While the FIA tweaks technical regs year after year in order to create overtaking opportunities for modern F1 cars (witness changes in front wings, rear wings, KERS, front wheel width, wheel base width and an assortment of other modifications that have been mandated by the sport’s governing body in just the past two or three years), there is a growing chorus of critics who are suggesting that it’s not modern F1 car design that’s at fault, it’s modern track design (i.e. Hermannn Tilke).
Jackie Stewart recently suggested that the German track designer, who is practically an in-house resource for the FIA, has produced a series of tracks in recent years that are aesthetically pleasing and clever, but are extremely bland as pure racing venues. Stewart, of course, was a pioneer of racing safety in the sport, and much of what is now taken for granted in modern track design can be traced back directly to his efforts to modernize racing facilities. But now even Stewart has suggested that perhaps the trand has gone too far.
McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh recently echoed the sentiment, telling Motor Sport that most of Tilke’s new venues were object lessons in missed opportunities. “Think of the airport tracks like Cleveland with the wide corners and more than one possible line and you can see how easy it can be,” Whitmarsh said.
“On the other hand you could call it an opportunity missed if they have one of the longest straights in Formula One [think Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi] and a chicane at the end of it with only one possible line. Brazil is a good example. The facilities are not good but the races are fantastic. So when you start something new in the desert and with no apparent structural or financial limitations, it is a pity that we don’t go the easy route and copy some of the greatest corners in the world.”
Apparently, the FIA is listening. They recently announced that “the Circuit Design Group is examining Grand Prix Circuits to identify the possibility of increasing the opportunities for overtaking.”
I suppose that’s one solution: if you can’t fix the cars to make them pass-worthy, fix the tracks. And what if that proves to be as the recent experiments at tweaking tech regs? Did I hear anyone say “artificial rain”?