Why Doesn’t F1 Race At Laguna Seca?

Since it first opened in 1957, Laguna Seca Raceway in California has become one of the USA’s most popular racetracks, hosting various races such as the Intercontinental GT, Moto GP, and the Superbike World Championship. However, Laguna Seca has never hosted an F1 race, leaving many to wonder why.

The WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca does not currently hold a Grade 1 FIA license, which is a requirement for any track that wishes to host an F1 Grand Prix. The track came close to hosting an F1 race in 1989, but was deemed too remote, and instead, the Phoenix Street Circuit was chosen.

However, as F1 continues to try and break into America, tracks like Laguna Seca have been thrown back into the hat as potential F1 venues. In the article below, we’ll discuss the history of the track, and dive deeper into why it hasn’t hosted an F1 race and whether it could in the future.

A Brief Overview Of The Track

Laguna Seca was built on a dried-up lake in the center of California in 1957. The track is 2.2 miles long, which is only just over the 2-mile length requirement for an F1 track. The first race took place at the track November 9, 1957. The track has gone on to host both car and motorbike events.

Although the track has undergone numerous changes since 1957 to comply with updated safety regulations, it remains one of America’s most difficult tracks. This is not only because of its layout, but also, in part, because of its remoteness offering very little shelter from the extremely hot California sun.

Because it was built on the site of an old lake, the track’s terrain is very unpredictable, with steep hills providing huge challenges for racers. But what goes up must come down, and the 12% drop around the famous “Corkscrew” turn offers spectators one of the most exciting sections of track in the motorsport world.

Has F1 Ever Raced At Laguna Seca?

F1 has never raced at Laguna Seca, much to the disappointment of fans across the world who would love to see how modern F1 cars react to the unsteady terrain of the lagoon. F1 believes that Laguna Seca is too dangerous and doesn’t have enough safety precautions to warrant a race.

The Failed Bid Of 1989

Following the success of the United States Grand Prix in Detroit in 1988, F1 was looking for a host for its next stateside adventure, with both the Phoenix Street Circuit and Laguna Seca being considered. In an effort to woo the FIA into choosing their circuit for F1, the track was reconstructed in 1988 to comply with FIA safety rules.

Amendments to the track included lengthening it to 2.2 miles from its original 1.9-mile length. More run-off room and gravel tracks were added in accordance with the FIA’s safety protocols. In addition to on track changes, pedestrian bridges and embankments were added in the hope they would be used by spectators.

Despite the efforts to make the track more F1 suitable, Formula 1 organizers opted for Phoenix as their chosen destination, on the grounds that Laguna Seca was too remote to guarantee a good attendance, and too short to guarantee a good race.

Retired F1 Cars At Laguna Seca

While it may never have hosted an official Formula 1 Grand Prix, Laguna Seca is no stranger to F1 cars, with retired F1 cars often competing at the Monterey Historics Festival each August. The festival includes a dedicated 1966-1985 Formula 1 race, which although not the real thing, is certainly a spectacle for long-time fans of F1.

Why Doesn’t F1 Race At Laguna Seca?

F1 doesn’t race at Laguna Seca because the circuit holds a Grade 2 FIA license, meaning it’s currently able to only host single-seater races to the standards of F2 and below. To host an F1 race, a track must hold a Grade 1 license, which involves meeting a long list of strict guidelines.

For a track to be used in F1, it must be over 2 miles in length. Currently, Laguna Seca is just over 2.2 miles, meaning it would narrowly scrape through this first obstacle. There must also be no straights longer than 1.2 miles on an F1 track. Laguna Seca also passes this test, meaning length-wise, the circuit is eligible for an F1 race.

Laguna Seca falls short of other FIA requirements, including the width of its starting grid and the fact that its gradients and cambers are just too steep for F1 cars. The track contains minimal run-off at its most famous “Corkscrew” turn, rendering it unsafe. This is a major downfall, considering the turn is one of the most exciting parts of the track.

Other Problems

Laguna Seca is also a very remote track. With the nearest airport being over 2 hours away, it’s a logistical challenge for teams, fans, and broadcasters. Remoteness, coupled with its 92 db noise limit, makes an event on the scale of an F1 race very difficult to organize.

Could F1 Race At Laguna Seca In The Future?

It’s difficult to envision an F1 Grand Prix taking place at Laguna Seca in the future. The surrounding infrastructure and the track itself would need a major overhaul to make it viable. This is unfortunate, especially with the attempts being made to boost the popularity of the F1 in the USA.

This attempt at breaking into America could also be another factor in why Laguna Seca will be overlooked, since the glitzier surroundings of Miami and Las Vegas have both signed recent long-term contracts with Formula 1 to host races. Since all but one of the F1 teams are based in Europe, there may just be no room to fit another US-based race onto the calendar.

If another opportunity for an American race did arise, there would be competition from multiple racetracks across the country to host it. Watkins Glen is currently undergoing changes to make it a Grade 1 circuit, and venues such as the Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama would likely put themselves forward.

It seems for now that we will have to enjoy Laguna Seca for what it currently offers in the world of touring cars and motorbike racing. It will continue to be a fan favorite in America, but without significant changes the track won’t be making its way onto the F1 calendar any time soon.

Final Thoughts

F1 doesn’t race at Laguna Seca because the organization deems the track to be too dangerous. The circuit holds a Grade 2 FIA license, but Grade 1 is necessary to host an F1 event. Although it’s an exciting and difficult track, it’s doubtful Laguna Seca will host an F1 race in the future.

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