When Grands Prix Were Held On Frozen Lakes

The European grand prix season once started in Sweden atop frozen Lake Rämen

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Gif: YouTube / Superventilen

Even as the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship stretched to mid-December, there was still zero chance that a snowflake would ever touch a racetrack on the schedule. The championship’s global itinerary ensures that no race is held in truly frigid conditions. Although, this wasn’t always the case for the highest category in international motorsport.

During the 1930s, the Grand Prix season in Europe frequently began in February with the winter Grands Prix of Norway and Sweden. The Scandinavian events lived up to their seasonal monikers with races atop frozen lakes and snow-packed roads.

The 1931 Swedish Winter Grand Prix was the first of these races. The circuit was centered around Lake Rämen in central Sweden, no relation to the Japanese noodle soup. The iced-over surface featured a 1.2-mile segment of the course, including the start-finish line and a parking lot for spectators. The rest of the 29.6-mile circuit wound its way through the forest to another frozen lake and back.

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Finnish driver Karl Ebb won the 1931 race in an Auburn. Many of the Scandinavian drivers raced modified American cars. Chryslers, Chevrolets and Fords outnumbered European makes on the grid. However, one of the two Mercedes-Benz SSKs to take the start was driven by one of the era’s biggest stars, the German driver Rudolf Caracciola. At this point in his career, the future three-time European Champion only had one grand prix victory on his record.

The nearly 30-mile long course caused very high levels of attrition. Only nine of the race’s twenty starters were able to cross the finish line after all eight laps. Caracciola was among the non-finishers as his SSK suffered a mechanical failure on the fourth lap. The other SSK driven by Swedish driver Per-Victor Widengren was also forced to retire on the same lap.

Newsreel of the 1933 edition of the race shows just how treacherous the winter conditions were over the Rämen course. The wide sweeping segment on the frozen lake contrasted with narrow sections on forest roads and bridges. Per-Victor Widengren won the 1933 Swedish Winter Grand Prix comfortably, driving an Alfa Romeo this time.

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By the late 1930s, spectators and potential entrants’ interest in grand prix ice racing declined significantly. The notion of racing the fastest single-seaters on the planet atop frozen surfaces quickly faded in obscurity. Nowadays, the closest we get to a Formula One race on ice and snow is when a team conducts an outlandish demo run.