Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2016

Stadium sections: Great viewing spots or the scourge of modern F1 tracks?

Debates and PollsPosted on Author Keith Collantine

Designing a Formula One track used to be a case of finding a plot of land and laying out a strip of asphalt which would challenge the world’s best drivers.

However modern track designers have become more focused on the ‘fan experience’. This generally means creating section of track where the cars pass through more slowly, allowing fans to see them for longer.

Hockenheim’s Motodrom section was one of the first examples of this. Now the calendar includes similar features at Silverstone (The Loop and, previously, Bridge to Luffield), the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez (Foro Sol) and the Circuit of the Americas (turns 12 to 15).

They were designed for fans, but are they what fans want to see?

For

Corners like Eau Rouge may be spectacular, but how much do you really get to see? The cars only pass by 44 times per race and are in view for just a few seconds.

Stadium sections give fans much better value for money on their tickets. And when properly designed they can offer opportunities for overtaking, as Silverstone and COTA’s sections do.

Mexico’s Foro Sol stadium has allowed F1 to create a football stadium-like atmosphere. Incorporating the podium ceremony into it is a masterstroke which other tracks would do well to copy.

Against

Safety concerns mean Formula One tracks have enough slow corners already. This just adds another cause for unexciting track designs.

The ‘stadium’ sections at Silverstone and the Circuit of the Americas are by far the least interesting and challenging parts of those tracks.

It isn’t necessary to slow F1 cars to a crawling pace to attract large crowds. The hundreds of thousands of fans who once poured into the Nurburgring Nordschleife didn’t mind waiting for six-minute intervals to the best cars on the best track in the world.

I say

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit of the Americas, 2016
Going nowhere: COTA’s pointless hairpins
The strangeness of stadium sections first occurred to me when I had the fortune to drive around the Circuit of the Americas.

Austin’s F1 track is immense, worthy of the best racing drivers in the world (of which I assuredly am not one). But then you reach the stadium section and self-consciously perform tight 180-degree turns in front of the grandstands.

Is this excruciatingly slow manoeuvring really what F1 is supposed to be about? To me, the fun of seeing a Formula One car in full flight is about seeing what it can do, rather than getting to see it for as long as possible. That’s why stadium sections always feel a bit contrived.

Yes, this is partly a question of taste. Fans at Silverstone who don’t enjoy the view at The Loop can stand at Becketts or Copse or Stowe. And there’s no doubt that, with the Peraltada completely unusable for modern F1 cars, the Mexican Grand Prix organisers have made a silk purse from a sow’s ear with the Foro Sol.

But still I think stadium sections are something circuit designers should strive to avoid. F1 track should allow the world’s best drivers and cars to show what they are capable of, not plod around as if they can’t find a parking space.



You say

Are ‘stadium sections’ good for F1 tracks? Would you like to see more of them, and do you prefer to sit in them when you buy tickets to a race?

Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.

Do you like 'stadium sections'?

  • Strongly like (5%)
  • Slightly like (23%)
  • Neither like nor dislike (24%)
  • Slightly dislike (21%)
  • Strongly dislike (24%)
  • No opinion (4%)

Total Voters: 220

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  • 50 comments on “Stadium sections: Great viewing spots or the scourge of modern F1 tracks?”

    1. It depends.The Mexico stadium section seems pretty boring to me. The one at Hockenheim is pretty good (more turns, higher speeds).

      1. Agree, it depends how it’s implemented. The Mexico stadium section really has no overtaking possibilities and you can’t see any other parts of the track. I think this section is more about partying than watching the race.

        I go to COTA every year and sit in the grandstands (turn 11) to the left of the footbridge in the picture in the article. If you get seats high enough (which we do), you can see the cars partially going through the esses on the far side of the track, turn on to the back straight, see them most of the way down the straight, then finally through the “stadium” section where we sit. Even though the section is a slow section, the turns are designed cleverly enough to make for some great over/under action all the way through. All told, I see the cars for about 30 seconds per lap which is incredible.

        1. I would also like to add that the majority of non DRS overtakes happen in COTA’s so called “stadium section”. Also, I got to watch this happen right in front of me last year :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzaTUEwk0LY

        2. Oops, mistyped turn 11 should be turn 15 grandstands

    2. Good for fans’ viewing experiences, but they offer very few overtaking chances (Mexico being a fine example of this) and as you say nobody really wants to see F1 cars driving at low speed.

    3. I hate these sort of artificial tricks. A circuit should follow the natural contours of the earth as much as it can, and if not it should at least try and achieve a flow of sorts. Stadium sections largely make that impossible. Even Hockenheim’s stadium section is the worst part of the track. Same for Mexico. If a layout allows a stadium section, sure. If not, no.

    4. Not sure if it’s relevant but didn’t Silverstone, COTA and Mexico’s Grand prix all have about the best attendances of last year? Perhaps this is completely unrelated I’m not sure. I get the issues it causes with track design but if it actively encourages fans surely it’s worthwhile? In particular I feel very casual fans will be more inclined to go to an F1 race if there’s a nice stadium section which will seem more natural to fans of other sports. And at the end of the day if all the tracks sold seats like Silverstone, COTA and Mexico it’d bring more money into the sport and perhaps we’d get to keep more of the old circuits.

      1. The stadium sections have nothing to do with attendance, just look at Hockenheim

    5. I strongly dislike stadium sections on any motor-racing circuit, it is supposed to be a sport about speed and these sections are just so slow and clumsy. The stadium section in Mexico in particular is just pathetically slow, I cannot understand how anybody can say they like circuits designed in this way.

      1. I just had a brief look at the new track in Mexico and it actually has three stadium sections not one, so the whole circuit has essentially been redesigned to ruin what was a good circuit by adding these atrocities. The whole circuit is literally just a long straight, followed by 3 slow turns (read stadium section), followed by a long straight, followed by 3 slow turns (read stadium section), followed by 5 or 6 medium speed turns which have zero flow to them, followed by THE actual stadium which is made up of 4 slow turns. I defy anbody who honestly says that this new Mexico circuit is an improvement on the old circuit, it just isn’t.

        1. The lake esses were, as originally designed, a genius example of settig up the car into a rhythm, not just for these the turns but from the slower hairpin before and the bumpy back straight.

          If Hermann “I-hate-other-people’s-fun” Tilke had left them untouched, he could have put a carnival in the forum and it would have been mighty fine.

    6. Interesting. I’ve recently been using some spare time to redesign circuits such as Juan y Oscar Gálvez in Argentina, Sonoma Raceway, and this last week just gone, the old Hockenheimring.

      And in all of them I have included stadium sections, but importantly they are designed around where the track is, rather than designing the track around the grandstands. That’s the distinction. Making it work around the track layout is important so as not to compromise the layout.

      Abu Dhabi is a prime example of them not doing this. Turns 5–7 and 8–9 are designed around the grandstands and they are diabolical corners.

      1. I concur, this is the way to do it: design a section of track that will be challenging but slow-ish anyway then build a grandstand around it, rather than placing a grandstand and slowing the cars down through it.

        I’m thinking about the beginning of the lap at Suzuka: the cars come in at top speed towards turn one, then have to slow down dramatically and then handle the esses, all of which is in view of the grandstands.

      2. LovelyLovelyLuffield
        13th February 2017, 12:29

        I want to see them. I also want to see you on Reddit, r/RaceTrackDesigns, assuming you’re not there.

    7. The Mexico stadium section may not be great but the crowd atmosphere in there is apparently awesome (One of the best of any F1 track) having so many fans right there also makes it a great place for the podium.

      I think the one at COTA (In the image in the article) is better & that section of track has produced some pretty good bits of racing over the past few years & there has been some decent overtaking in there every year it’s held an F1 race.

      1. Large crowds having a great time in big grandstands look really good on tv too. For that alone, I’d say stadium sections are worth enduring two or three excessively slow corners per race.

        1. Yeah both of your comments have summed it up for me. I think the crowd atmosphere is amazing as is the closeness to the cars, but that the stadiums should be surrounding exciting parts of the track too, wherever possible. If not then still it’s just for a corner or two so is worth it.

    8. I think we should have some stadium sections. They certainly do add something really neat to a track I feel. But should every track have one? No way. We need more and more variation within F1. Mexico’s stadium section was really a breath of fresh air, not just for F1, but it also works really well in other series (Formula E and World Endurance). I feel that as a spectator, one of the few redeeming factors about going to a grand prix instead of a lesser series is the atmosphere, because it certainly isn’t the manufactured racing or the value for money. We don’t see a proper atmosphere at every track, so it is great to see one when we do go to somewhere like Mexico.

      Saying that, we need to retain the areas of track which may not suit a stadium section (be it for safety or excitement or whatever). We don’t want to lose some majestic corners just so extra grandstands (which may not be used) can be built. One thing I would like to see in F1, is a track situated entirely within a stadium, like we see in the Race of Champions or to a degree in oval racing. We had it to a degree with Indianapolis a while back, and the Hungaroring is probably the closest we have today, but the idea of drivers having nothing to see either side of them but fans in the grandstands is a cool one.

      1. Or, as in the case of many asiatic races, nothing but empty seats

      2. Totally agree. For me, they belong in the same bracket as kilometre-long straights. They’re nice distinguishing features to add to a tracks unique character…unless Hermann Tilke puts them on every single track he designs, THEN it gets tiresome. Hopefully stadium sections are limited to the 4 or 5 current tracks we have.

    9. I’m going to buck the trend, as I really like them. Or rather, like the idea of them. To work well I think they have to present the opportunity for the drivers to have a chance to battle through the section, and for that they’re completely dependant upon the preceding section of track.

      I like them because the cars are slow – you can see them for longer and you can see them struggle with the power. But the main reason is for the crowd atmosphere, which is brilliant with a larger, well-refreshed crowd. The chat and fan interaction is a big reason to choose to go to a circuit as opposed to switching on the TV. It might not always translate to the best TV viewing experience but the circuits need money too in order to put on the show. The more fans at the circuit, the better.

    10. The Motodrom in Hockenheim was good when the long straights through the woods forced them to go towards minimal downforce, drivability was an unknown word for engine designers, drivers had to shift manually via a stick, the Sachs-Kurve was an overtaking spot (and occasionally, albeit rarely, they were still fighting onto the start-finish-straight), and the stands were full. Today, when the cars are following each other one by one like on rails and two thirds of the seats are empty, its not good. Maybe we should add a sprinkler system and lower the ticket prizes.

    11. It’s totally about how it’s done.

      A slow corner is absolutely essential in track design these days, whether it’s a circuit designed for club racing, or circuit designed for F1, whether we like it, or not.

      Putting a stadium section around the slow corner is a good idea. However, the two shouldn’t necessarily be mutually exclusive. I’ve always thought raising the grandstands (like they did in Abu Dhabi going in to one of the chicanes) and allowing run-off to run under them was a great fix, and a method of keeping the fans fairly close to the action while allowing suitable run-off. Quite why you couldn’t have a medium/fast, long section using one of these solutions is beyond me.

      In conclusion, yes, stadium sections are a good idea, but let’s try and be creative about it!

      1. Excellent line of thinking, getting the spectator closer to the action…..

    12. I’m not completely against them.
      In some cases you get a complex of corners, that may not have the same flow as the rest of the track, but offers a chance for cars to compete in mechanical grip.
      In others, it seems like an arbitrary “slow down for the crowd” section that leaves little space for overtakes. So cars just follow each other, in wait for the next section.

      There’s also the location of the stadium section to take into account.
      If its just before a long straight (like in MexicoGP), why make the overtake in the stadium section if it leaves you at a disadvantage in the very next section (or if its more beneficial to just wait until the long straight to make your move)?
      While at USGP the tight section is followed by a long right-hander, where the car in front (with clean air and racing line) has the advantage. So it pays to push for an overtake in the tight section. Which we saw with the likes of Alonso with Massa, and Magnussen with Palmer.

    13. In the mexican stadium, considering how it is designed, I think that people watch “fishes in acquarium” instead of cars.

    14. It would’ve never occurred to me that stadium sections could be something to frown at. Never.

      1. Me too. Generally the pieces of track that make up stadium sections are the best places for racing and the atmosphere is great, great for tv great for spectators.
        The Mexico section doesn’t look neat but the ingredients are all there, the track just needs to redo the cambers, the aperture of the corners and widen that section but it’s quite good to watch the cars brake for the hairpin, struggle under power whilst trying to overtake. I once stood on the straight, I saw nothing, I heard the v10 (2001) it was more interesting to watch the car from afar behind the heat haze than to watch them whizzing by you. Breaking areas are much better, it always feels the cars are breaking the laws of physics, it seems unnatural to be able to stop so quickly, one thing that was also different was the gearbox noise, the downshifts and the first dab on the throttle. Quick corners feel natural after some time, it’s still great but I never stood on a spot that would make me feel the cars were incredible.

    15. I’m not sure if this one fits, but the main straight of Interlagos is kind of a stadium section. Especially if the viewer is sit at the end, where the S of Senna begins. This way you can see the cars at full speed, the overtakes that may happen, and part of the next straight. It’s a good example, as @strontium has said, of building the grandstands around the track, and not the opposite.
      But that one in Mexico is absolutely ridiculous. Even more because cars then get full speed behind that section, because of that little “gate” that makes the cars exit the stadium and get to a more exciting part just when nobody in the stadium can see them.

    16. Generally I dislike these slow uninspiring corners. However when it comes to these stadium sections it doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. A pointless chicane or slow section generally has no good reason to exist but a stadium section has a reason to exist. If those sections do what it says on the tin which is to create a intense mega sports event feeling then I feel their existence is justified. Even if they might not be good for the racing or for the spectacle in tv those sections do give something for the local fans.

    17. If they’re at a prime overtaking spot … fine, because that’s where the action will be.

      A couple of diddly corners where the cars are trundling though trying to save feel and tyres … nah.

    18. Turn 12, COTA, end of the long straight, beginning of the stadium section, if you’ve been there, you know what exactly what I’m talking about, it may look clumsy on TV, but in person it is an absolute riot, hard braking to enter, tyre squeal and smoke, seeing drivers wheel to wheel or swapping back and forth for about 20 secs thereafter through turns 13,14, 15, it is GLORIOUS in person and I guarantee you will be on your feet. Stadium sections are for the the fans at the track, the rest of it is for the the TV audience, which is the majority of the audience, and well the majority of the track too. I’ve been to several races at different tracks and from the paddock club to bleachers and besides the start/finish line in the V8 years when 22 screamers would raise your pores and make your heart race and no ear plugs meant risking deafness, Turn 12 at COTA in 2016 was the most excitement I’ve felt at a race, otherwise most parts of most tracks are actually not that exciting in person once the pack spreads out after lap 3, after that it’s way better seeing the race on TV.

    19. For me the differentiating factor has always been real high speed corners that are determined by the nature of the land on which circuit is built. Those corners differentiate men from boys, a 40 year old quote of an F1 master Jackie Stewart but still valid these days.
      Even though i’ve never been to a F1 race before but i don’t think that artificial stadium sections like the mexican one will represent a good value for money for spectators, because they can only watch cars there passing slowly.

    20. Circuit Gilles Villenueve in Montreal has one, if not the best stadium sections on the calendar. Right there at Turn 10 where a great deal of the passes occur. COTA has a similar location much like it at Turn 11 but there are no grandstands there and it’s sparsely populated during races.

      1. Agreed. Montreal is the best execution.

    21. F1 tracks naturally contains slow and fast parts, so if one can combine slow section into the grandstands in a good way like in Germany then why not?

    22. If you don’t want to watch formula 1 style cars driving slowly, may I suggest Indycar?

      We need different circuits with different sections in them, the nature of the regulations surrounding Grade 1 circuits means there will be a certain amount of correlation in terms of similar sections of track being implemented across different circuits. I for one like the technical aspect of this sections, drivers can lose or gain a tonne of time in them, whereas blasting down a straight at full speed then taking a gentle corner flat out, and into another straight, the gains drivers make is purely down to machinery, not skill

    23. I agree with the many people above, who wrote that it’s not the actual stadium section that matters, it’s the implementation. The stadium section at old Hockenheimring was one of the best sections of track anywhere in the world. Specifically because the cars had to be set-up for very low downforce for the huge straights and come the stadium were dancing at the edge of adhesion. At the revised, medium downforce, track, the section lost much of its charm. I actually don’t mind the stadium sections at Silverstone or Austin because of the great wheel-to-wheel through multiple turns action that they encourage. The stadium section in Mexico is however horrible, like the rest of that awful track.

    24. Neither… Silverstone used to be great. Mexico is interesting, Hockenheim is farcical as the stands are never full.

    25. It all depends, some stadium sections are great, and are interesting parts of the track (COTA, Hockenheim). Others are terrible (Mexico). Mexico has a cool crowd atmosphere, but that doesn’t change the fact that the part of track that goes through it is one of the worst and most boring.

    26. I think the fact we even have to discuss this is quite telling about what’s gone wrong.

    27. There should be a stage that the drivers have to drive over, hooked up to a microphone, singing out some beats. Imagine the atmosphere!

    28. Good for older fans who don’t want to hoof it all day and can afford the higher premium a seat attracts. Not so pleasant when they’re used to explicitly exclude “bronze” level race goers like at Spa where you can’t get near the start finish straight without forking out for a seat. You can peer through the trees from the final chicane if you don’t mind wasting 30 minutes of valuable viewing time to speed-walk all the way down there.

    29. I have to say i think it is actually -sorry keith- kind of a stupid question. What we need is different tracks. we can come up with the perfect recipe for the perfect track and only race those and it will be boring. The problem of the tilke tracks is not that they are bad by themselves. The problem is we have a bazillion identical ones of those. Noone would moan about loads of asphalt runoff if it was a once in the calendar occurence. Some might actually praise how on that track the drivers can for once push way beyond the limit, try banzai overtakes… . So back to the question: Is there a stadium at the track that’s kindoff in the way and that could be driven trough? Yes please! Are we gonna build stupid stadiums with weird chicanes in them? Please don’t.

    30. Indianapolis… Could an oval hold a decent track with the entire circuit visible to all? I think an ideal road course should be in a bowl or valley for universal visibility. A huge US oval might be able to do that, though I don’t think it’s been done well yet.

      I also think F1 cars should be able to handle fast and slow sections but I’d rather watch a fast section.

    31. Suzuka esses in 1st sector show that you still can have a great seating placement without compromising the track layout.

    32. I think the idea of a stadium section is fantastic. The idea of slowing the cars to a crawling pace through it is the problem. Here’s an example of one done right:
      http://teedupgolftours.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/monacoformula1grandprix.jpg

    33. I think they’re great, wouldn’t touch one with a barge poll myself. Give me a fold up chair and a cheese sandwich at Becketts any time. No interest in seeing the cars unless they are on the limit. But there are casual but motivated fans who want good access to food, drink and comfortable seats.

      Some circuits like the old Hockenheim attracted fans who just camped in the woods and drank beer, the sight of a car, a bonus. Indeed at the RBR last year we were camping next to a load of bikers who didn’t even go in !

      It is or was a broad church, a place for all. No debate to be had really.

    34. I was sat in the second to top row of the stadium section in Mexico in 2015. The only thing that took my breath away was the climb to the top in the thin air of Mexico City.
      It is so processional and not racing that is seen there. It was great to watch Perez doing a walkabout at the end of the Drivers Parade, and fine for the podium ceremony. But for racing….it’s a no from me.

    35. One that always worked well was the stadium section at the old Hockenheim

      – it added to the spectacle because the cars, in ultra-low downforce set up due to the requirement to gain maximum speed on the long straights of the rest of the circuit, would slither around and generally be difficult for the drivers to control
      – there was also a sense of occasion: they would blast off into the forest for nearly 2mins, reaching speeds of 220mph, before emerging into the stadium section (and humanity) at the end of the lap
      – the Hockenheim stadium section had an interesting mix of corners and gradients, all of which would challenge the drivers and show the cars off brilliantly

      Bad examples of stadium sections (the new Mexico track, Austin etc) don’t adhere to this template – they are too slow, no drama and detract from the overall experience. In short – they are manufactured spectacle, which is something that F1 does not need, and should not need, so long as the new administrators of the sport understand what has made it great before….

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