Silverstone boss explains why they didn’t use Tilke for Arena track upgrades

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Silverstone's new sequence was designed by Populous

Silverstone’s new sequence was designed by Populous

Circuit designer Hermann Tilke’s company enjoys a near monopoly on Formula 1 track design. But he has also been criticised for producing unexciting racing venues.

Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips said they chose rival company Populous to produce their new Arena circuit because they didn’t want to risk someone ‘;wrecking’ the track.

Speaking exclusively to F1 Fanatic Phillips said:

We’ve had good, solid input from riders and drivers – people who are not going to wreck what is already a fantastic circuit.

If we had gone a more traditional route we may not have got the best result.

We thought that if we were going to change the track we should take care of the circuit first, fit in the run-off areas, and then sort out the buildings afterwards.
Richard Phillips

Silverstone enlisted design company Populous, who also created the Dubai Autodrome in the United Arab Emirate.

The most dramatic part of the new track is the high speed Abbey and Farm corners, which F1 cars are expected to take at around 185mph. This was originally designed as a slower corner, but according to Phillips they revised the design after getting feedback from F1 drivers:

Abbey went through a lot of design changes. At first it was quite a right-angle on the way in, but the F1 and Moto GP drivers challenged that so we opened it up, and then we opened it up some more. Now everyone is saying it’s a great corner.
Richard Phillips

He also explained the other changes to the track:

The Grand Prix track – which is now called the Bridge Circuit – is still a fantastic track. But Moto GP are unable to run on the Bridge Circuit because of the bridge and also because the chicane they had to use was not very popular.

We took the opportunity to create something the BRDC and the country can be proud of and we went through 15 different designs to do it.

At Becketts we have F1 and Moto GP versions of the track. F1 cars will go the same way as before, the Moto GP version is more open. But it also means we can separate the routes here so we can have three different circuits in operation at once.

Club is now boxier than it used to be. The old piece of tarmac here is now the run-off, and the new piece of track will be used by both Moto GP and F1. It is possible to reinstate the old track if we choose. We changed it to reduce the speed of the exit, but the early feedback from people who’ve been through it in cars is it’s made the corner more challenging.
Richard Phillips

Phillips said he’s happy with the early reaction to the circuit:

The feedback on the circuit so far has been extremely good. We’ve done a limited amount of testing up until now, but now we’ve had F1 cars and Moto GP-type bikes running on it for the first rime and the early signs are encouraging.
Richard Phillips

When the pits are the track will have a unique feature among F1 facilities: the Formula 1 race will have its pits and start/finish line on a different part of the track to the support races.

GP2 and the like will continue to use the existing garages and start line between Woodcote and Copse, while the F1 race will start on the straight after Club and the first corner will be the revised Abbey bend. This will happen by 2012 and could happen as early as next year:

The pits are contracted to be complete for 2012. At the moment we’re on schedule to finish them in April or May next year, so we may have them for F1 in 2011.

F1 will use the new pits but support races will continue to be based at the old pits and will use the old start line. So spectators coming to the race will have the choice of two sets of pits to sit opposite.
Richard Phillips

Silverstone Arena circuit

100 comments on “Silverstone boss explains why they didn’t use Tilke for Arena track upgrades”

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  1. Ah, when im a fully qualified architect im gonna make sure i take over tilke as a track designer, and i will try to design something with more substance.

    Well, thats the plan :-/

    1. I think Populous are the group that designed the proposal for the revised Eastern Creek layout in Australia.

      From what I’ve seen of the designs of that, it should be a fantastic track. My bet is thats were the F1 race will go is Sydney decide to try and steal it from Melbourne.

    2. architects shouldn’t be designing racing tracks though (or at least not the “racing track”, it has very little to do with what an architect is trained to do.

      1. Also to be picky, but if you are aiming to be an Architect in the UK this is useful info…. there is no such thing as a “fully qualified architect”, you are either an architect or not one (the use of the title is protected under law, the fact you are an architect means you have all the qualifications, its similar to being a Dr or dentist, you cant be a Dr without all the qualifications), so by suggesting you don’t have to be fully qualified by using phases such as “fully qualified architect” actually undermines the title.

        Anyone claiming to be a partly qualified architect or similar is actually breaking the Law and you should report them to the ARB (where you can also check if people are registered as Architects) – if they are using the title they must be registered, so again there is no such thing as a “registered architect” or at least no need to say so much.

        Chartered Architect on the other hand is different, as that comes from being an Architect who is a member of the regulating body the RIBA.

        1. Untitled258
          1st May 2010, 13:41

          Yeah, i know exactly how the process works, in the middle of studying it.

          When i say that i mean when i get my RIBA part 3, no need to be so bloody pedantic.

  2. J.A. Summers
    29th April 2010, 17:37

    I think Tilke should take this criticism to heart.

    1. Prisoner Monkeys
      30th April 2010, 0:12

      I think it’s the FIA who should be paying attetnion. Tilke has to design circuits within the rules mandated by the FIA, and it’s those rules that dictate what he has to do. By all accounts, Tilke is talking a similar line to Silverstone with the Greater Noida circuit in India: once a draft had been settled on, the plan was submitted to the teams, who punched the data into their simulators and came back with suggestions on how to improve the circuit that were then worked into the final design.

      1. So from that it seams, that Tilke and/or FOM are listening to complaints about boring, uninspired track layouts.

        Let’s hope they come up with an interesting and challenging track (the builings surrounding are not that important for racing).

        1. Prisoner Monkeys
          30th April 2010, 6:48

          FOM has no control over circuit design. It’s the FIA. Tilke may have been told to find some way of “improving the show”, and his answer appears to have been to work with the teams in circuit design – Populous seem to have had the same idea – but until we see laps driven in anger, we’ll have no idea how successful it is. Circuit design is more of an art than a science.

          1. Are you sure about the FOM having no control, or maybe we should say influence?

            Bernie picks the race promotors and Tilke was brought in at several instances by Bernie.
            I understood that Bernie likes his focus on great looking buildings around the circuit. Makes it look glamerous on TV and for the jet set invitees.

            So i would not say he has no influence, even if not control.

          2. Prisoner Monkeys
            30th April 2010, 9:51

            Yes, but Bernie can’t influence the actual circuit design.

    2. the Sri Lankan
      30th April 2010, 11:19

      i think tilke should just leave

      1. Prisoner Monkeys
        30th April 2010, 15:25

        It has nothing to do with Tilke – even if you replaced him with someone everyone thought was the best designer in the world, Formula 1 circuits are still going to be heavily restricted by the rules set out by the FIA. Getting rid of Tilke is treating a symptom; changing the rules is treating the underlying disease.

        1. I agree, Tilke gets a lot of blame for working within the FIA’s regulations and the corporate needs of the track owners.

          It’s difficult to design a good track that has virtually no gradient or changes in elevation, minimal camber, huge run-off areas, stands that are miles from the track and a huge area set aside for the corporate hospitality suites, media centres and other non-racing related buildings.

        2. Prisoner Monkeys’ is correct. The FIA rules for track design are pretty tight. They limit a whole bunch of stuff, including how steep sections of the track can be. It also limits things like adverse crossfall / negative chamber on corners, changes of longitudinal grades etc.

          For a track designer to do their job they need to comply with all those criteria, so blaming Tilke in my opinion is a little unfair. After all he is only complying with the requirements. If anyone is to blame it’s the drivers. Regardless of the track layout, every track has corners, therefore passing opportunities. Just because a driver might say “this track only has two passing spots”, doesn’t really mean there are only two passing spots, it really means there are only two spots on the track where they feel confident enough to attempt a pass.

  3. Spreading the teams amongst both pits would be more exciting. They could do a lottery for which spots to occupy before the weekend.

    1. I wish! Might destroy the comming in first advantage. Still one would be longer than the other so unfortunatley impossible.

  4. The problem with Tilke’s tracks isn’t the tracks themselves, it’s everything around and on them. Miles of runoff and very little elevation changes, and a sterile environment that gives no real sense of speed. I suppose that’s not even his fault, it’s how they want the new tracks these days.

    They don’t want them built in a hilly area in the middle of a forest like Spa or something, they want to create a massive accessible featureless car park and then build a circuit on it.

    Tilke does try to create tracks which aid overtaking with the current style of cars that are in F1. I’m not sure what the hype is about the new Silverstone, it doesn’t necessarily look like a circuit that would make the race any more exciting for the viewer or anything like that. Seems like change for the sake of change.

    1. The problem with Tilke’s tracks isn’t the tracks themselves

      It’s also the tracks themselves. Look at Abu Dhabi, it’s a brand new track with chicanes built in. Madness.

      1. theRoswellite
        29th April 2010, 18:34

        Yes, absolutely!

        Originality does not seem to be an important element in the “creative formula”, using the term losely, from which the Tilke tracks are generated.

        Something tells me, however, that the real fault lies with Bernie…it is probably his deesign template that restricts most of what is possible.

        Perhaps the first design input is from a committee of liability lawyers?

        1. theRoswellite
          29th April 2010, 18:38

          (The above remarks are, obviously, not directed at Silverstone.)

        2. The real problem is the FIA regs$FILE/10.04.01_Annexe%20O%202010%20.pdf particularly the formula on gradients 7.4 Longitudinal profile and 7.8 Protective measures. This ensures that all new tracks are flat as a pancake with massive run off areas. Why I have no idea. The rest of the design criteria are fairly flexible. But with these restrictions building an exciting circuit with character is almost impossible. I don’t like Tilke circuits, but given the rules he seems to do the best he can. The real question is why are the FIA rules so restrictive as ALL the traditional classic tracks would not be possible as new circuits.

      2. John Edwards
        30th April 2010, 16:32

        Abu dhabi is complete gash.

        They had too much money and they could build more or less anything they wanted.

        What they created is an absolute abortion.

        1. So true! They should really really hand their head in shame. It ended up being a hotel with a track in it, rather than a track with a hotel built by or in it.

          1. Correction:::: Hang*

    2. It’s change for the sake of motoGP, the second half of the track wasn’t great anyway, bridge is the only real loss.

      An extra long straight should aid overtaking a little, we wont know until people start racing there though.

      1. And Bridge wasn’t that much of a challenge in a modern F1 car anymore…

    3. The inherent elevation changes would have definitely been one of the plus’s for a race at Donnington – Craner Curves e.t.c. – I stood at Redgate on Easter weekend in 1993 and watched F1 cars plunge down there disappearing into the murk of rooster tails coming off their rear wings ‘cos of the rain – a delight to see :) and then on the hill at the inside of Starkey’s as they came round the old hairpin through Schwantz Curve & shot upto McLeans (or “off at” in Michael Andretti’s case). :)

  5. Mark Webber seems to like it, says they kept all the best bits an the new bits look interesting.

    Also the Dubai autodrome looks great! Hell of a lot better than Abu Dhabi an Bahrain. Damn credit crunch, we’d be there if it weren’t for finance.–Grand_Prix_Course.svg

    1. Ned Flanders
      29th April 2010, 17:54

      The track looks OK but I don’t want anymore races in the UAE or the Middle East, thank you very much!

    2. Agree. Looks promising.

      1. From the 2d map it reminds me of Phillip Island, except I’m imagining it with significantly more sand.

      2. Agreed, too many races in Middle – east and Asia.

        They should perhaps alternate races in middle-east and even china/korea.

        No comment on the upcoming Indian track ;)

  6. This is shocking, shocking news and spells the end for the British GP, Silverstone and the BDRC as an organisation.

    Here’s a group that thought about what would make for a good race, then talked to the racers about what they wanted, then decided to appoint a company to do the work based on the quality of their previous work, then consulted the racers again, and came up with a design that seems to satisfy as many people as possible while maintaining the integrity and history of the GP, all within a sustainable and reasonable budget.

    This won’t go down well with the FIA and Bernie at all.

    1. It could go down well at the FIA at the moment, but in Bernie’s world sensibility and sanity is indeed not appreciated.

      1. There’s sanity in Bernie’s world?

        1. No, that’s why it’s not appreciated when it does try to invade it.

          1. His greatest achievement was becoming head of the whole circus,
            His next best achievement was buying Mclaren (Murry!)
            And Thirdly, he found a box to put his sanity in, it’s currently under his bed, with his favourite pair of socks. He should have put them in the drawer. (the socks, not sanity)

  7. UneedAFinn2Win
    29th April 2010, 18:20

    Where is the a picture of the old track with the new track overlayed on it, or have I dreamed that one up…

  8. I didn’t understand if there have been changes at Club. I think (and hope) no!

    1. Yes.

      Club is now boxier than it used to be. The old piece of tarmac here is now the run-off, and the new piece of track will be used by both Moto GP and F1.

      Picture here:

      1. Looking at that view, it makes me wish that they would just get rid of brookland and luffflied, and extend the straight a wee bit and have a longish high speed corner into woodcotte.

        Brookland and Luffield, in my opinion are the worst corners on the track, get rid! The laptime might come down to similar to what it is currently, and the average speed should be higher

    2. Changes have been made for the bikes. Apparently the feedback is quite good, makes the corner a little more challenging, not much slower and still full of charater.

      1. woop, Keith beat me to it.

  9. theRoswellite
    29th April 2010, 18:43

    Oh, Keith, I also wanted to complement you on the “exclusive interview”. It would be great to read some similar interviews with people not usually featured in the larger media (design guys?). Keep it coming!

    1. Thanks very much :-)

  10. How spooky I was in Populous HQ in Putney only yesterday – they do a lot of sport related architecture – the girlie on reception is Hot with a capital H :)

    1. Wow post a pic already!

      1. Thought about it but thought she might think I was a bit of weirdo :)

    2. Haha a friend of mine works there – I will ask them to pass on the compliment.

      1. Why not…. Please do ! :)

  11. I remember the first time Keith wrote an article about possible changes to Silverstone layout back in 2009.

    Almost all the comments then were in disapproval of the layout change.

    And now, once Keith writes that the changes have infact no been made by Herman Tilke, everybody in unison likes the same layout change.

    I think people need to stop panning Tilke for everything that is wrong with Formula 1 and look into how prejudiced their opinions are.

    1. In fairness, that was before we knew the full extent of the changes. The version of the track in the diagram on that article shows an earlier, slower version of the new Abbey corner.

      Having seen the finished version today I think seeing F1 cars charging in there flat-out will be quite a sight to behold.

      1. Great job for getting him exclusively Keith!

        The Abbey changes show exactly what Pillips tells us, they adjusted it after feedback from drivers (as you highlight in the article).

        This is the way to go with circuit desing. I hope in the future we will see less completely new built facilities and more updates of existing roads/circuits.
        Give it some history and a splash of new and we might be into a new classic.

      2. Exactly Keith, we will never know the full extent of the changes until we race on them.

        But most people just like to attack Tilke at the drop of a hat. Just look back at the poll you took on “which track to drop”, there are a few votes for the Korean GP!!! What is that if not just mindless hate of Tilke.

        Tilke’s hands are tied by the stringent FIA safety rules.

        Even the new section of Silverstone has no elevation changes and large run-offs, the very features which get criticized in every Tilke track.

  12. Great interview! The new layout’s growing on me, although I’m still not convinced how much overtaking there will be in the Loop complex.


    When the pits are the track will have a unique feature among F1 facilities: the Formula 1 race will have its pits and start/finish line on a different part of the track to the support races.

    I thought the F1 pits and start line at Spa were between the Bus Stop and La Source, while the support race pits/start line are on the hill between La Source and Eau Rouge?

    1. They are. That said, it’s still one of only two places on the F1 calender where that feature exists. It strikes me as an efficient use of space, even if some of the post-race infield activities may now have to be altered due to lack of infield.

      1. Theres also now talk of doing something similar in Melbourne, with the 2nd pitlane being used by the V8 Supercars to enable longer races with the possibility of the races becoming a part of the championship proper.

    2. Yup thats true, Susuka has a pitlane and start line down the backstraight/down the hill before 130r, i dunno how often its used though.

      1. I think in Suzuka’s case it’s only for so-called West Circuit. Hairpin after 130R and continue towards Degner.

    3. The pits are down there but since the 2007 renovations the support races have started in the same place as the F1 race.

    4. An doesn’t Abu Dhabi have fully formed support facilities? I’m not sure if either of these are widley used though.

  13. I approve of silverstone

  14. I’ve just realised they’ve bulldozed half of the runway away to make room for the changes – I’ll have to bring my smaller plane this year !

    1. I take my helicopter !
      It seems like a nice update to the track, I’m optimistic.
      Good to hear that they validated the driver input. Watch and learn, Bahrain !

  15. Where’s the pit exit going to be from next year? At Village curve or Abbey with danger from 185mph apex-huggers or at Farm to mess up an overtaking spot? Or what?

    1. Looks like the on outside of village curve here.
      With a fair amount of get-up-to-speed room. Not bad.

      1. Oops, I mean the outside of Farm.

  16. I always thought Dubai Autodrome was one of the few good modern tracks. Why don’t we race there anymore? I was under the illusion that it was Tilke-Designed but evidently not. Tilke really didn’t do anything decent appart from Sepang, did he?

  17. Best thing about Sepang is, it rains almost every time. But the best Tilke ever made is turn 8 at Istanbul Park

  18. Richard Phillips is a brutally honest man. I like it.

  19. You can tell why they didn’t use Tilke just by looking at it.

    With such a sharp right-hander before the hairpin, hopefully we’ll see a lot of of punch and counter-punch manoeuvres. The long run to Luffield should also provide another place to pass.

    And though the traditionalist in me is a bit lukewarm to the idea of moving the start/finish onto the back straight, it would make for some very exciting starts!

    Above all though, it just proves how mad Bernie was to consider removing Silverstone from the calendar!

  20. Tilke = big mistake. He should design children playgrounds maybe…

    1. To be fair to Tilke, the FIA guidelines so pretty restricting and as Prisoner Monkeys points out above Tilke is listening to feedback from drivers for the India track as well.
      So let us not give up hope.

    2. Nah they would be too safe – kids these day need to be made aware that danger does actually exist in the real world rather than wrap them up in cotton wool to much as modern F1 drivers seem to be with Tilke’s tracks. :(

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