Circuit of the Americas, 2012

A Tilke F1 track designer explains why FIA rules mean no more Suzukas

InterviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Christian Epp, Circuit of the Americas, 2013Recreating great F1 corners like Eau Rouge and popular tracks like Suzuka is practically impossible due to the FIA’s rules on circuit design, according to the man who designed the newest track on the calendar.

Christian Epp, a director at Tilke Gmbh who created the finished design for the Circuit of the Americas, explained how regulations have stifled creativity in circuit design.

Speaking to F1 Fanatic at COTA last week Epp said FIA track regulations made it impossible to recreate corners like Eau Rouge.

“Definitely from the compression that you would have, from the driving dynamics basically that you would generate on a car you could… they would not be approved by FIA,” he said. “So the FIA has certain regulations in place today that we would not be able to develop.”

In the case of COTA, race organiser Tavo Hellmund originally approached Tilke with a list of classic corners from other circuits to draw inspiration from. Epp recalls the conversation being: “OK Christian, we want elements like Eau Rouge, we want the corkscrew, we want like Suzuka, we want Maggotts/Beckets section…”

But fitting in many such corners was not achievable. “Some of them – for example Eau Rouge – if you take Eau Rouge in Formula One you need to drive it with 300 kilometres an hour,” explained Epp. “So to set up a turn of 300 kilometres an hour you need a straight of almost a kilometre to reach that speed.”

“So it’s not that easy. Once you want to incorporate one of these features you’re very limited. You can do maybe three or four of these features but for sure not ten. It would be, really, it would be 30 or 40 miles long track if you would try to incorporate them.”

Run-off and safety

COTA 2012Former F1 driver Anthony Davidson recently criticised modern track design, telling The Guardian “on some modern circuits it’s pathetic when you see drivers going off the track and nothing happens” due to the vast expanses of run-off.

Ahead of last week’s race in Japan Jenson Button said he especially enjoyed the Suzuka track because the limited run-off made it “unforgiving”.

Epp admitted a degree of frustration that modern tracks were compared unfavourably with older circuits which were built to less exacting standards but said: “on the other hand… people want the safety”.

“So when [Ayrton] Senna died, for example, or when any of these Formula One idols die people question a lot, and they say ‘what happened, what went wrong, what can we do better?’ So they worked on the car and we worked on the track so that’s what happened the last 20 years, really a track evolution and making it much safer for the drivers.”

‘Playing with topography’

In order to create dramatic corners designers need suitable land to work with in the first place. “Eau Rouge is Eau Rouge only because of the change of elevation,” says Epp.

At COTA, they had that. “On this particular track we were lucky enough to be involved in selection of the piece of land,” said Epp. “So really being able to choose a piece of land that provides this elevation change.”

The opening sequence of fast corners at COTA, which won praise from drivers during its inaugural race last year, “basically plays with the topography”.

Start, Circuit of the Americas, 2012“We do not get that every time so other race tracks we come and it’s a flat piece of land and we have to live with that land and have to create the best thing we can do. I think we were fortunate enough here to play with it, it’s much easier for us, gives us more opportunity to create an exciting race track.”

But beyond just creating the layout of the track Tilke have other objectives to fulfil. “We at Tilke do much more than than only the track and the track safety and the features,” said Epp.

“We really develop a turn-key venue so that all of these different players can come and use the venue from day one. It’s media, it’s drivers, it’s teams, it’s FIA, it’s the spectators, all of these different type of groups.

“For example on race day you have 120,000 people that one day one need to experience this venue. And they all will give you the feedback on what it is. For sure the driver is the one that we care a lot because we want to have a great track and it’s about the track. But also every spectator has an important opinion on the work that we do.”

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Images ?Ú?« F1 Fanatic, Tilke, COTA/LAT