Formula 1

Formula 1 track design in the Tilke era

Beautiful but ineffective. The track layout of the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi is fundamentally flawed in enabling overtaking.

With the lack of testing in Formula 1 resulting in the greater reliance of Formula 1 teams on racing simulators, fans are being given greater access to the methods adopted by teams to determine the effectiveness of aerodynamic updates. While Williams was one of the first teams to display their facilities, it is Red Bull Racing that have used their driving simulator as a marketing tool to preview each of the Grand Prix in the 2010 season.

Despite the amazing accuracy of these machines to assist in the development of a Formula 1 car, it appears to have done nothing for the effective development of a Formula 1 car, it appears to have done nothing for the effective development of Formula 1 race tracks around the world or should that be, tracks designed by Hermann Tilke.

You could be excused for thinking that there is only one company in the world that designs racetracks, such is the monopoly that the German engineer and his company have on Formula 1. As predictable as death, but twice as feared, it is Tilke Engineering time and time again, that is placed with the responsibility of desiging new F1 venues. Of the nine tracks in the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship that have been designed or altered by Tilke, there is only one corner that has generated the praise and acclaim of racing drivers and fans alike. The corner, known in Turkey as ‘Yedi Acmak’ or ‘Turn seven’ in english is a marvel of design and optimises the importance of track design in enhancing the spectacle of Formula 1.

Unfortunately, Istanbul is a shining light in a portfolio of some of the dullest, unimaginative and ineffective race circuits ever conceived. Tracks such as China, Korea, the updates to the Nurburgring, Catalunya (possibly one of the worst cicuits of all time) Bahrain (the worst circuit of all time) and the massacre of Hockenheim do more damage to Formula 1 than the endless run-off areas ever will to the cars. Even the greatest advocate of driver safety, three time world champion Jackie Stewart, has criticised the modern circuits having ‘gone too far the other way’, pointing to the endless tarmac run off areas which do not punish drivers for their errors and only generate problems as drivers short-cut corners with ease. Yet time and again Formula 1 continually elects for circuits to be built in charcterless surroundings as shown with the recent Indian circuit in Delhi, with limited abilities to overtake as displayed at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi.

Can the Tilke tracks be fixed or is DRS there only hope? Well if 2011 is anything to go by, even  DRS is struggling to help one of F1’s most spectacular venues. The 2010 season concluded with one of the most anticpated races in Formula 1 history as reflected in the enormous viewing audience, all were left with a race so lacking in overtaling that made the Spanish Grand Prix look eventful. Following the race, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh called for alterations to be made to the circuit to enable overtaking. But surely this was looked at before? Surely prior to hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into the costruction of one of the most ellaborate motor racing venues ever created, surely they checked this? It’s a test to the need for effective circuit design that a track with the longest straight in F1 could hardly produce a single overtaking opportunity. I don’t profess to have the absolute solution but surely the ability for a track to generate overtaking opportunites is determined by the exit speeds achieved by cars as they enter a long straight?

A variation in exit speeds can be created by having very difficult high speed corners prior to a long straight. You make the corner difficult to get right, or you make the corner risky to get right either by the use of tyre walls or a sand trap. If cars are still unable to pass by the next corner following a straight it is because of supreme driver skill and bravery, both of which spectators will flock to see. The best example of this is the old Eau Rouge corners at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium or the chicane complex at the Surfers Paradise street circuit. With this in mind, it’s interesting to note the design of the Yas Marina Circuit is in complete contrast to this theory as Tilke has placed the slowest corner on the circuit prior to it’s longest straight. Never giving any notice to the notion that the quickest car on the straight may not be the quickest car around, the track provides no reward for a car this capable through the corners. As a result, Alonso and Webber never stood a chance to get by the Renault of Vitaly Petrov.

The track design is simply wrong and Formula 1 and the nations hosting these events deserve better from Tilke.



2 thoughts on “Formula 1 track design in the Tilke era

  1. Reblogged this on Jono Hodson.

    Posted by jonohodson | January 18, 2012, 8:22 am
  2. Jenson Button commenting on the track layout at the new Circuit of the Americas and the ability to pass on the circuit:

    “I don’t think overtaking is going to be easy. I think we need to find a mid-speed corner onto a long straight, not such slow speed corners, as it’s very tricky to stay with the cars in front”.

    The drivers also clearly understand the ingredients required to make the most of 1km long straights, just a shame Mr Tilke doesn’t appear too.

    Posted by arrow7f1 | November 18, 2012, 9:12 pm

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