The Top Ten Grand Prix Circuits (Part 2: Number One)

So which track is number one? Which is the world’s best grand prix circuit? In my opinion, it’s…

1. Suzuka (Suzuka, Japan)

This is not only Japan’s premier circuit, but is, in my opinion, the world’s best. It has everything.

The start line is on a decent-sized straight that allows cars to demonstrate their speed, reaching over 300 km/h. The first corner is then at high speed (about 260 km/h) and drivers have to tame their pace so as to position themselves carefully for turn 2 at 140 km/h. Both corners represent overtaking opportunities. Then follow the series of fast, flowing S-curves (turns 3, 4, 5, and 6), each with differing camber and elevation. Drivers have to alternate carefully between squeezing the throttle here or tapping the brakes. At the end of the S-curves comes the long sweeping left hander known as Dunlop Curve (turn 7). This is where the cars pick up considerable speed, straining their neck muscles with the g-forces, before the two tricky right-handed Degner corners (turns 8 and 9). The angle and pace of these corners requires precision and it’s so easy to get out of shape here. Out of the second Degner, the circuit passes underneath the bridge that makes this a figure-of-eight track. There is a short spurt of speed through the right hand kink at turn 10, and into the left-hand hairpin (turn 11). This tight corner actually has an interesting camber that allows for two different lines through it. Again, this is a great overtaking spot. Out of the hairpin, the track sweeps through a long uphill right hander (turn 12). The cars pick up a lot of pace here, getting to 300 km/h. No sooner do the cars reach the top of the hill than they enter the challenging left-hand bends of the Spoon Curve (turns 13 and 14). The entry into the curve is initially blind, so the braking point is challenging. Ayrton Senna described the Spoon Curve (aptly named for its shape) as the most challenging corner in Formula One because it’s so hard to get a good smooth line through it without losing revs dramatically and having to apply too much braking. Out of the spoon curve, the course opens out onto the longest straight which starts as a bit of a left hand sweep. This straight crosses the bridge over the circuit beneath (between Degner 2 and the Hairpin). At the end of the straight comes the ultra fast left-hander known as 130-R (turn 15) Drivers toy with doing this corner flat-out. After 130-R there is a short but very fast run up to the slowest part of the circuit: the chicane (turns 16 and 17) known as ‘Casio Triangle’. This is definitely an overtaking spot, and many a brave manoeuvre has been tried here, including the infamous collision between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna near the end of the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix. Out of the chicane the cars accelerate through the quick right hand bend (turn 18) back onto the home straight.

Suzuka represents a challenge in all respects. It requires cars to be primed aerodynamically for fast straights with stop speeds in excess of 310 km/h, as well as for the range of corners in the lap. Since most corners are fairly fast and flowing, the tyres are also critical here. And the configuration of some of the bends means that it’s very difficult to get the optimum line. Everything has to come together well for the perfect lap. This circuit really brings a lot out of both car and driver.

Suzuka, Japan

The start-finish straight at Suzuka

The fast first turn (right), leading into the tricky turn 2 (left)

The exit of the final S-curve and the beginning of the long left-handed Dunlop Curve

The Hairpin. The exit sweeps uphill to the right.

The entry to the first left-hander of the Spoon Curve

Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna infamously come together at the chicane in the 1989 Japanese GP. It wasn’t the only time they would tangle at Suzuka and decide the world championship.

So to recap, here’s my top ten GP circuits in the world:

  1. Suzuka, Japan
  2. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
  3. Singapore
  4. Monte Carlo, Monaco
  5. Österreichring, Austria
  6. Istanbul Park, Turkey
  7. Silverstone, England
  8. Buddh International Circuit, India
  9. Imola, Italy
  10. Interlagos, Brazil

I must give honourable mentions to three particular tracks which are excellent in their own right, but which have never hosted a Formula One GP. They are:

  1. Mount Panorama (Bathurst, Australia)
  2. Laguna Seca (California, USA)
  3. Macau (Macau, China)

These three circuits each have distinctive features that make for great racing, but other formulas race there. At present, they don’t quite meet the facility standards for Formula One, but they are nonetheless excellent tracks.

Well there you have it. That’s my top ten. I’d love to hear your thoughts or your top ten. Cheers!