A number of the newer Formula 1 venues have been accused of being boring, and all new venues of the current generation have been designed by Hermann Tilke. Tilke first came onto the F1 scene in the 1990’s when he redesigned the old Österreichring in Austria, that track being rechristened as the A-1 Ring. The rather colorless newer nomenclature is emblematic of the Tilke approach in general, at least according to his critics, who contend he’s been a master of blandness who slowly has been destroying Formula 1. His tracks are elegant to look at from aerial shots, but often seem to produce boring races.
Tilke’s trademark circuit is the antithesis of some of the sport’s greatest surviving venues, such as Spa or Suzuka, both of which have flowing, high speed corners and are highly technical. Tilke’s tracks tend to be point-and-squirt affairs, that rely heavily on long straights and hairpins. Many of the overtaking zones are merely theoretical, and when coupled with modern F1 cars, which are designed for maximum aero-efficiency (read: minimal overtaking), the result can be high speed parade laps, with most of the action resulting from pit stops.
But wait. Herman Tilke has sent word from his bunker that he has been given the go ahead from El Supremo Bernie Ecclestone to become more aggressive in his track design. “A lot of good ideas come from Bernie Ecclestone,” Tilke recently told Autosport. “He has a good view on it. Now, we are going much more to the edge than we have some years before – in terms of elevation and the types of corner we have.”
In his own defense against the charge of generally anemic track design, Tilke elaborated on some of the challenges he faced, saying, “Nowadays you need the run-off areas. The FIA will not accept tracks without the run-off. Having wide run-offs is not ideal for the view, and is very different from the old tracks where the guardrail was right by the edge of the track. It used to be completely different, but in our times it is not possible to do that anymore. Then, remember, most track owners and investors want to have motorcycles too. And motorcycles have to have even more run-off, and different types. And some corners where for F1 or cars you do not need any run off, for motorcycles you need it. Then people criticize it and say, ‘it is stupid to have this run off!'”
It would be interesting to see Tilke come up with something radical, to be sure. Of course, the mere fact the Tilke and Uncle Bernie are talking about even more new venues implies that some of the existing venues will be sacrificed to make room (most of the teams have agreed that 20 races per year should be the maximum allowed). Silverstone has a new contract, so apparently that venue is safe. But Spa and Suzuka, arguably the two greatest circuits currently on the calendar, are on tenuous ground. Meanwhile, a track like Hungary, (which is, to put it charitably, a bore) seems to be set in stone for the remainder of the new millennium.
Many of the F1 cognoscenti seem to agree that Formula 1 must turn a corner in order to survive. While bolstering the economy of the sport is essential, there’s also the question of improving the show. More radical circuits could be a key ingredient here. There are also plans afoot to totally revamp the formula, allowing a return of ground effects, and calling for a new engine standard of a 1.6 liter, 4 cylinder turbo engine, which would replace the current naturally aspirated 2.4 liter V-8. The new engine would have a rev limit of 10,000 rpm, which would be a reduction of nearly half. The new powerplants would produce an estimated 650 bhp, and would be capable of short bursts of an extra 150 bhp, through the use of a new KERS system.
These changes are set to take effect for the 2013 season. This would be the year after Michael Schumacher’s current contract runs out, which means that his long and partially interrupted career would be neatly bracketed by two turbo eras. Perhaps the opportunity to race turbos would tempt him to extend his career even further.