Rio's Formula 1 Circuit Is Officially Dead (For Now)

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Elio de Angelis drives the Brabham BT55 BMW Lowline during practice for the 1986 Brazilian Grand Prix at the old Jacarepaguá circuit in Rio de Janeiro. The track was demolished in 2012.
Elio de Angelis drives the Brabham BT55 BMW Lowline during practice for the 1986 Brazilian Grand Prix at the old Jacarepaguá circuit in Rio de Janeiro. The track was demolished in 2012.
Photo: Michael King (Getty Images)

After years of efforts to bring Formula 1 racing to Rio de Janeiro, the city is officially abandoning the proposal for a circuit in the Camboata Forest region out of environmental concerns.

Rio mayor Eduardo Paes killed the initiative last month when he took office for his third term. Eduardo Cavaliere, Rio’s environment secretary, confirmed the decision on Twitter yesterday.

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Formula 1 had struck a tentative agreement with Rio Motorsports in September, the group that was to serve as the event’s local promoter. However, the plan would’ve eliminated tens of thousands of trees in Camboata Forest, so before construction could begin Brazil’s State Institute of the Environment and State Environmental Control Commission needed to sign off. Paes ostensibly withdrew that application, effectively killing this incarnation of the Rio race.

I say “this incarnation” because F1 and Brazil clearly want to go racing in Rio, even as F1 committed to five more years at São Paulo’s Interlagos circuit in December. Another proposal in a different part of town could very well emerge, which Paes alluded to the media in January, per SportBusiness:

Paes told Rádio Bandeirantes: “There will be no race track in Deodoro. My commitment to environmentalists, to the Partido Verde (Green Party), which supported me in the elections, is to identify a new area for this race track, a new location.”

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Paes hasn’t yet offered an alternate location. The old Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet in the Jacarepaguá neighborhood, which hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix throughout the ’80s, was demolished as part of the construction of facilities for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Talk of a new circuit was ongoing since the Olympics concluded, and the project was backed by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Rio Motorsports submitted its proposal to city hall in 2019, simultaneously drawing blowback due to the undertaking’s environmental effects. The company reportedly intended to plant trees to replace those removed.

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This past October, Lewis Hamilton told the BBC of his opposition, drawing increased international attention to the project:

Six-time world champion Hamilton said: “I heard it is potentially going to be a sustainable race.

“But the most sustainable thing you can do is not tear down any trees.”

He added: “I don’t think it’s a smart move. There is a global crisis with deforestation.”

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Those seem like pretty compelling reasons to just continue on in São Paulo, as is the next one Hamilton offered:

Hamilton, who has backed a number of environmental causes in recent years, said: “My personal opinion is the world doesn’t need a new circuit. There are plenty of circuits that are great and I love Interlagos.”

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There are indeed many great circuits in the world, and yet Formula 1 is insistent on making more. So far, it’s had some trouble with that: The Vietnam race completely fell through, the Miami one is under local opposition and now Rio’s will have to be entirely reimagined.

Despite those failures, the upcoming 23-race season is set to be F1's longest ever — if it can manage to stick to the schedule, obviously — with first-ever events at the renovated Zandvoort circuit in the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah street circuit.