Don’t blame Hermann Tilke, blame the rules

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 | A1GP.com | A1GP.com | IRL | IRL

More on the circuits and the 2008 F1 calendar

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24 comments on Don’t blame Hermann Tilke, blame the rules

  1. problem is, tilke has no competition. monopolies do not inspire innovation.

    because he’s a shoe-in for every track design, his primary motivation is keeping bernie happy.

  2. Daniel PT said on 16th December 2007, 13:54

    In plain english, they only stipulate rules for gradients, cambers, bankings, straights and first corners. Actually, it stipulates that a turn like corkscrew in laguna seca cannot be raced by formula 1 (too much gradient and banking). But, if this turn, for instance, is built gradient and banking free, there is nothing that forbids that. I believe Tilke lacks imagination, but it’s also true that current regulations limit the designing of famous corners like those above in the photos. So the appearance of another Monaco circuit in Formula 1 can be ruled out them.

  3. Well worth reading that.Makes me wonder why we still race at Monaco down the horribly narrow streets through Mirabeau where the camber is such that the front right wheel is off the ground as the cars turn through it.

    On the note of safety I’m of the opinion that the cars have enough safety devices (including the great HANS device) and are built strong enough these days to be able to cope with just about anything.I’m saying that I don’t really buy the safety argument for those regulations.There’s no way a track should be made unnecessarily dangerous but I just think there should be more features like Eau Rouge and possibly Istanbul’s Turn 8 which really challenge the driver to push that little bit more and that get the car to behave in an unusual way.

  4. I remember a bit of a hoo-ha when nobody knew if Estoril was going to be on the calendar in 1997. Apparently safety improvements were required. I guess this was because of its ‘corkscrew’-style corner. No wonder Estoril never came back. There’s not much you can do about it if your circuit is on a hill like that.

  5. Vertigo said on 16th December 2007, 18:05

    We don’t need another circuit like Monaco – one kart track procession a year is enough. I think if we had too many corners like Eau Rouge, Turn 8 and the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca then F1 would be too dangerous, and it’s somehow better to have corners like them just once in a while, as they put you on the edge of your seat as you’re watching. For example, I know someone who only started watching F1 this year and he never mentioned it until the Monday after the Belgian GP, when all he could talk about was Eau Rouge.

  6. Robert McKay said on 16th December 2007, 19:02

    Istanbul proved that he can design an interesting track, but it’s the exception rather than the norm. As was mentioned above the whole thing needs a bit of competition. But I hadn’t realised there were such prescriptive rules on gradient and camber, which isn’t helpful. And having to build them in such a formulaic way to promote overtaking isn’t helpful either. And thirdly the fact they are so wide seems to make them less interesting, bizarrely (or not). I’m interested to see how the street circuit efforts he’s working on (Valencia and Singapore) pan out, though I guess they are limited by the fact that you’ve, well, got to follow the streets.

  7. Why is it we are always told of F1 car’s such high levels of downforce that “they can run on a tunnel upside down”, but we can’t have a camber or gradient over a paltry ten degrees? Who are we protecting? Obviously the twenty best drivers in the world(give or take) and twenty most capable cars in the world can handle challenge. What does the FIA profit from sheltering us so?

    End over-regulation.

  8. AmericanTifosi said on 16th December 2007, 21:26

    I would absolutly love to see F1 at any of the above tracks. Once, out of boredom my dad and I watched an IRL race at Mid-Ohio. We were laughing at how slow the Indy cars accelerated out of the corners and remarking how great it would be if that circut was used for Formula 1. I have said repeatedly that Laguna Seca would be a fantastic track for the US GP but, alas, the most interesting thing to grace that track are Audi R10s.

  9. That little hump on the illustrated Infineon Raceway looks like a true test of a driver’s stomach – even thinking about an F1 going flat out up and down is enough to make me feel blue.

    And I agree with AmericanTifosi in that I’d love to see F1 at Laguna Seca, however if anything were to happen over the horizon at Corkscrew….well…it’s pretty much blind faith!

  10. Despite being an American that loves Laguna Seca dearly, if I were to pick one of those tracks for F1 to return to it would be Brands Hatch.

  11. Eric M. said on 17th December 2007, 1:29

    What’s surprising to me is how big the vertical curves are if you use the FIA’s equation. For example, if you input a speed of 300kph,and use a K of 15 (for a crest curve), the vertical curve radius is 4,500m! To give an example of how big this is, imagine a 1000m straight with a beginning grade of +5% (5m rise over a 100m run), and an ending grade of -5%. The beginning of the crest would start at the 275m mark, and not end until the 725m mark. This is large even for a typical expressway or highway (Canadian anyways, which is what I’m familiar with). And this is probably why Tilke can’t create a corner similar to eau rouge, which almost certainly fails the FIA criteria. If I were to guess, I would say the upward sweep of eau rouge is somewhere between 10-12% at the least, and the crest at the top no longer than 100m. And I would guess that most of the crests and dips in the photos above would fail as well.

    I do think though that the FIA regulations apply to new circuits only, and can be flexed a bit for existing circuits like Brands Hatch and Laguna Seca, if F1 really wanted to race there.

    But gone are the days when road courses emulated actual roads. That’s what I’m seeing anyways. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Tilke track being referred to as a road course.

  12. PinkPeril said on 17th December 2007, 4:12

    I would love to see a race at Laguna Seca. I am sure if they come up with the $$$ Bernie will consider it.

  13. Nathan Jones said on 17th December 2007, 7:19

    remember the old ostereichring?
    drivers loved that track, we’ll never see that again.
    i know tilke cops it but surely something can b done?
    that explains y the istanbul tracks 1st turn is where it is!
    being an aussie, i’d love to see what time an f1 car could do at bathurst!
    have read a few debates on what ppl think too!

  14. Eric M. said on 17th December 2007, 8:16

    I think the biggest strike against Laguna Seca is it’s length. An F1 race there would probably be comparable to a race at the Hungaroring in terms of action (Hungaroring is 3.7km and Laguna Seca is 3.6km. And the Hungaroring actually has a longer main straight). But who knows. You just might see some dive-bombing passing moves into the corkscrew, a la Zanardi. THAT would be sweet. :D

    I love Nathans idea about racing on the old osterreichring. And it appears the old track is still in place, at least in the grainy google earth photo. Hopefully it didn’t get ripped up like the old Hockemheim did. Though I guess after this many years it would need repaving anyways.

    Bathurst? Now there’s a circuit the FIA would be wagging a disapproving finger at. Would be cool though. ;)

  15. Laguna Seca! my word that would be a good race! i remember as a kid playing on my PS2… I hated the track because of the first bend and the corkscrew but I’d love to see an F1 car thrash around that!

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