Should Tilke be kept away from Austin?

Drivers have criticised tracks like Abu Dhabi

Drivers have criticised tracks like Abu Dhabi

Yesterday’s news about F1 returning to America generally prompted two reactions from fans.

As well as welcoming F1’s new race in Austin in 2012, a lot of people urged the race promoters to pick someone other than Hermann Tilke to design the track.

Tilke’s company has designed or altered almost every track on the F1 calendar. Several of his designs have been criticised for being unexciting – but is that criticism misplaced?

Update: The race promoters have confirmed the track will be designed by Tilke.

Prisoner Monkeys made this case in Tilke’s defence:

Hermann Tilke works within rules set out by th FIA. Anyone who replaced him would be bound by those same rules and would only produce a similar circuit. If you look at some of Tilke?s non-F1 designs ?ǣ Motorland Aragon springs to mind ?ǣ you?ll see that he?s actually pretty good.

It?s the rules, not the designer that needs changing. And if FOTA get the regulations for the cars right, they may not even need that.
Prisoner Monkeys

Anyone who thinks designers like Tilke have a free rein when it comes to creating circuits is mistaken – at least, if they want their circuits to be used for Formula 1.

The FIA’s circuit regulations are specific and demanding (see PDF here). The length, width, gradient and camber of new tracks are all tightly defined by the rules.

Natural boundaries and terrain also limit Tilke’s scope. Istanbul is a good track thanks to the hilly terrain it is built on. Whereas Valencia has no gradient and no room for any quick corners.

Despite these caveats, I think some of the criticism of Tilke is justified. He’s penned some excellent tracks, like Istanbul Park and Sepang, but others have been missed opportunities.

At Yas Island for example, despite the track being constructed on a man-made island at gigantic expense, Tilke found it necessary to include low-speed chicanes as part of the circuit design – one of which immediately precedes another low-speed corner.

Even the drivers – who usually stick to an uncontroversial PR line when asked to give their opinions – have been moved to criticise Yas Island. Adrian Sutil did over the winter and Lucas di Grassi had this to say when I spoke to him about it earlier this month:

[In] Abu Dhabi, you have completely free space to do whatever you want, as much run-off area as you like, so maybe like corner eight in Turkey they should do more challenging, fast corners. It would be nicer for the drivers, better for the spectacle.
Lucas di Grassi

But the amount of criticism Tilke gets from fans is out of proportion with the extent of his responsibility for the standard of modern F1 tracks.

If Bernie Ecclestone points at an industrial estate in Valencia and says ‘put a track there’, there’s very little Tilke can do within the constraint of his brief and the rules to create the next Spa-Francorchamps or even an Istanbul Park.

Although Silverstone avoided using Tilke for the latest changes to their circuit, it would be a surprise if anyone other than Tilke was charged with building Austin’s Formula 1 track.

Hopefully he’ll get the space and the resources to come up with a worthwhile addition to the F1 calendar.

Hermann Tilke

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204 comments on Should Tilke be kept away from Austin?

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  1. AndrewT said on 26th May 2010, 10:04

    Should Tilke be kept away from Austin? – definetley…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th May 2010, 10:05

      Please tell me you read more than just the headline before posting that.

      • I certainly did read the article, and I think the criticisms that have been levelled at him, especially for the Yas Marinas circuit are well justified, and I hope he keeps away from Texas… I believe he was also involved in the disastrous re-make of the Hockenheimring, a pointless destruction of a beautiful circuit.

        • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 10:21

          Hockenheim needed to be shortened. There was virtually no access to the Ostkurve other than the circuit itself. In the event of an accident there, emergency crews would have to drive all the way from the stadium section round to the accident site – which would take far too long. And it’s not like the organisers could simply buy the land around the circuit because it’s national park.

          It’s pretty obvious that when Tilke was appraoched to shorten Hockenheim, he was told to treat the outer circuit as a perimeter. Given the shape of the infield and the FIA regulations (an probably the budget, too), he was never going to be able to do much.

          • Scribe said on 26th May 2010, 11:09

            Obviously the Hokeinheim ring needed to be shortened, most of the people who complain have no idea what their talking about anyway, it was apparently very soulless before the change.

            Still you get the feeling he could have done a lot better, turns 5, 6 and 7 are boring, don’t contribute to the racing and prevent overtaking into turn 8.

            Simularly Abu Dhabi, why the dog leg before the hairpin leading onto the back straight? Spaces out the cars before what should be the circuits prime overtaking spot. Saftey for the spectators? He designed it from scratch, the spectators should never have been put in a possibly dangerous place, there are lots of ways round it, even if the stadium owners wanted a stadium section there could have been a gap in the stands for extra run off, or even his famed under stands run off.

            It does however seem like the rules are too tight, an maybe it’s time the FIA looked into loosening them a bit, especially while they continue to let cars tackle Spa Suzuka and Monaco. But all the double chicanes and weird double slow corners seriously get in the way of racing on Tilke tracks.

            Especially as we know he can produce good tracks if he puts his mind to it.

          • MouseNightshirt said on 26th May 2010, 13:17

            Scribe: soulless? You presumably never watched a race there.

            I thought there was a level of beauty about it. Hi-tech machines blasting their way through a deep forest at 200mph. Man made beasts running riot through a quiet natural forest.

            I thought it was immense. The contrast was almost poetic…

          • I completely agree with Prisoner Monkeys. Im sick of all the Tilke bashing when he’s not allowed to make good F1 tracks because of the rules, the rules are way too strict, no wonder all the tracks look the same.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th May 2010, 10:26

          LazerFX, my comment was to AndrewT.

          • kowalsky said on 26th May 2010, 12:14

            no need to read the article. Tilke out.
            We need the grandstands closer to the action. That’s key. Until they look at this issue, i won’t go and visit another gp, i’ll watch on tv. It’s sad, but i was the one that was at estoril 85 two hours under the rain, without a complaint. I know i have changed, but f1 did too, and for the worst. And tilke is part of that change. That’s my opinion.

          • ajokay said on 26th May 2010, 12:34

            Whether it’s the FIA’s rules that are the problem or not, it’s still not good to have a monopoly on track design. Having one guy design all the tracks leads to one head with set preferences and ideas. Different companies with different teams will lead to different ideas within the rules.

            For instance… look at, oh I don’t know… all the different F1 teams. Same set of rules, 12 different teams of designers, 12 different car designs, and us lot could all tell them apart if they were in bare carbon fibre form.

            Tilke track design over the last 10 years is like an F1 form of in-breeding, a constant churning of the same set of ideas, producing very similar and largely unrewarding results.

            So yes, Tilke should stay away from Auston’s new track. They should have an american design it. American road tracks always seem to be full of different ideas to European ones, they tend to have a different feel about them.

            Let someone else have a go.

          • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 12:39

            Let someone else have a go.

            But there is no-one else! The only other firm that designs racing circuits to a standard that would satisfy the FIA has a terrible reputation for being over-late and over-budget.

          • ajokay said on 26th May 2010, 12:48

            So… this whole article is pointless then, yes?

        • f1 texan said on 26th May 2010, 13:39

          you must have never seen an F1 race there.

      • Jose Arellano said on 26th May 2010, 17:35

        by now he should have found the “double difusser gray area” in the rulebook to come up with something better.

      • macahan said on 26th May 2010, 17:44

        I think it would be good for the sport NOT to have Tilke design Austin track. Why well at this point he got a monopoly on F1 track design. All new tracks are his design. Turkey is his first and absolutely best F1 track design. He never managed to measure up to that track. If you look at Korea it’s close to a copy of Malaysia in track design. The long straight follow by hairpin follow by a long straight is bubbling out of the main track instead of folded into the track as in Malaysia and instead of a tight corner at the end he made it a bit flatter and a double corner. Corner 15 after the long straight is a good overtake place or just to position for overtake at corner 1. In Korea corner 15 becomes corner 1 but afraid due to the nature of the corner (looks fast) overtaking will not be very good and can’t get close enough through corner 1 and 2 so distance on corner 3 might be to much for a overtake. Corner 3 might allow some overtake or setup for overtake in corner 4 (except straight might not be long enough to close the gap).

        Sure rules are to blame at big part but track design needs new ideas and Tilke seems to run out of good ideas and track start to look similar and uninspiring. Another designer might bring in some other ideas and would make the track hopefully feel different. 6 tracks (if I counted right) I think is enough designs on the calendar.

      • Dipak T said on 26th May 2010, 18:30

        I think Tilke’s interpretaion has a lot to do with it, even if the rules are hideosly restrictive. I mean, its not surprising when one man has an all but stated monopoly on new track design in F1, that after a while he is going to run out of ideas.

        No one man is a fountain of inspriration, and someone else should have a go, well just because someone else should have a go.

        Tilke has had a major hand in at least 12 past, present and future F1 tracks, and penned alterations to many more. Even if they were all briliant and we loved his work, his time is done.

      • AndrewT said on 27th May 2010, 9:32

        of course i read the article through, and sorry for this very short and simple reply :(

  2. Bebilou said on 26th May 2010, 10:06

    Who choses to put boring hairpins and slow corners on the new tracks ? Tilke or the rules ?
    Sorry, but even if the FIA rules are strict, Tilke is responsible and is to blame.

    • Prisoer Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 10:17

      The FIA regulations aren’t just tight, they’re astringent. Seriously, do you know why Tilke built a chicane before the hairpin in Abu Dhabi? It was because the rules dictate the maximum allowable speed for that hairpin relative to a) the speed the cars can achieve on the previous straight and b) the amount of run-off area on the outside of the corner. That’s how tight they are.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th May 2010, 10:19

        Presumably Tilke had the option of not building the chicane and placing the hairpin earlier on the straight instead, creating more run-off?

        • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 10:23

          Possibly. It depends on the design brief given to him by the circuit owners: if they wanted to have a stadium section with the seats so close to the circuit, he would have had to have put the chicane in regardless.

          • sw6569 said on 26th May 2010, 10:36

            I think a problem seems to be that while the regulations themselves are particularly tight, there will always be ways of making a track seem more exciting that Tilke has done within the specific set of rules. I don’t necessarily think its his fault however. Also, its worth noting that a lot of his tracks produce good racing – like Hockenheim or Malaysia. Others simply don’t, suggesting that some of his designs simply aren’t good, while others are.

            Also, the most frustrating thing about the F1 regulations is that they don’t appear to apply everywhere. Monaco for example. If there was less disparity, there would be more approval for tilke’s good tracks.

          • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 12:43

            Monaco stays on the calendar because it’s Monaco. They pretty much get their race for free. Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that if Monaco applied to join the championship for the first time tomorrow, they’d be rejected.

          • Calum said on 26th May 2010, 17:36

            It must be the rules rather than the designer that are creating bland samey tracks.
            Look at Monaco, designed years ago and it is only 3.3km long, the shortest on the calender. Then look at Spa, another “old classic,” it is the longest at 7km. This shows how varied lengths used to be before the rules seemed to make every new track 5km.

            I’d love for the FIA to allow Herman Tilke and his team to have some freedom in how they go about this new track. Make it as long as it needs to be, make it a low downfore track rather than the new style with all their slow corners. A new low downforce track would be unique and differant and could make f1 work in the USA.

          • Joe said on 26th May 2010, 20:47


            Old tracks can’t really be counted, Pescara was almost 26 km and even Spa was ~14 km once upone a time. While I might want to see modern F1 cars on the old Nurburgring and old Spa tracks (at least if the cars were essentially land-based UAVs), they aren’t (weren’t) even close to safe, although this is more a function of barriers, safety stations, and therefore cost.

            Frankly, I’m all for breaking up the stranglehold of Tilke, but whoever gets it needs as much freedom in track design as possible from both locals and teh FIA.

          • leon said on 26th May 2010, 22:22

            This comment thread is fascinating, but surely we are all missing one vital point.

            Tilke doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He must be deeply aware of historic circuits that are regarded by every F1 enthusiast as virtually sacred ground. So he MUST know what makes the very best circuits so special. And conversely, what makes the poorest circuits the ones that simply don’t work. And why they don’t work.

            So too the FIA. They MUST be well aware of the criticisms from everybody ( drivers, teams, fans ) of new circuits like Yas Marina, which simply do not cut it.

            Is it too much to imagine that some reasonably intelligent FIA management ever actually sits down to think about what is required to make the very best F1 circuits ?

          • CLK_GTR said on 27th May 2010, 14:34

            If there was anyone giving him a design brief the that track would not have been a mess it is.

            Hockenheim was destroyed by him, Germany was always a speed fest from the the 1930s. I wonder what part of this tradition that he was trying to continue.

            There is certain demand in the regulations for safety of tracks which make for endless runoff areas before the barrier which does kill a track, but when turn 1 in indy is allowed, what the hell??

        • sato113 said on 26th May 2010, 12:27

          yeah but he wanted the straight to be as long as possible. to improve overtaking…

          • Adam Tate said on 26th May 2010, 19:01

            A new low downforce track in the spirit of Monza would be great! If it has to be on the relatively flat side of Austin that would be an awesome approach. Us American fans are used to high speeds, Indy cars reaching 210, 220 around the track, slow hairpins won’t impress, but blistering straits and high speed corners will. Still I would prefer the track to be on the hill country side of town, full of elevation changes and banked curves. Like an American Spa or something of the sort. Why is the Nurburgring the greatest track, because it has elevation changes. If the guys in charge can secure some hilly land, than Tilke will have to make an exciting course just to get it to fit!

  3. PeterG said on 26th May 2010, 10:07

    My suggestion is to create a Kart-track first and test the design. Make it a contest by creating penned tracks on a big parking lot and start testing the tracks with a 24 units kart-race.
    May the best design win!

    • LewisC said on 26th May 2010, 11:54

      I have a theory that you can create an excellent racing track by throwing a piece of spaghetti on the floor. Might test this later.

      • sato113 said on 26th May 2010, 12:27

        ha, quite a good idea. but try telling tilke that!

      • PeriSoft said on 26th May 2010, 14:53

        Make sure you cook it first, or you’ll end up with drag racing.

        • Harold said on 27th May 2010, 2:49


          Brilliant, you should be in charge of the FIA with thinking like that!

          • Will said on 27th May 2010, 6:52

            Karts arn’t affected by downforce.. you can run karts around Valencia and there will be overtaking!

            The thing that amazes me is that Tilke is a racing driver at competition level.. he’s not some gumby with only a construction company.

            Maybe he should race some open wheelers with downforce so he can ‘get it’ a little bit more.. where not running taxis here.

            But I do honestly think its a bit of both.. regs and Tilke.. my idea.. CHANGE BOTH!

          • CLK_GTR said on 27th May 2010, 14:37

            WILL: Karts arn’t affected by downforce


  4. Jarred Walmsley said on 26th May 2010, 10:07

    Ohh, yes he should definitely be kept away, while he has his moments and does create some nice tracks, it gets very boring if they are all the same or very similar

  5. James said on 26th May 2010, 10:08

    I say yes, keep him away. If another designer is chosen and the track is a success, then we can infer that maybe it is Tilke. If someone else designs the track and that person creates a race track which is bland and boring, we can draw some conclusion that the rules and regs of track design are wrong

  6. sumedh said on 26th May 2010, 10:10

    I tend to defend Tilke a lot.

    Yes, FIA rules are to blame more than Tilke. But I think, FIA will realize this only when some designer other than Tilke also ends up making a boring track. Only then, will FIA relax some of its track rules.

    So, giving Texas circuit to someone other than Tilke will help Formula One in the long run.

    So yeah, no Tilke for Austin!!

  7. pgj said on 26th May 2010, 10:14

    I hope the US do not give him a visa. He is an undesirable alien in my book.

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 10:25

      Too late – he’s already visited Jersey City and Monticello to inspect them.

      • Todfod said on 26th May 2010, 11:05

        If Tilke is bound by the rules, and that is why he produces boring tracks, why not give another designer a shot at making it. The other designer will design it within the rules, and if its boring, we know its not Tilke’s crappy designs destroying f1.

      • kowalsky said on 26th May 2010, 12:21

        and they chose against those!! why? because they were interesting tracks, and tilke thought not suitable for f1. An undesirable alien, that’s correct, like someone said.
        But like another one also said, the problem, it’s within the fia, with all those safety rules, that are destroying the sport we love. I hope todt, puts some sense into it, even if mosley’s errors, are going to last way longer that after his forced retirament.

  8. Dean Yamasaki said on 26th May 2010, 10:14

    Despite the rules and restrictions, I would be very interested to see what a different designer would come up with.

  9. Ledzep4pm said on 26th May 2010, 10:16

    General consensus is that Turkey is his best track, and that Turkey is likely to leave the calendar. Why doesn’t he just copy turkey and improve it for Austin. If we are going to have Tilke design it at least we should guarantee its a good one.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th May 2010, 10:20

      I like that idea. Just dig it out of the ground and fly it over with a few thousand helicopters…

      • Karan said on 26th May 2010, 13:55

        Keith you are a genius.

        • Glenn said on 26th May 2010, 14:55

          Bingo! lol. But seriously he does have some good designs.. I wont mind him paying homage to all of the best parts of his tracks and putting them together in one track. Sepand double straights, Turn 8 turkey, uhh cant think of anymore but you get the idea.. =)

          • joe said on 26th May 2010, 16:16

            can’t the designer take favourite corners and passing places and patch them together with the right entree speeds via the straights?
            seems so simple.

        • leon said on 27th May 2010, 17:05

          Whatever it is you are on Keith, can I have some…..

      • Jose Arellano said on 26th May 2010, 17:42

        if the rules are too tight he should be the first man pushing bernie or fia like crazy to allowed him some dispensantions

      • Adam Tate said on 26th May 2010, 19:47

        That would rock Keith.

      • kowalsky said on 26th May 2010, 22:25

        yes. like the castles american millionares used to buy from europe back in the 80’s. Just build a nice fast race track that fans like, and don’t focus on safety in a sick way like mosley did. Let’s start rebuilding the sport we love with this race track. The first of a new era.

  10. M|att said on 26th May 2010, 10:23

    Quoted from a previous article Keith:

    “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?”

    Pretty much sums it up for me!

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 10:33

      There are only two firms who build racing circuits to an FIA standard professionally: Tilke GmbH and Apex Circuit Design. I’m told Apex have a reputation for being late; they’ve got a project near Domodedovo that’s fallen well behind schedule and another one for the Middle East that was so late it was abandoned.

      • Arun Srini said on 26th May 2010, 12:18

        why not tilke give his role to another designer in the tilke gmbh company itself and see what fresh minds can do?

        I’d think this could happen only when pigs can fly.. oh well

      • LewisC said on 26th May 2010, 12:21

        Silverstone’s redesign was designed by Populous and built by Buckingham Group, I think?

      • I am the owner and project manager for the Domodedovo circuit. In 2007 our company appointed Apex Circuit Design following a competitive tender against two other providers of this type of service. Their work was always on time, was cost-competitive, was always to the highest quality and always presented solutions for us to generate revenue and reduce costs. Completely the opposite to what Prisoner Monkeys states.

        Apex Circuit Design had won our tender for master-planning in December 2007 and in February 2008 FIA provisionally approved our circuit design. Our funding sources collapsed as a result of the global financial crisis at the end of 2008.

        I remain positive that funding to complete the project will be found. The way our venue designed really helps now as we were able to scale it down to category 3 circuit and reduce our expenditures before we start operation and complete the full circuit. I also must say that tender drawings from Apex Circuit Design are equal in quality to construction drawings according to the local standards – that just shows the top level of engineering we received from our designer.

        I am very concerned to see reference to my project at Domodedovo and any claims by Prisoner Monkeys or his informants that the delays we experience have anything to do with Apex. This is completely untrue.

    • Mark Hitchcock said on 26th May 2010, 10:37

      Yep, absolutely right.

      Even within the strict rules there must be some scope for experimentation…but we won’t really know that until a fresh new designer is brought in to push the rules a bit.

  11. Bartholomew said on 26th May 2010, 10:25

    There are many beautiful American tracks like Road Atlanta to use as a reference of American look and feel, so the Texas promoters have the opportunity of coming up with a signature look, by keeping Tilke away.
    Why is the US Moto GP so popular ? in great part because of Laguna Seca !
    Gentlemen Texas Promoters : you will put a lot more money in your pockets if you keep Tilke away
    Please gents make a beautiful historic track without Tilke, a track that will become an instant classic

  12. Here’s one for you:

    F1 wants to reach out more to the fans? Get 3 different designs, whether they’re all by Tilke, or 3 different designers. Stick them on the Formula 1 website, get people to vote for their favourite.

    Can’t complain there.

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 10:36

      It doesn’t work that way. Every designer has to play by the same rulebook.

      • Yeh I know that the rules are tight, but what I meant was, if 3 different designers (or, as mentioned above, Tilke just designed 2-3 variations) penned Grade 1 status designs, i’m sure there’d be some differences despite being similar. That way, the fans have their say and the majority result would come to fruition.

        • Scribe said on 26th May 2010, 11:13

          This is a damn fine idea, if the tracks play by the rules there shouldn’t be a problem. Modern technology would allow them to create very detailed models of their tracks as well, showing gradient and interaction with the surroundings.

      • dsob said on 27th May 2010, 7:53

        Yes, every designer has to play by the same rulebook, but each designer won’t always interpret it the same way. Think double diffuser and F-duct here–both ruled legal by FiA, but not thought of by every team’s designers.

        Not bashing Tilke here, just saying perhaps some creative juices other than those brewed by Tilke GmbH should be blended into the mix.

  13. Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 10:30

    There’s two pieces of good news for Austin:

    Firstly, the event promoters are racers. They own Thunderhill Raceway in California, and it’s got some nice hills in it. They know what it takes to create a good circuit; they are not some anonymous government who are wanting a race for visibility’s sake.

    Secondly, we only saw the final circuit draft for India. Before the final plan was created, Tilke sent his proposal to all of the teams, who put the circuit data into their computers and got back to him. Modifications were then made for the sake of making the circuit more conductive to overtaking. “Improving the Show” may have some benefits after all.

    • Maciek said on 26th May 2010, 10:54

      That is good news indeed.

    • Invoke said on 26th May 2010, 13:08

      This is indeed good news. I believe the teams and drivers were consulted before the alterations to Silverstone were made too, this consultation can only be a good thing for the future!

      As for the American track, they say they want to emulate great European tracks like Spa, so I’m hoping for a high speed layout!

      • TexasSpin said on 27th May 2010, 23:56

        I commented the same thing as you about Spa before I saw your post. Austin has lots of rolling hills (I live here so I know) and I would hope to God that they come up with a Spa-like track here or I won’t be particularly happy.

  14. MAKRifayee said on 26th May 2010, 10:33

    I personally prefer another designer apart from tilke just to see how other designers interpret guidelines given to them while designing new circuit..and i think we all had enough of his gun design circuit….And keith if u had a poll for this i think the answer would be very clear….:p

  15. Sush Meerkat said on 26th May 2010, 10:38

    The rules need to be relaxed a little, they were made in such a manner to minimise accidents and casualties but with advancements in safety such as new types of barriers (at Yas Island), stronger monoquocs, HANS, Fireproof racing suits and incredible helmet designs we’ve gotten to a point where safety is almost at parity with the insane speeds.

    The two huge problems Tilke faces also is that Bernie wants him to create luxury accommodation to keep us peasants at bay, second problem is I don’t believe he asks drivers for their input which is a mortal sin since they know exactly where you can and cannot overtake.

    They’ve been racing all their lives and know what makes for an exciting race, but their just there to be the “faces” of F1, not the brains.

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