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. Deurmat said on 26th May 2010, 12:23

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

    • J.A. Brown said on 14th August 2010, 10:17

      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.)

  2. 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!

  3. sato113 said on 26th May 2010, 12:29

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

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

    • zomtec said on 26th May 2010, 14:50

      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.

    • J.A. Brown said on 14th August 2010, 10:20

      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

  4. 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!

    • Scribe said on 26th May 2010, 12:43

      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.

      • Don Mateo said on 26th May 2010, 14:12

        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.

  5. Alex Bkk said on 26th May 2010, 12:43

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

    • Xibi said on 26th May 2010, 13:34

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

      • Robert McKay said on 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.

        • J.A. Brown said on 14th August 2010, 10:21

          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.

  6. 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…

  7. statix said on 26th May 2010, 13:30

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

  8. Maksutov said on 26th May 2010, 13:35

    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.

  9. spawinte said on 26th May 2010, 13:36

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

  10. PJA said on 26th May 2010, 13:53

    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.

  11. GST said on 26th May 2010, 13:57

    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.

  12. Icthyes said on 26th May 2010, 13:59

    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.

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

      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.

  13. SteveK said on 26th May 2010, 14:04

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

  14. graigchq said on 26th May 2010, 14:05

    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?

  15. LeRoy said on 26th May 2010, 14:23

    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!

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