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.
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?
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
Here’s my preferred design – though I won’t claim any credit for it:
2012 United States Grand Prix