Hermann Tilke: F1 design guru merges safety with racing line

The announcement this month that Vietnam will get their own F1 circuit in 2020 demonstrates that Hermann Tilke is still the first and last word in race track design.

German engineering firm Tilke will design the 5.6 km Hanoi Road Circuit using a mix of existing and purpose-built roads.

This will come as no surprise to observers, because in 30 years he has built or redesigned more than half of the circuits used by motorsport.

Among the 40 circuits he has designed are the F1 tracks in Austin, TX, the Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi and two of the most recent tracks on the F1 calendar – an upgrade to the Mexican circuit and a new circuit. urban in Azerbaijan.

Tilke’s dominance over the appearance of the tracks has divided F1 fans.

Most agree that the long straights that characterize its circuits allow for fast races, but many add that the wide areas of clearance in its turns can promote recklessness among riders, rather than a more subtle combination of skill and skill. nerve.

Zak Brown, Managing Director of McLaren Racing, said: “Hermann designs demanding tracks that have a unique feel. Over the years the sport has migrated to a high degree of safety which includes plenty of room to get off the track if you misjudge a turn.

“This means that if a driver comes out of a turn on their Yas Marina or Austin circuits, there is a lot of room to go far compared to a classic track like Spa, where a poor assessment of the turn in the Eau Rouge can end with a large shunt. “

Tilke, 63, says the appearance of his tracks is governed by F1’s governing body, the FIA, and the investors who pay them.

“I’ve heard people say the circuits are too safe and lose a bit of atmosphere, but we have to go through an FIA approval process,” he said. “And we have to take responsibility for runway safety. Corner runoff areas and guardrails should meet modern standards. Many of these tracks are not used just a few times a year like the old tracks. Investors want to use them as much as possible.

“They are used for motorcycle racing, where we have to pay special attention to the fact that a body, rather than a chassis, hits a railing.

“Private drivers use these tracks at corporate events. And they’re used by kids for karting – no one wants to see a kid get hurt on a racetrack. “

Tilke, a civil engineer by training, spent weekends and vacations racing touring cars in the 1980s.

But his hobby began to eat away at his professional life and he also believed he could design better leads than some of the ones he spent his weekends on.

He created his own engineering practice in 1983, Tilke GmbH, using his kitchen as an office and worked on projects unrelated to F1.

After more than 10 years, thanks to a former contact with a racing driver, he had the chance to refit the Österreichring in time for the Austrian Grand Prix in 1997. This opened the door to more work in F1 . Tilke did other upgrade work at the Nürburgring, where he met Bernie Ecclestone, then the sport’s commercial rights holder. The couple hit it off and Ecclestone began recommending him on the new deals he signed.

Tilke’s group now employs 250 people at its head office in the German city of Aachen, where he graduated in civil engineering from the local university.

The Hanoi Track is the first new race announced by Liberty Media since purchasing the commercial sports rights from Ecclestone two years ago. Observers say it’s a testament to Tilke’s political acumen as he has grown from a long friendship with Ecclestone to a working relationship with new F1 president and general manager Chase Carey.

“The Hanoi commission shows that Tilke is still the specialist in F1 track design, even after Bernie has left,” McLaren’s Brown said.

Tilke likes being five years old to complete an F1 track, but rarely gets it. The shortest time spent on a new circuit was in Bahrain, which only required two years of work as the race was already on the F1 calendar. “This track was a lot of pressure,” he says.

The design of a race track begins with a team of 10 designers that extends to around 250 people working on detailed plans just before construction begins.

The Tilke team designs everything on site, including the track, garages, hotels, grandstands, reception and exhibition spaces.

His team is working on a series of other projects, from small race test sites of around 20 ha that cost 20 million euros to build, to an F1 track that will average between 100 ha and 150 ha. and will cost from 150 million euros.

Its biggest project was the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, which covers 250 ha, includes a 499-room hotel and is said to have cost 1.1 billion euros.

Tilke is well aware that securing contracts in this company is at the mercy of political changes, regional economic cycles, changing oil prices and even maneuvering within the royal families. “There are a lot of countries that have come forward to have an F1 track, but we’ll have to wait to see what projects actually come up,” he said.

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