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A former editor of Motor Sport magazine, Andrew Frankel has raced all over Europe for 20 years and has been attending track days (where people drive their own cars around circuits) for longer. With the German Grand Prix taking place this weekend, he picks his five favourite European Formula One tracks where members of the public can get behind the wheel.
This is where F1 was born in 1950 and it has been the home of British motor racing ever since. As a spectator, the venue for this year’s British Grand Prix has its limitations but there are few better places to hone your skills. The track is wide and safe, so usually the only price to pay for a mistake is dented pride. With its blend of quick curves and tricky combinations, it’s an easy circuit to drive but a difficult one to drive well. Just make sure you book the full Grand Prix circuit: the track can be split into different configurations but only the complete version will show you Silverstone at its magnificent best. A day driving your own car, booked though rmatrackdays.com, costs £399. Helmets are obligatory but you can hire them on site.
Nürburgring Nordschleife, Germany
The German Grand Prix may be at Hockenheim this weekend but the Nürburgring is a far more worthwhile destination for amateurs. F1 stopped using the old Nordschleife after Niki Lauda’s fiery accident in 1976 but all 12.9 miles (and more than 130 corners) of it are still there and still known as the “Green Hell” by those who frequent it. Simply learning the ins and outs of the track used to take an entire weekend but that process can now be abbreviated by “driving” it at home on numerous computer games or simulators. Even so there are professional racing drivers who claim never to have done a perfect lap. This is the ultimate challenge for driver and machine. The price of getting it wrong is high – they’ll bill you for the barriers you break – but get it even roughly right and the buzz is unrivalled by any other track in the world. From £550 with www.destination-nurburgring.com
There’s a good reason this is the favourite track of most current Grand Prix drivers. Compared with the flat, featureless, computer-designed circuits on which they usually race, Spa is a rollercoaster ride full of plunging descents, blind brows and near flat-out curves. Cars with power and pace are best here, as smaller machines feel slightly overwhelmed by its size, endless straights and grandeur. But don’t just drive it; find out about its 90-year history in the museum in nearby Stavelot and seek out the old track where cars would lap at an average speed of more than 160mph over 40 years ago. If that sounds hard to imagine now, see it for yourself and you’ll barely believe it’s possible. From £350 with goldtrack.co.uk
Donington Park, Leicestershire
The greatest F1 race held on British soil? Few would dispute it was the 1993 European Grand Prix held at Donington Park, where this brilliant circuit and some typically British weather combined to show that Ayrton Senna really was the greatest driver of his generation. Today the track offers a lap of consistently quick corners and long straights where you can really let your car show what it can do. It’s easier to learn than Silverstone and while it might lack some of its great rival’s most technical challenges, it flows even better, allowing you to establish a rhythm in which you’ll be tempted to stay until the tank runs dry. Also, unlike Silverstone, there’s no need to do the full Grand Prix circuit, which adds only a couple of uninteresting and slow corners to the lap. From £229 booked through trackdays.co.uk
A forgotten gem hidden away in Burgundy that hasn’t hosted the French Grand Prix since 1984. Wandering around its dilapidated facilities, you might wonder that frontline motor racing ever came here. But it did and the 1979 Grand Prix witnessed the single greatest last-lap battle ever televised. This is a pure driver’s circuit and not for those of a nervous disposition. More than half the track is an undulating series of largely blind, tricky curves while the remainder is a straight so long your car will get closer to its top speed than almost anywhere else in Europe. This is what tracks used to be like before they became sanitised and characterless. Prices from €260 with renndays.com
Photograph: Silverstone Circuits Limited