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?”

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  1. Oh, dear. If it’s Tilke, then it’s another borefest, but will it matter? Turkey was hailed as a terrific circuit (mildly entertaining at best – well it is a Tilke circuit) and now look at their future in F1.

    It is after all, Americans and F1. Can’t you see this ending in tears?

    Will there be a GP in the USA in ten years time? I doubt it. American audiences will undoubtedly dwindle, and I can’t see ten years being realistic.

  2. Tilke should be kept away for one reason: it’s time someone else had a chance!

    It’s not that Tilke is restricted by the regulations, it’s that Tilke seems to ignore more and more with each new track of his the variations still allowed within the rules. Since Turn 8, when have we seen another great high-speed corner on a Tilke circuit? His latest creation, Abu Dhabi, was little more than straights, chicanes, and right-angle turns. Having had to put in a chicane before the hairpin as a necessity, he shies away from making it as heavy a braking zone as possible to make a possible overtaking point. Shanghai is nothing more than glorified copy of Sepang.

    Get some fresh ideas in.

    1. Agreed. Fresh ideas are lacking. Surely there is someone else who can give it a go. At least there would be better variation, whic is what F1 is all about.

      It’s not a one make series where all the cars are built by the same constructor, but that’s what is happening with circuit design.

  3. Just get Bernie to lie down in the middle and draw round his ego.

    1. We’ll end up with a 2 hour, 1-lap grand prix then!

  4. with over 6 billion people in the world, endless musical and cultural tastes, diverse artforms and architecture around this planet.. surely there is more than one person empowered enough to design and build a formula 1 spec racing circuit???

    is Tilke really that sought after?

  5. After reading the FIA regulations, they are strict only in the width, length, camber, etc of the circuit, and include a little formula (R=V^2/K) that is used to determine turn radius. There is nothing in there saying you have to put a turn in this direction, or that direction, or a chicane here or there.

    I personally think some of Tilke’s tracks are great for drivers and racing (Sepang, Turkey, China, even old Bahrain). We often discuss how its the regulations governing the cars that’s creating the processional races and while track design is occasionally mentioned, its not the main issue people talk about. It’s the cars that need changing! I’d rather see another old Bahrain before another Barcelona!

    That being said, why should one guy have a monopoly on how tracks are created. There are lots of great mind out there who all would each location differently. Let’s get some variety on the calendar!

  6. It’s pretty unclear why only one designer makes F1 tracks?
    He’s the only one smart enough for the job?
    The only well made Tilkedrom (Turkey) will be shunned due to low attendance(30.000 plus last year)and poor infrastructure around the track. FIA is poorly led by some pretty short-sighted people.
    Less racing-less money for everybody. Bernie knows that…or he really hates overtaking in racing? Not sure about that.

    1. Prisoner Monkeys
      26th May 2010, 14:56

      It’s pretty unclear why only one designer makes F1 tracks?
      He’s the only one smart enough for the job?

      No, it’s because his is one of only two firms worldwide that specialises in designing racing circuits to the standard the FIA demands. The other one is Apex Circuit Design, and they have a bad reputation.

      1. Robert McKay
        26th May 2010, 15:24

        Does it not help that Bernie reportedly has shares in Tilke’s company?

        1. Hmm, hadn’t heard that before…

          1. Robert McKay
            27th May 2010, 9:40

            To be fair it may well be bunkum, but I’m sure I read it somewhere.

  7. Prisoner Monkeys
    26th May 2010, 14:37

    Based on some of the reports from Austin news stations, a circuit plan may already be in place. They claim that it will be 3.4mi (~5.7km) long, and within 15 miles of the airport.

    1. FYI PM

      The Promoter has nothing to do with Thunderhill Raceway Park in California.

      From Adam Cooper:
      The company behind the race is Full Throttle Productions, founded in 2005 and responsible for a modest NASCAR Grand National event at Thunder Hill Raceway in Kyle, 20-minutes south of Austin.

      1. Prisoner Monkeys
        26th May 2010, 15:27

        My information is faulty, then. The article I read about it was apparently oblivious to the fact hat there are two Thunder Hill Raceways.

        1. Here’s a link to the Cooper article which I should have included above :)

    2. Maybe they will make in the shape of Texas! There’s some track diversity for you ;)

  8. Competition breeds excellence. Yes, Tilke does have to work within the limits of the FIA’s stringent rule book, but he also has a total monopoly on circuit design/re-design these days. Keep him away from Austin, and give the contract to another firm so that we can get some competition among track designers, and we all benefit when the cream rises to the top.

  9. newnhamlea1
    26th May 2010, 16:05

    i think somebody else should design it… heres my design

  10. i thought common sense pointed to diversity with the way F1 tracks are designed, not attack of the “boring” clones.


  11. What they need to design is a track which really shows off the F1 cars well – F1 cannot and willnot compete against NASCAR for overtaking etc. It needs to have fantastic directional changes and great braking zones, and the fans must be able to see the cars upclose or it is doomed to fail. Personally I think it will fail anyway – how can they justify spending the huge amount on a circuit which the NASCAR rednecks will think is poofy?

  12. FIA rules are tight, but no rule states that you have to put long straights followed by slow turns. Ok, this combo should increase overtaking (all for the sake of ‘improving the show’), but you can’t replicate this feature in all the circuits you create because you’ll make them become soul-less, such as a cheap mass product. In his defence, we have also to say that the venues he had to cope with tend to be totally unattractive (except for Singapore, at the moment): we have modern masterpieces of contemporary architecture in the middle of nowhere (the worst examples being Bahrain and Turkey) and this is one of the main reasons why people hate Tilkedromes.
    Moreover, I can’t accept how he amputated the old Hockenheim: certainly German authorities wouldn’t have permitted to keep the old circuit, but Tilke surely could have done better than that Mickey Mouse track.

  13. Well, each new circuit coming up seems the same as the last big car park. I dunno who is at fault but the only thing I can think of changing is the designer.

    Depressingly, I don’t believe that designing circuits from scratch is an ideal way of doing things and I have an inbuilt dislike of what I think of as fake, temporary tracks. Spa was an intersection of some great roads, Silverstone was an airfield, Monza was once a big oval… They evolved to become classics. Of course nothing can be done about this, it is more just an acceptance that standing in a big field or desert and dropping Tarmac will never make a great f1 track. But maybe I am just old fashioned.

  14. Jose Arellano
    26th May 2010, 17:45

    i preffer them to make the race in an oval for some variety rather than another boring abu dabi

  15. James Brickles
    26th May 2010, 18:11

    Its time we had a different track designer in Formula 1, just to see how they interpret the rules.

    Tilke may have the FIA’s tight rules on his shoulders, but Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and the second half of Fuji were all abominations. Tons of space and he creates ‘those!’

    Turkey, Sepang and the A1 Ring were his finest moments, but please let someone else design this circuit.

  16. I like some of his tracks. I do believe he is working to the strict guidelines given by the FIA. I think the bigger issue in not who designs the circuit, but rather why the hell are they having a GP in Texas at all. Middle and southern America don’t want F1, that’s a given, it should have been in LA or New York where they acutally have a chance of filling the seats.

  17. I think they should just do a figure 8.

    It would be cheap and quick to build, plus loads of over taking.

  18. ……….and they could do tractor racing as support.

    they would be able to get John Deere as a title sponsor

  19. The Dutch Bear
    26th May 2010, 18:58

    FIA’s regulations are way to strict. We shouldn’t be too hard on Tilke. But I think we should give someone the chance, maybe just to silence the hardcore Tilke critics.

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      26th May 2010, 22:01

      Yes, I think that’s about right.
      I just had a quick look at the FIA regulations and I think Spa, if it was a new track applying for a race now, would fail on two counts. Firstly, I don’t think there is 250 m between the start line and the first (right hand) turn, Secondly and according to my calculations, using the R=V2/K would mean that the elevation change at the bottom of Eau Rouge and at the top of the rise would not be permitted.

  20. J.A. Summers
    26th May 2010, 19:03

    What about that company that did Silverstone? At least they showed they were capable of implementing good changes to a circuit.
    Or the company that designed Le Pôle-Val de France a while ago, they might not have demonstrated they can actually build a circuit, but the design looked interesting.

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