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?

  1. UneedAFinn2Win said on 26th May 2010, 10:40

    It seems Tilke has had his worst work come out of flat landscapes. I think they should try to find a mountain or a succession of very steep hills and deep gorges to create an undulating track with lots of elevation changes.

    oh. right. Texas. Nevermind.

    • Bartholomew said on 26th May 2010, 11:40

      definitely, the lay of the land will make a difference !
      we want hills !!

    • GQsm said on 26th May 2010, 11:44

      They can build a hill or two. They have lots of barren earth they can dig up in Texas, no one will mind a few massive holes in the desert.

    • sato113 said on 26th May 2010, 12:28

      is the area around Austin hilly then?

      • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 12:42

        Not particulary, but the promoter is apparently looking at three sites and since they already have one circuit in California, they know what it takes.

      • Paul McCaffrey said on 26th May 2010, 17:20

        Austin is on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. It’s the most beautiful part of the state.

      • ATX said on 26th May 2010, 18:25

        Austin is at the convergence of a couple of different geographic areas. To the West is the Texas Hill Country. It’s a beautiful area characterized by rolling hills and amazing Spring flowers. To me, this would be ideal. To the north and east the area is much flatter with fewer trees. There is also an area to the east in a small town that has become a suburb called Bastrop that has piney woods. I really look forward to the development of the track and watching this process.

    • Adam Tate said on 26th May 2010, 19:50

      Clearly you’ve never been to Texas, and definitely not to Austin, it sits at the start of the Texas hill country, a beautiful area that has more than enough hills and twisting roads for anyone.

      • J.A. Brown said on 14th August 2010, 10:04

        I hope they will make a track like the Österreichring/A1-Ring. Now that was a beautiful track flowing through the hills, in the middle of nature! Ahh, I could picture myself sitting on those hills, being driven around by cars. ^_^

  2. Marc Connell said on 26th May 2010, 10:53

    I just think there should be a battle between designers as well as cars/drivers/manufactures

    Yeah its the rules but people like tilke should try and out smart the rules like what the f1 car designers do :)

    • Get Ross Brawn to design the track then – if there is a loop hole in the regs, he will find it !

      • theRoswellite said on 27th May 2010, 5:12

        “Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that if Monaco applied to join the championship for the first time tomorrow, they’d be rejected.”

        At the heart of so many issues past and present is the business-speak of one BE.

        If his ideas, as translated through the rules of the FIA (and I hope I am totally wrong on this), are held to be the one and only template for F1 track design, then we are left with track after track appearing around the world, never showing any individuality or personality.

        The obvious question might be: why would so many tracks be constructed with so little uniqueness or variation from a theme, and the answer…with conformity you have control.

        The FIA can eliminate any problems by stipulating to a very high degree the requirements of an acceptable track design. Just as the podium ceremony is choreographed in detail, so the layout of the track is constricted before the first shovel of dirt is turned.

        What the FIA and, I would guess, Bernie have failed to realize is: there is a price to be paid for such conformity, and we are all paying it.

        In my youth there were many exciting, even beautiful, tracks. Tracks that were a major not minor part of the F1 experience.

        I miss those days.

        • To be fair I doubt the FIA track design regs have been influenced by Bernie Ecclestone. My understanding is that the rules are influenced by current trends in what makes a safe circuit, and like design requirement for public roads, a “safe” road equals a boring road.

          I think the reason Bernie says “if Monaco applied to join the championship for the first time tomorrow, they’d be rejected”, is purely based on the fact that Monaco doesn’t comply with the design regulations, rather a rejection based on commercial reasons not to hold a race there. I think Bernie is smart enough to understand that F1 needs Monaco, even if he doesn’t get paid millions of dollars to hold a race there.

          I think the answer to your question “why would so many tracks be constructed with so little uniqueness or variation from a theme”, is runoff area. For a track to be safe it needs to have acres of runoff area, which limits the uniqueness from track to track, afterall how much can you really vary the look and feel of a runoff area? Some people also believe that sections of Tilke’s cirucits have too many tight twisty boring sections, and in a sense I agree. I do however think in part it comes back to the runoff area requirement, rather than a desire of Tilke to build boring circuits. The slower the corner, the less runoff you need, the faster the corner the more runoff you need. So it comes down to physical space to build the track, and I suppose spectator comfort at race. Do you have highspeed corners, and then grandstands 50 metres from the edge of the track, or slower corners and grandstands 10 metres from the edge of the track?

          And as much as the safe circuits might be boring, they seem to be working, afterall in the moden era there have been very few serious injuries (i.e. career ending injuries) and touch wood no deaths since that fateful weekend at Imola in 1994.

          • theRoswellite said on 27th May 2010, 13:49

            Excellent reply…thanks.

            Safety and the corresponding runoff areas certainly seem to eat up much of the available space at any track and that is as it must be I suppose.

            Perhaps my real desire is simply to have each track show some “signature” section which through individuality inspires. Unfortunately, I also realize that is something much easier wished for than accomplished.

          • J.A. Brown said on 14th August 2010, 10:09

            I don’t buy it. Surely if they need so much runoff area, they can just increase the total surface to build on?

  3. Jonathan said on 26th May 2010, 10:55

    if the rules are to blame for Tilke’s bad designes, then we should definitely give someone else a go since its gonna be a horrible track anyway why not try something new?

  4. vet4snak said on 26th May 2010, 10:56

    Tilke should collaborate with other designers perhaps even ex-drivers to have some input to design a good track once and for all.

  5. Terry Fabulous said on 26th May 2010, 10:57

    Let him do whatever he wants… But make sure there are sprinklers installed around the track that go off twice an hour.

  6. Untitled258 said on 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Can we keep Bernie away as well?

  9. Electrolite said on 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.

  10. steve said on 26th May 2010, 11:33

    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.

  11. Ned Flanders said on 26th May 2010, 11:37

    Why not just build an oval?!

  12. Robert McKay said on 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.

    • steph said on 26th May 2010, 11:49

      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

  13. steph said on 26th May 2010, 11:48

    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.

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 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.

      • steph said on 26th May 2010, 12:03

        Aah, ok. Thanks very much PM.

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

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

        • Prisoner Monkeys said on 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.

          • bananarama said on 26th May 2010, 19:51

            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.

  14. 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

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

    Stunning track

    http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2008/11/26/dear-bernie-please-put-a-race-on-here-portero-de-los-funes-san-luis-argentina/

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th May 2010, 12:50

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

      • J.A. Brown said on 14th August 2010, 10:14

        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)

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