Hermann Tilke: My F1 circuit design methodology

Autódromo-Hermanos-Rodríguez-001-750x501

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.

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36 responses to “Hermann Tilke: My F1 circuit design methodology

  1. Classic tracks like Hockenheim? They butchered that track. That was one of the greatest ever. But they took its balls and cut it right off.

  2. “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.”

    Not only that. If it were only Peraltada, it might have been something we could swallow (e.g. “for safety reasons”). The trouble is that the Tilkerer found fit to tilker swathes of the fast-flowing snake-like section of the track, replacing them with constant radius corners, completely twisting the knife into what was previously known as Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez…

    • “We also try to find ways to allow drivers to make mistakes.”

      How so? Tilkedromes are among the easiest circuits to drive in the world, where corners are bland and almost never pushing car and driver to the limit (with very few exceptions). Most of the Tilke corners are pale copies of existing legendary corners (like e.g. Faux Rouge in Istanbul Park) or constant radius, often 90 degree corners (think Abu Dhabi). It seems that what Hermann Tilke is obsessed with is creating tracks with an overwhelming majority of slow corners, and just one or two moderately high-speed corner with little character.

      Overall, hard to pinpoint where they “try to find ways to allow drivers to make mistakes”

      • “try to find ways to allow drivers to make mistakes”

        this should read “try to find ways to challenge and push the drivers into mistakes, separate the good drivers from the true elite” The tracks are designed to be as safe as possible this means large tarmac runoff areas, high fences and layouts that don’t challenge the drivers

      • “We also try to find ways to allow drivers to make mistakes.”
        They do indeed do that. They give them runoff areas on which you can land two jumbo jets side by side, so if a driver makes mistakes he doesn’t feel it.

    • “Istanbul Park and COTA are high watermark examples of modern Formula One circuit design”

      And even these two are overall mediocre designs. Istanbul Park while altogether an enjoyable racing experience, fails to show the character that any old-school track would have (from Barcelona to Interlagos). In the end it too is bland. COTA on the other hand is an incredible collage of corners from other tracks tweaked up by a tilkered imagination (Suzuka Esses or Instanbul T8), while at the same time featuring the trademark Hermann Tilke Mickey Mouse layout: hairpin, straight, hairpin; twice.

      Perhaps the other two Tilke tracks that vie for the honor of his best achievements yet are Sepang in Malaysia and Buddh in India. In Sepang the latter part of the track provides a series of genuinely on the limit corners where it’s surprisingly easy to bin the car, but otherwise this track too is clobbered with only one high-speed corner (and even that one without a bite) and overall a Mickey Mouse layout. As for Buddh, my personal feeling is that its layout might have become a high-mark in Tilke’s designs had it not been for the conspicuous absence of gravel, as was so clearly highlighted by drivers last time round that circuit by making a mockery of track limits…

      http://cdn.images.autosport.com/scaled/d04/d041284ca58107f26b959959c9de3ac4.jpg

      There can’t be a clearer example of trying to find ways to not “allow drivers to make mistakes.”

      • I, personally, like Malaysia. I think it’s a great track with often very good races. Ofcourse some of it is due to the weather they get there but still. The layout is his best work.

        • I too enjoy racing Sepang. Yet when I step back, the layout is still overly easy, and still not quite right… And its layout has been somewhat devalued by the almost carbon-copy in the form of Shanghai…

      • I’m sorry but people ranting for gravel is the modern equivalent of people wanting to smoke on airplanes, it’s not going to happen, it’s not safe, and it’s rude to suggest bringing it back. This guy has to design tracks that are a 20-30 year investment, hold an impressively vast array of motor sports categories with unique safety concerns, and also hold up the regulation changes that could see f1 cars or another series that is 10-20 seconds faster than what we have today and still be safe. I promise you if f1 cars were 15 seconds faster next year, many of his tracks would become I stand classics.

        • Your dislike of gravel is understandable. But when people say they want gravel to replace asphalt, I think they are really saying they want real penalties for exceeding track limits. I am beginning to favor an electronic strip laid just outside the track limits that shuts down the car if it crosses it. That would be a deterrent.

          • I proposed just such a system last week. The deeper you go out of bounds the stronger the penalty. I feel this is where F1 should be. Not thinking like Dinosaurs and crying for gravel traps.

            But what you miss is that when people cry for gravel traps, they actually are crying for gravel traps. Its rude and short sighted, looking backwards, and unrealistic.

  3. I have found where he did his training
    http://www.newmodellersshop.co.uk/images/scalextric/race-sets/c1279_scalextric_full_throttle_layout.jpg

    But seriously, not one of his tracks can match the likes of Monza,Silverstone,spa to name just three. They have absolutely no soul or character and as such we have a problem in F1. The heritage of our sport is being eroded away and it is slowly turning into the tracks of the above image. However even these can work if you just put some heart into the design
    http://www.slotforum.com/resources/Toy-Fair-2006/scalessd.jpg

  4. “we try to make it part of the typography” – ooops, he was probably thinking of the lettering of his contracts – or invoices.

    • Hehe. I think ‘topography’ is the correct word in this instance. Also, ‘ long break zone’ should read ‘brake’.

  5. I like the new Hockenheim much better than the old one.
    Sepang is a great circuit as well, and loved by the drivers.
    Marina Bay is very challenging and a worthy F1 street circuit.
    Korea and India had great circuits as well.
    And of course, as mentioned COTA is fabulous.

    Tilke’s done well. Most of the issues in the sport are a combination of the technical rules and those at the top unwilling to be flexible in terms of distribution.

    • Now, THAT is an impressive comment!
      Are you on the Tilke payroll, or possibly a blood relative?
      Have you ever driven a track in anger? ANY track?

      Here in the U.S., Tilke did Miller Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City, Utah. This is a setting in mountain foothills. Significant elevation use on circuit? No. Interesting corners? NO! Bland and a wasted opportunity? Yes. Now being closed after a few short years and largely unlamented? Yes.

      Tilke is an expert at doing something no one wants. Except Bernie, and that is all kicked-back fee arrangements and inter-related corporations used for construction. Look it up.

  6. I would love to see what he came up should he actually be given a blank page to start from. Would still be interesting even if it was done just a hypothetical exercise so he could indulge his creative side.

    • I don’t know how blank the page was, and he had better terrain to work with than most F1 venues, but Atlanta Motorsports Park (Tilke’s only club circuit so far) looks pretty good

  7. Atlanta Motorsports Park (not to be confused with Road Atlanta) seems to show that Tilke has some understanding of what makes a good driver’s circuit when working outside of the normal F1/FIA setting

      • I replied to your other comment but it’s not showing up now. Anyway, Miller Motorsports Park was designed by Alan Wilson not by Tilke. Also, that lot is on a very flat part of the valley floor

  8. perhaps kickbacks for bernie – how else to explain the consistent use of such a dreadful circuit designer?

    i am a fan that went to the inaugural f1 race at cota in texas. at the time, the circuit represented a fresh nadir in f1 circuit design – no real identity to the circuit, just a frankenstein of corners from elsewhere. thankfully, it has recently been surpassed by sochi. anyhow, the only thing i remember about that particular f1 weekend was a crash during warmups of a support race near turn 12, where we were seated. guy pulled a newey and totalled his ride while warming up his tires. as for the f1 race, all i remember is i got sunburn and don’t ever want to go back.

    overall, modern f1 has become a dinky puttering version of what it once was. imagine watching a boxing match in the future where the boxers wear football helmets, use poofy 24 oz gloves, body protectors, and shinguards in addition to full sized sumo suits, all in the name of safety. i know this is a ridiculous analogy, but it does hit uncomfortably close. if the formula isn’t opened up soon, the viewership crash that is going on right now in f1 will accelerate.

    quit slowing down the cars to preserve the pilots. instead, find better pilots who can handle the g’s.

  9. But COTA wasn’t designed by Tilke, was it? I remember reading at the time and posting here that the track was designed by others and originally supported by different promoters, then somebody else took over the project, made the deal with Bernie and Tilke constructed everything with the existing design. I even remember some critics to his comments after the first US GP there because he referred to it as “his track”.

    • Or Bernie did and Tilke tried to be ambiguous about who designed the track.

  10. Give me Road America (Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin) any day. Man, I would LOVE to see F1 cars there.

    • just checked video on youtube, that circuit is stunning, it would be wonderful to see F1 there.

  11. I’m sorry but exactly how is COTA amazing? One series of esses being a cheap copy of the Suzuka version does not make a great circuit. And miles of asphalt runoff placing the stands hundreds of feet away from the track in a section where cars have to negotiate a series of dismally slow tight turns takes away from the experience. making up for it with concerts etc is an applaudable effort by the promoter but no thanks.

  12. I remain unconvinced of his qualities as a circuit designer. All circuits have constraints, but his obsession with hairpins, chincanes and slow corners is overwhelming. Even Istambul had plenty of slow corners and only one realistic overtaking spot.

    That being said, Peraltada was butchered long before Tilke. The cookie cutter which has replaced the old circuit looks horrendous.

  13. By the way, Istanbul only looked good compared to Tilke’s work itself. COTA is entirely overrated and also has only one legitimate overtaking spot.

  14. Please stop this man from neutering more tracks! Safety reasons… Soon they´ll be racing pillows with (very soft) wheels! 🙂

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