Most of motorsport is in the offseason now, ceding the spotlight to stick-and-ball sports. And with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar shifted to the winter, that's probably a good thing, racing no longer having to share the stage with one of sport's biggest events -- at least this year.
With so few cars and bikes turning laps in anger at the moment, and excitement for the World Cup nearing a crescendo, we had a thought: What if motorsport had its own World Cup? Yes, the Race of Champions exists, but with so many drivers and riders competing in so many different disciplines, it's hardly a level playing field for each participant. So what if instead of each country's best drivers going head to head, we took each country's best circuits?
Austin Lindberg and Hazel Southwell looked through racing's history books to find race tracks in all 32 countries competing at Qatar 2022, determined group winners and runners-up, and played out the tournament's bracket until we landed on the best course in motorsport. This is the World Cup of Circuits.
Winner: Netherlands | TT Circuit Assen
⏱ @marcmarquez93 may have stormed to his 75th career pole position and his first at the #DutchGP, but could he have lapped Assen any quicker?— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) June 30, 2018
Find out in the @Michelin_Sport Ideal Lap! pic.twitter.com/mTBHYz0E1q
This decision may appear blasphemous, not selecting Zandvoort, the home of two-time F1 champion Max Verstappen and his massive Oranje Army, but Assen is truly one of the sleeper circuits in all of racing. It's been in service since 1926, and has hosted more MotoGP races than any track in history, home to the Dutch GP every year (save for COVID-interrupted 2020) since 1949.
When you talk to riders, this is the sort of course they dream of. Assen is fast and flowing, with quick changes in direction, rewarding those with commitment when consequences are at their highest. Fans of motorcycle racing have taken to calling this place the cathedral of the sport, and after viewing an on-board lap, it's easy to understand why.
Runner-up: Qatar | Losail International Circuit
Onboard with @Max33Verstappen for the lap that earned him a crucial bonus point - and the DHL Fastest Lap Award in Qatar 🚀🏆— Formula 1 (@F1) November 23, 2021
DHL stats and leaderboard 👉 https://t.co/sOAsD9HZK8#QatarGP 🇶🇦 #MomentsThatDeliver @DHL_Motorsports pic.twitter.com/eBAwDRGpsP
F1 got its first taste of Losail last season, and Qatar took the 2022 season off to instead focus on the World Cup, but the series will return next season. In MotoGP, Losail has become something of a staple, on the calendar since 2004 and the season opener every year since 2007.
Qatar is home to MotoGP's only race under the lights, and F1's first race at the venue also came after dark, allowing for team liveries to truly pop and driver and rider helmets to sparkle beneath the 3,600 beaming floodlights.
Knocked out: Ecuador, Senegal
Winner: United States | Circuit of the Americas
The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is far from the first US Grand Prix circuit, predated by nine other venues, but in just a decade since its opening it's been cemented as the American F1 track and one of the biggest parties on the calendar.
Opened in 2012, with just days to spare before F1 cars were due out on track, it's an undulating, bumpy track that challenges drivers whether they're on two or four wheels. Stars-and-stripes paint outlining the track means you can't forget where you are, even if a packed crowd was never likely to let you.
In the past two years, F1's rising star in the States has seen record numbers at the circuit, and its concerts are so iconic that Taylor Swift put a reference to her 2016 performance on "Midnights".
Runner-up: England | Silverstone
The original grand prix circuit, Silverstone is where Formula One officially began. Its high-speed, corner-heavy track probably needs very little introduction, after more than 70 years of racing there across every category imaginable -- even for series like rallycross, a less-seen, inner track can accommodate dirt jumps.
Silverstone's enduring popularity doesn't come down to any particularly iconic corners or spectacular scenery. A former airfield, it's flat as a pancake and windswept even during what the UK passes off as summer, but the racing is always good and a quick lap needs as much bravery now as it did in the 1940s.
It's also the only current grand prix circuit to straddle two counties, drivers running half a lap in Buckinghamshire and the other half in Northamptonshire.
Knocked out: Iran, Wales
Winner: Mexico | Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez
Onboard with @Charles_Leclerc for the lap that puts him on pole in Mexico ⏱👀— Formula 1 (@F1) October 26, 2019
He's promoted from P2 to P1, following Max Verstappen's grid penalty #MexicoGP 🇲🇽 #Pirelli @pirellisport pic.twitter.com/gdu3S7qnvH
The elevation of Mexico City, at 7,350 feet, makes for thinner air and, as such, lower drag and higher speeds. F1 teams often deploy Monaco-level aero kits, offering the highest levels of downforce available, but return Monza (where low-drag wings are fitted) levels of downforce. As such, Hermanos Rodriguez sees some of the fastest speeds of the season, the highest recorded being 231.96 mph by Valtteri Bottas in 2016.
Did we mention part of the circuit runs through an old baseball stadium? The 25,000-strong crowd of the stadium section makes for one of the rare points of the season where drivers can hear the fans over their cars.
Runner-up: Argentina | Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo
🔥 @marcmarquez93 took the last pole at Termas De Río Hondo in 2019!— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) March 29, 2022
Unfortunately he won't participate in this year's #ArgentinaGP 🇦🇷... so, who'll be fastest in Qualifying this Sunday? Guess the pole lap time here 👉 https://t.co/PD5D5ptoEO and win prizes with @Tissot! pic.twitter.com/XNJhpWAAd5
This is one of the more obscure entries on our list. MotoGP is the only world championship to visit the Argentine circuit today, and the World Touring Car Championship -- which folded in 2017 -- is the only other world championship to have ever competed there.
Termas de Rio Hondo is another track full of flowing corners, but one of its most notable elements is the long straight between Turns 4 and 5. That horsepower-hungry section not only runs two thirds of a mile, but it also includes a climb of nearly 150 feet.
Knocked out: Poland, Saudi Arabia
Winner: France | Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans
It's weird to think that Le Mans is actually, at least partially, a street circuit. One of the longest still in regular use, only outdone by gigantic tracks like the Nordschleife or Isle of Man, Le Mans is to motorsport what the Vatican is to Catholicism.
People talk about Le Mans with breathy awe and they're right to. A semi-mythical place, it's a testing ground for endurance of machinery, drivers, teams and hope. To win there, you first have to overcome yourself and then take on the competition, and it gives nothing away easily.
Le Mans' legendary status makes it hallowed ground but every year, for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, that history might as well be erased and rewritten. There's no such thing as a legacy win and the challenge of Le Mans will be just as big in 2023 as in 1923, the first year it ran.
Runner-up: Australia | Mount Panorama Circuit
Officially called Mount Panorama, everyone who loves motorsport knows about Bathurst. And that's a pretty big achievement for a track just outside a small town in New South Wales that otherwise boasts attractions like the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum.
Most famous for the Bathurst 1000, Mount Panorama was also a four-time host of the Australian Grand Prix from the 1930s to the 1950s and more recently, endurance events including a 24-hour race. Having a twist called Hell Corner is a heck of a statement and even more when it's turn one of Bathurst's unusual mix of wiggly wobbly rapid turns and angular straights, as well as a 571-foot elevation change around its 3.8 miles.
Knocked out: Denmark, Tunisia
Winner: Japan | Suzuka Circuit
WHAT. A LAP.— Formula 1 (@F1) October 13, 2019
Go onboard with @ScuderiaFerrari's Sebastian Vettel as he secures pole position at Suzuka with a track record time of 1:27.064! #JapaneseGP 🇯🇵 #F1 @pirellisport #PirelliPolePositionAward pic.twitter.com/Or5fSqDSap
Suzuka has to be one of the tournament favorites. This track has seen it all, with F1 and the 8 Hours of Suzuka motorcycle race still happening every year, and the World Endurance Championship and MotoGP previously visiting the Honda-owned track.
The variety of this circuit is perhaps unmatched by any rivals in this competition. The esses test drivers' precision, Spoon Curve tests their bravery, with runoff room at a premium, and 130R being one of the biggest tests of commitment in racing at nearly 90 degrees taken at 190 mph in an F1 car.
Runner-up: Germany | Nurburgring
It's almost unimaginable that the Nuburgring could finish runner-up to anyone. It's home to the GP circuit, which has welcomed F1 on numerous occasions throughout the years, but the real star here is the Nordschleife: the nearly 13-mile course carved out of the forests of the Eifel mountains, known colloquially as "the Green Hell."
The Nordschleife is host to one of the most prestigious endurance races in the world, the Nurburgring 24 Hours, where teams of drivers navigate the more than 170 corners and 1,000 feet of elevation change for an entire day. So synonymous with automotive performance has the Nordschleife become that countless automakers bring the latest prototypes of race cars and road cars alike to the Nurburgring to put them through their paces.
Knocked out: Costa Rica, Spain
Winner: Belgium | Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Some tracks make motorsport fans go a bit misty eyed, and Spa is definitely one of them. The sweeping beauty of the hill up Eau Rouge and into Raidillon is surely one of the best-known corners in the world and definitely one of the most romanticized.
Spa is a tricky, challenging circuit that's kept its identity through repeated revisions. Most recently, a reprofiling of the barriers around the top of Raidillon has made keeping racing there possible and eliminated the risk of crashed cars ricocheting back into other competitors. Like a lot of the older tracks that have stayed relevant, Spa's power is in being able to evolve in the same way that motorsport develops new technology, keeping itself at the forefront without selling its soul.
Runner-up: Canada | Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Carlos Sainz picked up the DHL Fastest Lap in Montreal as he hunted down Max for P1 😅— Formula 1 (@F1) June 20, 2022
The Spaniard takes his first award of the year 👉 https://t.co/sOAsD9HZK8#CanadianGP #MomentsThatDeliver @DHL_Motorsports @CarlosSainz55 pic.twitter.com/xobssCgdJe
There are not many F1 tracks on islands. Gilles Villeneuve stands out both for its location, in the middle of the St. Lawrence River in Montreal, and for its high-speed, twisting track. Built in a park, it's lushly wooded and unusually rich with wildlife for a motorsport track, which tend to be built in fairly sparse areas.
Setting aside, the Canadian Grand Prix circuit is a real challenge. In order to protect both the park and cars, barriers loom incredibly close to the tarmac, and one wrong move can prove disastrous. Plenty of legendary moments have happened at Gilles Villeneuve but maybe the most recent, in 2019, was an enraged Sebastian Vettel, foiled by track limits, swapping the first- and second-place marker boards after being penalized out of a win.
Knocked out: Croatia, Morocco
Winner: Brazil | Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace
Go onboard with @LewisHamilton for the lap that put him on pole in Brazil in 2018 👀⏱🔥— Formula 1 (@F1) November 9, 2019
Next Saturday, we're back in Sao Paulo for another Qualifying Saturday 🙌#BrazilGP 🇧🇷 #F1 pic.twitter.com/i7m3JS0Q0g
Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace is Formula One royalty. A home race to some of the greatest of all time -- from Emerson Fittipaldi to Ayrton Senna and, since an honorary citizenship granted this year, Lewis Hamilton -- it's an emotional venue and a testament to Brazil's love of motor racing.
Even in the worst years of F1, the circuit known as Interlagos produced good weekends. Whether unpredictable rain kept conditions interesting or drivers took inspiration from the crowd to put on a good show, Sao Paulo's circuit has hosted countless title deciders and iconic moments. Formula One isn't the only series to race there, but the track is definitely one of F1's finest, well worth the wait to the end of the season.
Runner-up: Switzerland | Zurich Street Circuit
Circuit motorsport was banned in Switzerland after the 1955 Le Mans disaster, an accident in the 24 Hours that killed 83 spectators and one driver -- which makes it quite surprising that in 2018 a track was built in the middle of Zurich.
Formula E was given special permission, electric motorsport managing to circumvent the ban and a quirky track, snaking around the side of Lake Zurich, was put together. Not originally intended to be a one-off, it saw cars running across tram tracks and along cobbles, to get to the pit lane.
Although it never held a race again, it was a proper, middle-of-town street circuit with spectacular views across the lake and the strange honour of overhauling a decades-long ban.
Knocked out: Cameroon, Serbia
Winner: Portugal | Algarve International Circuit
Last year @FabioQ20 broke the lap record and got pole position in Portimao! 👊— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) April 19, 2022
Who will take pole this Saturday? 🤔
You can guess the exact #PortugueseGP 🇵🇹 lap time with #MotoGP Predictor to win amazing prizes like an exclusive @TISSOT watch! 🤩 👉 https://t.co/E5Ub83irsJ pic.twitter.com/zeORHkW7LI
The place more commonly known as Portimao -- or, in some cases, the rollercoaster -- welcomed F1 in the COVID-affected 2020 and 2021 seasons, and has a long history with World Superbikes, with MotoGP having visited the south coast of Portugal annually since 2020. The World Endurance Championship contested the 8 Hours of Portimao in 2021, and will return to the circuit in 2023 with a six-hour race.
The elevation change in the Algarve is its biggest attraction. With a top-to-bottom difference of just shy of 100 feet, there are multiple circuits in this tournament that boast greater rises and falls than Portimao, but what separates this track from the rest is how frequently and dramatically -- the steepest rise is a 16% grade -- those peaks and valleys occur over the course of a lap.
Runner-up: South Korea | Korea International Circuit
F1 visited Yeongam four times, between 2010 and 2013, and hasn't been back since. In fact, the only series that still visits the Korea International Circuit is a domestic touring car championship.
Korea was the seventh Herman Tilke-designed circuit to make the F1 calendar -- five more have been added since, with a sixth on the way in Las Vegas -- and was applauded for its character, situated on the city's harborfront while also offering mountain views.
Knocked out: Ghana, Uruguay
Round of 16
Assen vs. Silverstone
Assen is the cathedral of motorcycling, Silverstone is the home of British motorsport -- and to a pretty major degree, Formula One. It almost feels unfair to compare the two, both legends in their own right. But this is a competition, and despite Assen being the connoisseur's choice, Silverstone's heavyweight status overpowers the TT track to go through.
Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez vs. Mount Panorama Circuit
Mexico City is home to some of the highest speeds and best atmospheres on the Formula One calendar, and while it should be a bucket-list destination for any F1 fan, it just can't stand up to Bathurst. Mount Panorama boasts some of the most breathtaking vistas in motorsport, a truly unique mountain section, and plenty of lengthy straightaway.
Winner: Mount Panorama Circuit
Circuit of the Americas vs. Losail International Circuit
This one isn't particularly close. Losail is regularly home to close racing in MotoGP's usual season openers, but it falls well short of COTA in terms of topography and atmosphere. Attendance of Qatar events haven't been particularly impressive, while more and more people come to the Texas capital every year, where the climb to Turn 1 is becoming an iconic image in motorsport, and the fall-away Turn 10 is a deceptively difficult (and visually intriguing) corner.
Winner: Circuit of the Americas
Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans vs. Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo
Argentina loves motorsport, and Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo has proved a hit in the MotoGP community, but it pales in comparison to the titanic Le Mans. Ninety-nine years of being the home of endurance slides Circuit de la Sarthe through easily.
Winner: Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans
Suzuka Circuit vs. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Two almost evenly matched tracks, Suzuka and Gilles Villeneuve both bring with them the weight of grand prix history and serious strengths in racing. It's almost a shame to knock one out but when it comes down to it, Suzuka is a better all-rounder. Gilles Villeneuve's reliance on the grand prix for its main attraction is eclipsed by Suzuka's versatility, hosting endurance, GT and motorbike racing as well as Japanese single-seater titles. It's goodbye to the Canadian entry, after this match.
Winner: Suzuka Circuit
Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace vs. Korea International Circuit
There were only four F1 races in South Korea, and those were the only world-championship events held at the circuit, so Yeongam can probably consider itself lucky to make the knockout rounds. Interlagos has always-entertaining racing, unpredictable weather, and its Turn 1/Turn 2 complex invites drivers to make ambitious moves for positions while navigating changes in both direction and elevation.
Winner: Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps vs. Nurburgring
There are two tracks that, if you go to their 24-hour race, you can guarantee you will meet a crowd of topless German men, covered in mud, carrying a keg of Warsteiner lager. Do not be afraid, they are the spirit of racing at Spa and the Nordschleife -- and also probably too drunk to see you.
The Nordschleife is difficult to beat, just in terms of getting around it in a car. But it's also increasingly marginal in racing, unable to preserve its challenge and move on with safety, so Spa's continued relevance takes the win here.
Winner: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Algarve International Circuit vs. Zurich Street Circuit
Any circuit that involves running over tram tracks is going to have a hard time when the competition ramps up, and so it's proved for Zurich. Watching MotoGP bikes rise and fall at practically every corner of Portimao's topographic wonder is a sight to see, while the seemingly never-ending final right-hander in the Algarve falling away under riders' knees at times requires the suspension of belief.
Winner: Algarve International Circuit
Silverstone vs. Mount Panorama Circuit
Two tracks that are the most famous in their respective countries and with decades of continuous racing history, Bathurst gives Silverstone a run for the British Racing Driver Club's money. Ultimately, though, a rattle through the calendars would show Silverstone holds more weight through the international motorsport year. It's sad to see Bathurst go, but it certainly gave a good fight before its exit.
Circuit of the Americas vs. Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans
One of the newest tracks vs. one of the oldest, either COTA or Le Mans leaving the tournament is a giant killer. Someone's got to, though, and despite all that romanticism, Le Mans' history won't save it in 2022. Circuit of the Americas is everything exciting about motorsport right now: new crowds, new energy and a bright future. Le Mans will have to lick its wounds and come up with something for the next tournament.
Winner: Circuit of the Americas
Suzuka Circuit vs. Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace
The two jewels of the closing stages of the F1 calendar, Suzuka and Interlagos can consider themselves unlucky to meet so early in the knockout rounds. While both boast the kinds of flowing corners that link together so satisfyingly for drivers, the Japanese circuit has a better mix of low-, medium- and high-speed corners, as well as more variety in technical challenges for drivers to master.
Winner: Suzuka Circuit
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps vs. Algarve International Circuit
Two of racing's elevation kings, it's a shame that either has to exit the tournament. Maybe if Portimao had the sort of history of Spa, or the reputation as a true driver's track like the Belgian course, it could move on -- but it doesn't. Spa has all the rollercoaster fun of Portimao, but it also has countless sixth- and seventh-gear corners that not only tests drivers' abilities, but their bravery.
Winner: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Suzuka Circuit vs. Silverstone
Only good tracks get this far, so it's inevitable that some eliminations feel unfair. With Silverstone coming up against Suzuka, though, there could only really be one winner.
Silverstone carries with it the British optimism for sporting success that, Hamilton aside, rarely actually happens. Optimistic England fans might hope that iconic corners like Maggotts and Becketts would beat 130R and Degner, but the Japanese track's unique, figure-of-eight design sees it fly through to the final.
Winner: Suzuka Circuit
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps vs. Circuit of the Americas
The Circuit of the Americas should feel immense pride in going from new kid on the block of world-championship circuits to making our final four, and if this were a competition of the best race weekends to attend, this might be a different outcome. But it's not. That a large portion of the F1 paddock got vocal when rumors that it could fall off the 2023 calendar says everything you need to know about the sort of track Spa is.
Winner: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Suzuka Circuit vs. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
What a heavyweight bout. Both Suzuka and Spa have wildly unpredictable conditions, both are home to high-speed corners with high consequences and both host revered endurance races. These are two incredible circuits, both of which are deserving of this crown.
But that's not how this works. We need a winner.
And that winner is Suzuka. While Spa is known for big speed, Suzuka has a little bit of everything. F1 teams can arrive in Belgium feeling confident with their low-drag aero packages, but the setups required for success in Japan are a little more nuanced. If Spa is where every driver wants to win, Suzuka is a circuit that requires car, driver and team to all be working in perfect harmony.
Winner: Suzuka Circuit