Hanoi Street Circuit
The Hanoi Street Circuit (Vietnamese: Đường phố Hà Nội) is a case of what very nearly was. Expensively built to the latest standards to a design by Hermann Tilke, it seems possible that it will never see racing action take place.
Set to be the first major international circuit in Communist-controlled Vietnam, the track features permanent pit buildings and infrastructure which link into Hanoi's streets to form a lengthy but fast lap.
The expected debut in 2020 was upended by the coronavirus pandemic and then the arrest of one of a key local official on corruption charges meant the event - controversial in some Communist circles - had lost much of its impetus. Dropped from the 2021 calendar and again in 2022, it remains to be seen if the race will ever happen.
Plans for a race in Vietnam were first explored by then Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone, despite there already being four Asian events on the calendar at the time. He eventually abandoned his pursuit, concerned by the viability of the event (which, as it turns out, was prescient) and having had his fingers somewhat burned by the failure of the races in South Korea and India.
When Formula One changed hands, however, new owners Liberty Media re-energised the pursuit of a race with the Vietnamese authorities. The Grand Prix was duly announced in November 2018, becoming the first new event under Liberty Media's ownership. With a race date of April 2020, the pressure was on to get a circuit prepared.
F1's circuit designer of choice Hermann Tilke was brought in to oversee the creation of the track and associated facilities. The brief was to create a unique hybrid layout, fusing a street circuit's 'closed-in' characteristics with the benefits of the more open feel of a traditional circuit. This would be within the confines of the city's topography and included some existing roads as well as newly-constructed ones along its length.
Unique design with familiar elements
The final design came as the culmination of a collaboration between F1's Motorsports team, Tilke, the City of Hanoi authorities and the race promoter, with governing body the FIA also part of the process.
As is often the case with Tilke's tracks, inspiration was taken from a number of famous circuits around the world. Turns 1 and 2 were based on the opening corners at Germany's Nurburgring, with the aim of producing a clear overtaking opportunity. Turns 12 through to 15, meanwhile, were inspired by a section of the famous Monaco street circuit, from Turn 1 and the run up the hill to Massenet.
The Turn 16-19 sequence that follows features fast changes of direction reminiscent of the sweeping iconic Esses at Suzuka, while the final three corners take inspiration from Malaysia's Sepang – the fast left-right followed by a tightening radius entry.
That tricky and challenging final sequence offers the potential for mistakes and opens the door for a chasing driver to pick up a slipstream and launch an attack into the first turn.
Construction completed in under a year
Groundbreaking for the new circuit began in March 2019, leaving just over a year to finalise the construction for it to make its April 2020 race debut. Progress was good, with regular updates showcasing the build of the new roads and the 300m-long pit building, inspired by Hanoi’s Imperial Citadel of Thang Long.
In December 2020, organisers revealed a revised layout for the track to take account of updated advice on safety. The final section was reconfigured, with a 23rd corner added and the track widened by around 15m. Where before the final two corners were a quick left followed by a much tighter left, the track now winds further to the right before a tight left followed by another more open left. The pit entry design was also amended as a result.
Construction of the whole circuit was complete by February 2020 and there was much anticipation for the race. It had even made it into the official F1 video game, allowing budding racers to sample the track in virtual form. As it turned out, these may be the only laps to be turned in anger.
Race cancelled but will it return?
The inaugural Vietnamese Grand Prix was initially scheduled to be held on 5 April 2020 as part of a multi-year contract. With everything seemingly in place for a successful debut, fate intervened in the shape of the coronavirus pandemic. Racing came to a halt globally and when it did restart the prospect of competing in the Far East fell by the wayside, as the complications of travel restrictions and the difficulty of organising events in crowded city centres became insurmountable.
With F1 forced into a truncated season set mainly in Europe, the Vietnam Grand Prix was therefore cancelled for 2020. It had been expected to return to the calendar when more normal conditions were re-established the following year. There were further complications, which saw it left off the 2021 calendar. Among these were the fact that the Vietnamese were not keen on showcasing Hanoi to the world in front of empty grandstands.
Proceedings were further complicated when Hanoi People's Committee Chairman Nguyễn Đức Chung, a key backer of the race, was arrested on corruption charges unconnected with the Grand Prix. His subsequent jailing for five years removed one of the main stakeholders for the Grand Prix, throwing its continuation into further doubt.
Formula One bosses have continued to keep communications channels open but the Vietnamese authorities seem to have gone cold on the concept of a Grand Prix altogether.
It's hard therefore to accurately categorise what this circuit is. Having been expensively built, it can't therefore be considered an undeveloped proposal but nor is it an active circuit in any sense. The temporary facilities have all been removed and life in that part of the city has returned to normality, with little to suggest the likelihood of the race being revived. Only the giant pit buildings and grandstands hint at what had been planned, seemingly set to be a grand - and hugely expensive - white elephant.
It remains to be seen if it will simply transition into the realms of being a historic failure or whether it can be repurposed in some way. Either way, it looks like the F1 2020 game is the closest anyone will come to lapping the course in racing machinery for now.
- Hanoi Street Circuit, Nam Từ Liêm, Hanoi, Vietnam
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