COPENHAGEN STREET CIRCUIT
Plans for a grand prix in Copenhagen are quietly gathering pace. F1 Racing scouts the Danish capital’s likely track layout
We travel to the Danish capital for a sightseeing tour of a proposed new Formula 1 street circuit
HOLY pastries! A Danish grand prix! Formula 1 on the streets one of the greenest, most progressive – not to mention beautiful – cities in northern Europe? How unlikely is that?
In a word, ‘very’, but with F1’s new owners having drafted a marketing strategy that has ‘DESTINATION CITIES’ neon-lit across its top line, something quite wonderful might be about to happen. Yes, Copenhagen has been identified as precisely the kind of host town that would add lustre and credibility to Liberty Media’s ambitious promotional plans for their banner championship. (No surprise that Red Bull, those arch-marketeers, have been here already, in the form of a 2012 David Coulthard street demo.)
And with a local hero, Kevin Magnussen, remaining a punchy presence at Haas, there has probably never been a more opportune moment to bring Formula 1 back to Scandinavia for the first time since 1978. That year, Sweden’s Anderstorp circuit staged the Swedish GP for the last time (it had been a calendar regular since 1973) and the world championship hasn’t ventured so far north ever since.
Times are changing, however, and the consortium behind the Danish GP proposal reckons to have secured cross-party political support for the project, as well as funding pledges – from both the public and private sectors. The ambitious scheme is being led by 67-year-old former government minister Helge Sander – a one-time journalist who, among other achievements, brought six-day track cycle racing to Denmark in the 1970s.
His latest sporting passion is four-wheeled, however, and over a kaffe in Copenhagen’s Christiansborg Palace – Denmark’s main parliament building – he articulates his vision: “In Denmark, we would attract fans from a lot of countries, because of our geographical location. The whole Scandinavian region, for starters, but we’re also within easy reach of northern Germany, Holland, Poland and the UK. Copenhagen is a city that people want to visit anyway, so coming here for a grand prix should just be an added attraction.”
There’s an echo here of sentiments expressed earlier this year to F1 Racing by Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al-khalifa, a senior member of the Bahraini royal family and one of those who hatched a plan back in the early noughties to bring Formula 1 to the desert kingdom. The Arab region lacked a blue-riband motorsport event, despite its evident passion for fast, expensive motor cars and its huge cash reserves. The Bahrainis set about filling that vacuum, much as Sander and his allies intend to do, some 3,500 miles further north.
Sander explains that the idea for a grand prix in Copenhagen had percolated at the back of his mind for several years, before being “sparked” in 2014 by the sight of K-mag scoring a podium finish, on his F1 debut for Mclaren.
Since then, he has gripped, grinned and called in favours to secure what he claims is the broad support necessary for a city-centre grand prix in a country ruled by coalition governments.
Denmark’s Ministry of Industry Brian Mikkelsen is one senior figure to have offered his blessing: “We have discussed this project with private investors for some time,” he says, “and we’re now talking openly about it, because
I think it looks more and more realistic. F1 would give Copenhagen enormous branding.”
Sander has also gained the backing of an influential financier, Lars Seier Christensen, who has previously committed cash to F1 through the involvement of his self-started private finance house – Saxo Bank – with the Lotus F1 team.
Switzerland-based Seier, an active social media participant, makes no secret of his fundraising role. On 6 November 2017 he posted an Instagram picture of himself with F1 CEO Chase Carey and Chloe Targett-adams, F1’s Global Director of Promoters and Business Relations. ‘The efforts to bring Formula 1 to Copenhagen continue!” he captioned. “Good meeting this morning with Chase Carey, Formula 1 CEO and executive chairman, and Chloe Targett-adams. #danishf1grandprix #wonderfulcopenhagen #formula1 #makeithappen’.
Seier told F1 Racing: “I’m optimistic about this. It’s complex, but there’s very genuine interest and it feels like there’s a lot of general support among the population for this. The most important thing for us is to secure the funding: ball-park $70-80m.”
His latest meeting followed a visit by Sander to F1 HQ in June and a subsequent trip to the Singapore GP. The Asian tour was an opportunity to further discuss circuit and business plans and for Sander to gain a firsthand understanding of what goes into making a street race successful.
Singapore, of course, is something of a posterchild for ‘modern’ F1. It necessarily lacks the heritage of a Spa or a Monza, but since 2008 it has confidently occupied its own place on the calendar, delivering on its ambitious ‘night race’ credentials with some panache.
It has also benefited from the somewhat singular nature of Singaporean politics: it’s a city-state with an interpretation of democracy that would be deemed autocratic by western liberals. So a ruling party wishing to ‘get things done’ – such as stage a night race on the capital’s streets as part of a grand tourism and promotional plan – faces fewer challenges than might, say, a ruling coalition in Denmark.
“We are aware of the challenges,” says Sander, “but we have some creative ideas.”
Chief among these is to designate the Danish Grand Prix as ‘The Green GP’. How so? The rationale is that by closing two of Copenhagen’s three arterial bridges to vehicles for the duration of a grand prix weekend, normal traffic volumes would be slashed. The city’s new metro system, due for completion in 2018, should be fully operational in time for the pencilled-in Danish
“BY CLOSING TWO OF COPENHAGEN’S THREE ARTERIAL BRIDGES FOR THE WEEKEND, NORMAL TRAFFIC VOLUMES AND CARBON EMISSIONS WILL BE SLASHED”
GP date of summer 2020, and all teams and drivers would be compelled to travel to the circuit by public transport.
At a stroke, critics of F1’s eco-credentials would find an answer to their main point of opposition: hosting a grand prix would reduce Copenhagen’s carbon emissions for a few days.
This kind of creative thinking underpins the viability of the project. Unlike any purposebuilt racing facility, a street circuit has none of the essential operational elements that allow a race to go ahead: no pits, no paddock, no media centre, no office buildings.
Some elegant solutions have already been posited, however. The F1 paddock might be located in a square behind the parliament building (the ‘Borgen’), that’s currently used as a real paddock area for the royal family’s ceremonial horses. A media centre could easily be accommodated within the parliament building itself. As for the pits and garages, temporary structures would have to built, as they are in Baku for example. A likely location is an area behind the Danish police HQ that’s light on local residents.
On paper, the plan looks compelling and F1 Racing’s tour of the proposed layout confirmed one aspect of its design above all: it would be an insanely quick track. Its 3.6-mile anticlockwise length is essentially two very long straights punctuated by a wide 90-degree left-hander and two slow ‘backstreet’ sections. It has been sketched right into the heart of Copenhagen, past the aforementioned ‘Borgen’, alongside the old stock exchange, beneath the elevated walkways of the national library and past the forbidding exterior of Police HQ. Tourist honeypots such as the dreamily picturesque Nyhavn are skirted, as is the (in)famously liberal Christiania district. Formula 1 won’t have enjoyed so much free love and weed since the ’60s if this race gets the nod.
Kevin Magussen’s dad, Jan, the ’90s grand prix racer of some repute (though little success), has had input into the design, as has F1 architect
du choix Hermann Tilke. The resulting course prompts speculation that their creativity may have been enhanced by some of Christiania’s finest, for there’s certainly little apparent restraint in their plan. By way of analogy, imagine a London GP that ran over Westminster Bridge past Big Ben; or a New York GP passing through Times Square; a Moscow GP with a Red Square paddock; a Paris GP with a Champs-elysées main straight. The Copenhagen circuit blends comparable landmarks into a single loop and Kevin Magnussen, for one, is rather agog at the potential.
Originally from Roskilde, 20 miles from Copenhagen, but these days living in the capital, K-mag struggles to equate F1 Racing’s circuit map with the streets he knows as a native: “For me, this is two separate worlds joined together: my home and Formula 1. They have always been separate for me: you go away to a race… so for F1 to come to my home is going to be surreal.” Surreal… and quick. “It would be ridiculously fast,” Magnussen grins, “and really it’s hard for me to imagine driving around these streets, because thinking about it I can’t see a track here. But obviously it’s going to change a lot with different Tarmac, walls, kerbs and so on.”
We ask if a left-hand kink roughly half-way down the main straight would require a one-gear downshift (braking being obviously superfluous). “No way!” protests Kevin. “It would be flat all the way from here [the right-hand turn onto Hans Christian Andersen Street] to here [the 90-degree left that turns the track back on itself and through hipster-chic Christiansborg].”
So while the putative Copenhagen City Circuit wouldn’t boast the most sophisticated or technical topography, it would include two clear heavy braking zones, which would therefore promote passing opportunities.
“The braking at the end of the straights would be massive,” confirms Magnussen. “There would be a lot of passing at this grand prix.”
For the race to happen, many planets in the F1 universe must align: financial promises need to be made liquid; calendars rationalised; political accommodations reached. But with sufficient cash and goodwill, it may yet become real.
“No one in Denmark would ever have believed something like this could ever happen,” says Magnussen. “It’s not even as if we’d finally have got something we’d wished for – because no-one has even been taking about it until recently. But I can tell you, if it does go ahead, it would be unbelievably spectacular. I think every Dane in the country would head for Copenhagen.”
6 Christians Brygge straight 7 Frederiksholm canal 9 8 Langebro crossover Hambrosgade chicane