The track they should build in Austin

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Elio de Angelis and Keke Rosberg in a photo finish at the Osterreichring in 1982

Elio de Angelis and Keke Rosberg in a photo finish at the Osterreichring in 1982

Since the news broke that the United States Grand Prix will return to the F1 calendar in 2012 I’ve had emails from many fans in Austin, Texas about the project.

It’s clear there’s already great enthusiasm for the project from fans in the area.

In order for the event to be a success the race organisers need to start by getting the track right – something F1 has failed to do at many of its newest venues.

A dream solution

Fans have been vocal in their criticism of modern F1 circuits in recent years. Happily the message finally seems to be getting through.

McLaren team principal and Formula One Teams’ Association chairman Martin Whitmarch admitted in a recent interview with Autosport that circuit design is letting F1 down:

We’ve had lots of circuits, with Abu Dhabi probably the most bizarre one, where money is no object and they started with a clean sheet of paper. Yet you’ve got probably one of the longest straights in F1 with a chicane and when do we ever see an overtake in a modern-day chicane?
Martin Whitmarsh

So what should race promoter Tavo Hellmund build with his $250m on an as-yet undeveloped plot of land in Austin?

My dream solution for the American Grand Prix is for a race on a superspeedway. IndyCars have abandoned monster tracks like Michigan Speedway and Fontana (now the ‘Auto Club’ Speedway) with their 390kph (242mph) average lap speeds.

Although the FIA regulations do allow for F1 cars to race on ovals, I’d be amazed if it ever happened. And the challenges of building a superspeedway to F1 safety standards would be immense.

But, without wishing to trade in simplistic national stereotypes, F1 would do well to draw on the American philosophy of, ‘bigger, better, faster’ embodied in those fearsome superspeedways.

That’s why I think the United States Grand Prix organisers should make it their mission to build the fastest circuit in Formula 1 for its return to America in 2012.

‘F1′s fastest race’

In America, more than anywhere else, F1 needs a unique selling point. It offers a completely different style of racing to NASCAR and cannot rival the home-grown popularity of that series.

Instead it should play to its own strengths, and put on a race that shows just what modern F1 cars are capable of.

F1 does not need another Valencia, another Bahrain or another Abu Dhabi. In a country with tracks as dramatic as Elkhart Lake, Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca, another Hermann Tilke cookie cutter effort won’t cut it.

What F1 needs is a new Osterreichring.

When the Austrian circuit was first used for F1 40 years ago it stole Silverstone’s crown as the fastest circuit in Formula 1. Today Monza holds that title – even with two very slow chicanes F1 cars lapped it at an average of 251kph (155mph) last year

Providing it can be done within the FIA’s restrictions on circuit design, a new track in the style of the original Osterreiching with long straights and wide, fast corners could eclipse Monza’s average lap speed.

Yes, it would need wide run off areas. But by copying some of the better features of F1′s newest track Yas Island – its impact-absorbing TecPro barriers and raised spectator stands – this could be achieved without pushing the spectators too far away from the action.

Being able to sell the event as “F1′s fastest race” would be a boon for the race organisers. But whatever they choose to do with their race, F1 cannot afford to waste another opportunity.

It has sampled nine different venues in America – more than it has in any other country – yet failed to find a long-term home. This is the first time it will hold a race in America at a track purpose-built for F1.

Gimmicks like pit tunnels and hotel bridges won’t be good enough. F1 in America needs something truly special and different. This is my idea for what it should be. What’s yours?

Your design for a US Grand Prix track

What would you like to see built in Austin for the United States Grand Prix? Post links to your designs using Scribble Maps, Gmaps Pedometer or a similar tool below.

Here’s my preferred design – though I won’t claim any credit for it:

2012 United States Grand Prix

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178 comments on The track they should build in Austin

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  1. Franton said on 3rd June 2010, 13:05

    Actually, I always used to enjoy the races at Michigan Raceway. If they could do something like that only far far less bumpy, you might be onto a winner there Keith.

    • Brilliant idea Keith. Spot on, America needs a fast track, high speed turns and slipstreaming. That would be awesome.

      • Oh, i really dont want to see any kind of super speedway. We have one of those up in Dallas. But a fast track would be great.

        The land they are looking at out by the airport here in Austin is not in the hill country but it will have some elevation changes. It is also outside the city and not urban at all. I would love to see them use the contours of the land to do some special corners like the cork screw at Laguna Seca.

        • Franton said on 3rd June 2010, 22:40

          That’ll probably never happen since the F1 rules actually define the maximum gradient a track can be. This is why classic circuits like Spa will keep things like eau rouge, while newer circuits don’t get anything fun for the drivers like that.

  2. OEL said on 3rd June 2010, 13:09

    “when do we ever see an overtake in a modern-day chicane?” In GP2.

    • Mark said on 3rd June 2010, 13:15

      Agreed… I was at Abu Dhabi and there was masses of overtaking in the chicane at the end of the main straight in the GP2 race (and the earlier Chevvie and Porsche races too). In the F1 GP the chicane was about the only place at Abu Dhabi where there was overtaking.

      The biggest problem at Abu Dhabi with the track is the dinky looping chicane on the entry to the corner at the start of the main straight. That little dink removes one overtaking chance from the circuit and if it were removed then cars defending at that point would be compromised on the main straight – giving rise to more overtaking chances on the main straight.

  3. Mark said on 3rd June 2010, 13:11

    Monza has the record for the fastest current circuit… long straights, hard chicanes, wide open track…. AND it ends up with masses of overtaking, even in recent years.

    These long fast open circuits are the ones the fans love and which generate the most overtaking… Monza, Silverstone, Spa, Montreal.

    We need more circuits like that – not the plastic circuits like bahrain, valencia, etc.

  4. Adam said on 3rd June 2010, 13:12

    I’m thinking that for the US they should probably build something that has lots of gradient and crosses itself 2 or 3 times . . . and maybe had a jump in it? Just build one of the tracks from Speed Racer ;-)

  5. Magnificent Geoffrey said on 3rd June 2010, 13:14

    I give up on trying to figure out Formula 1 circuits. I absolutely agree that the Austin track should have a special characteristic, like being the fastest on the calendar or being free of tight hairpins or chicanes, but then I wonder about the dreaded ‘dirty air effect’ that seems to be a bigger problem around long fast corners and that makes me worry whether building a long, fast track would be conductive for overtaking. Then we have the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit in Montreal – tight, full of chicanes and a very sharp hairpin – and yet it always seems to produce very exciting racing whereas a similar track like Imola didn’t so much. Could someone please figure out this problem for me because I get far too confused when trying to think of what the ‘ideal’ circuit should be.

    • Mark said on 3rd June 2010, 13:28

      Circuit Giles Villeneuve has long fast straights and has plenty of overtaking.

      In modern F1 what makes for overtaking are long fast flat out sections/straights with attention paid to the corners before and at the end of those straights. That’s why Canada, Britain, Italy and Belgium are such great GPs and why other newer circuits are a failure from an overtaking perspective.

      BTW when you think about long straights I wonder about the effect of the rev limit. Surely if all cars are limited to the same engine revs and a lot of the cars are using the same engines or variants then the cars cannot get closer when they are in the tow.

      If could choose to rev higher (a rev boost button ?) then there would be more overtaking and more engines being blown up (because of people boosting too much).

  6. Shimks said on 3rd June 2010, 13:20

    Did I read somewhere that the terrain is flat? I can’t remember.

    Something sprawling like The Ring with the gradients of Spa. Something EXCITING. With trees would be nice – like that lovely autumnal photo of that upstate NY track that was mentioned a few weeks back – but I guess it’s too hot for that in Texas.

    Keith, you’re absolutely right: it needs to be something DIFFERENT, that shows the American petrolheads what’s good about F1.

  7. Hamish said on 3rd June 2010, 13:22

    Mate, good article. I agree that they do need to hit the USA with a “bang”, that is the only way it will succeed and grow in the USA.

    On a side note I think the thing that needs to be looked at is emphasising the capabilites of F1 on the screen. I mean these things are ridiculously quick, and their long capabilities are simply mind boggling but nothing is done to broadcast these aspects of amazement. There were some camera angles at the Malaysian GP few years ago looking towards turns 5 & 6 and 12 & 13 from a highish angle showing the cars taking these left to right corners and they really showed the car in action. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I was amazed and am suprised that more effort isn’t put into milking the broadcasting options to sell the sport.

    NASCAR (North American smash car & auto repair) is a good example. Damn its a crap form of motorsport, yet it is delivered in a manner that I even find myself watching it from time to time.

    • Wificats said on 3rd June 2010, 16:21

      Whilst they’re at it, they should bring in the Helicopter pilots from the Hungarian Grand Prix last year. The aerial chase shots they had, where the ‘copter followed the shape of the track as it flew, were stunning!

    • If we’re talking about the same turns and camera angles, YES! I remember some shots of the cars from behind as they went from a left into a right at high speed. In my mind, it was a lower camera angle and for some reason the rear aspect of the car highlighted how @$#% fast those cars move. My second vote for camera angles that show the speed is Copse at Silverstone. They sometimes get that one right.

  8. Icthyes said on 3rd June 2010, 13:32

    No arguments from me Keith, but in addition I think it needs banking. With banking there would be something familiar to American motorsport fans, and it would allow high speeds and multiple lines for setting up overtakes. I don’t have an idea of the layout in my head at the moment, but some kind of Indy-style final corner with a Turn 1 like Tarzan would be great. I don’t have an idea in my head what the track should look like, but it would be nice to have only a few corners, with maybe a token sharp, slow corner to make another overtaking point.

    • Icthyes said on 3rd June 2010, 13:35

      Something else to consider is that the track shouldn’t be a white elephant to be only used for F1, but for other sports like NASCAR and IRL. An oval/road mix could help in this regard, and they could market it as a circuit to be used by all motorsports.

      • Adam Tate said on 4th June 2010, 7:56

        I’d love to see a week long Total racing festival with Not only F1 but Indy and yes even Nascar, maybe ALMS and Grand Am visiting too. Nothing more could show off the speed of F1, start with the slow Nascars, then the sports cars, watch the Indy cars light up the track and then see how F1 cars can leave even Indy in the dust, that would be a fantastic time, and any racing fan from anywhere in the world would want to see it. Dream big Austin, imagine what that could do.

    • Bartholomew said on 3rd June 2010, 15:28

      A banking section, maybe not too long , could constitute a kind of launching pad into a long straight. That way the skill at the banking section counts, and it would also be safer if this banking came after the slowest corner.

      There are so many good points in Keith´s reasoning, including doing something constructive with the “bigger and better” mentality

  9. stillious said on 3rd June 2010, 13:34

    Old Spa/Kyalami/Osterreichring would be very cool.

  10. tobinen said on 3rd June 2010, 13:34

    I can remember this track. It was a good one. I think they used it also for 500cc bikes IIRC, although I’m a bit hazy on that one.

    It was super quick in places, just what we want!

  11. Ilanin said on 3rd June 2010, 13:35

    The problem with the two circuits currently regarded as the fastest in Formula 1 – Silverstone and Monza – is that they both advantage a certain design of car so much that the winner is almost a foregone conclusion before anyone shows up.

    Monza is the worst offender. Do you have a Mercedes engine? No? Sorry, try the next race then. The FO108X is only a minor advantage at most circuits but the extra 10hp or so it puts out made Mercedes engined cars untouchable except in the wet.

    Silverstone is marginally better in that the cars expected to run away with the race are those with high-speed cornering performance, which is at least arguably what F1 is supposed to be about. Still, I dislike the fact that everyone expects Red Bull to dominate before a wheel has been turned.

    You can combine the two, of course – Spa does this, which is why it’s an incredible circuit. Interlagos and Istanbul Park balance three parts – a technical section for cars which turn well at slower speed, a couple of long, fast corners, and a series of long straights.

    But a circuit designed just to be the fastest? If a car is at full throttle 80% of the time, does that require driving skill? Aerodynamic efficiency? Or just a Mercedes V8 in the back?

    • Icthyes said on 3rd June 2010, 20:03

      Stick a high-downforce corner and token fiddly bit in it then ;-)

    • Dave in NZL said on 3rd June 2010, 21:48

      It would require balls of steel! And I look forward to the Renault engines in the back of the RedBull giving the Mercs a run for their money at Silverstone, at least.

      • JSC said on 3rd June 2010, 21:57

        I seem to remember a Ferrari powered Toro Rosso winning at Monza a couple years ago :)… but you’re right, what we need is an American Spa!

  12. Robert McKay said on 3rd June 2010, 13:36

    “F1 does not need another Valencia, another Bahrain or another Abu Dhabi. In a country with tracks as dramatic as Elkhart Lake, Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca, another Hermann Tilke cookie cutter effort won’t cut it.”

    If they just give Tilke that brief that’s at least a start.

    “Gimmicks like pit tunnels and hotel bridges won’t be good enough. F1 needs in America needs something truly special and different.”

    Not just in America! :-D

    Just don’t overdesign it and give it 24 corners where 12 will do and that will be progress…

  13. Damon said on 3rd June 2010, 13:49

    An old Hockenheimring PLEEEEEASE!!!!

  14. Raymond said on 3rd June 2010, 14:02

    How about an oval then? :P

  15. Karan said on 3rd June 2010, 14:04

    I would like something with really fast in Austin. Something where the cars swing through quick and long s-bends, and cars getting some air. I would like long wavy sections where 3-4 cars are in each other’s slip streams (americans would love this and the drivers would be pushed to the limit).

    • LewisC said on 3rd June 2010, 15:33

      Sadly, the track definitely can’t be designed so as to make the cars “get air”. The downside of ground-effect downforce is that when you break the ‘suction’, the car suddenly becomes very light… and you can ask Mark Webber what he thinks of that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQbgSe9S54I

      The principle of having ‘The Fastest Track In F1′ is a great one though. Teams would run almost no rear wing, so there’d be very little turbulence and they’d be able to slipstream better – everyone wins!

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