With the announcement that Hermann Tilke is to assume responsibility for the design of the new Austin circuit for the 2012 United States Grand Prix, the reaction from the readers has been quite strong.

“I move for an international court injunction banning Tilke from having any involvement in circuit design. Return F1 to the spectator-friendly, eye-pleasing circuits…” our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon wrote.

I’m personally caught in two camps. I think some of his circuit designs, such as Istanbul and Sepang, are great tracks that produce good on-track action. However, some of his other creations, such as the Valencia street circuit and Bahrain, are utterly dull, lifeless autodromes – we’ve adopted the term ‘Tilkedromes’ coined by our good friends from F1 Rejects – that do nothing for the image of Formula 1.

This certainly begs the question: Has Hermann ruined the Formula 1 calendar? Having a look at his involvement in F1 circuit design over the last 15 years will certainly raise a few eyebrows…

Valencia

Bahrain

Singapore  

Not some of Hermann Tilke’s finest work: Valencia (top); Bahrain (middle) and Singapore (bottom). Images © The Cahier Archive.

Now, Hermann Tilke (pictured below) has a lengthy background in motorsport, and Hermann Tilkewas a successful and highly acclaimed touring car driver. He certainly has the experience to know a thing or two about what constitutes good racing, but perhaps one could successfully argue that his execution has sometimes been found wanting…

1997 saw the first Tilke involvement in F1 circuit design when the A1-Ring made its debut on the F1 calendar, essentially as a redesigned and reprofiled version of the magnificent but very dangerous Osterreichring, which had last graced the F1 stage in 1987. Gone were the blindingly-fast, long-radius corners such as the Bosch Kurve and the Jochen Rindt Kurve – in place, we had a mix of tight, slow corners that required heavy braking at the end of long straights.

This is the essence of a Tilkedrome design, and a formula that has been repeated ad nauseum in every circuit design he has had a hand in.

Let’s have a look at the calendar that preceded the 1997 A1-Ring debut, that of the 1996 season:

1. Melbourne, Australia 9. Magny-Cours, France
2. Interlagos, Brazil 10. Silverstone, Great Britain
3. Buenos Aires, Argentina 11. Hockenheimring, Germany
4. Nürburgring, German 12. Hungaroring, Budapest
5. Imola, San Marino 13. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
6. Monte-Carlo, Monaco 14. Monza, Italy
7. Circuit de Catalunya, Spain 15. Estoril, Portugal
8. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Canada 16. Suzuka, Japan

In the wake of this season, every circuit introduced onto the F1 calendar has been designed and developed by Tilke GmbH. In virtually every instance where an Johnny Herbert Tilke Quote existing F1 circuit has been modified in the name of safety or to improve the show, guess who’s been involved? That’s right, Tilke GmbH.

The only possible exception to this complete monopoly in circuit design was the Indianapolis infield design launched as part of the circuit’s introduction to the F1 calendar in the 2000 season – but this part of the track is so utterly dull and lacking in imagination that we feel it should have been one of his creations!

So what has he been involved in? The scope of his work will amaze some of you…

1997 A1-Ring, Austria NEW CIRCUIT
1999 Sepang, Malaysia NEW CIRCUIT
2000 Monza, Italy Reprofiling of first chicane
2002 Hockenheim, Germany Major circuit redesign
  Nürburgring, Germany New opening sequence of corners
2003 Monte Carlo, Monaco Redesign of Swimming Pool and La Rascasse
  Magny Cours, France New final sequence of corners
  Hungaroring, Hungary Revisions to Turns 1, 11 and 12
2004 Sakhir, Bahrain NEW CIRCUIT
2005 Istanbul Park, Turkey NEW CIRCUIT
2007 Catalunya, Spain New chicane at the end of the lap
  Spa, Belgium Revision to Bus Stop chicane
  Fuji, Japan Major circuit redesign
2008 Valencia, Spain NEW CIRCUIT
2008 Marina Bay, Singapore NEW CIRCUIT
2009 Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi NEW CIRCUIT
2010 Donington, UK Major circuit redesign
  Silverstone, UK Major circuit redesign
  Yeongam, South Korea NEW CIRCUIT
2011 New Dehli, India NEW CIRCUIT
2012 Austin, Texas NEW CIRCUIT
David Hobbs Tilke Quote

Now, some of his circuits or circuit redesigns – Istanbul Park and Hockenheim, for example – have have exactly the intended effect and have produced an improvement to the existing show or reinvigorated the F1 calendar, although I would agree that the changes to Hockenheim have butchered what was perfectly good circuit to begin with. The races on these circuits have historically always provided good on-track action.

Other circuit designs or reconfigurations have, sadly, had the opposite effect intended – in spite of using the tried and trusted formula of long straights and heavy braking – and their races have tended not to produce good on-track action. The street circuit designs of Singapore and Valencia (in particular), while staged in a spectacular setting, have not produced any great amount of wheel-to-wheel racing.

Is having a single circuit designer good for Formula 1? Is Formula 1 getting good value for money when there isn’t any competition? How can new ideas possible be generated from within a monopoly?

Even some of the former F1 drivers we’ve interviews are not fans of the ‘Tilkedromes’ – look at David Hobbs (above) and Alan Jones’ (below) comments…

If we’re to look at the 2010 calendar, only three circuits on the 20-race schedule have not had the influence of Hermann Tilke are Albert Park (Australia), Suzuka (Japan) and Interlagos (Brazil). That’s a serious influence on the direction of Formula 1, in my opinion…

Perhaps justifiably, Tilke cops plenty of stick from fans, current and former drivers, and key F1 figures for his circuit formats. His circuit designs are often criticised for lacking in imagination, featuring too many slow corners, and being incredibly artificial in their surrounds.

Alan Jones Tilke Quote

One must certainly question his involvement in modernising some of the established circuits. The final-corner sequence alterations made to Magny Cours, the Circuit de Catalunya, Spa-Francorchamps and Fuji – ostensibly done in the name of safety – produced clumsy, ugly chicanes designed to slow the cars that have done nothing to improve the on-track action at all.

Magny Cours
Spain
Nurburgring
Hermann’s work hasn’t stopped with making new circuit’s he’s also had a hand in the emasculation of existing ones too, such as Magny Cours (top, Barcelona (middle) and the Nurburgring (bottom). Images © The Cahier Archive.

The widening of the Monte Carlo track from the Swimming Pool section onwards took away the proximity of the crash barriers and lessened the challenge for the drivers – the same was done at the opening corner. Arriving at La Rascasse, having to stamp on the brakes, dodge the Armco and turn in both directions in quick succession was a serious challenge for the drivers, and now it’s a relative walk in the park.

The interesting thing is that Hermann Tilke is an accomplished motor racing driver in his own right, having won plenty of touring car races behind the wheel.

So how can the man who is perfectly capable of lapping the Nordschleife at great speed produce such soporifically dull sequences of corners that have the effect of emasculating once-great circuits, or creating artificial new circuits in their place?

What is the problem here? Are the rules to blame, to a certain extent as well?

Are the safety concerns of a modern-day Formula 1 dictating that the new circuits lose the power to impress us with their exaggerated run-off areas and billiard-table smooth surfaces? I certainly don’t want to be arguing that we should make tracks less safe, but there needs to be some balance.

Inasmuch as Tilke receives plenty of criticism from near and far, surely the F1 calendar could do with more variety in its circuit designs. Surely with enough run-off areas we could achieve circuits of a similar stature to the no-longer-used (by F1) likes of Brands Hatch, the old Kyalami, and the Osterreichring?

The question is: could he design more interesting tracks if the rules allowed him to?

The following two tabs change content below.

Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

Latest posts by Richard Bailey (see all)

Share