How Hermann Tilke conquered the F1 calendar, 1996-2009 (Video)

2009 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Hermann Tilke's A1 Ring was first used in 1997

Hermann Tilke’s A1 Ring was first used in 1997

Yesterday’s discussion about a potential Rome Grand Prix circuit turned into a debate about Hermann Tilke’s abilities as an F1 track designer. Daniel put forward the case for the prosecution:

Why do they still get this guy to build tracks? Every track he has designed is boring. With all the new tracks that have appeared in the last five or six years, the old ones are still the most entertaining: look at Spa and Monza.

Paul responded:

Tilke is rather limited to what he can produce by (presumably) FOM/Bernie and FIA regulations […] I really don’t see any bad track he’s produced aside from Valencia, and we only have fifty or so laps to base that upon.

Has Hermann Tilke ruined the F1 calendar? Let’s take a look at what he’s done for F1 track design in the last 14 years.

In 1997 the Austrian Grand Prix returned to the calendar on a circuit based on the popular old Osterreichring. But the new A1-Ring was a radically different affair to its predecessor: the fast, long-radio turns of the original were replaced by tight, slow corners.

This is one of the hallmarks of Tilke’s designs and by comparing the calendar of 13 years ago with today’s schedule we can see the influence it has had.

1996 F1 calendar

Melbourne, Australia
Interlagos, Brazil
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Nurburgring, Germany
Imola, San Marino
Monte-Carlo, Monaco
Circuit de Catalunya, Spain
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Canada
Magny-Cours, France
Silverstone, Great Britain
Hockenheimring, Germany
Hungaroring, Budapest
Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
Monza, Italy
Estoril, Portugal
Suzuka, Japan

Since 1996 every new track that has been introduced on the calendar has been developed by Tilke GmbH. And on almost every other occasion where an existing track has been changed, the modifications were handled by Tilke’s team – with the possible exception of Indianapolis in 2000 (I’m not sure who handled that one):

1997 – A1-Ring
1999 – Sepang International Circuit
2000 – Monza (first chicane)
2002 – Hockenheimring (major re-design)
2002 – Nurburgring (new corners at start of lap)
2003 – Monte-Carlo (Rascasse reprofiling and moving of barriers)
2003 – Magny-Cours (new corners at end of lap)
2003 – Hungaroring (new corners at end of lap)
2004 – Bahrain International Circuit
2004 – Shanghai International Circuit
2005 – Istanbul Park
2007 – Catalunya (new chicane at end of lap)
2007 – Fuji (major re-design)
2007 – Spa-Francorchamps (new chicane at end of lap)
2008 – Valencia
2008 – Singapore
2009 – Abu Dhabi
2010 – Donington (major re-design)

Regardless of what you think of Tilke’s tracks, you have to ask whether only having one circuit designer is good for Formula 1. Where are the new ideas going to come from in a monopoly? How can good value for money be ensured in an industry where there is no competition?

2009 F1 calendar

The first race at Tilke's Valencia street circuit was processional

The first race at Tilke’s Valencia street circuit was processional

Here’s this year’s calendar with the tracks entirely designed by Tilke marked in bold and the tracks where he’s changed at least one corner in italics:

Melbourne, Australia
Sepang, Malaysia
Shanghai International Circuit, China
Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain

Circuit de Catalunya, Spain
Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Istanbul, Turkey
Silverstone, Great Britain
Nurburgring, Germany
Hungaroring, Budapest

Valencia, Spain
Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
Monza, Italy

Marina Bay, Singapore
Suzuka, Japan
Interlagos, Brazil
Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

On top of that, the German and Japanese rounds are being rotated between two other circuits which aren’t hosting Grands Prix year, but will be on the 2010 F1 calendar.

These are the Hockenheimring, which was substantially re-designed by Tilke in 2002, and Fuji Speedway, which has also had a complete Tilke overhaul.

Culprit or scapegoat?

Tilke gets a hard time from a lot of F1 fans. His designs are derided for being unimaginative, with too many slow corners.

I think Tilke gets a bad press. As this Youtube video posted by Gabal on the forum shows, he is more of a petrol head than people give him credit for:

It’s hard to match the idea of Hermann Tilke grinning through hot laps of the Nordschleife in a Lamborghini with the man who gave us horrible Mickey Mouse bends like the final sector at Fuji Speedway. So what’s the problem?

As I’ve said before I think the regulations are partly to blame. Why should the world’s most technologically sophisticated racing cars be prevented from tackling no more than ten degrees of gradient?

I also think the safety demands placed on modern circuits saps them of their power to impress us. This is not an argument for making tracks less safe, but I think it shows why the first turn at Shanghai doesn’t impress us the same way Eau Rouge or Blanchimont does. (Also, it helps that corners on old tracks usually have proper names).

Motorland Aragon – his finest work?

Motorland Aragon (click to enlarge)

Motorland Aragon

Ironically, one of Tilke’s most promising tracks may never be used for an F1 race. Motorland Aragon in Spain includes the closest thing you can get to Laguna Seca’s fabled Corkscrew on an F1-ready track.

But with Spain already holding two Grands Prix at Catalunya and Valencia, its chances of getting on the calendar look slim. This is a great pity, as it looks like one of Tilke’s best efforts, and includes a dramatic pit building designed by Sir Norman Foster, the man behind the McLaren Technology Centre and many other exceptional pieces of architecture.

Although I’m not sure Tilke deserves all the criticism he gets, equally I’d like to see more variety in F1 track design. For example, given enough run-off space, why couldn’t F1 have high-speed circuits like the Monzas, Silverstones and Osterreichrings of old?

Do you think the Tilke track monopoly is good or bad for F1? Would Tilke produce better tracks if the rules were freer? Have your say in the comments.

Images (C) BMW ag, Red Bull / GEPA