CIRCUITS: BREMGARTEN

Name: Bremgarten

If you go back to 1950 you will find that the Swiss Grand Prix was the third European round of the first Formula 1 World Championship and yet today any serious Swiss racer has to go abroad to be successful. There was a Swiss Grand Prix in 1982 but it was held at the Dijon-Prenois circuit in France and was really only an excuse for the French to have an additional race that year.

The reason for this situation is that the Swiss government banned all motor racing activities in 1955, including racing on closed permanent circuits. There had been moves even before the accident to ban the sport in Switzerland. They had been resisted but after the Le Mans crash the anti-racing lobby won the day.

Since 1955, therefore, Swiss racers have always moved abroad and the locals competed in hillclimbs and slaloms and on racing circuits outside the country. The old Grand Prix track at Bremgarten, in the western suburbs of Berne, has disappeared under urban development. The only major motorsport events are a hillclimb at St. Ursanne-les-Rangiers, which is a round of the European Hillclimb Championship and the Rallye du Valais, which takes place in the valley around the town of Sion in the shadow of Mont Blanc.

Other popular hillclimb venues enjoyed moment of fame in the 1960s, notably the Ollon-Villars and Sierra Montana-Crans hillclimb courses which hosted events which were called the Swiss Mountain Grand Prix. Top names including Jim Clark competed in these events.

There was one attempt to build a permanent racing circuit on private land, on a mountain plateau in the Jura, near Berne, close to the village of Lignieres. This tiny circuit, which is less than a mile in length, was built in the 1960s in the hope that the government would change its attitude to racing but events can only be held there if there are traffic cones placed on the circuit.

Before the ban there had been a number of street races around the country. Geneva boasted a race as early as 1924 on a triangular circuit in the Geneva-Meyrin district. There was a downtown street track used in the immediate post-war years which hosted the Grand Prix des Nations in 1946 although this only survived until 1950.

There was street racing in Montreux, at the other end of Lake Geneva, in the pre-war years and after the war there were other races around Lausanne. These were for Formula 1 machinery and were won in 1947 by Gigi Villoresi and in 1949 by Nino Farina. International Formula 2 entrants also visited Switzerland in the early 1950s to compete for the Preis Von Ostschweiz on a track around the village of Erlen, near Romanshorn on the Bodensee. This was won in 1950 by Villoresi in an F2 Ferrari and by Peter Whitehead in 1951.

In the pre-war years, however, Bremgarten dominated the Swiss racing scene, a magnificent 4.52-mile circuit through the forests near Berne, sweeping from corner to corner without any real length of straight. It was first used for motorcycle races in 1931 but three years later hosted the first Swiss Grand Prix which was won by Hans Stuck Sr in an Auto-Union. It was inevitable that during that era the race was dominated by the German teams and drivers with the winners including Bernd Rosemeyer, Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang. Caracciola was a Bremgarten specialist and won three times but in 1952 he was seriously injured there in a sportscar accident. The track had already claimed the life of another great driver of the 1930s, Achille Varzi dying in an accident in 1948 at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo.

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