Top 10 Dangerous Race Tracks With a Dark Past

Tags: #Racing ,   #Formula1 ,   #GrandPrix ,   #Racetrack

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-05-26 13:12:14

The world of motorsports is exhilarating but can also be incredibly dangerous. While safety measures have improved over the years, some tracks remain notorious for their high risks and deadly accidents. Here, we will tour the most dangerous ones still in use, exploring what makes them so challenging and why drivers continue to take on the risks. Note that we'll rank them based on their current safety rather than the whole history. 

10. Autodromo Nazionale di Monza

Massive speeds at Monza may result in death
Location: Monza, Italy 
Current racing events: Formula One, FIA World Endurance Series
Why it is dangerous: Extremely high speeds and tight chicanes
Famous fatal incident: The death of Ronnie Peterson
Total deaths: 88 (53 drivers)
Track info

The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza has been the scene of numerous accidents, many of which have been fatal. The track is known for its lengthy straights and high-speed corners, which make it dangerous. The speeds reached at Monza make it one of the fastest tracks in the world, with drivers going up to 230 mph (370 km/h) on the start/finish straight. The high speeds and tight corners require drivers to be extremely precise in their movements. Otherwise, the slightest error may result in a catastrophic accident.

The track's layout features long, narrow straights, tight chicanes, and fast curves, making navigating difficult. Thus, drivers must continually focus and concentrate. The circuit's high-speed nature also means that accidents are often severe, with cars and drivers sustaining significant damage. One of the most famous accidents at Monza occurred in 1978 when Ronnie Peterson's car crashed into the barriers, causing a pile-up that injured several drivers. Peterson, unfortunately, died the following day due to complications from his injuries. 

9. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

Luckily, there's only one death at Gilles Villeneuve circuit
Location: Montreal, Canada
Current racing events: Formula One
Why it is dangerous: Unpredictable weather, the proximity of walls
Famous fatal incident: The death of Riccardo Paletti
Total deaths: 2 (Formula One statistics only)
Track info

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, located in Montreal, is known for hosting the Canadian Grand Prix and is one of the most iconic and beloved race tracks on the Formula One calendar. Named after one of the best North American F1 pilots, the track is surrounded by walls and barriers, leaving little margin for error. The track's high-speed straights and tight chicanes also make it difficult for drivers to maintain control of their cars and navigate the circuit safely. Additionally, the circuit's unpredictable weather conditions, including rain and high winds, can make driving even more treacherous.

Despite its dangers, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve remains a favorite among drivers and fans due to its unique layout, fast-paced racing, and stunning views of the city skyline and the St. Lawrence River. Unfortunately, even the most experienced drivers can fall victim to the track's challenges. One of the most famous accidents occurred during the 1997 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix when driver Olivier Panis crashed his car into a wall, breaking both legs. Another notable incident was during the 2007 race when Robert Kubica hit the wall at high speed, causing his car to flip and land on the side. Miraculously, he survived with only minor injuries. 

8. Suzuka Circuit

Unfortunately, Bianchi died months after this incident
Location: Suzuka, Japan
Current racing events: Formula One, Super GT, Super Formula
Why it is dangerous: High-speed corners
Famous fatal incident: The death of Jules Bianchi
Total deaths: 17 (All 17 are drivers)
Track info

Suzuka Circuit has a long history of hosting major races such as the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix and the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance motorcycle race. The track's unique layout, which includes a figure-eight configuration, numerous elevation changes, and a challenging "S" curve, makes it a fun challenge. 

One of the main reasons for Suzuka's reputation as a dangerous race track is its high-speed corners, which can put immense stress on both the car and the driver. In particular, the track's high-speed "130R" corner has been the site of several serious accidents. Additionally, the proximity to the Pacific Ocean means it is often hit by typhoons and heavy rain, making driving conditions treacherous. The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix saw a fatal accident when Jules Bianchi crashed into a crane that was recovering another car, leading to his untimely death. This was the last driver's death in Formula One, and hopefully, it will stay that way.

7. Guia Circuit

Luckily, Flörsch somehow recovered from this horrific accident
Location: Macau
Current racing events: Macau Grand Prix, WTTC
Why it is dangerous: Tight corners, lack of runoff areas
Famous fatal incident: The death of a child in 1974
Total deaths: 17 (14 drivers)
Track info

The 3.8-mile (6 km) Guia Circuit winds through Macau's narrow, winding streets, with walls, curbs, and barriers just inches away from the cars. The track is notorious for its high-speed straights and tight, narrow corners, making it a real challenge. Furthermore, it is used for motorcycle racing, which adds an additional element of danger.

The circuit's high-speed nature, tight corners, and unforgiving barriers and walls make it a tough test of a driver's skill and nerve. Consequently, the Guia Circuit has seen its fair share of accidents and fatalities, with several drivers losing their lives. In 2018, a horrific crash during a Formula 3 race resulted in Sophia Flörsch's spinal injuries, after her car flew through the air and hit a fence. Other notable incidents at the Guia Circuit include a fiery crash in 2012 resulting in the death of Philip Yau. 

6. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

Stefan Bellof paid with his life for his extreme bravery at the Spa
Location: Stavelot, Belgium
Current racing events: Formula One, FIA World Endurance Championship, FIA F2, FIA F3
Why it is dangerous: Changeable weather conditions, Eau Rouge/Raidillon corner
Famous fatal incident: The death of Stefan Bellof
Total deaths: 52 (48 drivers)
Track info

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is the best racing track in the world, located in the Ardennes forest of Belgium. This area is famous for its unpredictable and treacherous weather conditions that can change in seconds. Furthermore, it often happens that only a part of the track is wet. Consequently, drivers are forced to make hard decisions when choosing tires. The circuit's high-speed corners and long straights require drivers to have exceptional car control and concentration. The most famous part of the track is the Eau Rouge/Raidillon corner, where drivers must take the corner at full throttle while going uphill. The combination of high speed and steep elevation makes this corner one of the most dangerous in the world. 

The track's history is littered with fatalities, and even in recent times, several crashes have resulted in severe injuries to drivers. One of the most tragic accidents occurred during the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, where drivers Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey lost their lives in separate incidents. More recently, Anthoine Hubert died in 2019 in a horrific accident while racing in Formula 2. Despite all the safety improvements, this is still a very dangerous track. Yet, it is a fan favorite due to its history, scenic location, and challenging layout. 

5. Circuit de Monaco

At Monaco, every crash can be a fatal one
Location: Monte Carlo, Monaco
Current racing events: Formula One, Formula E, FIA F2, FIA F3
Why it is dangerous: Lack of runoff area, tight turns
Famous fatal incident: The death of Lorenzo Bandini
Total deaths: 4 (All four by drivers)
Track info

Circuit de Monaco is widely considered the crown jewel of Formula One. Still, it's also one of the world's most challenging street racing circuits. With its narrow, winding roads and lack of overtaking opportunities, the track demands immense precision from drivers. Moreover, the unforgiving barriers that line the circuit provide no room for mistakes, making any accident potentially catastrophic.

One of the most challenging sections of the circuit is the famous Casino Square, requiring drivers to brake hard while turning sharply. The slightest miscalculation can send a car careening into the wall. Another scary part of the track is the tunnel, which is dark, narrow, and requires drivers to maintain high speeds. One of the prominent incidents occurred in 1967 during the Monaco Grand Prix when British driver Lorenzo Bandini crashed his Ferrari at the chicane near the harbor. Bandini was trapped and suffered severe burns, which proved fatal three days later. 

4. Circuit de la Sarthe (France)

The most horrific accident in motorsport history
Location: Le Mans, France
Current racing events: 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ferrari Challenge
Why it is dangerous: Excessive speeds, exhaustion
Famous fatal incident: 1955 Le Mans disaster
Total deaths: 22 (drivers only statistics)
Track info

The 8.4-mile (13.6 km) Circuit de la Sarthe is known for its long straights, fast corners, and technical sections requiring precise driving. While the course may seem tame during regular road traffic, it becomes an entirely different beast during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the most grueling endurance races in the world. Drivers must navigate through traffic, unpredictable weather, and complete driver exhaustion to make it to the finish line.

One of the most dangerous aspects of Circuit de la Sarthe is the Mulsanne Straight, a 3.7-mile (6 km) straightaway that allows cars to reach speeds of over 250 mph (400 km/h). Coupled with the narrow track, this makes passing extremely difficult. The Circuit de la Sarthe includes many fast corners and chicanes, which can be treacherous during rainstorms. Some of the most famous incidents include the 1955 Le Mans disaster, which claimed the lives of 83 people, including driver Pierre Levegh and the fatal crash of Jo Gartner in 1986. 

3. Indianapolis/Daytona

Incredibly high speeds and concrete walls at Daytona cost Earnhardt his life
Location: United States
Current racing events: IndyCar Series (Indianapolis)/NASCAR (Daytona)
Why are they dangerous: Enormous speeds and concrete walls
Famous fatal incident: Bill Vukovich/Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Total deaths: 73 (43 drivers)/40 (39 drivers)
Track info

As super ovals, Daytona and Indianapolis deserve to share a place on our list. The IndyCar Series Indy 500, held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is our planet's largest single-day sporting event with a long and storied history. However, the track can be extremely dangerous. The steep banking and high speeds can cause drivers to lose control of their cars, resulting in devastating crashes. 

Similarly, the Daytona International Speedway, which hosts the Daytona 500, is known for its high speeds. Daytona also saw its share of tragic accidents, including the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001. Despite the dangers, these two race tracks remain beloved by fans and drivers and continue hosting some of the world's most exciting and thrilling races.

2. Nürburgring Nordschleife (Germany)

Unfortunately, a spectator died during this incident
Location: Nurburg, Germany
Current racing events: 24-hour race
Why it is dangerous: Hard to learn, not much runoff area
Famous fatal incident: Death of spectator in 2015
Total deaths: 78 (69 drivers)
Track info

The Nürburgring Nordschleife, also known as the "Green Hell," is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous racing tracks in the world. The 13 miles (20.8 km) route in Germany features over 70 turns and an elevation change of about 300 meters (close to 1000 ft). Thus, it provides a challenging experience for even the most skilled drivers. Its long straightaways, narrow sections, and unforgiving barriers make it a demanding circuit requiring exceptional skill, focus, and bravery. 

Among the most demanding aspects of the Nordschleife are its unpredictable weather conditions. The track is known for its changing weather patterns, which can go from sunny to rainy in minutes. This makes it extremely difficult for drivers to maintain control. One of the most infamous accidents happened in 1976 during the German Grand Prix when Niki Lauda's Ferrari crashed and burst into flames, leaving him with severe burns and injuries. Another tragic event occurred in 2015 when Jann Mardenborough's Nissan GT-R Nismo crashed and flew over the barriers, killing a spectator.

1. Isle of Man TT (UK)

Hundreds of deaths and thousands of heavy injuries
Location: Isle of Man
Current racing events: Isle of Man TT
Why it is dangerous: Extremely hard to learn, low safety measures
Famous fatal incident: The death of Karl Harris
Total deaths: 280 (265 riders)
Track info

The Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) race sees the world's top motorcycle racers hurtling around the 38-mile (60 km) street circuit, made up of winding public roads on the Isle of Man. The track is known for its narrow and twisting course, blind crests, bumps, and jumps. Furthermore, riders frequently hit speeds of over 200 mph (320 km/h). The event has a dark history, with over 260 fatalities recorded since 1907. While other tracks on our list have significantly improved safety, that's not the case here. Thus, deaths are still common. The Isle of Man government continues to support the event as it brings significant revenue to the island. Yet, it's incredible that a track like this still exists.

Despite the risks, riders continue to flock to the Isle of Man to compete in this iconic event. Those who take on the TT course are a unique breed of racers with nerves of steel and a true passion for the sport. It is the ultimate test of man and machine, and the riders who successfully complete the course can genuinely call themselves champions. 

Motorsports have always been a thrilling experience, attracting millions of fans around the world. However, it is important to remember that behind the adrenaline and excitement lies a dangerous reality that drivers face every time they hit the track. While safety measures continue to improve, the racing risks are still present, especially in some of the most dangerous car race tracks on Earth. 

Have you visited some of these racing tracks? Which one would you rank as the most dangerous?

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