Guest writer Ned Flanders picks his ten favourite Hermann Tilke designed corners.
Hermann Tilke – Formula’s 1 circuit guru of the moment – is not one of the most popular figures in F1. But with over half of the 2010 calendar partially or entirely drawn up by Tilke’s pen, it’s fair to say that modern Formula 1 has been well and truly Tilkefied.
In the build up to the debut of his latest creation, the Korean International Circuit, it’s worth reflecting on his achievements in Formula 1.
1. Jochen Rindt Kurve, A1 Ring, Austria (1997 – 2003)
The A1 Ring – built on the site of the old Osterreichring during the mid 90s – was chosen to host the Austrian Grand Prix when it was reinstated to the F1 calendar in 1997, and did so a further six times until its demise in 2003. A simple configuration made up of short straights connected by just nine mainly low speed corners, it was the first high profile circuit to be designed by a German engineer named Hermann Tilke.
Unfortunately for Tilke, his creation was largely derided by fans and drivers alike. What had once been a fast, flowing circuit sweeping through the foothills of the Styrian Mountains had been reduced to a stop- start course which offered little challenge to the drivers.
However, the one saving grace of the A1 Ring was that it remained as undulating as its predecessor. This transformed the penultimate turn, the Jochen Rindt Kurve, from what might otherwise have been a fairly straightforward corner into a challenging downhill right hand swoop which would have been worthy of a spot on the original Osterreichring.
2. Turns one and two, Istanbul Park, Turkey
Although many believe that Tilke designed racetracks are inferior to traditional circuits, one new venue which has been embraced by spectators is the Istanbul Park circuit in Turkey.
A circuit with elevation changes greater than almost any other on the calendar, Istanbul Park mixes the traditional Tilke elements of excellent facilities and safety features with a series of corners which both challenge the drivers and create overtaking opportunities.
Amongst the best corners on the track is the blind left- right at the beginning of the lap. The cars drop downhill into a medium speed left hander followed immediately by a flat out right hander, a sequence of turns reminiscent of the Senna S at Interlagos .
In the six previous Turkish Grands Prix, the complex has been the scene of a number of major incidents – most notably several first lap collisions and Lewis Hamilton’s manoeuvre on teammate Jenson Button in 2010.
3. Turns 12 and 13, Sepang, Malaysia
Another of Tilke’s more popular creations is the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia. Located around 60km south of the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur, the circuit’s arrival in 1999 was the first of many increasingly extravagant venues on the F1 calendar.
When completed the facilities at Sepang were unprecedented, with huge grandstands catering for thousands of fans and garages which dwarfed those found at older racetracks.
It has since been usurped by other new venues in terms of the grandeur, but few modern courses can rival its driving challenge. The pick of its many fast, sweeping corners is probably the fast chicane at turns 12 and 13. Approached downhill at around 150mph, the sequence is taken flat out and, with turn 13 effectively acting as the braking zone for 14, it’s a challenging corner for the drivers.
4. 100R, Fuji, Japan (2007 – 2008)
When the Toyota owned Fuji circuit returned to the F1 calendar for the 2007 season, racing fans were up in arms – and not just at the loss of Suzuka which it had replaced. The redesigned Fuji Speedway was criticised as being one of the most sterile circuits in modern F1.
Tilke had been heavily constrained by the circuit owners. He was asked not only to keep the track layout as similar as possible to the previous circuit (which had hosted two Grand Prix’s in the 1970s) he was also asked to ensure Formula 1 lap times remained well over a minute in keeping with other modern circuits. Inevitably, since the original Fuji was little more than one long straight connected by a few sweeping bends, this proved difficult.
Tilke’s unimaginative solution was to add a series of hairpins to the final sector of the circuit. Unsurprisingly, the new circuit went down like a lead balloon; Keith labelled it the worst in F1.
But Fuji does have at least one fan. Despite it’s undeniably sleep inducing final sector, I love the circuit for its incredible setting at the foot of Mount Fuji, its elevation changes and its history – Fuji was of course the setting for the first ever Grand Prix in Asia, and scene of James Hunt’s 1976 title triumph. With its long straight and ever present threat of rain, it also makes for great racing. And amongst its uninteresting first gear hairpins there are also a couple of excellent corners too. 100R, a long downhill right hander taken almost flat out, is probably the best of them.
5. Turns two to four, Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi
In the United Arab Emirates, things are never done by half, and the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi is no exception. Built on an almost limitless budget, the circuit is located on Yas Island – a $36 billion tourist development reclaimed from the Persian Gulf – and features such novelties as an underground pit lane exit, a Grandstand built above the run-off area and a harbour front section designed to replicate the streets of Monte Carlo.
Whether this ‘money no object’ attitude to building racetracks is good or not, Yas Marina is the most soulless of all the Grand Prix venues, and the $1.3 billion lavished on the circuit by the Abu Dhabi authorities could have been put to far better use.
However circuit officials did ensure some of the expense was put towards creating a memorable circuit. On an otherwise flat island, a manmade hill was created to add some variety to the circuit, transforming turn two to four into an Eau Rouge-esque sweeper. Approached at almost 160mph, the corner is taken comfortably flat out in low fuel conditions and as such is not hugely challenging for drivers, yet the sight of Formula 1 cars hurtling downhill through the kink of turn four in particular is impressive.
6. Turns five to seven, Sakhir, Bahrain (2004 – 2009)
It’s easy to forget that before it was extended in 2010, the Bahrain International Circuit was considered a decent circuit, certainly one of Tilke’s best efforts. A mix of long straights and a range of low and high speed corners, Sakhir was seen as a test of both driver and car.
Arguably the best corner on the circuit was the S bend made up of turns five, six and seven. Approached in fifth gear, the track bends left before suddenly veering right into a tighter corner, and then sweeping left again through the flat out, downhill of turn seven.
However, the corner was neutered by the introduction of the ‘endurance loop’. Located between turn four and what was previously turn 5, the extension rendered the S bend little more than a comfortable flat out acceleration zone. Circuit officials had claimed the new layout would offer “a new challenge and new overtaking opportunities”, and organisers have now revealed that next year’s race will take place in the original layout which has hosted the Grand Prix since 2004
7. Turn 14, Shanghai, China
The Shanghai International Circuit is one of Tilke’s most grandiose creations. Costing almost half a billion dollars to construct, the 3.4 mile track is dwarfed by the vast architecture which surrounds it, particularly the towering main grandstand.
Shanghai International Circuit aerial map
The track layout itself is not one of Tilke’s best, made up of several seemingly perpetual sweepers and long straights. But driving challenge is not the only criteria on which a corner should be judged. Tilke’s main aim when designing circuits is to provide overtaking opportunities and no corner provides as good a passing place as Shanghai’s turn 14.
As a test of drivers’ speed, the corner is inconsequential; but as a test of the drivers’ racecraft it’s as good as any. A tight hairpin situated at the end of a kilometre long straight, it’s been the scene of countless moments of excitement in the Chinese Grand Prix’s seven year history; from Michael Schumacher’s hounding of the Renault’s in 2006 to Sebastian Vettel’s pass for the lead on Jenson Button in 2009, and more recently Sebastien Buemi’s spectacular suspension failure in 2010.
8. Turns 18 and 19, Valencia Street Circuit, Spain
The Valencia Street Circuit is undoubtedly the most derided of all the Tilkedromes. Announced in 2007 off the back of soaring Spanish interest in F1, the circuit was seen by the Valencia authorities as a means of attracting tourists to the city and rejuvenating the dock area where the track is located.
However, poor crowd figures, tedious races and the venue’s reputation as a poor man’s Monaco mean that Valencia has become the circuit everyone loves to hate.
The layout itself is also largely uninspiring, yet it does have its points of interest. The final sector of the lap, a flat out blast through a series of kinks from turn 17 to 25, may not be hugely challenging for the drivers, but it makes for spectacular TV footage as the cars hurtle between the concrete walls at almost 200mph. The high speed left-right chicane that makes up turns 18 and 19 is the pick.
9. Turn 8, Istanbul Park, Turkey
Istanbul Park’s thrilling turn eight is widely agreed to be not only the most spectacular corner ever designed by Tilke, but also one of the best corner’s on the F1 calendar. An undulating left-hander consisting of four separate apexes, turn eight’s challenge is enhanced further by its jarring bumps; an almost unique characteristic not only of Tilke-designed venues but of all modern F1 tracks.
The statistics alone are incredible. From entrance to exit, turn eight is roughly 600m long and takes around 8 seconds to navigate, making it the longest corner on the calendar. Drivers experience G forces of up to 5.2g, with the strain averaging 4.3g over the 8 seconds. The quickest cars are able to take the corner at an average speed of 160mph, often gaining several tenths of a second on downforce deficient rivals.
Turn eight never fails to catch the unprepared, although its vast tarmac run off ensures few drivers ever make it as far as the barriers. In Istanbul’s inaugural event in 2005, the corner caused havoc for several drivers during qualifying, while it cost Juan Pablo Montoya second place. The following year, it was Michael Schumacher who was caught out, losing valuable time in his pursuit of Fernando Alonso.
10. Final turn, Korean International Circuit
Little is known about the latest circuit to be introduced to the Formula 1 calendar, the Korean International Circuit in South Jeolla province. But the track layout displays some promise – including the unusual final corner.
Over to you
For all his flaws I believe Hermann Tilke deserves more credit than he gets for his F1 circuits. Despite working under some extremely restrictive regulations, he’s managed to design some excellent corners, whether they be challenging for drivers, spectacular for spectators and TV viewers or conducive to overtaking.
But this is your chance to put me right. Do you feel Hermann Tilke has done more harm than good to F1? Is racing better at traditional circuits than Tilkedromes? Or are there any other corners or circuits designed by Tilke that deserve a mention? Let us know your opinion below.
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