Despite attempts at repeal through the years and with the exception of rallying and hillclimb events, spectator motor racing events have been banned in Switzerland for nearly sixty years. (Rallying and hillclimb events are allowed as the cars don’t race directly against one another and stringent spectator protection is enforced.) The Swiss have always been keen on their safety and even before the ban came into force, there were a great many people against cars racing in direct competition with one another.
The famous and major disaster at the Le Mans racing track in France in 1955, which cost not only the lives of the driver of the crashed car but also a large number of spectators, was the final straw for the Swiss and the ban immediately came into force. Since then, only two “Swiss Grand Prix” events have taken place, although they both took place in France and seem to have only been organized in order to allow the French to stage two events in the same season.
Before the ban came into force, there was an annual Grand Prix event at Bremgarten, just outside Bern, between 1934 and 1937 and subsequently from 1947 to 1954. The track had been created for motorcycle races in 1931 as a series of corners, both long and short, but with no real “straights”. It was a notorious track and amongst the most dangerous on the Grand Prix circuit. The combination of narrow track, forest-lined route, poor lighting conditions and varying road surfaces all made for a dangerous drive.
After using online references to work out the original track route through the modern landscape, Jo and I walked as much as possible of where the original track would have been; the building of the A1 motorway has made the precise route of the initial stages unclear, and a section of track below the “Passerelle Glasbrunnen” curve has returned fully to nature. However, much of the track’s route is perfectly clear, albeit in the form of modern side streets (in one case with a noticeable camber to a curve), woodland paths and even sections of the major modern road network at Forsthaus and Jorden. The aforementioned Glasbrunnen section is also readily identifiable, as the route from maps online tallies with a large, straight cleared section of forest: now filled with younger trees than those surrounding it and undergrowth.
The entire route is around eight kilometres long, but despite keeping our eyes peeled, there is pretty much nothing aside to the route itself to indicate that there was ever anything more than woodland here. The sole exception is a small, unofficial (and presumably privately installed) memorial to Italian driver Achille Varzi, who was killed along the Jorden section in July 1948.
I wonder just how many people driving or walking along Murtenstrasse know that the start and finish line of an historic Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit is under their feet. A full set of photos from the route is in my Flickr photostream.
Update: thanks to Habi, who has linked to Martin Leryen’s website in the comments. Martin is a keen fan of orienteering and took the time to trace a more precise route for his video, based on these maps from 1953 and 2003.