F1 circuits history part 17: 2008-2012

F1 history

Five years ago F1 Fanatic ran a series looking at every F1 circuit which has appeared on the world championship calendar and how they had changed.

It’s time to bring the series up to date including the six most recent additions to the world championship calendar and the revisions at Silverstone.

Valencia Street Circuit

Spain appeared on the world championship calendar as early as 1951 and the race moved between several homes over the following decades. But the sport enjoyed a lukewarm reception even after it found a permanent venue at the Circuit de Catalunya from 1991.

That changed when Fernando Alonso arrived on the scene and won back-to-back world championships in 2005 and 2006. Suddenly the Circuit de Catalunya was building more grandstands to meet demand and a second round of the world championship in Spain seemed a viable prospect.

It arrived in 2008 in the shape of a street circuit in Valencia, a short distance from an F1-standard circuit where teams have often gone testing.

The venue had a lot going for it: great weather and beach-adjacent. But the stop-start track failed to inspire and produced a succession of dull races. Last year’s race was an exception, with Alonso climbing from 11th to take a popular home win.

However that may prove to be the last race at the circuit. The recession bit hard in Spain and both its tracks have suffered poor attendance. The circuits are supposed to be sharing the Spanish Grand Prix as of this year, but it remains to be seen if F1 will make a return to Valencia’s little-loved street course.

Singapore Marina Bay

Jarno Trulli, Toyota TF108, Singapore, 2008Singapore broke new ground for F1 by becoming the first venue to hold a race under floodlights at night. The ambitious project brought F1 into the heart of one of Asia’s major business cities.

Unfortunately the inaugural 2008 race became infamous after it was discovered Alonso’s victory for Renault had been aided by team mate Nelson Piquet Jnr deliberately crashing his car.

While the track may fail to capture the imagination it stands out as one of the longest and most gruelling races of the year, held in punishing temperatures even after night fall. Last year’s race failed to go the distance and was stopped when the two hour time limit was reached.

Each passing year brings questions over whether it would be possible to race at night in wet conditions, but aside from a few damp practice sessions this remains an unknown.

Singapore’s contract was recently extended to 2017 and the race organisers have raised the prospect of altering the circuit with an eye on removing the inelegant turn ten chicane.

Yas Marina

Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari, Abu Dhabi, 2009Yas Marina has given plenty of ammunition to critics of modern track design. Despite being built on a man-made island at a reputed cost of $1bn the circuit is conspicuously lacking in imagination with far too many slow corners and chicanes.

The facilities themselves can’t be faulted, nor can the impressive architecture. And the spectacle of a race taking place as night falls is impressive. But Yas Marina has generally not produced great races.

The difficulty of overtaking at the track was demonstrated in the 2010 season finale, when Alonso became stuck behind Vitaly Petrov’s Renault and sensationally lost the world championship to Sebastian Vettel.

However last year finally produced a race to remember thanks to Vettel’s demotion to the back of the grid following a technical infringement in qualifying. Even so it’s hard to view the track as anything other than a missed opportunity.

Silverstone

Sakon Yamamoto, Nico Rosberg, Silverstone, 2010The track which held the first round of the world championship in 1950 looked set to disappear from the Formula One calendar when Bernie Ecclestone announced a deal to take the race to Donington Park. That fell through and a new 17-year deal was duly signed with Silverstone.

In the meantime the track had secured a deal to host Britain’s round of the Moto GP championship, which prompted a change in track configuration to excluded Bridge, which was deemed too dangerous for bikes.

Silverstone is one of few recent examples of F1 track design work being carried out by anyone other than Hermann Tilke. Architects Populous tried to retain as much of Silverstone’s high-speed nature as possible and introduced a quick pair of bends in place of the Abbey chicane. This feeds into a pair of slow corners.

In 2011 a new pit building was opened on the old Club straight and Silverstone became one of few tracks to relocate its start-finish line. The old pits remain in place for lesser events.

Korea International Circuit

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Korea, 2010Just weeks before the first Korean Grand Prix was held there were still doubts over whether it would actually go ahead. Late-running construction work meant the track was barely ready in time for its first race.

That was then thrown in jeopardy by a race-day downpour which caused a lengthy interruption. The race eventually finished as night was falling.

Twelve months later the teams returned to find the track had seemingly been untouched in the intervening period. Grand plans for buildings to spring up around the final part of the lap failed to materialise.

Little had changed in 2012 either, though the promoters raised their game by bringing in Korean pop star Psy. But the fundamental problem remains that the circuit is a long way from the South Korean capital Seoul and has difficulty attracting spectators.

The track itself is a by-the-numbers modern affair enlivened by a few quick corners in the latter part of the lap. It will hold its fourth race this year but the promoters have already lost over ??100m on the venture and you have to wonder how long they will continue tolerating that. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this track go the way of Istanbul’s F1 circuit.

Buddh International Circuit

Indian representation in Formula One began with Narain Karthikeyan in 2005 and was followed by the arrival of Silverstone-based Force India three years later.

The Buddh International Circuit was built as part of the Jaypee Greens Sports City in Greater Noida, south-east of New Delhi. The track proved a popular addition to the calendar when it held its first race in 2011, but neither of its first two races produced much in the way of spectacle.

But the sport received a warm welcome and hopefully has a bright future in this vast and rapidly-growing country.

Circuit of the Americas

Start, Circuit of the Americas, 2012The USA has had more Formula One tracks than any other country yet failed to find a permanent home for its race.

That may be set to change. The Circuit of the Americas became the tenth in 2012 and proved an instant hit, drivers lauding the track and teams enjoying a friendly Texan welcome.

The opening sequence of fast bends is modelled on Silverstone’s sequence of Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel. It provided the dramatic moment of the inaugural race as Vettel was briefly delayed by a backmarker and Lewis Hamilton pounced to pass him for the win.

Tavo Hellmund drew up the original plan for the race in 2007, but was no longer part of the project by the time the race was finally held. He is now working on a plan to bring F1 back to Mexico.

The run-off areas were given a suitably American look with a stars and stripes motif, but they were removed before the F1 weekend on the instructions of Bernie Ecclestone.

Over to you

What do you think of the six most recent additions to the Formula One calendar? Have your say in the comments.

You can find all of the F1 Circuits History series here.

F1 circuits history

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42 comments on F1 circuits history part 17: 2008-2012

  1. Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 14th February 2013, 23:25

    An odd opinion, but for some reason I really like the Korean track. I thought the first race was fantastically entertaining (although that had more to do with the weather) and while the last few races haven’t been classics there’s always been something interesting to watch such as Alonso v Rosberg v Massa in 2011 along with a fantastic duel between Hamilton and Webber, and this year had some great overtaking as well. Take away Vettel’s dominance and I think it’s a decent track which has definitely entertained me the past few years.

  2. johnny stick said on 15th February 2013, 3:57

    I would love to see Singapore in the rain. If it happens, I hope the stewards let them race as true professionals that the teams are.

  3. LifeW12 (@lifew12) said on 15th February 2013, 4:20

    Circuit of the Americas is a perfect example of how to do it properly in the modern era. They chose an appropriate location close to a major city, built a circuit from the hills that were already there and it put on a great race. Remember the drivers comments about how the track wouldn’t be very exciting? I was convinced as well but the first 5 laps of that race changed my opinion on the track completely.

    Also it was very cool to see a massive crowd and the cityscape in the background, contrast to Korea which looks like its been built on Mars.

  4. Matty No 2 (@mattynotwo) said on 15th February 2013, 9:38

    I like most of the new circuits except Silverstone, I like the new pit complex but the track has to much carpark runoff for my liking.

  5. Steve C said on 15th February 2013, 13:21

    There’s no doubt in my mind being that I’m in Austin, Texas that the Circuit of The Americas was/is the best new track we’ll see. It was my first F1 race to attend live and the TV doesn’t do a good job showing the elevation change.

    If you have the chance to come to Austin in the future to see the race please do so, you won’t be upset.

  6. Alesici (@alesici) said on 15th February 2013, 18:19

    Some have commented that they wish that the rules that govern circuit design would be loosened up a bit, and I have discovered a small revelation… that they have! I don’t think anyone noticed the rule change, but the result, the Circuit of the Americas, seems to validate the change to an extent.

    Keith might recall posting a revealing article just over 5 years ago which quoted some of the regulations from Appendix O of the International Sporting Code:
    A particular rule, 7.4, ‘Longitudinal Profile’, dictated an extremely conservative formula R=V^2/K for the rate of transition of the track from climb to descent or vice versa, such that any new circuit designed with its own Eau Rouge roller coaster corner would fail to gain FIA approval. Presumably, in spite of its gross contravention of the rule, Spa-Francorchamps always gained approval on the basis that events had already successfully been run on the circuit, which is a clause in rule 7.3 for tracks which are too narrow.

    I just checked the latest version of Appendix O, and on the 1st of April 2012, rule 7.4 was relaxed, with the offending old section crossed out:
    Any change in gradient should be effected using a minimum vertical
    radius calculated by the formula R=V^2/K, where R is the radius in metres, V is the speed in kph and K is a constant equal to 20 in the case of a concave profile or to 15 in the case of a convex profile. The value of R should be adequately increased along approach, release, braking and curved sections. Wherever possible, changes in gradient should be avoided altogether in these sections.

    in its place, new, more lenient text had been added:
    “Changes in gradient, either convex or concave, must be made using vertical radii adequate for the performance of the cars. In general, changes in gradient should be avoided in high speed braking or curved sectors or where acceleration is strongest.(*)”

    Note that this last sentence was retained, and cunningly circumnavigated by Circuit of the Americas:
    “The gradient of the start/finish straight should not exceed 2%.”

    I tiny part of me can’t help but wonder if I played a tiny part in instigating this change (well, along with Keith)… In July 2011, I was lucky enough to be part of a tour of the Mercedes F1 team’s factory, and Ross Brawn was kind enough to spare time to talk to our group briefly. I asked him why there was an FIA rule which prohibited any new Eau Rouge’s from being designed. He said that he didn’t know such a rule existed. That was that, but it turned out, 9 months later, the rule was relaxed… Just sayin… ☺

    (Similarly I think I might have invented sculpting of rear wing endplates 15 years ago when the rules narrowed the cars, as I suggested them to a visibly surprised McLaren aero chap at a talk, only to find them first introduced about 5-6 weeks later on the new McLaren and none of the other new cars launched.)

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