MARCH 19, 2003

Motor racing in Switzerland

Motor racing has been banned in Switzerland since the Road Traffic Act of December 1958. This was as a result of the Le Mans disaster in 1955 when around 80 people were killed when a Mercedes-Benz sports car crashed into the crowd during the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Article 52 of the law states that circuit racing is forbidden although the Federal Council is allowed to authorise exceptions if they consider the events to be safe. The law means that there can be hillclimbs and slaloms as cars are not competing directly against one another and in the 1960s there were some major hillclimb events, notably on the Ollon-Villars and Sierra Montana-Crans courses which hosted what were known as the Swiss Mountain Grand Prix. The entries included F1 drivers of the era.

In recent years there have been signs that change may be afoot. In 1998 the Grand Prix of Berne was revived on what is left of the old Bremgarten circuit. This event - which is held every three years - is for historic cars and features "demonstration runs" rather than actual races. The circuit, which was first used in the late 1920s, was a major Grand Prix venues throughout the 1930s with the winners including Rudi Caracciola for Mercedes (1935, 1937 and 1938), Alberto Ascari for Ferrari (1949 and 1953) and Juan Manuel Fangio (1951 and 1954). There have been a couple of Swiss GPs since 1955 but these have had to be held at the Dijon circuit in France.

It seems that there are now plans for legislation to be put to the Federal Council to allow motor racing competitions in Switzerland. For this to happen there would have to be a new circuit built as the only existing facility is a tiny racing circuit built at Lignieres, on a mountain plateau in the Jura, near Neufchatel. The Centre de Pilotage Lignieres 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 it went out of business in 1998.

The incentive for building a racing circuit in Switzerland could be to allow races with tobacco advertising to go on after the European Union ban in 2005. However as the FIA is still committed to ending all tobacco sponsorship in 2006 there is little point in this argument.