Should Tilke be kept away from Austin?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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

204 comments on “Should Tilke be kept away from Austin?”

  1. Untitled258
    26th May 2010, 11:04

    The rules need to be relaxed tbh, i flicked over them briefly a few weeks back and they just seem ridiculous. There is nothing worse then being given a brief to design something, and having thousands of rules to stick within, it makes your job 10 times harder then it needs to be.

    I do think we could have a change from Tilke though, see if anyone else can do something interesting within the rules.

  2. While some of tilke’s tracks have been promising, namely malaysia and istanbul park they’re all very bland im sure theres some scope in the rules for a bit of flavour.

    I’d get the guys who did silverstone to design it, if only to add a bit of variety to the new tracks.

  3. Can we keep Bernie away as well?

  4. Electrolite
    26th May 2010, 11:27

    I think it wouldn’t be the end of of the world if Tilke designed the Austin track. He’s done enough f1 tracks within the silly rules by now so hopefully this will be exciting if he does. But then again it could be another Yas Marina or Singapore. I think if he did design the track, the track’s location and how it’s going to attract people shopuld be considered. Americans love speed. Perhaps the before or after the pit straight there could be a bowl-style curve, for example.

  5. It is a simple matter of the impression of speed. Monza, Spa, Monaco, Interlagos all work because the cars are seen in proximity to background information. (trees, buildings hills etc). An image of a car moving across a grey tarma background may as well be stationary. Even Singapore does not work because the darkness hides the background information. Watch the GP2 during daylight and it looks stunning.

    Monaco can be a long traffic queue, but a car flashing around the swimming pool will always look incredible.

    Tilke tracks are corporate, souless, health and safety conscious products of the age in which we live.

  6. Ned Flanders
    26th May 2010, 11:37

    Why not just build an oval?!

    1. Electrolite
      26th May 2010, 11:46

      Or a massive figure of 8!

      1. Now THAT would be cool! Or, an idea I’ve always played around with, an oval with a figure-8 in the infield!

  7. Robert McKay
    26th May 2010, 11:46

    I understand Tilke is hamstrung with the regs, and that is 70-80% of the problem. I also understand anyone is constricted if you are given a “street” venue.

    But I still believe that it would make sense for someone else to try designing a circuit. Someone else may have new ideas or new interpretations of those rules, and further, a bit of rivalry between Tilke and someone else will spur on the actual designing of the circuit, and not simply the buildings, floodlights and coloured LED’s at the side of the track.

    I refuse to believe that it is healthy for the sport to rely so much on one person.

    1. Agree with you Robert. It would be good to compare two designers even if the rules are so restrictive that the tracks end up very similar anyway

  8. I don’t know why I bother commenting, the articles are so logical and spot on I can’t debate. Then PM comes along and makes it even harder…unless quick Nick is the topic of discussion :P

    I would say that another designer would be good. Mainly to see how they would go about it, I know it is the same rule book so would end up looking the same anyway but it would be nice to have some comparison and some variety.

    The rule book is completely to blame though in F1. I’m not overly happy that when we go to brand new tracks like Abu Dhabi there are already chicances.

    The rules seem contradictory to me; we can go to tracks like Suzuka and Spa which are mainly fast, flowing, have big gradient changes and the speed at the end of the lap is controlled so it is safer but a track with similar characteristics would probably not be able to be built today. It doesn’t make sense to me. Tracks like that should get a firm yes or no, it’s either safe or it isn’t but that’s just my opinion.

    Doesn’t Tilke consult the drievrs on track design anyway to help with overtaking? I think I read that somewhere but feel free to correct me. Perhaps if that is the case, the drivers should give more input as they haven’t been that complementary about new tracks in the past couple of years.

    1. Prisoner Monkeys
      26th May 2010, 11:59

      Doesn’t Tilke consult the drievrs on track design anyway to help with overtaking? I think I read that somewhere but feel free to correct me.

      He’s doing it with India. That’s the first time.

      1. Aah, ok. Thanks very much PM.

      2. That´s not true, for example he contacted MS for Sepang.

        1. Prisoner Monkeys
          26th May 2010, 12:45

          And Sepang was his first one. He’d done a few modifications here and there over the years, but Sepang was his first full project. And while he contacted Schuamcher for that one, he onl contacted Schumacher. For India, he’s working with all of the teams.

          1. Contacted only Schumacher .. and arguably its his best track and generally a good one that I like seeing. More input doesn’t always mean better results. But don’t get me wrong, I’m always pro involving teams and drivers.

  9. Lets just rally for a change the regulations to allow cars to follow each other closely and aid overtaking.
    Circuit design won’t really be of much concern then

  10. Keep him away at all costs!!!! get the company who designed the Potrero de los Funes circuit, San Luis, Argentina

    Stunning track

    1. Prisoner Monkeys
      26th May 2010, 12:50

      Nobody designed Potrero de los Funes. It was built over existing roads through the town and around the lake.

      1. That’s also something which makes F1 tracks great, to build on public roads. It’s what made the old Spa so wonderful (and circuits like Reims-Gueux, and others like that), and that you can still see a little bit of in the present-day Spa.

        Sadly, it’s usually too unsafe for new circuits today. Even Potrero de los Funés isn’t a Grade 1 circuit, and it would need “upgrades” (actually more like downgrades) that would take away some of the excitement. (which is not to say it wouldn’t still be a good track)

  11. if you don’t like slow corners, watch nascar.

    1. There is nothing wrong with slow corners per se, but it’s important to have the right variation of slow and fast corners, in order to get a “flow” into a track. So many (Tilke) circuits these days are like: “accelerate – brake, accelerate – brake”, so monotonous (take a look at Marina Bay, for example). If you look at the good circuits of old, you’ll find that one of their defining characteristics is how they have this flow of slow and fast corners, so over the course of a lap you have to slow down and speed up in variation, not in a straightforward, repetitive way. Even Monte-Carlo has a bit of that. (I don’t know if I worded this right, but I hope you get what I mean.)

  12. If Tilke’s firm is given some good terrain and good budget to work with then I cannot see any reason why they cannot come up with a good circuit.

    Having said that, I cannot see why any other consortium of engineers and architects couldn’t come up with an equally as good circuit. For the design of the actual circuit any civil engineer familiar with road design can understand the FIA requirements for the track design.

    As for the supporting infrastructure such as access roads, water, sewer reticulation, storm water drainage, electrical reticulation, lighting etc, any group of civil and electrical engineers familiar with urban development can sort that out. Likewise if briefed properly any bunch of architects and structural engineers familiar with commercial buildings can understand the requirements for race track buildings and grandstands.

    Personally I think it would be great if a consortium of Texan engineers and architects were put together to do the job! I’m working with an American engineer at the moment and he is freakishly smart!

  13. keith could you do an interview with Tilke one day? i bet he’s hard to get hold of though…

    1. I’d love to hear an interview with Tilke. Trouble is, he’d have to be very careful what he said…

    2. In a magazine in germany he showed his ideal track, which was something between 10 and 20 km long as it contained his favourite corners. i think he would show something like this also to Keith.

    3. I think I read an interview with him once in which he said the (safety) regulations and particularly the locations he has to work with restrict his creative ability too much. =c

  14. Genuine, snark-free question: If it’s more the FIA rules than Tilke to blame, how do we explain the fact Silverstone seem to have got it right with their redesign?

    Always given, of course, that it’s seen enough use so far to establish that they did. And, also, that was an adaptation rather than a ground-up construction project, which may be another point in their favour.

    Have to say that Richard Phillips’ remarks on the subject made us die laughing. He’s always good value!

    1. Well we don’t exactly know that they have, I mean it’s an improvement but the chicane complex added at the top of Farm before the new straight is an example of not getting it right. We don’t know if it’ll prevent overtaking into Luffield.

      Surley one hairpin would’ve been the right thing to do.

      1. The other point here is that we don’t know what Tilke might have come up with, given the same job to do. Maybe they’ve done a better job than he would have, maybe not, but we’ve got no basis for comparison.

  15. Get Adrian Newey to design it… he’s quite clever at finding the loop holes in the rules. ;)

    1. Great idea! I was wondering how Tilke never found any loop holes to exploit after 10 years of circuit design monopoly.

      1. Robert McKay
        26th May 2010, 15:22

        It’s easy to say the rule are too restrictive, and I’m sure they are…but Tilke still managed to come up with things like Turn 8 at Turkey.

        I think the question is more why he hasn’t come up with more equally interesting features given the number of tracks he’s worked on.

        The Silverstone comparison is interesting though – perhaps there the comparison is not so much between Silverstone’s Arena section and a full blown from-scratch Tilke effort as much as it is, say, the new first sector at Nurburgring, or the redesigned Hockenheim, which Tilke did (both).

        To be honest the Arena bit seems as much a function of where they had left to go, as much as anything, and there’s actually a bit of similarity in the two new sections in the twisty bits.

        1. This makes for an interesting idea: We should try to come up with better designs given the same patches of land Tilke was given to work with, and then see if we can actually come up with better tracks! I doubt, for example, that anyone could’ve done much better in Singapore.

  16. At first I was for Tilke, on the premise that things can only get better with practice, and its mostly the regs that limit the design.

    However, I found the argument strong to allow another designer to pen Austin and see if they can make something better within the same Regs. Variation is important, and I liked the comparison to 12teams,12designers.

    Unfortunately though, there would appear to be no one else suitably qualified and trusted to get the job done. Tilke it has to be then…

  17. Rules are rules, but not designing few places for overtaking makes me think “keep tilke away from any track!”.

  18. Surely Tilke can not be the only human on earth that knows how to design a circuit. Lets give somebody else a chance to design a different circuit with different logic and ideology. What F1 requires is diversity.

    The end.

  19. A few well placed rumours about dealings in Pakistan and we can get him on one of those no fly lists.

  20. I would like the FIA to have a look at the rules governing new circuits with some other people such as designers, drivers and teams and see if they can be altered in anyway.

    I have often read comments saying that classic circuits such as Interlagos would not get a place on the calendar now because of the rules if they weren’t already established.

    I agree that the rules do restrict what Tilke can do but I would like to see someone else get the job if only for the fact that I wouldn’t like all new F1 circuits to be designed by just one man.

    Also given that the Austin Grand Prix is scheduled for just two years away I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t have a design already because otherwise it seems it could be cutting it a bit close to be ready in time.

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