I love street circuits, even though we will probably never see them again in F1, apart from Monaco. They are impractical, dangerous and lack passing places, a sure combination to prevent their ever being tried again by the sport. But they are also atmospheric, dramatic, somehow produce good races, and enable the spectators to get closer to the sound and sight and smell of F1 cars than anywhere else.
Ayrton Senna in a Lotus 99 at Detroit
Just the sound should be enough to convert anyone: experience this video of a Red Bull doing a demonstration run on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil – then tell me that the scream of that engine echoing off the buildings does not stir your blood. And the roads were drenched with rain – the driver was holding back!
My favorite of those street circuits that have gone is Long Beach. The sight of the cars streaming down to the hairpin after the start was one never to be forgotten. And there were always dramatic races at Long Beach; it was the one circuit where you could guarantee that uncompetitive cars suddenly came to the fore, where there were tussles between unlikely competitors and drivers in underpowered cars had a chance to make their mark.
Actually, that last statement is true of most street circuits. It was Detroit where John Watson earned his reputation as the only driver who could overtake on street circuits. And Detroit was a place where nobody could pass! Unfortunately, I could not find a decent picture of the circuit so you will just have to take my word for it that the photo of Senna up there was taken at Detroit.
Even the strange aberration of the circuit in a car park in Las Vegas gave us some great races. It was artificial and a poor excuse for a street circuit but it did let us get close to the action.
Notice that all these places are in the States. It was the only country that Bernie Ecclestone was so desperate to get into that he would accept such circuits. Now that seems to have changed (the money has moved elsewhere) and Bernie asserts boldly that F1 doesn’t really need a race in the USA at all.
So our chances of new street circuits coming along are non-existent. We must content ourselves with the annual and glorious experience that is Monaco – and fight tooth and nail to prevent it ever being taken off the calendar. It may be dangerous, cramped, outdated and whatever else its critics throw at it; but it is also the last reminder of a time when the public could experience F1 close up and the drivers had never heard of such a thing as safety.
It’s that man Senna in the lead again – but there’s something else interesting about this photo. Starting from the front, we have a McLaren, a Tyrrell (!), two Williams, a Benetton, a McLaren and two Ferraris. Then come a Jordan and another Benetton, but what are those two red cars behind them? They sure look like two more Ferraris to me.
Just to round it off, there are a Tyrrell, a March and a Minardi after that. But those red cars have me wondering. I suppose I could dig in the records and find out but I thought it might be more interesting to see if anyone has a better memory than I do – can you help me out?