9 Most Dangerous Formula 1 Race Circuits Ever

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

Dangerous F1 circuit

With continuous advancements in safety both of Formula 1 cars and circuits, serious accidents are becoming less and less common in the sport.

However, there was a time when bad crashes, and even deaths, were much more common in F1. This article looks at 9 of the most dangerous circuits ever to have been used for Formula 1.

9 most dangerous F1 circuits ever

So in reverse order, here are the 9 most dangerous Formula 1 circuits ever. The order is based on the number of drivers that have been killed in crashes either during the F1 race weekend or in F1 testing at each track.

#9 - Kyalami: 2 deaths

Drivers killed:

  • Peter Revson, 1974
  • Tom Pryce, 1977

Kyalami circuit is in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Formula 1 South African Grand Prix was held here from 1967 – 1985, and then again in both 1992 and 1993.

The video below shows the layout of the circuit at the time when the two drivers were killed. As you can see, it’s an incredibly fast and wide track with high kerbs and minimal runoff.

The runoff that is available is lined with armco barriers, and it was hitting one of those at high speed that caused Peter Revson’s car to burst in to flames, and his subsequent death.

#8 - Spa Francorchamps: 2 deaths

Drivers killed :

  • Chris Bristow. 1960
  • Alan Stacey, 1960

Spa Francorchamps has been home to the Belgian Grand prix for over 70 years. The Spa circuit today looks very different to how it looked in the mid twentieth century. The circuit was much longer, over 14km / 8 miles in total, and featured a number of incredibly fast and fairly narrow Belgian country roads with little to no safety measures.

That is what caused Chris Bristow’s fatal crash. After going off the track he hit a large embankment which flung him in to the air. Alan Stacey went off the circuit at the fearsome Masta kink, where he somersaulted off the track and his car caught fire.

The modern circuit is much safer, but the legendary Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners are still some of the most dangerous in the world and are home to their fair share of crashes.

The video below shows how the circuit looked just two years before both drivers were killed in the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix.

#7 - Watkins Glen - 2 deaths

Drivers killed:

  • Francois Cevert, 1973
  • Helmuth Koinigg, 1974

Watkins Glen, located in the state of New York, held the United States Grand Prix from 1961 to 1980. The circuit used in the 1970s was 3.4 miles / 5.4km long and was, again, incredibly fast with absolutely no run off, as the video below narrated by the legendary Murray Walker shows.

Hitting the armco barriers at high speed allowed the F1 cars to ride under them. That’s what killed both drivers in consecutive years at Kyalami. After 1974 a chicane was added to slow the cars down.

#6 - Modena: 2 deaths

Drivers killed:

  • Eugenio Castellotti, 1957
  • Giulio Cabianca, 1961 

The Modena circuit in Italy was originally an airfield, adopted by Ferrari and Maserati for testing their cars. It was eventually used for racing, but was overshadowed by a number of accidents. One of those was in 1947 where 5 spectators were killed.

The video below shows how rudimentary the circuit was. The surface was bumpy and broken, the kerbs were high and there were absolutely no safety features. Hitting one of those kerbs is what killed Eugenio Castellotti in 1957, after it flung him from his car.

Enzo Ferrari campaigned for additional safety measures to be installed around the circuit in the 1970s, but Italy’s motor racing focus soon shifted to the Imola circuit.

#5 - Zandvoort: 2 deaths

Drivers killed:

  • Piers Courage, 1970
  • Roger Williamson, 1973

The original Zandvoort circuit in Holland was a fearsome track which carved its way through the sand dunes right next to the sea. In the early 70s there were very little safety measures on either side of the track. The circuit was also poorly prepared in case of a fire, and didn’t have enough extinguishers on hand.

Both drivers had high-speed crashes due to car failures, which resulted in hitting the sand dunes and barriers. Their cars burst in to flames.

The fantastic footage below from the Grand Prix movie shows how the circuit looked in the late 1960s.

#4 - Imola: 2 deaths

Drivers killed:

  • Roland Ratzenberger, 1994
  • Ayrton Senna, 1994

Imola circuit, also known as Autodrome Enzo d Dino Ferrari, is one of the most infamously dangerous Formula 1 circuits ever. Mainly because during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix held on the track, two drivers were killed in two days.

The first was Roland Ratzenberger who crashed at over 310kph / 190mph on the Villeneuve corner. The second was the legend and three-time F1 champion Ayrton Senna. His Williams’ steering column failed whilst going around the flat-out Tamburello corner, and he hit the wall hard.

Tamburello had been the scene of a number of previous incidents. It was incredibly fast, bumpy, and had very little runoff between the track and a concrete wall.

After the 1994 event changes were made to both Villeneuve and Tamburello corners. Chicanes were added to slow them down, but it was too little too late to save one of the greatest racing drivers ever.

The video below shows Michele Alboreto having a big crash at Tamburello a few years later, but walking (limping) away.

#3 - Monza: 3 deaths

Drivers killed:

  • Wolfgang von Trips, 1961
  • Jochen Rindt, 1970
  • Ronnie Peterson, 1978

The Monza circuit in Italy has long been the fastest Formula 1 circuit in existence. Even with the chicanes that are present today, F1 cars still reach the highest average lap speeds here.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s the Grand Prix occasionally used part of the large banked oval. Safety precautions for drivers and spectators were minimal, and in the 1961 race Wolfgang von Trips’ car crashed in to the spectators, which were protected by nothing, killing 15 fans and Wolfgang himself.

The chicanes were added in 1972 to slow the racers down. But in total, with all forms of motorsport included, 24 drivers and riders have died at the fast and fearsome Monza circuit.

Here’s how the circuit looked in the late 1960s:

#2 - Nurburgring Nordschleife: 5 deaths

Drivers killed:

  • Onofre Marimon, 1954
  • Peter Collins, 1958
  • Carel Godin de Beaufort, 1964
  • John Taylor, 1966
  • Gerhard Mitter, 1969

The Nurburgring Norschleife was dubbed the ‘Green Hell’ by Jackie Stewart and has long been perceived as the most fearsome and dangerous race track in the world. 13 miles of narrow tarmac wind their way through the trees of the Eifel mountains. Zero run-off areas exist on either side of the circuit, and the speeds reached can be scarily high.

Eventually after 21 German Grand Prix were held on the Nordschleife and 5 F1 drivers were killed, the circuit was deemed too dangerous for Formula 1. If we look at all forms of motorsport, there have been 69 fatal crashes in competition on the Nurburgring over the years.

Nowadays the circuit can be driven on daily by members of the public in their road cars with no speed limits. This is equally dangerous, and whilst no official figures are released, it’s understood that the number of public-driving deaths are in the 3 figures.

#1 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway: 7 deaths

Drivers killed:

  • Chet Miller, 1953
  • Manny Ayulo, 1955
  • Bill Vukovich, 1955
  • Keith Andrews, 1957
  • Pat O’Connor, 1957
  • Jerry Unser, 1959
  • Bob Cortner, 1959

In the 1950s the Indianapolis 500 was held as a round of the Formula 1 championship. F1 drivers would share the track with Indy drivers to race for the prestigious victory a the Brickyard.

Oval racing has additional risk over circuit racing. On the Indy 500 oval, the high-speed banked track was lined with a concrete wall. Zero run-off existed, and high-speed crashes often ended badly.

In total 42 drivers have been killed at Indianapolis across all forms of motorsport. Not as many as at the Nurburgring, but more of these were killed during F1 events.

List of most dangerous F1 circuits

Here’s the 9 most dangerous Formula 1 circuits:

Most dangerous Formula 1 circuits
Circuit F1 deaths First Last
Indianapolis 7 1953 1959
Nurburgring 5 1954 1969
Monza 3 1961 1978
Imola 2 1994 1994
Zandvoort 2 1970 1973
Modena 2 1957 1961
Watkins Glen 2 1973 1974
Spa 2 1960 1960
Kyalami 2 1974 1977
Most dangerous F1 circuits

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Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport guides based on my own experience as a racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who want to learn more about racing.

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Mike

Montjuic in Barcelona? Spectator, not driver, fatalities, but it was removed from the calendar specifically because it was unsafe for everyone.

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