In the wake of Formula One’s announcement that the series will be hosting a third grand prix in the United States, plenty of fans have come out of the woodwork to argue that Las Vegas is a terrible venue and that we should instead return to classic fan favorites — such as Watkins Glen. But folks, that’s an awful idea, and I’m going to tell you why.
Let me preface by saying that I am a massive fan of Watkins Glen International. It’s a track I have to visit at least once per year because it’s a highlight of the racing calendar. It’s where I met my husband. It’s a gorgeous facility. It’s fun. It’s an exceptional track. It’s tucked away in the charming New York countryside.
And all of those things would be demolished as soon as F1 expressed interest in returning to the track.
For a race track to be considered worthy of Formula One (also known as an FIA Grade One track), it requires a laundry list of factors. The track itself has to conform to certain safety standards, but the area surrounding the track also has to be equipped to host a massive international event.
If you were to make a classic track like, say, Watkins Glen conform to those standards, the very track as you know it would cease to exist. Say goodbye to powder blue Armco and tight runoff areas. A full trackside pit and garage area would need to be constructed, likely resulting in the destruction of other longstanding facilities. And that’s just at the track.
If you’ve ever been to the town of Watkins Glen, you know it isn’t equipped to host an international race to meet the high standards of Formula One. Most of the town’s lodgings have remain unchanged for decades. There are no five-star restaurants or hotels. The restaurants that are available are already packed tight after events like IMSA’s Six Hours at the Glen, which would likely see a smaller crowd than something like F1. And WGI isn’t close enough to any major city to justify staying in, say, the Big Apple.
If you want F1 to return to a classic track like Watkins Glen, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t actually want F1 there. The reasons you like the track — its charisma, charm, and old-timey flair — would cease to exist the moment F1 even considered a return. And there’s a good chance that you would hate the track that WGI would become, similar to the way longtime fans have criticized the changes made to other iconic circuits like Spa-Francorchamps.
Trust me — if you could see what F1 would do to your favorite classic race track, you’d be praying for more street courses or purpose-built facilities. It’s not always fun, but this is what Formula One has become.