Phil Hall has a rant about modern road race circuit layouts
I long ago gave up watching Formula 1. It has degenerated so far from the glory days of Clark, Hill, Brabham and the others who were my idols as a youth that I cannot bear to watch what crimes are now being commited in its name. F1 is, in my opinion, glorified slot cars with drivers who are more concerned with fuel consumption than speed and cars that sound like an asthmatic who is gasping for his last breath.
However, it still has its followers (God knows why) and it still continues to go looking even further afield to bolster its already obscenely overflowing coffers. Despite the downturn in the economy of many countries, Bernie and his minions (!) continue to compile the list of new, and proposed circuits in far-flung (and often ridiculous) places. Unfortunately, they all have one thing in common……THEY ARE BORING.
There is a reason for this. Circuits like the Yas Marina circuit in Dubai and Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas (only the Americans could concoct such a pretentious name) have one thing in common. They are all designed by the boring German, Hermann Tilke. Andthe overwheling characteristic of a Tilke-designed layout is a complete and utter lack of high-speed corners. They are all “made for television” layouts where a preponderance of slow, stop/start corners artificially keep the pack together and make it look (at least to the uninitiated) as if exciting racing is taking place.
There are two constituencies who must be satisfied if one is to provide a racing circuit. The competitors have to like it and the spectators have to like it. Now it’s fair to say that competitors will race ANYWHERE because, in the end, that’s their passion. It’s also often their pay cheque so the old, “If you build it, they will come” mantra is pretty true. Satisfying spectators is a different matter and, with safety precautions becoming more and more stringent, the poor spectator is being squeezed out of the equation as well. It is not surprising that the TV broadcasts show many overseas races taking place in front of empty or near-empty stands.
Now a V8 Taxi event took place at the Yas Marina circuit a while ago and the circuit was described by James Courtney, one of the drivers at that event, as “lacking character”. I’m sure if James hadn’t been constrained by the usual media muzzle through which drivers must speak these days, he’d have said that “It’s boring as bats**t”
I invite you to compare the circuit maps of the two latest tracks under discussion here. The similarity is eerie. So, why has COTA met with (slightly) better approval ratings than the Dubai layout? It’s pretty simple. Despite the total lack of high speed corners, COTA has the advantage that it has substantial elevation changes which do give the track some character. If it had been built on a flat piece of ground it wouldn’t have been half as entertaining and engaging for competitors and would be almost the same.
So at least COTA has some elevation changes, but, again, WHERE ARE THE HIGH-SPEED CORNERS?
What makes Monza, Spa, Estoril, Hockenheim (the old one, not the new abortionate travesty), Assen, (see above), what makes these tracks iconic and wonderful? Answer, high-speed corners. It’s not rocket science. As James Courtney said, these days the spectators are placed 1000kms away from the track and all they can see is a few, stop/start corners.
“But that makes for better TV,” say the apologists and TV is where the money is. Bugger the poor spectators who pay their money at the gate; they don’t matter. Did I read some time ago that there is a new horse racing facility that has been built in the USA that has NO spectator facilities at ALL? I’m sure I did. The racing is televised and people watch it on their screens at home or down at the pub. It’s sure cheaper for the promoter and absolves them of the responsibility of providing a good spectacle for the people in the stands.
Look at the list of Tilke-designed circuits and compare them. They’re all “cookie cutter” layouts, designed for television with spectators and competitors needs and wants coming second. Now there is no doubt that the COTA MotoGp races are a great spectacle on the small screen, but so they should be because that is what the purpose of the circuit design was.
What separates the good riders from the great riders? Is it the ability to perform a flawless block pass into a second gear corner? Of course it’s not. It’s the ability to keep it wired through a flat out corner and not flinch. The trouble is that there are very few such opportunities available. This one of the many reasons why I miss Bathurst and, to a lesser extent, Oran Park.
The defining moment of the 1996 F1 World Championship was when Jacques Villeneuve passed Michael Schumacher around the OUTSIDE of the Parabolica Corner at Estoril, a high-speed, heart-in-mouth pass that people still talk about today. Find it on Youtube andwatch and enjoy because soon all the high-speed corners will be gone and daring like this will have slipped into history.
I sincerely hope that the designers of the newly proposed circuits here in Australia, Wagga, Shoalhaven, Tailem Bend, etc, heed the cries from both competitors and spectators alike to put back some breathtaking into their circuits. We certainly need it.
For God’s sake, let’s have some high-speed corners.
MCNEWS.COM.AU is a specialist on-line resource that provides motorcycle news for motorcyclists. MCNews covers all areas of interest for the motorcycling public including news, reviews and comprehensive racing coverage.