During summer, the midnight sun never sets on Norway’s Arctic Circle Raceway, the world’s northernmost racetrack. At the other end of the world in Argentina is the town of Tolhuin, home to the Autódromo Carlos Romero, the world’s most southern circuit. Between them are more than a thousand race tracks. Many are loved, their layouts etched into the minds of fans. But not all are remembered quite so fondly. Let’s take a look at fifteen of the worst…
15. Oschersleben (Germany)
One of the better circuits on this list of stinkers, Germany’s Oschersleben nonetheless deserves its appearance here for its absurd first corner—an abrupt 90-degree left-hander followed by a tight right-hander that is a recipe for dodgem car style mayhem. Commenting on one ludicrous first corner crash during a WTCC race, touring car legend John Cleland didn’t hold back: “the guy who designed [the] first corner should be taken into a dark room and beat about the head”.
14. Valencia Street Circuit (Spain)
A harbourside Grand Prix in the sun-bathed Spanish city of Valencia could have been fabulous addition to the Formula 1 calendar. In reality, ‘harbourside’ meant a surprisingly boring 5.4km street circuit that took in an old fish-market, a swing bridge, and a shipping port. The bland and forgiving layout delivered boring racing, and few were disappointed when the event and circuit were consigned to the dustbin after the 2012 race.
13. Korea International Circuit (South Korea)
The part-temporary, part-permanent Yeongnam circuit offered decent overtaking opportunities and Suzuka-esque curves. So why is it on this list? Because it’s the ultimate white elephant. Located 400km from Seoul, the circuit’s facilities were unfinished when F1 first rolled into town in 2010. Planned skyscrapers and a marina never eventuated, and Formula 1 soon left, leaving the $80 million monolith to host regional motorsport.
12. Sochi Autodrom (Russia)
One of the beneficiaries of Formula 1’s infatuation with Hermann Tilke autodromes in authoritarian countries, Sochi is a low-to-medium speed circuit built around venues used for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The billiard ball smooth surface and 90-degree right handers are not conducive for good racing; the spectre of Vladimir Putin in the stands does little to add to the occasion.
11. Le Mans Bugatti (France)
Built in 1965 as a permanent facility utilising part of the existing Circuit de la Sarthe’s pit complex and public roads connected by hairpins and medium-speed bends, the Bugatti circuit hosted the 1967 French Grand Prix. Drivers hated the “mickey mouse” layout, while locals weren’t enamoured either. While F1 never returned, two-wheel racing proved a better fit, and the circuit has been a long-running host of the French motorcycle Grand Prix.
10. Queensland Raceway (Australia)
South East Queensland’s successor to Lakeside Raceway (an ultra-fast and challenging suburban circuit which V8 Supercar racing outgrew), the Ipswich circuit couldn’t be any further removed. Colloquially known as ‘the paperclip’—because it looks like one from the air—the circuit is bumpy, bland and boring, and set amongst dusty surrounds and basic facilities which belie that the facility is relatively new.
9. AVUS (Germany)
Originally constructed as two corners connected by six-mile straights, AVUS was at its most fearsome with the opening of the 43-degree ‘wall of death’ banking in 1937. The banking was dismantled in 1967, and the circuit gradually shortened several times as Berlin development encroached. By the time the circuit closed in 1998, all that remained were two slow corners half a mile apart.
8. San Jose Street Circuit (USA)
Construction delays saw the cancellation of opening qualifying for the first San Jose Champ Car race in 2005. During the race, drivers were met with a narrow, bumpy layout that was almost impossible for overtaking, and a section of track featuring train lines that launched cars into the air. Some drivers joked the circuit was more suited to Motocross, and the Californian event disappeared after three editions.
7. Canberra Street Circuit (Australia)
A V8 Supercar race around the streets of the Australian capital sounded like a good idea. It was not. Held on a slow, narrow, concrete lined circuit during the dead of winter, the Canberra 400 was unpopular with drivers and fans. Races were processional and often gloomy, and the event disappeared after 2002, three years into a five-year contract.
6. Nivelles-Baulers (Belgium)
Located in a industrial area in the outskirts of Brussels, Nivelles was built as a safe alternative to Spa-Francochamps. The revolver-shaped layout hosted the Belgian Grand Prix twice in 1972 and 1974, but drivers, spectators and journalists alike were not impressed with the characterless circuit and football-field sized runoff areas. The unloved circuit closed in 1981 sitting abandoned until it was demolished in the 1990s.
5. Zeltweg (Austria)
Perhaps the worst circuit to host a Grand Prix, Zeltweg was an L-shaped track made from a bumpy old airfield. A car killer, Jack Brabham won the first (non-championship) race there in 1963 by five laps after all of his nearest competitors broke down. Lorenzo Bandini won the only Championship Formula 1 race there a year later in another attrition-heavy race. Sportscar racing continued for several years before the neighbouring Osterreichring opened.
4. Yas Marina (Abu Dhabi)
Tolerated as the host of the Formula 1 season finale since 2009, Yas Marina again produced the worst race of the year with the 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Despite carte blanche and an unlimited budget, Hermann Tilke came up with a layout so benign it turned 2010’s four-way decider into an anti-climatic procession. Not even the backdrop of a gorgeous Arabian sunset can save Yas Marina’s endless medium speed corners and acres of asphalt run off.
3. Caesers Palace (USA)
One of several failed American flirtations with Formula 1, a Grand Prix in Las Vegas should have been a winner. But holding the race on a featureless temporary circuit in a casino car park was a gamble that didn’t pay off. The racing was decent, but few could be bothered to sit in 40-degree heat to watch it, and F1 disappeared after two races. The event limped on as a CART race in 1983 and 1984 before eventually disappearing for good.
2. Dallas Fair Park (USA)
A disintegrating surface (“disgusting”, commented Keke Rosberg), endless concrete and blazing heat made Fair Park a hellscape during the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix weekend. During practice, Martin Brundle crashed and broke both ankles. In the race, 14 drivers retired after hitting walls, while Nigel Mansell collapsed trying to push his broken car over the finish line. Hundreds of fans needed medical treatment for heat-related illnesses, and the disastrous circuit was forgotten—until a shortened version was revived for IMSA in 1988.
1. Jingkai Steret Circuit (China)
Undriveable. Literally. Constructed for a 2006 A1GP race, the Hermann Tilke designed street-circuit featured a hairpin at the end of a dual carriageway so tight that A1GP cars could barely navigate it. Emergency modifications allowed the race to proceed, but loose manhole covers, falling advertising hoardings, and a crane on the track mid-race made sure the event was never repeated.