Formula One back in the day had one street circuit race and that was Monaco. Yet in recent times the sport has been adding more and more to the calendar. It’s probably better to define the issue by calling the none dedicated F1 race tracks as “temporary circuits” because the likes of Sochi and Albert park are not used as ‘streets’ by the locals day in and day out.
The Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Canada together with Albert Park in Melbourne Australia were the next oldest temporary circuits to be added to the F1 calendar after Monaco. But in recent years the growth of temporary circuits on the F1 calendar has accelerated to the point that 6 of the first 9 races in 2022 have been on temporary circuits.
F1’s expansionary plans of the ‘naughties’ saw expensive purpose built Tilkerdromes being built around the world at the cost of $250-500 million. China, Malaysia, India, South Korea,. Turkey and Circuit of the Americas were all built at vast expense and within a relative short time some of these are now unused concrete Cathedral’s of racing falling into disrepair.
With the rapid expansion of the F1 calendar, F1’s new commercial rights holders have apparently taken the decision to introduce predominantly temporary circuits to the schedule given the rapid turnaround from signing the contract with a promoter and the timing of the first event.
This year we saw the introduction of the Miami GP raced around the service roads of the Miami Dolphins Hard Rock Stadium. Next year Vegas is coming with a section of the track to run down the famous ‘strip’.
There are murmurs about a race in South Africa at the much modified Kyalami autodrome, though at present the circuit needs upgrading to achieve the FIA grade 1 licence to host F1 races.
‘Street circuits’ offer a different challenge for the drivers and the live experience for the fans often sees them closer to the racing cars than at a purpose built venue. The Tilkerdrrome era saw F1 circuits developed with acres of asphalt run off areas encouraging the drivers to take liberties with track limits.
On the temporary circuits the proximity of the walls means the drivers are cut far less slack. If they make a mistake they end up in the wall.
Yet there is a current debate as to whether the number of temporary circuits in F1 is becoming excessive. Next season there will be 8 events on such tracks which will be a third of the season’s events.
There’s talk of street circuit race in race in Nice and Madrid also fancy dethroning Barcelona to take the Spanish GP around Spain’s Capital city.
IndyCar race about a third of their season on ‘street circuits’ another third on purpose built race tracks and the other third on ovals. Drivers in that series develop specialities with some mastering the ovals better than others whilst others prefer the street circuits.
In F1 this differential hasn’t really existed because the car is more dominant, yet with the new ground effect car design we may see certain teams and drivers run better on the purpose built circuits than on the temporary tracks.
The Mercedes W13 ran well in Bahrain and in Spain and Toto Wolff believes the permanent nature of the Silverstone circuit will suit their car better. The upcoming races are all on permanent circuits until F1 heads to Singapore in September.
The temporary circuits tend to have more uneven surfaces and for the teams who haven’t mastered the ground effect design properly they suffer more bouncing and driver discomfort.
Whether all the teams will master this issue over the next few seasons is unclear and so the question is how does Formula One’s governing bodies justify adding more and more temporary circuits whilst changing the regulations to to ‘ground effect’ car design which requires smooth permanent race tracks to optimise their under floor aerodynamics.
Mercedes are hopeful of a good performance at this weekends British GP with technical director Mike Elliot confirming ambitions to even win the race.
“One thing you can be sure of is we will push as hard as we can,” said technical boss Elliott. “We will be bringing new bits to Silverstone, we will be trying to push the car forward, trying to get some pace from the car we’ve got, or from the package we’ve got, as well as the new bits we are going to add to it.
“Our drivers will push as hard as we can because we want to get back to winning. We want to win for the team, we definitely want to win and we want to win for you, the fans, so let’s see what happens.”
Mercedes have won 8 of the last 9 F1 events at Silverstone though team boss Toto Wolff has more limited expectations for the 2022 event.“Silverstone was good to us in the past,” notes Wolff.
“And the circuit is smoother than the last three ones but it’s not Barcelona, so now we should manage our own expectations and really grind away, look at the data and come up with some sensible solutions, not just for Silverstone but going forward.
“We’ve scored how many – four, five podiums this year… We’ve seen glimpses of performance that we have but it’s far away from our own expectations of ourselves,” he added.
No one really expects a Mercedes victory this coming weekend and were the Ferrari’s to blow up again and Verstappen get ‘taken out’ it would probably be George Russell who’d be there to pick up the pieces rather than Lewis Hamilton.