Don’t blame Hermann Tilke, blame the rules

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Bahrain, 2007, 2 | Toyota MediaNew Formula 1 tracks usually have two things in common: they’re designed by Hermann Tilke, and they get criticised by F1 fans and commentators for being dull, sterile and unchallenging.

Inevitably Tilke gets the blame, but I read something in Autosport recently that made me wonder whether that’s fair:

Current F1 track design rules limit the amount of corner banking to just 10 degree (and prohibits other interesting features such as adverse camber).

Is the real cause of boring F1 tracks the unadventurous regulations?

Long straights leading into hairpins. Tight corners that switch back on themselves. Little gradient or camber. Perhaps the odd quick bend.

These are the basic building blocks of Tilke’s Grand Prix circuits be they Sepang or Istanbul (which have earned modest praise), Bahrain or Fuji Speedway (which attracted the most criticism).

Is the problem here that Tilke simply lacks the imagination to create exciting racing circuits? Or are his hands tied by the FIA regulations on circuit design?

Appendix O to the International Sporting Code explains the restrictions on circuit design but it doesn’t make for easy reading for the layman:

7.4 Longitudinal profile

Any change in gradient should be effected using a minimum vertical radius calculated by the formula:

R = V???/K

Where R is the radius in metres, V is the speed in kph and K is a constant equal to 20 in the case of a concave profi le or to 15 in the case of a convex profi le. The value of R should be adequately increased along approach, release, braking and curved sections. Wherever possible, changes in gradient should be avoided
altogether in these sections.

The gradient of the start/finish straight should not exceed 2 %.

And so on. You can read the full article here and if anyone could translate the important passages (section 7) into plain English I’d be very grateful.

I’m sure the rules have not been written this way because the FIA want to be killjoys. No, I’m sure safety is their primary consideration. But could more be done to give circuit designers like Tilke a little more scope for imagination?

For example, here are a few circuits you’ll never see on the F1 calendar (click to view larger images):

Laguna Seca, USA

Jos Verstappen, A1 Grand Prix, Laguna Seca, 2005

Jos Verstappen, Laguna Seca, A1 Grand Prix, 2005

Video of Ricardo Zonta driving a Toyota F1 car around Laguna Seca on a demonstration run last year.

Brands Hatch, UK

Nico H???lkenberg, A1 Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, 2007

Nico H???lkenberg, Brands Hatch, A1 Grand Prix, 2007

Mid-Ohio, USA

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mid-Ohio, Indy Racing League, 2007

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mid-Ohio, Indy Racing League, 2007

Infineon Raceway, USA

Infineon Raceway, Indy Racing League, 2007

Infineon Raceway, Indy Racing League, 2007

Photos: Toyota Media | | | IRL | IRL

More on the circuits and the 2008 F1 calendar