Here at TJ13, the term “Tilkered” has found some favour with fans who believe all that Herman touches turns to something worse than it was before.
Take for example, the revised Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.
The circuit was originally built within a park in the centre of Mexico City at an altitude of 7,380 feet above sea level, and the signature corner was the final turn, a 180 degree, lightly banked high speed corner called Peraltada
Of course the race track is an old 1960’s design and not suitable for the current FIA safety standards and required modification, which is something Hermann Tilke is keen to point out to SportsBusinessDaily.com
“We try to keep the character of the track. The difficulty in Mexico City is its really tight boundaries, which provide a challenge. We need to bring some parts of the track to the inside to have more runoff on the outside to comply with FIA safety regulations.
Another challenge was to include an existing baseball stadium in the layout. The client’s wish was to drive through the stadium, which will seat 40,000 spectators”
Of course the question is whether the new FIA safety parameters are overkill, but this is not a Tilke problem.
To control costs, Peraltada has been cut in half and the redesigned corner now leads into the stadium to which Tilke refers. Why build new seating areas, when 40,000 seats are all ready in situe?
Yet Peraltada could have been saved – by simply putting a wall on the outside of the corner instead of the required acres of tarmac run off – which was not an option due to the highway which runs alongside the circuit. Yet the cost consideration of not running the track through the pre-existing stadium area appears to have prevailed.
More than half of the 2015 circuits on the F1 calendar have been designed from scratch by Tilke Engineers and Artichtechts, or “Tilkered” from their original form.
The much maligned Hermann is in reality a man of the people. He states: “I am racer myself. I started racing when I was 18. After I graduated from university I worked at a regular company, but I didn’t have enough vacation days to continue racing. So I quit my job and founded my own company.
I started out doing small changes to the Nürburgring. That’s how it started and after some year’s people started saying, ‘He’s an expert.’ The company gradually grew and we then got the chance to design our first Formula 1 track — the now Red Bull Ring in Austria. That was in 1995. Almost at the same time we also got the chance to redesign the Sachsenring, where the German MotoGP race is held. By now we’ve done 65 circuits around the world, including 17 Formula 1 tracks”.
What Tilke does not reveal is his close association with Bernie Ecclestone who insists that almost all new F1 applicants to host a race use Tilke Engineers and Architects to design their circuit.
Of course each new F1 wannabe venue faces different challenges as Tilke explains: “We first have to carefully look at the land. Every property has boundaries. We look to the surroundings. We try to get a feel of the region. All of it influences the design. The typography of the area is also very important. The condition and quality of the soil – the surrounding infrastructure – we take those things into consideration”.
Hermann makes it clear that he almost never has a blank sheet of paper to operate with and is therefore constrained on every project.
“But we always try to keep the character and the history of the circuit. If it is a new track, we try to make it part of the typography. We also try to showcase the region and country. We try to make sure it feels like it’s part of the landscape. We think that’s very important”.
Carving up Peraltada does not fit this brief. It was this corner alone that gave the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez its character – and so the revised version has destroyed the very soul of the circuit.
For fans more familiar with Monza, this solution for Mexico’s signature turn would be akin to taking Parabolica and cutting it in half. At the half way point of the 180 degrees we would see a right hand turn then wend its way into a stadium complex.
Of course the issue of cost raises its head, yet this must always be set into the context of the total spend promoters commit to when signing up to a multi year race hosting fee agreement. “Sometimes we have a very low budget and it’s also very interesting to work with a low budget, but I would say around €100 million ($110M) is the minimum for a brand new Formula 1 racetrack”.
COTA spent $450m, and created an epic landscape for F1 cars to race upon. Yet the many lesser budget efforts have failed in the view of the fans to deliver. Given the cost of a 5-7 year contract with FOM to host a new F1 race, the spend on new circuits should be mandated at a minimum level to deliver the best race tracks in the world.
Herman details his design philosophy and how this is constrained. “We have to do our part and the regulations have to do their part to make overtaking possible. We try to create corners where overtaking is possible. The simplest way is a long straight followed by a sharp corner, which creates a long brake zone.
However, if regulations prohibit cars from racing close to each other they simply can’t overtake. That’s always a problem, but we try to find ways to make it possible. We also try to find ways to allow drivers to make mistakes. The problem is the drivers in Formula 1 are the best drivers in the world and they don’t make mistakes.
The first corner combination is also very important as you try to avoid spreading out the field. You want to keep them closely together”.
Yet the F1 track design maestro is defensive of the array of critical comment he receives. “Some criticism is simply not true. Take Bahrain for example. People said, “Oh, it will be boring because overtaking is not possible.” Not true. Last year, Bahrain was one of the most exciting races in history. There was overtaking everywhere”.
F1 fans will make up their own minds on this, and maybe Mr. Tilke reveals a small weakness in his ‘specialist’ knowledge in this comment.
Tilke concludes with his views of the classic F1 circuits from the heartland of F1. “First of all it’s a world championship, so it should go to every corner of the world. But also the traditional European races should remain part of it. For me personally, I’m not really happy that Germany has no grand prix this year.
And should Italy lose its race, it would be very disappointing for me as a fan. I like the traditional races such as Spa, Monza, Hockenheim, Nürburgring or Silverstone. As a fan, I want them to be part of Formula 1 for the next 50 years and beyond”.
Of course these are weasel words because if the epic Cathedral of speed that is Monza drops off the calendar, a ‘Tilkered’ version of Imola is waiting in the wings.
Yet, credit where credit is due, Istanbul Park and COTA are high watermark examples of modern Formula One circuit design, but these designs are vastly outnumbered by the number of mediocre offerings which Tilke has forced upon the apparent pinnacle of motor racing.