Britain is truly one of motorsport’s powerhouses and has been for over a century. As such, it’s a land that has been blessed with an incredible variety of high-quality circuits, with many of today’s standout locations having changed little from their original layouts.
The world’s first purpose-built racetrack, Brooklands, opened on the outskirts of London in 1907. Silverstone hosted the inaugural Formula One World Championship Grand Prix 43 years later and the sport of rallycross – now with a world championship of its own – was more or less invented at Lydden Hill in 1967.
Fast-forward to modern times and UK circuits play host to international racing series by the bucketload, as well as supporting a thriving national and club racing scene with tracks as diverse as the historic Goodwood, oval-cum-road course Rockingham and the Blyton Park driving centre.
But which is the best? We decided to ask four racing drivers for their thoughts.
Karun Chandhok – Channel 4 Formula One presenter, former HRT and Lotus F1 driver
“Without a doubt, it’s the Brands Hatch Grand Prix layout. It’s narrow, high-speed, doesn’t have much run-off and is just such a huge challenge for a driver. I loved the old Dingle Dell when the dip in the track and the inside kerb meant you’d take off momentarily and it was such a huge deal to get the car set up perfectly for the entry so the camber would just pull you though on the right line without scrubbing off too much speed."
The first time I drove there it was one of those ‘hairs on the back of my neck’ moments
"It’s also steeped in history; the first time I drove there it was one of those ‘hairs on the back of my neck’ moments, just like when I first drove at Spa and Monaco. It always means more to win on a track like Brands; I did win there in the F3 National Class in 2003, but I lost the championship by a point [in the same race], so that was a bit of a mixed memory. That weekend was also special because it was the first time I raced against Lewis Hamilton – even back then, it was obvious he had ‘it’.”
Stefan Johansson – Le Mans 24 Hours winner, Formula One and Champ Car podium finisher
“The UK is blessed with so many great circuits and I had the pleasure of racing at most of them when I won the British F3 title in 1980 with Project 4. Thankfully, a lot of them are still the same as they were, or only slightly changed in terms of the layout, like Brands Hatch, Thruxton, Oulton Park, and Donington. Even Goodwood, although it’s only used twice a year now and is a bit of an exception because they only allow historic racing there."
At Silverstone, you had to blend bravery, skill, perfect balance and getting the turbo turned up at the right time
"Right now, I’d say the Brands Hatch GP circuit is the best, but my favourite UK circuit of all was Silverstone in its pre-1991 layout. I loved high-speed tracks and Silverstone was a place where, especially at the height of the turbo F1 era, it took everything you had to blend bravery, skill, perfect balance and getting the turbo turned up at the right time to take full advantage of qualifying tyres. We’re talking 900bhp, a one-lap window and the challenge of a corner like the old Stowe or Club; getting it right was an amazing feeling.”
Alex Wurz – Le Mans 24 Hours winner, Formula One podium finisher, GPDA Chairman, race circuit design consultant
“It might sound strange, but I’ve only raced at a few UK circuits during my career, because most of what I’ve done in motorsport has either been in Germany or at world championship-level. I’ve driven at Donington, Silverstone, Snetterton and Brands Hatch, and for me, it’s the 1.2-mile Brands Indy Circuit that stands out. I first experienced Brands Hatch when I was a kid and my father [Franz Wurz] was competing in European Rallycross. I later raced there at the Formula Ford Festival with a 1600cc Kent engine – and yes, that makes me feel very old!"
The Brands Hatch Indy Circuit is a blueprint for sustainable motorsport internationally
"I think you could use the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit as a blueprint for sustainable motorsport internationally. A circuit like that would not be too expensive to build in an emerging nation, and it would surely be a benefit to the motorsport industry to build a good number of small tracks that can be used regularly and would be sustainable, rather than one or two gigantic venues that are simply not sustainable long-term.”
Colin Turkington – Two-time British Touring Car champion, racing for Team BMW in 2017
“Oulton Park, and not just because I made my British Touring Car Championship debut there, and have had a lot of success there in the past. The circuit itself – in particular the Island configuration we use for the BTCC – is just amazing. My favourite corner is Druids; an off-camber, double-right-hander at the highest point of the circuit, taken in fourth gear. There’s so much time to be gained at a corner like that, but you have to have everything perfectly set up on entry, because there’s a really quick left-hand kink that wants to drag the car to the right of the circuit just before you need to downshift."
You need to experience the speed close-up as the cars head down to Cascades
"I always find the atmosphere amazing; the paddock is quite small, so it always feels full of enthusiastic fans, and I get great support because for supporters from Northern Ireland, it’s quite easy for them to get across on the ferry. If you go, you need to experience the speed close-up as the cars head down to Cascades. Stand on the paddock-side of the track there and you can get right next to the action, and then see the cars on the other side as they come from Hilltop side-by-side into Hislop’s chicane. Fantastic stuff."