As motor racing increased in popularity early in the 20th century, the first purpose-built tracks began to appear. From the dirt ovals of North America to the glamorous road circuits of Europe, the rise and fall of these venues has been inexorably linked to the ebb and flow in the popularity of different forms of the sport - plus an increased focus on driver and spectator safety.
The archives of Autosport, The Motor and The Autocar provide us with stunning snapshots, not just of our racing heroes, but also the long disused and sometimes near-forgotten circuits of the world.
Here, we take a look at some of the most enigmatic race venues to fall out of favour, become obsolete and, in some cases, almost completely return to nature.
The triangular road circuit of Reims-Gueux was first laid out in 1926 for the second Grand Prix de la Marne. The original layout went into the village of Gueux, but this was bypassed in the early 1950s by a very fast right-hander followed by a new section up to the Muizon hairpin.
The long straights led to some famous slipstreaming battles, among them the epic battle between Juan Manuel Fangio and Mike Hawthorn during the 1953 French Grand Prix, but it also made the circuit extremely dangerous. Luigi Musso died following an accident in the ’58 Grand Prix.
The final year of Formula One at Reims came in 1966, with sportscars and motorcycles continuing until 1969. By '72, the circuit had been shut down completely. The straight to Thillois hairpin is now a dual carriageway but it is still possible to follow much of the original layouts, while the refurbished pit buildings and grandstands offer a haunting glimpse into the past.
(Drivers prepare to run to their cars for the start of the 12 hours race in 1967)
The Pescara Circuit in Italy holds the record for the longest track in terms of lap distance to ever stage a Formula One Grand Prix – some 16 miles. Two quick straights – on which even pre-war cars could reach 185mph – were split by a narrow and bumpy section through the hills to Spoltore and Capelle Sul Tavo.
The first race took place in 1924, and the Coppa Acerbo attracted the top teams of the 1930s. Auto Union's Bernd Rosemeyer played a starring role on each of his appearances – in 1937, he set the fastest practice time wearing only his linen helmet, goggles, shorts and sandals in the scorching heat.
In 1957, the coastal circuit was included in the official Formula One World Championship calendar, Stirling Moss winning that race for Vanwall. The World Sportscar Championship continued at the circuit until 1961, after which pressing safety concerns led to it falling out of use.
(The Auto Union of Achille Varzi leads Louis Chiron's Alfa Romeo Tipe-B P3 in 1935)
Draped over the side of an extinct volcano, the Charade circuit near Clermont-Ferrand, France was cut from the same cloth as the Nordschleife. Made up of mostly public roads, it hosted the French Grand Prix in 1965, '69, '70 and '72, but also proved popular in Formula Two, Touring Cars and motorcycle racing.
The tight, complex and undulating circuit caused Jochen Rindt to feel sick during the ’69 Grand Prix, while the ever-present debris at the side of the track caused further problems. In 1972, Matra's Chris Amon staged a superb comeback drive to third place having suffered a puncture, but a stone thrown up by Emerson Fittipaldi's Lotus struck Helmut Marko in the eye, ending his top-flight racing career.
The hilly terrain made constructing larger run-off areas impossible, forcing Formula One to abandon the circuit in 1972. Other forms of racing continued at the track until '88, when the full 8km layout was truncated to just 3.86km.
(Jim Clark leads the field at the start of the 40-lap '65 French Grand Prix)
Opened in 1927, the original 1.6-mile circuit ran through Crystal Palace Park in London, and was laid out on pre-existing paths. By 1936, the entire length of the now two-mile course had been resurfaced with asphalt. The first London Grand Prix was held the following year, and was won by Prince Bira in his ERA, 'Romulus'.
Racing stopped during WW2 when the site was taken over by the Ministry of Defence, but it resumed over a new 1.39-mile layout in 1953. Racing was limited to just five days per year – though saloon car, Formula Three, Formula Two and even non-Championship Formula One events still took place, and often resulted in epic encounters.
By the '70s, the cars were becoming too quick to race safely around the tight venue (Jochen Rindt posted an average lap speed in excess of 100mph in 1970) and by 1972 racing was winding down at Crystal Palace. The circuit finally closed two years later.
(Jim Clark steers his Lotus Cortina to victory in 1964)
This Berlin road circuit was one of the simplest – and most dangerous – of all. It was built as a test route in the early 1920s, though work had begun as early as 1913 – only to be interrupted by the outbreak of war in Europe. The track comprised two five-mile straights connected at either end by two loops, giving a total distance of just over 12 miles.
The track was modified a number of times throughout the years, most notably in 1936, when the Nordkurve was rebuilt to allow the construction of a new road. The result was a steeply banked, brick-surfaced curve, making AVUS one of the fastest circuits in the world. The first race on the new layout was won by Hermann Lang at an average speed of more than 160mph, and during one of the heats Bernd Rosemeyer lapped at 173mph.
Jean Behra's fatal accident during a support race for the 1959 German Grand Prix tainted the circuit's only Formula One Championship meeting, while the site of the accident – the Nordkurve – was flattened in 1967. By 1975, racing was limited to just a few meetings per year, but it continued until 1999.
(Tony Brooks Ferrari Dino 246 leads Stirling Moss and Masten Gregory's Cooper T51 Climax around the Nordkurve in 1959)
With growing safety concerns surfacing in the 1970s, the eyes of the world were focused on tracks that were deemed to be too dangerous. Chief among them was Spa-Francorchamps, which led to the Belgian Grand Prix being switched to a much safer – though infinitely less exciting – circuit near Brussels: Nivelles-Baulers.
Built in 1971, the 2.3-mile track played host to the race in both 1972 and '74, but was soon suffering from financial difficulties. Huge runoff areas coupled with the crowd being seated far from the action added to the circuit's lack of atmosphere and popularity, while, ironically, its poor surface meant that it wasn't deemed to be safe enough to hold the '76 Belgian GP. In 1983, the famous race returned to the revised Spa-Francorchamps.
By 1981, Nivelles' permit had expired and it closed its doors, though it became a hotspot for illegal after-hours street races in the 1990s until it was redeveloped into an industrial estate.
(Niki Lauda plays with the bodywork from his Ferrari 312B3 at Nivelles-Baulers in 1974)
Consistently rated as one of the best tracks to ever host a Formula One race, Montjuic was a street layout mapped out in the hills near Barcelona. It first came into being in 1932, with the circuit in its premier form holding the Penya Rhin Grand Prix a year later.
It took more than 30 years before it was chosen to host the Spanish Grand Prix, eventually achieving the honour in 1969. The challenging layout featured both extremely quick sections – cars would take off over the crest beyond the pits – and slow, technical areas, making it an instant hit with spectators and drivers.
However, the honeymoon didn't last very long. During the 1975 Spanish GP weekend, it was discovered that the barriers weren't properly secured and, while the teams themselves worked to remedy the situation, two-times World Champion Emerson Fiittipaldi refused to race. The event went ahead, but on the 26th lap the Embassy Hill-Lola of Rolf Stommelen crashed, killing five people. Formula One races were never held at the circuit again.
(Jochen Mass takes his only Grand Prix win at the wheel of his McLaren M23 Ford in 1975)
Originally laid out as a motorcycle track near Berne, Switzerland, the 4.5-mile Bremgarten layout was used for the Swiss Grand Prix until 1954. This daunting track featured a cobbled area through the very fast right-hander beyond the pits – making it lethal in the wet – before plunging past a quarry and returning via a quick, tree-lined section.
The likes of Bernd Rosemeyer, Rudolf Caracciola, Hermann Lang and Juan Manuel Fangio won here before authorities banned racing in the wake of the 1955 Le Mans disaster. Some short sections of road are still in place, but most of the circuit has now disappeared.