With the F1 spring break coming to a close, everyone has their eyes firmly set on Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. There has been an ongoing debate within Formula 1 as to whether the pursuit of more street tracks is the right direction to take the sport in and whilst there has been significant resistance to this idea, if the street tracks could live up to the gold standard that is Baku it would be quite difficult to argue against it. Since its introduction to Formula 1, this track has quickly become one of my favourites as a Baku race weekend will always keep you guessing and with the launch of a new qualifying format this coming weekend, we could be in store for one of the best weekends of the year.
For the purpose of this article, I will be examining the current streets tracks on the F1 calendar and how they stack up to Baku, but I will not be including Las Vegas as we are yet to witness the inaugural Grand Prix along the Vegas strip. I will also be discounting the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve as this, whilst one of the best tracks on the calendar, is technically a hybrid street track as oppose to the traditional street tracks that will be mentioned below.
First on the list is the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, as one of the relatively newer tracks to F1 we don’t have a great history of races to pull from when looking at where this ranks amongst the street circuits but in it’s short time on the F1 calendar it has provided plenty of entertainment and controversy in equal measure. The decision to bring a Grand Prix to Saudi Arabia created widespread discussions over the morality and ethical obligations of the sport as it was clear that the financial drivers for this decision were the overriding factor in ensuring that this race went ahead, many drivers expressed their concerns and dissatisfaction at taking part in the weekend, especially after the missile strike which was 10 miles away from the track. None the less, the races have continued to go ahead since 2021, so how has it been? Overall, I think it’s been ok, prior to the safety changes that were made in 2023 the races did keep you on the edge of your seat particularly during a qualifying lap due to the close walls and blind corners that held drastic consequences in store for any driver that overstepped the mark. Although this provided a nail-biting watch for the fans, it was too big of a safety risk to continue, the track changes in 2023 still maintain the technical precision of the track but provide the drivers with a bit of breathing space in order to avoid any serious collisions as we have previously seen. The circuit has managed to create some notable moments, such as Hamilton and Verstappen’s battle in 2021, but it’s far from the best street circuit as it does feel slightly manufactured and has not made a big enough impact to cement it as a staple in F1 nor does it live up to the likes of Baku.
Next up is Albert Park, and if this list were to be based off of 2023 alone I think the Australian GP would be nearing the top of the list when considering the best circuits on the grid, let alone just street circuits, However, that’s not the case and over Albert Park’s long history in Formula 1 the reception of the Australian Grand Prix has always been quite mixed. There’s no doubt that it has produced some outrageous and iconic races, 1999 and 2002 come to mind, and it does offer that sense of nostalgia but ultimately I’ve never really been convinced that this track is the best for racing. To me personally, this track is unique in the sense that it doesn’t really feel like a street track but instead feels as though you are watching one of F1’s long standing classic tracks. I think the addition of Australia previously being the first race of the season boosted they hype surrounding the race but once you negate all of the external factors that help to make this track as special as it is and you get into the actual racing, there is not much left to look forward to. The field tends to spread of quite quickly on this track rendering the remainder of the race a bit dull, there is no denying that the circuit has seen some great overtakes in the past but this is more so the exception that the rule. Albert Park boats one of the best atmospheres of any race weekend on the calendar, but the actual racing… not so much.
Miami, Miami, Miami… where to begin. I should make it clear that this track is still in its infancy as we have only had 1 race to judge the potential of the track, but in my opinion it offers about as much excitement as the fake marinas that surrounded the track. I understand F1’s desire to expand into the US and I’m not against it but I don’t think the first race in Miami done anything to endear F1 fans to it or create any anticipation for 2023. The sport have shown that they are able to pull off a compelling Grand Prix in the States as COTA is always a fan favourite and generally delivers year on year. Miami felt as though it prioritised the theatrics over the actual racing in order to make up for the less than stellar race, and although F1 is in essence entertainment when it feels as forced and inauthentic as last year, it may be a sign that things need to be reconsidered. As I previously stated, this was only the first year in Miami and so there is plenty of room to improve, hopefully F1 can make strides to make this a more enjoyable track as at the moment I’m not sure it warrants a place on the F1 calendar.
Often referred to as the jewel in the F1 crown, Monaco is undoubtedly the most prestigious race of the year and due to its historical significance in the sport I never considered that this could one day be on the chopping block for F1. However, 2022 saw a noticeable delay in renewing the contract for Monaco and even once the announcement was made it only guaranteed that we would see racing at the infamous street track until 2025. In isolation this is not a problem considering that some tracks have signed on for another decade of F1, this could be a cause for concern especially with Domenicali’s recent comments surrounding the potential future of heritage F1 tracks. We all know that this does not produce the best racing with the current F1 cars, but I don’t think it should be axed as it holds too much weight within the sport and an F1 season without Monaco would just feel incomplete.
Universally known as F1’s most difficult race, the Marina Bay circuit has built up quite a reputation of being particularly punishing on drivers as a result of the notorious heat and humidity, making this track a real test of endurance. Looking past the beautiful backdrop of Marina Bay at night, this race is one of the better street tracks and it’s 100% record of a safety car has ensured that there will always be something to keep your attention. Qualifying in Singapore doesn’t fail disappoint as we regularly see drivers push it to the absolute limit (Vettel in 2015) and carry this same determination into the race on Sunday. It may not live up to Baku but Singapore has enough going on to justify its place on the calendar.
Now that we have going through a majority of the street circuits, the only one that remains is Baku, which is unquestionably the best street track on the F1 calendar. Upon viewing the initial layout of Baku it’s easy to write the circuit off as the continuous 90-degree corners and the 2.2km straight don’t present the most appealing track design but when put into practice it has produced some of the best racing that we’ve seen on street circuits. When searching for the best Baku moment there are plenty to choose from and in recent years it has been responsible for creating some of the most unexpected race results. There is a valid point to be raised as to whether these surprising race results are the product of the actual circuit or the tyre failures/crashes that we’ve seen. Whilst the tyre failure is an isolated incident that is largely down to Pirelli instead of Baku, I believe that the actual racing at Baku is good enough to stand on its own without the additional drama of any crashes. The Baku City Circuit has everything from the long straights to technical, tight sectors to heavy braking zones, this is exactly how street circuits should be designed to accommodate for the modern F1 cars.