2009 F1 tracks compared

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

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46 comments on 2009 F1 tracks compared

  1. Eric M. said on 18th February 2009, 4:21

    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.

  2. Oliver said on 18th February 2009, 13:50

    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.

  3. 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?

    • mJohnHurt said on 18th February 2009, 17:42

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

  4. The Limit said on 20th February 2009, 20:56

    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.

  5. I remember a Williams did exactly 369.9 kph in Monza. I think it was in 2005 but not sure.

  6. teamorders said on 16th March 2009, 23:47

    Spa – low
    Suzuka – low
    Monza – very low

    Spa – 70%
    Monza – 70%
    Suzuka – 67%

    Three of the best tracks are the three lowest downforce ones and the three with the driver longest on the throttle. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    2nd & 3rd gear corners 1) are boring and 2) don’t test a drivers skill

  7. Just wanted to say thank you for this great article. I just spent a good 30 minutes just reading/staring at it over and over, scrolling up and down comparing while taking a break from work. :) Enjoyed it!

  8. scunnyman said on 21st April 2009, 1:08

    I’m not sure i’d agree with ovals in formula one.

    But maybe it could be arranged to have all the teams in formula on to design a special car so they can take part in the indy 500 in the month of may.

    This could do a lot for f1 in USA. It would give them a lot of exposure in the states because of the coverage it gets on american tv. Also they could use the f1 test teams to do the setup of the special indy car f1 cars.

    The f1 tea could then still do the other f1 races during the month of may ( so long as there is no f1 race on the same weekend as the indy 500). And with them using the test team to setup the indy race then all they would need to do is have the drivers head over for the qualifying and practice.

    I’m sure that f1 and the teams could come up with some sort of solution to incorporate indy 500 into the calendar.

    It would be such a boost for f1 in the states to have a dedicated f1 team and car and driver win the indy 500.

    it would be nice to hear from others on this subject.

    other than ovals i do think more varied tracks are what all fanatics require. I have hated the new german circuit ever since it was redesigned in 2002. The old one was much more of a challenge. I think that the FIA have to reduce the requirements the need for track design and we can have a more varied calendar of tracks.

    With a possible track rota you could have a brilliant series of tracks over say 3 yrs with some amazing tacks around th globe.

    maybe Keith you can have one of your suberb polls on the subject of track rota’s????? Not the stupid driver rotation of course.

  9. scunnyman said on 21st April 2009, 1:14

    oh yes and keep up the great articles keith, well done.

  10. damonsmedley said on 21st April 2009, 5:05

    If only the A1 Ring’s lap was a little longer in length. I think it is a track that should have remained on the calender. Tracks need to have some unique scenery and surrounding countryside, like that of the Austrian Grand Prix. Other than perhaps Spa, Monaco and Monza, today’s F1 calender lacks some of the former splendour and character that made watching a Grand Prix more enjoyable.

  11. Dan Thorn said on 6th May 2009, 13:49

    I thought the highest speed achieved at a race weekend was by Gerhard Berger in 1986, possibly at Hockenheim? I read a while back that his Benetton was achieving speeds in excess of 375km/h.

    I remember when F1 first went to the A1-Ring – it was considered an aberration compared to the Osterreichring and yet 12 years later we’d be quite happy to have it back, such is the boredom of the newer circuits!

    The dull similarities of all of the new circuits is plain to see – At Shanghai and Sepang Turns 1 and 2 are very similar. Bahrain, Istanbul and Shanghai all also have a left-right-left sequence of S-Bends halfway round the lap followed by a slow right hander (left hander in the case of Shanghai) and the the supposedly ‘Unique’ corner on each track (Turn 8 in Istanbul, Turns 12/13 in Shanghai and Turns 9/10 in Bahrain). There’s no imagination or challenges unique to either of them…

    Greater variation would be brilliant. I think it would be great to see F1 cars on the full La Sarthe circuit for instance. I wouldn’t be opposed to one oval race either – with F1 being the pinnacle of motorsport it seems only fair that it should visit every type of circuit.

  12. Robert said on 23rd May 2009, 4:38

    With the Hanford Device/Gurney Flap, restricted engines, and aero packages being run, IndyCars run flat-out the entire lap on the ovals that are more than a mile in length.

    I think the throttle figures at Sa and Monza have been pushing towards 73-75% of late. I’m a bit dubious of that flat-out distance for Shanghai; I’m pretty sure the straight itself is no more than about 1100m, and the preceding corner is not long enough to make up the remainder, I don’t think. Aside from that, it seems odd that the slipstream down the main straight at Monza would be so much more apparent if the flat-out run there is shorter. I know the straight itself at Fuji is 1475m, so I’m guessing a flat-out run of close to 1400m at that track.

    I’m fairly certain that top speeds at Interlagos and Suzuka are pushing 320km/h, and that Fuji is pretty close to that. From what I recall, they’re doing about 330km/h before Les Combes at Spa. At the end of Hangar Straight on Silverstone, they’re pulling about 306km/h (190mph).

    I think it was DC who clocked in at 367.4km/h during the 2002 or 2004 Italian GP.

    The old Hockenheim, where a Jag could outrun a Ferrari, was great! And since they were trimmed out for the straights, the entry into the Stadium Complex was a wonderful overtaking spot, while the drivers were on edge with low downforce going through the Stadium.

    Finally, yes, there should be a nice variety of circuits on the F1 calendar, but a real attempt should be made so that ALL of them have some true character.

  13. Rob said on 24th May 2009, 6:07

    Though it would never happen, F1 cars visiting Daytona to run the road course in July would be pretty cool. Also it does lack the technicality of most road courses, but it has 31 and 18 degree banked turns which would really let the F1 cars stretch their legs. It would be a nice mix of ultimate flat out high speed mixed with medium to low speed sections. Not to mention three wide F1 cars maxed out at night would be a sight. Perhaps though the brakes would not lend themselves to the long flat out sections then hard braking into the infield road course. Also I think it would make it really stand out for people here in the states, seeing the F1 cars run in the same time frame as the Nationwide and Sprint Cup cars, and then the Grand-Am cars. Some part of three wide F1 under the lights in Daytona must appeal to someone right?(perhaps not the drivers, tires or brakes.) I would like to see F1 run the Daytona road course at night is what I’m getting at obviously, it could only add to the lineup of tracks already on the schedule, not to mention stand out. Maybe I’m just way out of line with this thinking, it’s only a daydream after all. I doubt TPTB in the F1 would would even consider it though. The airport however is located directly behind the speedway though for easy access from over seas! :D

  14. Anyone here know details of a Monza race years ago (90’s?), where one F1 car touched the back wheel of the car in front at 320Km/h on the Rettifilo home straight, flipped up a complete 360d in the air, landed on four wheels and finished third?

    Did I dream this, or did it really happen?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 9th September 2009, 22:05

      That was the 1993 Italian Grand Prix, and it was Christian Fittipaldi who hit the back of team mate Pierluigi Martini’s car:

      Martini finished seventh, Fittipaldi eighth. Unsurprisingly, there were cross words between the pair afterwards…

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