

F1 tracks are complex to design, and build. The asphalt track has to have a lap length between 3.5 and 7 kilometers (2.2-4.3 miles) and must be at least 12 meters wide. The longest a straight section of track can be is at most two kilometers long, and each corner needs careful planning to ensure driver safety and spectator enjoyment.

For the safety of both a driver and the crowd, gravel traps need to be constructed to allow drivers somewhere to slow their cars should they go off the track. Safety barriers must be installed to further increase safety, and, depending on the section of the track, kerbs are fitted to designate the limits of the circuit.

Constant Alterations

Building an F1 track can take thousands of workers to complete, and as the track progresses, alterations are often needed in order to comply with FIA regulations or recommendations. Adhering to track length and width specifications, ensuring starting grids are correctly spaced, and that run-offs are safe all takes time and expertise.

On a permanent track, once the asphalt has been laid, the next step is to ensure all the correct barriers are in position. Kerbs at strategic points can either guide a car or slow it down if the driver moves off the track.

Who Is In Charge?

Rather than the FIA or its parent company Liberty Media being in charge of track building and maintenance, each track is independently financed and owned. Through closely working with the FIA in regard to how a track should be, the owners must ensure each regulation is met in order for the track to be classed as a Grade One venue.

Each building material must be carefully chosen, and local materials are often used. The ground itself must be safe to build a circuit on. If there is a chance of subsidence or standing water, drainage needs to be put in to ensure the track is safe. If the ground isn’t ideal, then there may be a need to completely dig it out and replace it.

Each decision is the responsibility of the track developers and owners. Only when the FIA feels the need to offer opinions on alterations do they get directly involved. Once built, the track undergoes rigorous testing and checks to ensure it is safe and up to the required standards.

The Cost Of Building An F1 Track

The cost of building an F1 track is incredibly high, with a minimum projected cost of around $270 million just to build the structures needed. Aside from the actual asphalt track, many additional requirements have to be met before a circuit can be deemed safe by the FIA.

The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi cost a reputed $1.3 billion to build, although this is a great deal higher in cost than most tracks. A country with huge cash reserves and a government that will help offset any costs can spend as much as they like to create the ultimate racetrack. The fact that F1 can be such a lucrative sport means that sometimes the cost is worth it in the long run.

The track itself can cost around $75 million to build, as it isn’t just a case of laying asphalt down and creating a road. An F1 track is a surprisingly complex thing to build, and additional costs arise once the safety fencing and the off-track runoffs are accounted for. The pit buildings, hospitality sections, and team buildings are the second most expensive part of building an F1 track, at around $65 million.

F1 Staff Numbers

The high cost of all these facilities is due to the large number of staff members each team needs at each race. Space for every F1 car, all the teams’ equipment, places for mechanics to build the cars, offices for each team, and hospitality areas to help grease the wheels of potential sponsors all adds up.

Medical centers are also needed for both driver safety and to deal with any potential injuries to spectators. Given that an F1 track can have up to 200,000 fans, the medical center needs to be pretty big. With a $15 million price tag, an F1 medical center needs room for multiple doctors and further medical staff to cover any eventuality that may arise in one of the world’s most dangerous sports.

Spectator Sports

Not many other sports can compete with F1 for the number of fans present at a single event, and with 200,000 potential fans at each circuit, the need for grandstands and spectator areas is paramount to bringing in extra revenue. The cost of seating or even just standing areas designated to fans can cost a new F1 track around $30 million.

With that many fans in one place, the extra requirements become incredibly hard to manage. There are an additional $50 million in costs for infrastructure alone. From restaurants to bathroom facilities for almost a quarter of a million people, merchandising shops, and signage, the costs can skyrocket.

Electricity and sanitation aren’t cheap either, and the more elaborate the circuit, the higher the costs. While $270 million is a conservative number for the overall cost of building an F1 track, some circuits will cost upwards of $500 million to develop.

The costs involved are proportional to the funds available. An F1 track can be functional or fantastic, and spending doesn’t end once a track is built. Annual running costs and paying Liberty Media hosting fees can mean that, over 10 years, an F1 circuit can cost well over $1 billion to build and maintain.

How Long Do F1 Tracks Take To Build?

F1 tracks usually take 1-2 to build due to the incredibly complex list of requirements needed to achieve a Grade One status and be able to hold an F1 race. Before ground is broken, funding is required for the design and development phase, but construction can take 18 months or more.

The funding required is truly staggering and can often increase as a track is being built, because the FIA often requests tweaks to a track, which increases costs and timescales. Building a new F1 track from scratch takes years of development and planning, and finding a suitably large area of land is the first step. 

F1 makes use of technology to plan and build its circuits, and a simulator system is used to visualize, test, and alter a design before any building is even considered. The Circuit Safety Analysis System (CSAS) can see where a track may be unsafe or designate the best place for error-prone sections that increase the difficulty of the race.

Money Talks

A brand new track can take many years to finally complete, although the more money available, the quicker the work can be completed. A dedicated government like that of the United Arab Emirates and their $1 billion track in Abu Dhabi is seen as a vital national project. That can increase exposure to a country’s potential, and so work will often be required to proceed at a faster rate.

When it comes to temporary circuits such as Monaco, the timescales are shorter, local infrastructure is already in place, and the circuit is already known. The real issues arise when work begins on the public roads. Work will often start months before the race is due to take place, and sections of the road are cordoned off piecemeal as engineers install everything needed.

This, coupled with the fact that Monaco is steeped in F1 history, is partly why the cost of bidding for Monaco as a racetrack is lower than other tracks. The disruption to local Monaco life can be irritating, although residents are aware of the huge boost to their economy and local prestige.

Three months of disruptions seems a small price to pay, and once a race is over, the safety barriers and other amenities are quickly removed within days until the next year. F1 may prefer more permanent tracks due to the increase in exposure of F1 and more F1 tracks in the USA the coming years, but given the time it takes to build new F1 tracks, street circuits are here to stay.

How Are F1 Street Circuits Made?

F1 street circuits are made with months of preparation. Monaco is a perfect example of how an urban area can transform into a racetrack in about 6 weeks, but one third of its streets have to be re-laid annually to account for the year-round traffic that takes its toll on the nation’s roads.

Work on the Monaco street circuit begins months in advance of the actual race. There’s a lot of work to be done as the world’s second smallest country prepares increase its population by over 500% for a weekend. And turning a city into a racetrack is an awesome sight tobehold. A frenetic burst of activity transforms a city into a media frenzy of speed and excitement.

Keeping A City Running

Even while preparing for the Monaco Grand Prix, the city itself needs to keep running. People still use the roads, and workers and tourists still need to be able to traverse the city every day. With a population of roughly 40,000 suddenly swelling to over 200,000, the need for temporary alterations to allow Monaco to continue to work as normal means that a lot of the work is done at night.

From re-surfacing and painting the lines on the track to installing the safety barriers, most of this work is done a little at a time to minimize disruptions. As the race draws nearer, prefabricated facilities are installed by crane. Once the track is deemed safe around six weeks before the race, nearly 600 trucks begin to arrive with materials.

From here, the world’s largest Lego set begins to take shape. Bridges, stands, and everything that can be found at a permanent F1 track start to appear. Once the race weekend is complete, the entire process is reversed, and everything vanishes for another year.

Free F1 Viewing

By the very nature of a street circuit winding its way through city streets, many fans who have access to buildings surrounding the race are able to watch for free. Monaco has an official viewing capacity of around 37,000, but around 200,000 viewers can watch the race from homes, bars, businesses, and anywhere that offers a view of the track.

While this may mean a drop in race day revenue, the appeal and exciting nature of a temporary street circuit far outweigh the negatives. Worldwide TV rights often see over 70 million viewers per F1 race, and Monaco is one of the most popular tracks around. Fans love it, and drivers are more desperate to win at Monaco than anywhere else.

Are F1 Tracks Permanent Or Temporary?

F1 tracks can be permanent or temporary, depending on its location. Many newer F1 tracks are permanent and are designed solely for use in motorsport. While permanent F1 tracks have potential for more spectators, temporary tracks and street circuits are a massive part of the appeal and history of F1.

Temporary street circuits offer something unique in motorsport, and with Monaco, Singapore, Melbourne, and Montreal all offering fans of F1 the opportunity to watch cars race on streets at up to 210 mph, it is unlikely they will disappear any time soon.

Permanent F1 tracks also have their history, with circuits such as Silverstone and Monza all being widely loved by fans and drivers alike. A permanent track allows for hundreds of thousands of fans to see their favorite drivers race. There are places to eat, buy merchandise, and make a great weekend away for fans of F1.

The Cost Difference

While both permanent and temporary tracks are unsurprisingly expensive to build and maintain, a temporary track makes use of existing roads, which does make it quicker and cheaper than building a new track from scratch, at least in the short term. Street circuits are quicker to complete, but the cost of repeatedly transforming an existing road network into a safe racetrack is extremely high.

A permanent track takes a great deal longer to build, but once complete, the running costs per year are less than a street circuit. This, however, doesn’t take into consideration the cost of bidding for a race to take place at the permanent track.

Ultimately, a city that has the potential to host a street circuit may feel it is to its advantage to do so rather than building a new track outside the city. One upside to a street race is that should the decision be made to discontinue any future races, there isn’t an expensive track being unused.

Final Thoughts

F1 tracks are incredibly complex and expensive venues to design and build. Even so, a great F1 track can thrill fans and viewers, test drivers’ skills, and bring in revenue for the area. The money made from those hosting F1 races allows the sport to keep investing in its future.

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