5 years, 3 months ago
Once upon a time, the Formula One calendar wasn’t the world tour it is today. It was dominated by the Grand Prix circuits of Europe, the continent which pioneered the sport. There are now eight European destinations in 2014’s Formula One line-up, but today I’m highlighting five of them. Not only because of their appeal for quality Grand Prix racing, but also because they are found in parts of the world well worth visiting.
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
A much-admired track that has been a regular host of the Belgian Grand Prix since 1925, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps hasn’t always been quite so well-respected. Set in the Belgian countryside not far from the Dutch and German borders, Spa was once considered the fastest and most dangerous racing track in the world. The Belgian Grand Prix subsequently found new homes in Nivelles and Zolder until Spa-Francorchamps resumed its title as the country’s number one racing track. Spa has gone on to reclaim the Belgian Grand Prix and is now regarded by drivers as a fun, quick track still with its challenges.
Where to stay:
Spa-Fracorchamps is definitely a countryside track, with fields and woodlands surrounding much of the course, however, there are some great cities within easy driving access. Stay in Liège, Belgium’s third largest city with a large student population and lively, liberal feel; or alternatively keep it international by staying across the Dutch border in beautiful Maastricht – great for museums and medieval churches and squares, or lazing in stunning parks (Monseigneur Nolenspark is my favourite, with remnants of the olden day city walls still jutting out over the water, covered in wild growth, creating a wonderful juxtoposition of masonry and mother nature).
Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy
Located in the Royal Villa Park of Monza on the outskirts of Milan, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza has three different racing tracks, the longest of which has been used for the Italian Grand Prix since 1922. Surrounded by woodlands, drivers can go all out for nearly 80% of the track making for some very fast, very loud action for spectators. I especially like Monza because of the section ‘Curva Grande’, which sounds much more theatrical in Italian than its English translation, ‘Big Corner’. Many Grand Prix enthusiasts make the journey to Monza to see the elevated bobsleigh-style banking on the Pista di Alta Velocità, part of Monza’s old racetrack that hasn’t been used since 1961.
Where to stay:
The obvious place to stay is Milan, where you can enjoy the food, fashion and culture the city is famous for. However, my top tip would be to think about staying close to one of the Italian Lakes. With the Italian Grand Prix falling on the 7th September, the weather will be perfect for a late summer getaway to Lake Como, the southern shores of which are less than an hour from Monza.
Circuit de Monaco, Monaco
Possibly Europe’s most famous Formula One course, the Monte Carlo Grand Prix is also the highlight of the Principality of Monaco’s year, drawing in crowds from around the world who want to watch cars fly around the world’s best street circuit. While some fans find it frustrating due to the lack of overtaking opportunities, the Circuit de Monaco is always entertaining thanks to the corner at the Fairmont Hotel which could be called a hair-raising hairpin bend. It’s also fair to say that the Monaco Grand Prix is the sport’s movie star, having been used as a backdrop in crucial scenes for Hollywood blockbusters like Iron Man 2 and Rush, (though interestingly all filming for the latter took place in the UK).
Where to stay:
If you can find (and afford!) yourself a balcony view in Monaco during the Grand Prix, I’ll happily bow down to you because the city is long booked up for this event. What may be easier to organise and almost certainly kinder to your budget is staying in nearby Nice or Cannes, or in another resort along the French Riviera. Nice has the added benefits of possibly Europe’s most alluring coastline and Le Bisrot d’Antoine, one of my favourite restaurants anywhere.
Red Bull Ring, Austria
It’s fair to say that many Formula One racing fans get a funny taste in their mouths when they have to talk about the location of the Austrian Grand Prix, and it’s not the taste of Red Bull. In 2014 the Red Bull Ring (formerly the Österreichring or the A1 Ring, depending how old the person you’re asking is) is hosting the country’s first Grand Prix since 2003. Seeing as a Grand Prix hasn’t happened on this circuit in over ten years – and a lot has happened in Formula One racing since a decade ago – it’s worth heading to little-known Spielberg this year just to witness a little bit of motorracing history and to be one of the first to pass comment on what sort of track this could become.
Where to stay:
Austria’s second city, Graz, is close to Spielberg and is one of Europe’s best cities for a weekend break, albeit often overlooked for Vienna. With its beautifully mish-mashed old town (gothic, contemporary and everything in between all built against each other surprisingly harmoniously), clock towers and inner city mountains; Graz really should be on your list. Home to just as much culture, history and delicious coffee and cakes, Graz is also a young city with over 50,000 students living there. Oh, and if that didn’t convince you, it’s also the birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The so-called home of British motor sport is one of the world’s best known circuits and is also the youngest one on this list, with racing beginning in 1948. The former site of a World War II RAF bomber station, Silverstone is a purpose-built track that has been updated and amended over the years to respond to safety concerns and progressing motor sport developments. After sharing the honour with Aintree and Brands Hatch for decades, Silverstone has been the home of the British Grand Prix since 1987. The Copse and Woodcote corners provide the challenges for the drivers and the entertainment for the crowds who over the years never know what to expect from the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, thanks in part to the unpredictability of the weather.
Where to stay:
It’s very feasible to stay in London and then hop on a train to Silverstone, or drive the few hours up the M1 (at the legal speed limit of course). Alternatively, you could stay in the historic and picturesque city of Oxford which is about an hour away or find a cosy cottage in the Cotswolds, which are just a few hours away.