2009 F1 tracks compared

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

F1 cars exceed 350kph on Monza's long straights
F1 cars exceed 350kph on Monza's long straights

After looking at the 2009 F1 cars from various angles many people have remarked on how different many of the designs are.

But if we take a look at the circuits alongside one another it seems F1 tracks are becoming increasingly similar.

2009 F1 tracks – top speeds

Venue – Top speed (kph/mph)
Monza – 351/218
Istanbul – 315/195
Interlagos – 314/195
Suzuka – 313/194
Spa-Francorchamps – 310/192
Shanghai – 310/192
Bahrain – 309/192
Catalunya – 308/191
Valencia – 306/190
Melbourne – 303/188
Nurburgring – 300/186
Sepang – 297/184
Singapore – 297/184
Silverstone – 294/182
Hungaroring – 291/180
Monte-Carlo ?ǣ 286/177

A few years ago the Hockenheimring would have been up there with Monza as one of two tracks where F1 cars are trimmed out for maximum speed.

But, besides the fact it is not on the calendar this year, it?s 2002 re-modelling by Hermann Tilke has drastically changed its character, and it?s no longer the flat-out forest blast it used to be.

2009 F1 tracks – lap length

Venue – Lap length (km)
Spa – 7.004
Suzuka – 5.807
Abu Dhabi – 5.8*
Monza – 5.793
Sepang – 5.543
Shanghai – 5.451
Valencia – 5.44
Bahrain – 5.412
Istanbul – 5.338
Melbourne – 5.303
Nurburgring – 5.148
Silverstone – 5.141
Singapore – 5.067
Catalunya – 4.655
Hungaroring – 4.381
Interlagos – 4.309
Monte-Carlo – 3.34

For proof that F1 circuits are becoming increasingly similar, look no further than this graph. In terms of length F1’s newest circuits are a homogeneous bunch, most measuring between 5-5.5km.

On the face of it this may not seem like too big a deal, but it seems like a requirement of the regulations that stifles creativity.

There are plenty of arguments for having a greater variety of circuit lengths in Formula 1. Longer tracks with more corners are more challenging to master, require more of a compromise in setup and, as drivers have fewer chances to reach the pits, can be more demanding in terms of strategy. On shorter tracks traffic is more of a problem.

But the bottom line is this: variety is good and by this measure F1 tracks are becoming much less varied.

*Construction not complete. See here for pictures of the Abu Dhabi circuit plans: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix launch pictures

2009 F1 tracks – longest flat-out section

Venue – Longest flat-out section (m)
Spa – 1,865
Shanghai – 1,370
Monza – 1,320
Suzuka – 1,230
Interlagos – 1,220
Istanbul – 1,200
Catalunya – 1,140
Bahrain – 1,050
Valencia – 930
Silverstone – 890
Sepang – 830
Nurburgring – 800
Hungaroring – 750
Melbourne – 735
Singapore – 650
Monte-Carlo – 510

Thanks to increased downforce on F1 cars and resurfacing at Spa-Francorchamps, corners such as Eau Rouge which once required a lift of the throttle are now comfortably flat. Though with downforce reduced this year, perhaps drivers will have to think twice about tackling them without lifting?

That could undermine Spa?s claim to have the longest flat-out blast in F1, just over 1.8km long. That?s slightly longer than half a lap of Monte-Carlo, by the way, another reason why greater variation between tracks is A Good Thing,

What is also curious here is that Shanghai, the venue with the second-longest flat-out section, has the third lowest proportion of the lap spent flat out.

2009 F1 tracks – full throttle

Venue – % of lap spent at full throttle
Spa – 70%
Monza – 70%
Suzuka – 67%
Melbourne – 65%
Sepang – 65%
Interlagos – 65%
Silverstone – 64%
Bahrain – 63%
Istanbul – 63%
Nurburgring – 62%
Valencia – 59%
Hungaroring – 58%
Catalunya – 57%
Shanghai – 55%
Singapore – 44%
Monte-Carlo – 42%

It would be fascinating to see how this data compares from F1 in the 1960s and 1970s, when laps of tracks like Monza, Silverstone and the Osterreichring were tackled with little deceleration at all.

Similarly, what about the superspeedway ovals of America like those used in the Indy Racing League? The percent of a spent at full throttle at track like Michigan must be in the high 90s.

Some might think this is heresy, but I?d love to see F1 take in a couple of oval tracks during a season, to bring more variety and a whole different discipline of racing to the sport.

2009 F1 tracks – tyre wear

Lewis Hamilton has had tyre trouble on both his visits to Istanbul Park
Lewis Hamilton has had tyre trouble on both his visits to Istanbul Park

Venue – Tyre wear
Suzuka – high
Istanbul – high
Silverstone – medium/high
Hungaroring – medium/high
Spa – medium
Shanghai – medium
Interlagos – medium
Catalunya – medium
Bahrain – medium
Valencia – medium
Sepang – medium
Nurburgring – medium
Singapore – medium
Monte-Carlo – medium
Melbourne – medium/low
Monza ?ǣ low

Tyre wear is likely to change dramatically in 2009 as F1 makes its long-awaited switch back to slicks from grooved tyres.

Early tests on Bridgestone?s slick rubber suggest drivers will struggle with high wear particularly on the rear tyres. But much of the off-season testing has taken place at lower temperatures than those usually seen at Grand Prix weekends, so it remains to be seen exactly how the tyres will work.

That said, a high tyre wear track will still be a high tyre wear track, just as there will always be some drivers who dish out more punishment to their equipment than others. Step forward Lewis Haimilton, who?s borne the brunt of tyre wear trouble at Istanbul for the last two years. This year Suzuka, another high tyre wear track, returns to the F1 calendar for the first time since Hamilton arrived in the sport – so make a note to keep an eye on the state of Hamilton?s Bridgestones there.

2009 F1 tracks – brake wear

Venue – Brake wear
Singapore – very high
Melbourne – high
Hungaroring – high
Bahrain – high
Nurburgring – high
Monte-Carlo – high
Monza – high
Suzuka – high
Shanghai – medium
Valencia – medium
Silverstone – low
Spa – low
Interlagos – low
Catalunya – low
Sepang – low
Istanbul ?ǣ low

For years Montreal was renowned as the most punishing track for brakes. Sadly, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is not on the 2009 F1 calendar.

Taking its place as the most tortuous track for brake discs in Singapore. Each 5km lap has 23 corners, most of them quite slow, and high ambient temperatures won?t help. The track is being mildly revised for the 2009 race, but expects its brake-munching tendencies to remain.

2009 F1 tracks – downforce level

Venue – Downforce level
Singapore – very high
Hungaroring – very high
Monte-Carlo – very high
Valencia – high
Silverstone – high
Catalunya – high
Sepang – high
Melbourne – high
Shanghai – medium/high
Interlagos – medium
Istanbul – medium
Bahrain – medium
Nurburgring – medium
Spa – low
Suzuka – low
Monza – very low

Singapore joins the Hungaroring and Monte-Carlo in the maximum downforce club, where top speed is sacrificed for maximum cornering grip.

One of the talking points of the off-season has been whether the new aerodynamic regulations will actually reduce downforce. If they have been successful, differences in the performance of the cars at high downforce tracks versus low downforce tracks should be visible.

2009 F1 tracks – gear changes

Venue – Gear changes per lap
Singapore – 76
Valencia – 74
Sepang – 60
Melbourne – 60
Bahrain – 58
Nurburgring – 58
Monte-Carlo – 54
Shanghai – 52
Spa – 52
Hungaroring – 50
Monza – 46
Catalunya – 44
Istanbul – 42
Suzuka – 42
Interlagos – 40
Silverstone ?ǣ 40

Before semi-automatic gearboxes arrived the number of gear changes per lap was especially crucial. A mis-timed gearchange could let a chasing driver slip by or, worse, over-rev an engine causing a DNF. This was a particularly worry at Monte-Carlo in the days when the race was 100 laps long, and some drivers would reach the chequered flag with the skin missing from their right hand.

Data: BMW, 2006-8

What do you think of the 2009 F1 tracks? Does the F1 calendar need more variety? Leave a comment below.

Read about every track used in Formula 1:

2009 F1 calendar

Images (C) Ferrari spa, Daimler

46 comments on “2009 F1 tracks compared”

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  1. Without a doubt formula 1 is always better when there are more varied tracks.

    There definitely need to be more distinct, characterful circuits such as Monza and Spa, one that has a massive top speed and other with a massive lap.

    Instead, Tilke’s China, Malaysia and Bahrain are practically identical – each just point and squirt 2nd and 3rd gear corners with long straights. Very boring indeed.

    Also, we need tracks with more character. The current tracks have little or no scenery or atmosphere. Compare with Interlagos.

  2. I have to agree with you here keith, everyone is going on about how we should keep all the old tracks but people forget that the thing that makes the old ones the best is just how different they are, so it would be ok to bring in new track but they have to be different from the current tracks, ie less tilke please

    ps a one or two ovals a year would be good, if only to see how quick the cars can go.

  3. I’m not overly bothered by the ovals, but maybe an exhibition race would be good to see.

    What I would like to see though is a return to a lot of the older tracks which only had 7 or 8 real corners. I get the feeling a lot of the tracks have corners that simply aren’t needed, overdesigning in a poor attempt to get the laptime up to a bare minimum giving us silly little fiddly complexes and switchbackes and the like. Look at Fuji for example.

    I’m all for seeing slightly less complicated, shorter lapt-time tracks and just increasing the lap count. Besides, if there is one or two good spots on a track to pass we might as well go through it 80 times instead of 67 laps of a slightly longer track where you can’t pass on the fiddly bit anyway.

    1. I get the feeling a lot of the tracks have corners that simply aren’t needed, overdesigning in a poor attempt to get the laptime up to a bare minimum giving us silly little fiddly complexes and switchbackes and the like. Look at Fuji for example.

      Exactly. Couldn’t agree more.

      If you look at the track maps for Valencia and Singapore there’s obvious opportunities to shorten them by cutting out part of the lap. In Singapore’s case the portion that could be removed includes to Anderson bridge, though, and I suppose they want to keep it in for aesthetics.

      Fuji is the worst offender though, that segment at the end of the lap is just horrible.

    2. I would absolutly love to see F1 back at Mosport. Not many corners but each one is very unique!

  4. Great article and the statistics are very interesting…

  5. meh, i’m just happy suzuka is in this year!

  6. They’d never drive those cars on ovals. The drivers wouldn’t do it and I’m not sure anyone would let them do it… When IRL and Champ Car “merged” they were discussing the Champ Car Panoz chassis vs the IRL Dallara. The Panoz is a newer design and is frankly pretty sexy for a non-F1 car, but the simple matter was that Champ Car didn’t drive on ovals and the Panoz chassis was deemed unfit to drive on ovals. The Dallara is an ugly tank of a chassis, but apparently it’s pretty good at becoming an exploding pinwheel at 200MPH and letting the driver walk away…

    1. Actually those Dallaras are pretty bad at that too. The way the tires are mounted in conjunction to the gearbox so that in a rear impact (as commonly happens when a sliding IRL car hits a wall), the transmission is the first thing that hits which sends the impact force through the engine and right to the driver’s back, which is why they’ve had so many spinal injuries over the years.

  7. 2009 F1 tracks – downforce level

    Singapore – very high
    Valencia – high
    Sepang – high
    Shanghai – medium/high
    Spa – low
    Suzuka – low
    Monza – very low

    As long as I can remember, fast/low-downforce tracks have been the ones were there were the most overtakings (due to lower aero dependency). And those tracks, like Spa or Suzuka, don’t lack interesting corners either, to they?
    I also miss Hockenheim, where F1 cars were trimmed of all the wings and showed off their maximum speeds. It was always a nice contrast.

  8. mJohnHurt:
    “They’d never drive those cars on ovals.”

    That’s why I’ve always regreted the aweful track arrangement at Indy, with the stupid mickey mouse interior part of the track.

    Look what it should’ve been like!
    (the cars go anti-clockwise)

    Tell me what you think guys :)

    1. Nice! I’ve tried a couple of modifications to Indy myself and I did similar things but I have to say I like the look of 8 and 9 – far more exciting than those hair-pins that used to be there (worst hairpins of all time?)

    2. Nice, though personally I’d have it going clockwise

  9. Keith,
    How in the hell do you have so much free time to find information we find interesting, neccesary and valuable while the other 99.99% of the internet is derivative drivel.

    Thanks again!
    (seriously, fantastic work!)

    1. Thank you Fred! I got this info off BMW, so credit to them.

      One thing I was trying to find but couldn’t, was the absolutely top speed record for an F1 car during a race weekend.

      I think it was set by David Coulthard in a McLaren in 1998 at the Hockenheimring, but I couldn’t find any hard data. If anyone out there knows for sure I’d like to find out!

  10. I was hoping you would mention about taking Eau Rouge flat out in the new cars sooner rather than later.

    My hunch says; maybe it won’t be taken without lifting the foot off the pedal. Since aero-grip would be lesser.
    Also, turn 8 at istanbul won’t provide high G-forces; but will still be flat out.

    But; I want some more opinions on this.

  11. @ Keith
    “I think it was set by David Coulthard in a McLaren in 1998 at the Hockenheimring, but I couldn’t find any hard data.”

    – I remember that. I recall David being the record holder with a speed of something like 362.4 km/h.
    I also remember that even though the speed record had always belonged to Hockenheim back then, it was once that the top speed was achieved at Monza, and it was a record.
    It might’ve been the speed I just gave, and it might’ve been 1999…
    I found this:
    “the highest straight line speed recorded during a Grand Prix in the 1998 season was set by David Coulthard, at 356.5 kph (221.5 mph), during the German Grand Prix.”
    But Grand Prix means only the race, right?
    Anyway, I’m dead sure about the 360 mark being reached. It was neither the race or qualifying, but a free practice during a race weekend.

    1. Antonio Pizzonia clocked 372kph in the 2005(?) Williams testing at Monza. I think that’s the right speed, but obviously not in the race weekend.

  12. Well I couldn’t agree more with you on this one Keith.

    I’d love to see an Oval or two on the calendar as well as a lot more variety too !

    I know we’ll never see it but I’d love to see a race on the TT course at the Isle of Man, it’d only be 6 laps but it’d be a mighty impressive 6 laps to watch.
    Sadly it would never meet the safety regulations.

    They don’t even need to go that far though, a few races at tracks over 5 miles long and a few under 2 miles would be fine.

  13. “I know we’ll never see it but I’d love to see a race on the TT course at the Isle of Man,”

    You prolly haven’t heard about Hill Climb rallyes!
    This is your lucky day :)
    They usually use F3000 cars in the top single-seater class, but I’ve seen old F1 Jordans and other F1 cars being used as well:

    1. I have and they’re brilliant !

      But think how much better it’d be using modern F1 cars on the whole 37.75 miles of track…

  14. Keith, the problem Lewis had at Istanbul wasn’t so much the wear on the tyre but rather fatigue. His style of turning the car into a corner was putting so much load on it that it was breaking up, rather than wearing. But great analysis. The tracks are all becoming anonymous, its almost like they should just save the money and do all the season on one track.

    1. Thanks Oliver – what do you reckon to Hamilton’s chances of having similar problems at Suzuka then?

  15. I’m surprised they only get up to 310 km/h at Shanghai, with that long back straight.

  16. I’m also glad to know that the cars can hit 350km/h at monza. I wasn’t too sure how fast they got up to with the V8’s. Hopefully they can maintain that kind of speed now that the engines limited to 18,000 rpm.

    1. I’m with you there.

      I’d give my first born child for that, if I have any kids ;-)

  17. Hahaha, well Keith, I expect he’d have problems going through those Ss unless Bridgestone has made improvements to the build of the tyres they supply considering they had him test some tyres.

  18. I agree completely the calendar should have as many different sorts of tracks as possible. It won’t happen while the main factor in choosing a circuit is how much money Bernie can make. Also any new countries just use the same circuit designer and they all have to aim for the same target lap time.

    Out of interest has a Formula 1 Championship race ever been held on an oval?

    1. The cheap answer is that the Indy 500 was a WDC-points race from 1950-1960… It’s not a very satisfying one though =).

  19. Wasn’t Montoya’s 2002 Monza hot lap one for the record books also? I have seen it many times, and it always amazes me how fast that Williams was going.

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