Thursday Thoughts – A Change of Track

Three cheers for the return of Thursday Thoughts! If you missed it last year, this is a series of questions posed over the off-season, a different ‘host blog’ asks each week and invites anyone to respond with an article on their own site. Any blog can take part and commenters without a blog are welcome to write guest posts for any of the blogs. That’s far too many uses of the word ‘blog’.

While the questions are usually F1-centric I do I try my best to expand them to relate to what else is happening in the racing world, perhaps things other championships are doing which they can teach F1 and vice versa, because that’s the remit of this.. site.

Here is the first question of the 2010/2011 off-season as posed by Christine at Sidepodcast:

Which are your worst three circuits, and what would you do to fix them?

My answer:

We all know several of the races on the F1 calendar are very boring and the circuits are largely at fault. We face two choices to fix them:  literally fix them by making changes, or drop them entirely.

It is interesting to note that IndyCar held races at a lot of boring venues in the last few years yet for 2011 several have been dropped in favour of circuits which will hopefully prove to more interesting – some are completely new and some are being revisited for the first time in years, which I think is a fascinating mix, I hope it is the right one. Touring car series are never afraid to mix up the circuit layouts at the venues they visit so that is another option, one already tried spectacularly badly by F1 in Bahrain this year, hopefully that doesn’t put them off trying elsewhere in future.

In March I wrote a post saying people complaining of boring racing need to broaden their minds a bit away from ‘overtake-per-minute changes-of-lead spectacle’, but there’s only so much anyone can take and there really is far too much follow my leader going on in the current era across many forms of racing, so IndyCar must be applauded for taking these steps.

Back to the issue at hand. The first thing to do is to pick the top three worst tracks in F1. This isn’t as easy as it might sound.

2010 featured 19 events and I automatically keep those in bold:  Sakhir, Melbourne, Sepang, Shanghai, Barcelona, Monaco, Istanbul, Montreal, Valencia, Silverstone, Hockenheim, Budapest, Spa-Franchorchamps, Monza, Singapore, Suzuka, Mokpo, Sao Paulo, Abu Dhabi.
Next year it’ll be Nurburgring’s turn in place of Hockenheim and we should see the first Indian GP in New Delhi if all goes to plan.

I’d like to give Korea another shot as I think they’ve learned a heck of a lot there, I expect some modifications and they ought to have a fair crack at the whip. We also must keep India because it hasn’t held a race yet and deserves the opportunity. As for Sepang and Istanbul – I happen like them, I know some don’t but I reckon they aren’t all that bad.

Germany isn’t stellar at either venue but is by no means the worst. I keep but give a a thorough ticking off to Silverstone for producing a bad GP this year on the new layout – the turns are too edgy and technical now, sort it out.

Now we move on to the questionable ones:

I just about keep Budapest because it has been modified extensively over the years. Time was when it was easily the worst GP of the year, it isn’t now and that’s not just because some worse ones have appeared since, they’ve worked hard to fix the problems and let’s give them credit. There’s still work to be done though, they shouldn’t rest easy.

I also just about keep Sakhir on the condition they use the original GP layout. I actually really like that fast section into the hairpin on to the back straight by the support pits and have done for a while now, that’s a great passing place. That said, I reserve the right to replace it later.

That leaves four: Valencia, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Barcelona. I’m going to cheat and bend the rules to suggest fixes for all of them. Here are my three and a bit worst tracks, in order:

3a. I’m actually going to surprise everyone and retain Abu Dhabi. It is a fantastic location, ‘day into night’ always looks great at any race track anywhere in the world and it works really well in this setting, and it is the best race ‘facility’ (cough, ugh, hate that term) in F1 if not the world. What needs changing is the track and looking at the map and thinking of the space available after watching on TV the other day, this can be done relatively easily with lots of small adjustments rather than one big fix.

– The tight chicane (turns 5 and 6) before the hairpin needs either to be removed completely or reprofiled to sit 100-200m earlier and be less tight. This will allow cars to get a decent level of speed into the hairpin and open up passing opportunities. They say they don’t want speed there because there’s no run-off, which is a severe lack of planning if ever there was some. So move the hairpin 20m down the track to create run-off.
– After the long straight there’s a tight left corner which immediately switches back into a turn to the right (turn 9), I can see they were trying to generate side-by-side racing here but the corners are far too tight, there is only one racing line and therefore no overtaking. The entire preceding “long straight into hairpin” concept is completely wasted by this little corner. Open it out to allow for two or three lines, if that means removing the switchback then so be it.
– Follow along and after another long straight is another little fiddly bit at turns 11-12-13. Turn 13 doesn’t need to exist, just link 12 to 14 directly. I’m not sure what can be done for the rest of the way because of the lack of room with the hotel buildings, but just continue along the same theme of opening up the racetrack and removing the technical corners which get in the way of overtaking opportunities.

3. Barcelona. I actually like the Spanish GP as an event, it looks to have a great atmosphere (occasional racists notwithstanding) near to what I’m assured is a fantastic city. The problem is again with the track. There’s one good passing place, the end of the back straight. I thought they’d ruined it when they changed that corner but it has worked really well, lots of overtaking attempts certainly in the GP2 races if not always the F1. What they have ruined is the final corner, needlessly mickey mouse and apparently to calm the MotoGP fraternity – I have to ask, the old circuit is still there, can the F1 cars not use that? I’ve also had a bit of a bugbear about turns 1 and 2, nearly every race starts with someone in the gravel there and I can see it could be turned into a better potential overtaking spot with some work. As of right now the corner is too fast and too narrow for passing by anyone other than the most committed. But there is a much wider problem because the races were boring here long before the chicane was put in. I don’t have any fixes other than to say “no testing at venues known to be holding a Grand Prix in the next calendar year”. The teams and drivers know this place intimately. I reluctantly drop this event, and perhaps replace it with a race at Motorland Aragon.

2. Shanghai. I don’t know what to suggest for the track itself. The one positive about it – it is really enjoyable to drive on sim racing games. As a race? Forget it. My recollections of Shanghai are that when this is a wet or damp race it is enjoyable, when it is dry it is really boring. We can’t guarantee wet races and anyway, what circuit isn’t enjoyable when it is wet or damp? The place is a hassle for everyone in F1 to get to, including visas and travel arrangements. If you’re trying to sell the place to the world you want to make it easy for everyone. I think after six years we’ve had enough now, let’s drop this one. In any case I’m not particularly comfortable holding an event like this in a country like this.

1. Valencia. The most boring circuit to emerge in years until the Bahrain extension came along, but there’s hope. Look at the map. This track is salvageable simply due to the little connection between turns 13 and 25. That long section looping around it doesn’t need to be there. Unfortunately that section is a bit more interesting than the long drag through the dockyard but there’s not much can be done about that. Connect up that link, use the short layout for a year or two, see if it helps the racing and if not.. goodbye. Perhaps this could free up some lap distance to be used to branch off at another point on the track, but only if the number of corners doesn’t exceed 18 in a 5km racetrack. If none of these fairly drastic changes works, bin the event. Sure the beach looks nice, sorry that’s not enough.

That’s my over-long answer, sorry about the number of words I got carried away. Do check out the other responses which are linked within the comments of the question post.

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4 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts – A Change of Track”

  1. What they have ruined is the final corner, needlessly mickey mouse and apparently to calm the MotoGP fraternity – I have to ask, the old circuit is still there, can the F1 cars not use that?

    Believe it or not, the chicane is only used on F1 weekends. MotoGP still uses the old last corner – in fact, that’s where Rossi passed Lorenzo for the win on the last lap last year…

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  2. I think Barcelona (and anything else with a long straight) could be fixed simply by making a hairpin at the start of the pit straight with a massive area of tarmac going into the corner, offering many different lines *into* the corner. Too often there’s only one choice for corner entry, or the corners are too short.

    Defend too hard and you’re vulnerable from someone taking a wide entry. Take the wide entry and someone will launch it up the inside.

    Plato at Knockhill this year in the final BTCC race gave a masterclass in finding a different line into a corner to get better exit speed and overtake a car with faster straight line speed (Tom Onslow-Cole).

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  3. It was getting too long so I stopped but also I meant to touch on the FIA’s silly rules about preventing certain levels of gradient and camber – they aren’t helping at all.

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  4. Abu Dhabi would be a slightly better circuit if run in the opposite direction. Then it would be a straight into a hairpin, and not such a boring first corner. Obviously, the run-offs would be in the wrong places, but it says much about Tilke’s incompetance that the circuit would be better t’other way around.

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