FIA track grades: Requirements to hold an F1 race, potential tracks

The Formula 1 calendar has seen a lot of change in the last year, but what's required to hold a GP and where could F1 race? Find out here.

FIA track grades: Requirements to hold an F1 race, potential tracks
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Only tracks that gain the FIA’s top licence can host F1 races. But what’s needed for Grade 1 status?

All races sanctioned by the FIA - from F1 to Rallycross - have to take place on circuits that have been granted a licence, with different levels of licence needed to host different series.

These range from Grade 1 (the highest category) to Grade 6 (the lowest category), with a handful of sub-categories in between. A Grade 1 licence is required to hold an F1 race.

There’s a long list of criteria that a circuit has to meet in order to be granted a Grade 1 licence: the track itself has to conform to various standards, and the facilities surrounding it also have to meet various minimum requirements.

Mandatory inspections must take place in order to ratify a track’s licence, and the higher the grade required, the higher the fee the circuit must pay. Currently there are 37 circuits (and 45 layouts across those circuits) spanning 24 countries that are licenced to hold a grand prix.

Licence categories

Grade Cars
1 Group D (FIA International Formula) and Group E (Free Formula) cars with a weight/power ratio of less than 1kg/hp. Also historic cars including post-1985 F1 cars.
1T Testing of Previous F1 cars as defined in the FIA Formula 1 Sporting Regulations
2 Group D and Group E cars with a weight/power ratio of 1-2kg/hp. Some historic cars
3 Category II cars with a weight/power ratio of 2-3kg/hp. Some historic cars
3E Electric cars with a weight/power ratio of 2-3kg/hp
4 Category I cars, plus Category II cars with a weight/power ratio of over 3kg/hp. Some historic cars
5 Alternative Energy Vehicles
6A Autocross
6R Rallycross
6G Ice Racing

In order to host a grand prix, tracks have to conform to FIA guidelines that run into hundreds of pages, with regulations covering everything from track dimensions to the type of drugs stocked in the on-site medical centre.

Broadly speaking, the top categories are split up by the weight of the cars that are set to compete on a circuit in relation to the power they produce. As F1 cars produce around 1,000hp these days and weigh at least 749kg, a Grade 1 licence is required for them to race.

In series where the cars are heavier and less powerful, a lower licence is needed. However if a track holds a Grade 1 licence, it automatically covers the grades below it too, with the exception of Grade 6, which focuses on off-road competitions.

Once a licence has been granted, it’s typically valid for three years from the date of the final inspection. Oval circuits like those seen on the IndyCar calendar are banned from FIA events unless technical regulations have been submitted for approval.

Which circuits could F1 race at?

All but one of the tracks on this year’s calendar hold the necessary Grade 1 license required to hold an F1 race (Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah circuit being the exception, as it’s not yet built), however there are many tracks which hold the license and don’t have a race scheduled.

This is something we saw in 2020 and 2021, where F1 had to find circuits that weren’t on the original calendars to fill races that had been cancelled. The Grade 1 license means that the track meets all the criteria to hold a race, but might not do so because of cost, scheduling difficulties, a lack of interest or any other reason.

The disruption of 2020 also saw some circuits not renew their Grade 1 license following the cancellation of their races, with five circuits losing their license in 2020:

  • Chang circuit, Thailand
  • Circuit Ricardo Tormo, Spain
  • Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Canada
  • Shanghai International Circuit, China
  • Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia

Losing the license doesn’t mean the circuit can never hold another race though, as tracks can renew the license should they want to.

The full list of tracks that are, and could, hold F1 races are:

Grade 1 Circuits on the 2021 Calendar Grade 1 Circuits not on 2021 Calendar
Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain Bahrain Oasis Circuit, Bahrain
Imola, Italy Bahrain Outer Circuit, Bahrain
Algarve International Circuit, Portugal Bahrain Paddock Circuit, Bahrain
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain Bahrain “Endurance”, Bahrain
Circuit de Monaco, Monaco Dubai Grand Prix Circuit, UAE
Baku City Circuit, Azerbaijan Dubai International Circuit, UAE
Istanbul Park, Turkey Estoril, Portugal
Circuit Paul Ricard, France Fiorano, Italy
Red Bull Ring, Austria Fuji Speedway, Japan
Silverstone, UK Hockenheimring, Germany
Hungaroring, Hungary Igora Drive, Russia
Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium Indianapolis Grand Prix - USA
Circuit Zandvoort, Netherlands Jerez, Spain
Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy Korea International Circuit, South Korea
Sochi Autodrom, Russia Kuwait Motor Town, Kuwait
Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore Magny-Cours, France
Suzuka, Japan Moscow Raceway, Russia
Circuit of the Americas, USA Motorland Alcañiz, Spain
Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico Motorland Aragon Alcañiz - Aerotest, Spain
Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, Brazil Motorland Aragon Alcañiz – FIM, Spain
Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, Australia Motorland Aragon Alcañiz – Long, Spain
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi Mugello, Italy
- Buddh International Circuit, India
- Nürburgring Grand Prix, Germany

Track dimensions

There are no rules dictating what shape a track must be, but there are still a number of regulations that circuits must abide by. Straights can’t be longer than 2km, for example, and tracks must be at least 3.5km long in total. The only exception is the Monaco Grand Prix, which falls just short at 3.337km.

It’s recommended that new circuits don’t exceed 7km in length. Permanent tracks must be at least 12 metres wide at all points, although there are some ways around this for temporary tracks and those that host national competitions on a regular basis. Think of Baku’s temporary street circuit, which is 7.6 metres wide at its narrowest point.

Meanwhile the starting grid has to be at least 15 metres wide, with the width of the track maintained through the first corner to minimise the risk of pile-ups on the opening lap. The first corner must see a change of direction of at least 45 degrees, with a radius under 300 metres.

Grid spots must be spaced 6 metres apart, although for F1 this rises to 8 metres. The FIA says the startline should ‘preferably’ be at least 250 metres away from the first corner.

The pitlane is subject to a minimum width too: it should be at least 12 metres wide and adjacent to the start-finish straight. Pit entry and exit points can’t interfere with the racing line so that cars don’t collide when rejoining the track.

If that didn’t sound exhaustive enough, the FIA’s guidelines also say that changes in width along the track should be as gradual as possible.

The FIA also goes into detail on the gradient of circuits, which must be appropriate for the performance of the cars using the track. The gradient of start-finish straight can’t exceed 2%, and ideally shouldn’t change in high speed braking zones or in corners with a high level of acceleration.

Banking shouldn’t exceed 5.7 degrees, although the FIA does allow for ‘possible exceptions in special cases’. Turns 3 and 14 of the refurbished track at Zandvoort are two such examples, with banking of 18 and 19 degrees respectively. Although no longer on the F1 calendar, the Grand Prix Circuit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway features a nine degree corner and remains a Grade 1 listed venue.

Barriers

The FIA says the track layout, topography, racing lines, speed and structures outside of the circuit should all be considered when deciding what type of barrier to use as the first line of protection.

Either a barrier is needed to absorb the energy of a car travelling at speed, or a run-off area is required to give drivers space to regain control. These can range from 30 to 100 metres deep, depending on the cornering speeds anticipated at any given section of the track.

There’s no set rule on the type of barrier that has to be used in a corner or at the end of a straight, but the FIA suggests that a combination of grass, sealed surface run-off areas, deceleration beds, stopping barriers, energy-absorbing barriers or a combination of these can be put in place where necessary.

Where the risk of a crash is deemed to be low, a vertical barrier such as metal guardrail is needed. In the higher-risk zones - like at the end of a straight - more sophisticated, energy-dissipating barriers are required. One of the most common are Tecpro barriers, which are made from a combination of foam and steel and can be arranged like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle to fit any kind of track.

One of the conditions of being given an FIA licence is that all track surfaces, guardrails, tyre barriers, fencing, kerbs, drains, service roads, gravel traps and barriers all have to be checked and maintained on a regular basis. Adequate protection of spectator areas and grandstands also needs to be installed.

Drainage

Tracks are usually designed so that rainwater naturally drains away from the circuit, and on straights the FIA says these slopes should be between 0.9 and 1.7 degrees measured either from one side to the other or from the centre of the circuit to each edge.

In areas of a circuit where water is known to build up during heavy rain, organisers can cut grooves into the surface of the asphalt to direct water away from the track, provided that evidence of where surface water will flow is given to the FIA.

Medical centre

Given that drivers can be at serious risk of injury in the event of a high-speed crash, a permanent medical centre is mandatory for Grades 1-4, while Grades 5 and 6 only require a temporary facility.

For F1, WEC and WRC events, the medical centre must include at least two doctors proficient in resuscitation and at least two surgeons. One must be skilled at the initial treatment of burns and another must be able to manage spinal injuries and concussion. Multiple members of the medical team must speak English well, and all must be experienced dealing with trauma patients.

There are minimum requirements for medical kit too: this includes equipment for securing a driver’s upper airway, devices to stop haemorrhaging, mechanical ventilators and heart rate monitors, among many other life-saving items. Oxygen reserves, a spinal board, x-ray and ultrasound equipment are also listed.

Meanwhile, the FIA provides a list of drugs that need to be stocked in the medical centre. These are needed to treat respiratory problems, cardiovascular issues, epilepsy and much else.

Other rules

The FIA has a formula for working out the maximum number of cars (N) that are allowed to take part in a race depending on the length (L) and width (W) of the circuit, the duration of the race (T) itself and the category of cars (G) competing within it. All of these factors are given a coefficient number based on where they fall within FIA-specific tables, with the numbers then multiplied together to give a final answer.

The formula looks like this: N = 0.36 x L x W x T x G

Therefore, the 6 Hours of Silverstone would look like this: 0.36 x 17 x 10 x 1.4 x 0.7 = 59.976.

That means 60 cars could take part in a World Endurance Championship event at Silverstone. The maximum number of cars allowed in practice is capped at 20% more than would be allowed to start the race.

However this formula doesn’t apply to F1, which uses its own regulations to calculate the maximum number of starters allowed.

The FIA also makes it clear that advertising boards around the outside of the track have to be stable and secure, and they shouldn’t interfere with drivers or officials’ visibility in any way. Track surfaces are not allowed to carry adverts, and any ads on run-off areas mustn’t reduce the skid resistance that slows cars down in the event of a collision.

Beyond the track itself, public areas accessible to fans must cater for disabled visitors. As a minimum, the FIA suggests installing a designated viewing area for disabled spectators, specialist toilet facilities, reserved parking places and paved pathways that allow people in wheelchairs to get around.

Rallycross and autocross are subject to different rules when it comes to track layout: circuits should fall between 800-1,400 metres in length, and be 10-25 metres wide.

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