Autódromo gains full F1 approval

By Phil Egginton

The Autódromo do Algarve has been reclassified as Grade 1 by the governing body of world motorsport. This means it could now hold F1 races.

The Autódromo do Algarve first opened in late 2008. One of the events held in early 2009 was an official test over three days for F1 teams. Cost-based restrictions introduced the same year meant that testing has since been severely restricted. The 2009 test was the last time teams tested current specification cars at the Autódromo.

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) is the world governing body of motorsport. Circuits are graded by the FIA according to their layout and facilities. Only the very best circuits are granted grade 1 and only these are allowed to hold a full F1 race. When it opened in 2008, the Autódromo was graded 2 and 1T. The 1T grade allowing them to hold F1 tests but not races.

In February 2019 a full inspection of the Autódromo was undertaken by the FIA, led by Charlie Whiting. At the time, Charlie was the FIA Formula One Race Director, Safety Delegate, Permanent Starter and head of the F1 Technical Department. His face was very familiar to F1 fans around the world. A few weeks later, just before the Australian Grand Prix, Charlie sadly died from a pulmonary embolism. However, Charlie’s report on the Autódromo was received and recommended only some minor improvements. The Autódromo recently announced that they have now indeed been granted full FIA Grade 1 status. This means that the track and all its associated facilities are now approved to hold a full F1 race.

Paulo Pinheiro, CEO of the Autódromo said, “ We are immensely proud. We have achieved the highest grade for a circuit. The only work we had to do was small changes to two of the corners on the track”.

So will we see an F1 race at the Autódromo soon then? Unfortunately not. Circuits have to pay a large amount of money to host a race. Often this means the local government makes a major contribution. The commercial organisers of F1 have also said they do not want to hold any more races in Europe. All this, of course, was before the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of writing of the scheduled 22 F1 races, two have been cancelled and a further six postponed. F1 is now considering holding races behind closed doors, i.e. no spectators. Paulo continues, “This could open a window of opportunity. We also hope the F1 winter testing, currently held in Barcelona, could come back to the Algarve”. Other top-level motorsports are already being moved here. Part of the FIA World Kart Championship initially scheduled for late October in Brasil has been moved to early November at the Autódromo.

Phil Egginton is a journalist and photographer and now lives in the Algarve.



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