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

  1. Rob said on 3rd June 2010, 14:10

    The layout of the track should be based around a long, wide, large-radius S bend where there is a good chance to overtake from either inside or outside – in a similar way to where Button took Hamilton at the end of the lap in Turkey, except rather than being a slow combination it can be done at high-speed.

  2. sw6569 said on 3rd June 2010, 14:15

    Hmmm. While i’d love to express my inner F1 geek and name every great corner (in my own, humble opinion) i’m also still fairly unsure if this event will ever happen. It feels all too like Donnington

    Dunno if this will post but I’m getting java script and cookie errors? The site hasn’t let me post for a while, hopefully this will.

    I definitely can’t post in Safari, this is a test in firefox

  3. sw6569 said on 3rd June 2010, 14:16

    hmm thats weird. Well heads up to Keith, Safari won’t let me post because of Java and cookie errors (even though they are both enabled)

    • Mike said on 4th June 2010, 7:08

      Not sure, what system your running, I’m on a mac and both safari and firefox work fine….

      The site requires cookie’s for your posts, I suspect that’s the problem with you commenting. You Java errors suggest to me you may have some extreme security settings turned on, that don’t allow cookies or Java, so I suggest looking into that.

  4. David B said on 3rd June 2010, 14:22

    Keith, couldn’t agree more.
    A fast old style tracks is what we miss, and Osterreich was absolutely great in that sense.
    Long straights, fast bends, great gradients, no hairpins…
    Kyalami old style was great also.

  5. “My dream solution for the American Grand Prix is for a race on a superspeedway” … um, no. please no driving in circles. This year, for the first time since MARIO Andretti was driving I decided to watch IndyCar racing. It was good racing for the first 4 races then they got to an oval. I was going to skip but no, I thought, Keith says ovals have something to offer other than spectacular crashes. So I watched… and was bored senseless, KC didn’t even have a decent crash to liven things up (although the Indy 500 did).

    I like the idea of a lightning fast circuit. And as an American I can trade in my own national stereotype and say, yeah “fastest on the calendar” would appeal quite nicely here. Especially since all the reports I’ve seen indicate it’s going to be along TX 130 which is on the flat east side of Austin rather than the hilly west side so we’re unlikely to see the wonderful gradients of a Spa or even Istanbul.

    And maybe Icthyes has a point about one banked corner. It would be fast and unique in the F1 calendar.

    • Dipak T said on 3rd June 2010, 20:07

      Ive been saying this for ages, I think we need to lobby Austin to ensure the track is a low downforce configuration – a la Monza and Spa-Francorchamps. It would be a selling point, and by definition it would mean a fast circuit, maybe with with the last corner like old Portimao, but banked.

    • It looks like the hairpin at the bottom matches the Casino hairpin of Canada.

    • polishboy808 said on 3rd June 2010, 17:06

      looks actually pretty good, but pretty odd at the same time.

    • Dafizzner said on 3rd June 2010, 17:40

      That is awesome! That track would be amazing…

      • Prisoner Monkeys said on 4th June 2010, 3:01

        Amazing it may be, but all it does is copy other circuits. And that’s the problem with a “Greatest Hits” circuit – there isn’t a single original thought that goes into it, so there’s nothing new, nothing we haven’t seen elsewhere.

        Still, it’s a sterling effort.

        • Although the track might grab all the best corners from other circuits, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that a greatest hits circuit wouldn’t be anything new.

          Firstly, with any road what you see in plan is only part of the equation. The actual grading of a road (i.e. elevation changes, dips and crests, uphill, downhill) can and does have a major effect on the character of the road. For example if you took the corkscrew at Laguna Seca and took away the elevation change, it’d just be a boring left right chicane. Similarly if you took the horizontal geometry (the bit you see when looking at track in plan) from R130 at Suzuka but positioned it going through a dip it would become a completely different corner. Therefore in my opinion the terrain where a fictional “greatest hits” track would be positioned would greatly affect the character of the corners. In some instances the corner would get better, and in other instances it would get worse.

          Secondly, even though the corners look the same in plan, the approaches and exits from the corners are different, and they would also change the character of the corner. In isolation a corner is just a circular arc. It’s the addition of an approach and an exit that complete the character of a corner.

          Additionally, I personally think with any track the terrain needs to define the layout. In other words, the terrain needs to dictate the layout, rather than trying to fit a two dimensional layout to three dimensional terrain. This in my opinion has been the problem with recent Tilke tracks, they have been situated on crappy flat terrain, meaning there is no interesting terrain to dictate the layout. It leaves the designers with no option but to essentially create an interesting circuit without the critical third dimension. This in my opinion isn’t the fault of the designers at Tilke, it’s the fault of the owners of the circuit, and it’s why I think Tilke bashing is a little unfair.

          • Prisoner Monkeys said on 4th June 2010, 8:11

            Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you go about copying other circuits. There’s no need. Not when you have the capacity to make something good. A Greatest Hits circuit might be good for somewhere like Shanghai, but given that the organisers of the Austin circuit have their heart set on a Spa-esque design, there’s no reason to copy other circuits.

        • The corners are used are just a sample really of what I’d like to see and what I think would make not only an enjoyable challenging circuit but also one that will be good racing modern F1 cars on. Traditionally Tilke tracks have some very good overtaking opportunities but are let down by the constant radius mid to low speed stuff that makes up the other 80% of the track.

          For the track design I’ve come up with you can replace any the “greatest hits” corners with something similar but basically here are the concepts behind them…

          Start Finish Straight
          A long climb that plataeu’s out near the grid provides an excellent slip streaming opportunity. The hill climbing characteristic of Brazil and Spa is what makes their shorter straights work so well as different engines/cars are far more varied in their driveability compared to a flat straight in which all the cars will perform quite closely.

          Turn 1/2 “Senna S”
          Double change in direction and a drop in track height works well here for passing opportunities. The double change in direction followed by a wide open turn 3 allows for cars to run side by side without being badly out of position and you could imagine a scenario where drivers are side by side through turn 1, 2, 3 and down the short straight to the first of the Suzuka S’ bends.

          Suzuka S’
          Not as high speed as Becketts which diminishes the affect of car advantage and puts more emphasis on the driver hooking up the apexes. At this section cars are climbing but it’s only a subtle gradient.

          Pohoun
          This is actually a mirror of the actual Pohoun which is a left hander. Anyway right hander works in this situation. Ideally this would be taken flat-out so cars can follow without losing speed leading onto the “straight.”

          Blachimont
          Not really a corner, it’s taken at top speed without lifting in its modern configuration.

          Hairpin
          The second overtaking position on the track. The approach and exit are both down hill which leads into…

          Tunnel
          The cars dive underneath a grandstand that overlooks the hairpin and Blachimont. Emerging from the otherside side by side into the last true corner on the track, a tight chicane, you might concede track position here for better traction in the run up the hill to turn 1.

  6. David B said on 3rd June 2010, 14:45

    I don’t like the rettifilo chicane…
    Anyway, good exercise Matt.

  7. I’m no track designer so what I’m going to propose is probably impossible!!
    I think that the track should be designed with at least one complex corner that has more than one line through it, i.e. the normal racing line and also an all out ballsy line!! Imagine having to try and defend it!! :)
    I think it should also feature elevation changes and fast flowing/sweeping corners. I also agree that it needs to cater for American motorsports so that it doesn’t become another Istanbul Park!

  8. xabregas said on 3rd June 2010, 14:58

    US needs a unique kind of track, like SPA, MONZA, MONACO or SILVERSTONE so the fans can quickly remenber.
    To do that US needs to built a track that has the caracteristics of an US track, wich is turns with some banking.
    Of course the banking in the turns couldn´t be a big one like Daytona or Dover, but something like indianapolis or maybe Charlotte would be fine.
    So for me it would be a large track with 2 banking turns, 1 turning left and the other turning right, which one of them with a different angle, also some elevations like the ring would be fine.

  9. PeriSoft said on 3rd June 2010, 15:09

    I’m not sure why we’re even discussing it – every one of us knows in his heart that we’re going to get something with 2 straights, each with a tiny jink at the end to prevent overtaking, and 24 other constant-radius corners every 100 yards.

    Why bother?

  10. theRoswellite said on 3rd June 2010, 15:17

    Texas certainly prides themselves on their mondoness.

    Big is better in this area of the US, so a high speed circuit, or I should say..the highest speed circuit..,would be a natural.

    And, an additional bonus to having a very high speed track is…the cars must carry a very limited downforce on the front and rear wing, thus decreasing the “disturbed air” problem.

    There are numerous comments that decry the merits of a high speed track based on the perceived dominance of the Mercedes engine. Teams come and go, engines even more so. To even take this into consideration would be folly.

    I’d like to see a section of banking (90-180 degrees), but I’d make it fairly extreme, and coming after a medium/slow speed corner you could avoid the problems resulting from extended periods of high G’ loading on both the driver and car; also, put the grandstands on the inside of the turn and avoid the obvious safety problems.

    Keith certainly has it right when he says that in the end it needs to be different and special in a way that will excite fans and the entire racing community.

    • mvi said on 3rd June 2010, 16:10

      90-180 degrees banking would certainly be fairly extreme! You’d be on a perpendicular wall at 90 degrees. Reminds me of that Schumacher ad for Mercedes.

      • ajokay said on 3rd June 2010, 17:02

        I think he means a 90-180 degree corner length, rather than the degree of the banking.

        It would be good to see F1 on an F-Zero track though!

  11. PJA said on 3rd June 2010, 15:21

    I would like circuit that facilitates overtaking and good races.

    I believe the F1 calendar as a whole should have a wide variety of different types of track to test the cars fully and make sure you can’t just design a car suited for one type of track, so a circuit which would be F1’s fastest race could work.

    If the design isn’t finalised yet does anyone worry that there may not be enough time to fully optimise the design to the local terrain get planning permission and get it built within the next two years.

  12. sumedh said on 3rd June 2010, 15:31

    While S-bends look good on camera and in on-board videos, I doubt they are good for overtaking.

    Personally, I would like to see an oval. It is what the American public is used to, and will be a welcome change from the current circuits.

    Plus, OVALS can provide engineers with more innovative solutions, say, getting rid of front wing end-plates or getting rid of the rear wing entirely or having the F-duct operational all the time!!!

    While high-speed aero is definitely what hurts Formula 1, in OVALS; teams will be using absolute minimum downforce thus allowing for close high-speed racing!!

  13. “americans want a track with banking to relate to”
    Yea, sure . Off camber after a blind hill would be nice.
    Definitely a track with elevation change and fast corners over the rises. Something like Inetrlagos, in a bowl for all to see, but not per say a stadium.

  14. Prisoner Monkeys said on 3rd June 2010, 16:00

    Okay, I’m a terrble artist, so I’m just going to describe what I have in mind:

    The Main Straight
    The main straight is short by Formula 1’s standards, at roughly four to five hundred meters. It is wider than the regular straights because of the circuit’s unique pit lane: the drivers deploy down the left-hand side, make a sharp left and then drive down the pit lane in the opposite direction to the straight. Half the pits are on either side of the circuit with massive grandstands to create that stadium feel. The drivers loop under the circuit and re-emerge on the right-hand side, adjacent to the pit entry.

    The Haymaker
    The first sequence of corners is known as the Haymaker, named for the street brawler’s punch that can either knock an opponent out or leave you open and exposed. The first corner is a right-hand flick that the drivers have to lift off for, with the intertia of the cars carrying them to the far side of the circuit in time for the second corner, an almighty right-hander at a sixty-degree angle. This feeds out into a gentle right-hander that sweeps away and is very easy to udner-estimate and launch into a spin.

    The Switch
    The Switch is a sequence of sweepers that weave their way through a valley. The walls here are very close because the circuit has had to cut into the sides of the hills, creating enormous vertical walls that leave the apexes blind on the other side, the walls are all that separate the cars from a drop into a river. Think of the S-bends at Suzuka on cocaine. The bottom of the Switch where the circuit crosses the river is the lowest point on the circuit.

    The Spur
    A pair of hairpins might not sound like much fun, but Formula 1 has never had anything like this. It’s closer to a rally stage than anything else; the first corner – the left – opens onto the steepest climb on the calendar leading up to the second hairpin. The climb out of the second hairpin is much gentler, but the drivers seem to be leapig over a never-ending blind crest. There’s something similar to this at Charade.

    The Loom
    The next little sequence of bends is a lot like the final section of Valencia, but it’s very much a test of a driver’s skill. The sequence is a string of very slight bends, gentle enough to be taken flat-out, but sharp enough to require the drivers to constantly make steering corrections. A mistake here will force a driver to brake and re-correct, wasting precious seconds. Square in the middle is an endless right-hander.

    The Panopticon
    The highest point of the circuit (and also the furthest from the split pits), and it’s a real piece of work. It’s a right-handed elbow that sneaks up on you – especially since the previous section puts you off-line for the apex, so the drivers have to cut hard left despite the road not actually going left – and is treated as a double-apex bend.

    Nausea
    The road drops away almost as soon as the drivers are out of Panopticon, and it feels like a real kick in the guts as the cars bottom out. There’s a high-speed right-left chicane as the bottom that rquires a dab of the brakes to begin with (think of eleven and twelve at Albert Park, but sharper), butwich can then be taken flat out.

    Off-Balance
    Nausea feeds straight into off-balance, an off-camber right-hander made up of three identical apexes (though the camber mades it feel like its tighter than it really is). It’s technically classified as a hairpin, but it’s faster tha any hairpin you know.

    Absolute Virtue
    Directly below Panopticon is Absolute Virtue, the fastest corner on the sircuit. It’s banked. It’s shaped like the pointed end of an egg. And the drivers experience more G-forces here than on most circuits on the calendar.

    Breach
    Possbly the most conventional bend on the circuit. The surface has levelled out in time for the circuit to clip away to the left and up the final climb.

    Blockade
    The final bend a nice, constant-radius left, kind of like the first bend at Suzuka. A mistakeduring construction has resulted in an additional bend, a gentle and flowing left-hander immediately after it, that flows onto the main straight.

    The basic shape woud look like this:

    http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3779436

    However, the first bend would be sharper, there would be more flowing bends after it, and there would be that doubl-hairpin near the two-kilometre marker, which would look roughly like this:

    http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3779444

    And the section after Panopticon would look like the extreme right-side of this:

    http://www.granturismo.no/images/gran_turismo/gt2/tracks/thumbs/rome_night_165x168.gif

    • djdaveyp said on 3rd June 2010, 16:15

      Gosh PM, you’ve thought about this haven’t you?

    • mvi said on 3rd June 2010, 16:18

      Fabulous! Sounds like you came up with this after an impressive night on the town!

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 4th June 2010, 3:03

      Thanks, guys. The basic design – the layout I drew in Prague – is one that I’ve been sitting on for a while. I just thought I’d flesh it out with some interesting stuff.

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