Archive: hermann-tilke

Korea International Circuit logo
Are hopes for a Korean Grand Prix in 2012 disappearing down the plughole?

Last weekend saw the second Korean Grand Prix. Already there are murmurs that it may be the last. Autosport are today reporting that the Korean Grand Prix organisers are seeking to renegotiate their contract with Bernie Ecclestone in order to stem their losses. Good luck with that one.

Watching the Korean Grand Prix over the weekend, it was difficult not to draw a parallel with the Turkish Grand Prix. It seems to suffer from a lot of the same problems, with an extra few problems on top just to make sure.

Istanbul Park was notorious for being in the middle of nowhere and tough to access. The Korean circuit, located at Yeongam, appears to be similarly remote. Although close to medium-sized city of Mokpo, it is several hours away from the main hub Seoul. This has been the source of some grumbles from within the F1 fraternity over the past two years.

But more striking was the emptiness of the grandstands. It did not seem quite as bad as Turkey, but it certainly was a cause for concern and a topic of conversation over the weekend. It seems as though Formula 1 has failed to capture the imagination of the Korean public.

Apparently, almost no other events take place at the circuit during the rest of the year. So it is not difficult to imagine that the facility might be struggling financially.

A lot of surprise was expressed at how little has been done to the circuit since the inaugural race last year. Even then, the circuit famously faced a race against time to even be ready to stage the race at all. In the end, it is said that corners were cut, raising concerns about the safety of the race.

Drainage was poor, the newly-laid tarmac was slippery, leading to some of the worst visibility conditions in memory. Earlier this year, Fernando Alonso said, “it remains quite shocking what we did in Korea.”

Some elements of danger have clearly not been removed in the past year. The pitlane entrance and exit are both viewed as unsafe. I had expected the pitlane exit at least to be modified following the first race, but no.

I am staggered that such a patently inadequate design to both the entrance and exit has come about. During the BBC commentary, David Coulthard joked that Hermann Tilke must have had his YTS designers working on the circuit.

Hermann Tilke has come up with a lot of goofy circuit designs, but this problem takes the biscuit. How many failed circuit designs do there need to be? You really do wonder how he has managed to be almost the only person involved in designing or redesigning Formula 1 circuits in the past 15 years, yet still manages to come out with stuff like this.

The original vision was for a city to surround part of the circuit. But none of the city appears to be in place yet. Part of the circuit is even described as a “temporary street circuit”, though quite how can you call it this when the streets themselves do not even exist yet?

The circuit itself is nothing special in terms of racing either. At least Turkey had a good circuit, with its instantly-legendary quadruple-apex Turn 8. I was also keen on the last few corners, where there was often some great wheel-to-wheel racing. Korea International Circuit has none of that.

In a way, it was a shame that the Turkish Grand Prix has ended up being dropped from the calendar (although it remains on standby to step in, just in case any more races — Bahrain, the USA or Korea — fall off the calendar). But at least Turkey managed to get seven races under their belt. Korea has two so far. Would anyone miss it if there wasn’t a third?

There is a surfeit of motor racing championships that aim to usher in the next generation of Formula 1 stars. But only a few are worth paying serious attention to.

GP2 — the ‘official’ way to progress to F1

The most well-known by a long way is GP2. Backed by Bernie Ecclestone, GP2 is the closest thing there is to an ‘official’ feeder series to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Since its inception in 2005, GP2 has been a stepping stone for some of F1’s biggest names. With a solid F1-style car and a unique status as the support race to almost every European grand prix (thereby giving drivers vital experience at many F1 circuits), there is no doubt that GP2 is a strong category.

The main alternative: World Series by Renault

World Series by Renault logo

But beyond the ‘official’ routes to F1, World Series by Renault (sometimes known as Formula Renault 3.5) has established itself as a series to take seriously.

No fewer than 18 F1 drivers have raced in World Series by Renault or one of its earlier incarnations. Among them are Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi. In 1999, World Champion Fernando Alonso also won what was then the Euro Open by Nissan series.

Most impressively, in 2007 Sebastian Vettel was leading the championship when he became an F1 driver mid-season. We all know how that story ends.

Strong drivers in World Series by Renault

This year’s World Series by Renault field has some very strong drivers in the field. Two of the favourites for the championship, Daniel Ricciardo and Robert Wickens, are currently already F1 test drivers, for Toro Rosso and Virgin respectively. These drivers are so hotly tipped that both have been rumoured to become race drivers before this season is even finished. I will certainly eat my hat if they are not racing in F1 in 2012.

The pair put on a wet weather masterclass in Race 1 at the Nürburgring two weekends ago. In changeable conditions, they had the measure of the rest of the field while engaging in a tense battle for the lead.

The talent doesn’t end there. Other current F1 test drivers participating in World Series by Renault include Fairuz Fauzy and Jan Charouz (both for Renault F1).

Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Vergne is next in the queue behind Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull Young Driver sausage factory, and rightly so. His performances at Spa-Francorchamps were at times jaw-dropping.

Young Estonian Kevin Korjus (Race 2 winner at the Nürburgring) has also turned heads in his rookie World Series by Renault season.

Scrappy driving in GP2

When you compare it with this year’s GP2 field, the ‘official’ feeder series seems to lack that edge slightly. No driver has managed to take full control of the championship — nor has anyone shown signs that they deserve to.

Romain Grosjean has come the closest. But you could argue that he ought to be. He is highly experienced compared to most of his competitors, and even has some F1 races under his belt. He is this year’s Giorgio Pantano. He has been involved in some questionable incidents. He managed to crash into his teammate at Barcelona. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then climbed all over him as part of the truly farcical scenes in the qualifying session at Monaco.

Meanwhile, the hotly-tipped Jules Bianchi (who is a Ferrari test driver) has been surprisingly clumsy, lurching from needless crash to avoidable gaffe. After a promising (albiet curtailed) GP2 Asia campaign last winter, Bianchi currently languishes in 15th in the championship, having managed to score points in just two of the eight races so far.

Giedo van der Garde has arguably been the most consistent, but still manages to make needless errors. In Valencia, he was penalised for overtaking under yellow flags.

Beyond this, it is difficult to see where the F1 stars of the future are in this year’s GP2 field.

A good alternative for both viewers and drivers

Moreover, the World Series by Renault season has been more action-packed for my money. This season’s calendar visits seven current Formula 1 venues, including some of the best circuits in the world. Spa, Monza, Silverstone and even Monaco all have slots in World Series by Renault. The calendar is refreshingly light on Tilke designs.

The Formula Renault 3.5 cars themselves are impressive, providing an ideal bridge between the well-established Formula Renault 2.0 cars. They typically run just a few seconds a lap slower than GP2 cars.

From next season, the car will step up a gear with a more powerful engine and greater downforce. But most eye-catching is the introduction DRS-style moveable aerodynamics. It could well be that the new Formula Renault 3.5 cars will prepare drivers for F1 better than a GP2 car can.

The combination of superb F1-style cars, excellent circuits and promising drivers is creating great entertainment. For me, it is the feeder series to watch.

I love the Brazilian Grand Prix. It is a unique circuit — not only anti-clockwise, but uniquely short in the same way you might think of Spa-Francorchamps as being uniquely long.

It is also special because it has now comprehensively replaced Suzuka as the proper place to settle a World Championship, particularly due to its useful time slot. It is on prime time on European television. That is another unique aspect of Brazil, due to the lack of North American races this year.

So it was most fitting that Jenson Button managed to seal the deal in Interlagos, even when it seemed further out of his grasp than ever. A disastrous qualifying session sent us off the scent. The only saving grace was that Vettel’s was almost as bad. But his main rival Barrichello was on pole at his home race.

Unfortunately for Barrichello, he never gets any good luck at Interlagos, even when he is doing well. I will never forget the tragedy of his car breaking down in 1999 while he looked like he could win the race driving for Stewart. His bad luck struck again.

After a strong first stint which he led with relatively little challenge, he somehow managed to lose the plot by failing to push hard enough at the start of his second stint, handing the lead to Mark Webber. Later in the race came his tangle with Lewis Hamilton, which resulted in a puncture for Barrichello.

(Apparently Lewis Hamilton can’t go to Interlagos without having an eventful time. Hats off to him for ploughing his way up to a 3rd place finish from 17th on the grid.)

In normal circumstances, therefore, we would normally be talking about Mark Webber’s fabulous win. And Pink Peril was right to point it out in the comments to my previous article. Mark Webber did a great job — the one person who managed to do well in both qualifying and the race.

He certainly had a better weekend than the Red Bull driver who needed it, Vettel. It was suspected that Red Bull would do well thanks to the “testing” Webber was able to do at Suzuka. Sadly we didn’t see much of Webber’s race because the television cameras were more focussed on the Championship protagonists.

As for the Championship winner, Jenson Button, I would say he had the race of his season — possibly even the race of his life. It really is as though his bad qualifying performance gave him the kick up the backside he needed. I read one story today which said that after his poor qualifying, he texted his mum to say, “Don’t worry mum, we’re going to kick some butt.” She replied, “Good, go and kick some butt.”

It was as though a barrier had been passed. Button was no longer defending his lead, as he had been since the start of the season. The tide had turned so far that he now had to attack to win. And attack he did!

His aggressive and ballsy driving was captivating to watch. He was already 9th by the end of lap one. Once the Safety Car period was over, he was ready to line up Romain Grosjean, and in the process took a risk by going round the outside. I thought Grosjean did a solid job when racing side-by-side for two or three corners against Button. Button put a lot of faith in the inexperienced Grosjean not to do something silly. But both came out of the fight looking good.

Within a lap, Button got past Kazuki Nakajima in a rather risky move at the Senna S. Several laps later, also into the Senna S, he finally got past Kamui Kobayashi who was in his first race. After that, as the pitstop strategies shook out, Button found himself looking good.

There has been some criticism of Kobayashi’s driving, particularly weaving in the braking zones. Certainly he pushed it too far later on in the race when he was involved in a high-speed accident with Nakajima. But his defensive driving against Button impressed me and suggests that Kobayashi has promise, even though he wasn’t particularly good in GP2 (like Nakajima).

While there was some decent racing going on for most of the race, the majority of the action came on the first lap which was rather crazy. My theory is that they just decided to do a Wacky Races thing because it was on prime time.

First there was the accident which brought an end to the races of Adrian Sutil, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Alonso was so placid about it that the BBC’s commentators did not even notice him at first. He just trudged nonchalantly into his lift. I sense that he really has just been going through the motions, awaiting his big chance in a red car before exerting himself once again.

Little wonder Alonso went by unnoticed, because Jarno Trulli was running up to Sutil and gesticulated in quite a threatening manner. I am struggling to remember the last time I saw a driver so angry. It looked like it was going to turn into this sort of moment!

I am struggling to see what Trulli was so worked up about. Maybe Sutil could have left Trulli some more room, but I think Trulli was optimistic trying to overtake him there anyway. And it is not as if Sutil drove into Trulli. In fact, before Trulli loses control of his car you can see Sutil clearly make an attempt to steer away from Trulli to give him more space.

It was a racing incident in my book. But the accident that resulted was quite a high-speed one, which I guess is why Trulli was so rattled.

Then there was the pitlane fire, when Heikki Kovalainen drove off with the fuel hose still attached. It wasn’t Kovalainen’s fault — he was instructed to leave, but the fuel hose was still attached.

I really am confused as to why we get so many more of these incidents these days. I can’t remember ever seeing a driver leaving with his fuel hose still attached until Jenson Button did it at Imola in 2006. Since then there have been several, from Christijan Albers (who was effectively sacked for it), to Massa in Singapore last year and Alguersuari in Singapore this year, to Kovalainen now. And I’m sure there are one or two more that have slipped my mind.

The increasing frequency of these incidents is quite alarming, particularly when so much attention was given to Ferrari’s pit lane incidents in 2008. Surely teams and drivers must be more aware than ever of the possibility, and it is just bizarre that it keeps on happening over and over again now.

Massive, massive kudos to Kimi Räikkönen for driving through the fire which resulted from Kovalainen’s premature pit box exit. The fuel was more or less being sprayed into his face, and flames briefly exploded all around him. Yet he kept his foot down and kept driving.

After the race, he said his eyes were still burning! Yet he plodded on. As far as I’m concerned he could have been blinded by that sort of thing. He must have huge balls. And people say he doesn’t have motivation.

One last thing to mention — Robert Kubica. He finished 2nd, his best result of the season, after starting 8th. He had a great restart when the Safety Car pulled in — he was right on top of Nico Rosberg and passed as soon as he could. I am sorry that Kubica has not been able to show more of his talent this year. I hope Renault can build him the car he deserves.

Next we head to the brand new circuit in Abu Dhabi. The last time the Championship was decided before the final race of the season was in 2005. Then we were treated to one of the best Grands Prix there has ever been, the breathtaking 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. Maybe the same end-of-term atmosphere can spice up Abu Dhabi, which aside from the gimmicky pitlane exit looks like it will be another bland Tilke operation.

There is not much to say after the Chinese Grand Prix. The race itself was spectacularly dull and controversy-free. (And I have left it my customary few hours to see if the stewards get involved — they haven’t.) It’s good not to have controversy, but we have become so used to it that it feels a bit empty to come away from a race with absolutely nothing to talk about!

What we can say though is that we are heading towards the final race of the season with Lewis Hamilton having slightly extended his lead. Ominously, that is exactly the same lead he had going into the final race last year — 7 points. On paper, it should be easy enough for him to simply finish 4th or above so that he can wrap up the title. But what if he gets the jitters?

Today we saw the calmer, more conservative Hamilton. It’s true that he didn’t ever have to go on the attack. Unlike in Fuji, he got a fine start. Besides, his advantage over Ferrari at Shanghai has been clear to see all weekend. So there was no reason for Hamilton to risk it and in the end he cruised to an easy victory with a 15 second margin.

That advantage might not exist in Brazil. Ferrari have won the previous two races at Interlagos, and Felipe Massa in particular tends to perform well on his home patch. What Hamilton needs to do is make sure he doesn’t get spooked if Ferrari perform well like they did last year.

There is a slight debate surrounding Ferrari’s team orders. Kimi Räikkönen had the advantage over Massa for the whole race, but mysteriously slowed down for a few laps towards the end of the race to let Massa pass before returning to his normal pace. The Finn knowingly chuckled when asked about it during the press conference.

The hysteria surrounding team orders is nonsensical. All teams use team orders of some sort, it is a normal part of motor racing and has been for decades. The only reason team orders got a bad name was because of the botched switchover at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, which was quite rightly criticised. But that incident was so offensive because it took the supporters for mugs. Supporters know what was going on today though, and it was reasonable for Ferrari to ask Räikkönen to move over, allowing Massa to score two extra points which could come in very handy.

Meanwhile, outside bet Robert Kubica has dropped out of the championship hunt. I feel that he has been the best driver this season and he certainly deserves to win the title one day. I do hope he finds himself in a good enough car in the near future. In the meantime, it was always slightly surreal that Kubica was so close to the championship leaders for so long, and it must be admitted that he has done so mainly by hoovering up the points fumbled by McLaren and Ferrari rather than outright pace.

Kubica’s weekend got off to a bad start when he only managed to qualify 12th. As always, Kubica fought a strong race, but could only manage 6th just behind his team mate Nick Heidfeld. One day.

Unfortunately, there are almost no other talking points following today’s race. It wasn’t really worth the 7am start. That’s tilkedromes for ya.

I’ve been thinking a bit about the recent European Grand Prix. Almost universally, Formula 1 fans have expressed their disappointment in what was — even by F1’s standards — an incredibly boring race. However, equally universally, those who are lucky enough to live in the Formula 1 bubble were effusive in their praise of the venue in Valencia.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis even went as far as to say that the European Grand Prix was so slick and cosy for the likes of him that it made him “ashamed to be English” because Silverstone was so poor in comparison. Moreover, he called for the government to get involved in the effort to create a British Grand Prix venue as good as the Valencia Street Circuit.

Quite why Ron Dennis expects that the government should subsidise a hugely rich sport which thrives better in Britain than it does in any other country in the world is unclear. The notion that it might ever be politically acceptable demonstrates that Ron Dennis is somewhat out of touch with reality. And the fact that he used the most boring race of the season to justify his idea suggests that he is well and truly off his rocker.

Alianora La Canta has hit on the problem that F1 currently faces in one in a post that ponders on the discrepancy between the views of those in F1’s ivory tower and the views of the fans on the ground.

I have a fairly simple theory on this; the discrepancy is evidence that F1’s business model is too heavily skewed towards the rich rather than the majority of people.

The fact is that despite the millions that have been spent by governments to ensure that the European Grand Prix in Valencia went without a hitch, fans were left disappointed on all manner of fronts.

Alarm bells began ringing pretty quickly during coverage of Friday Practice 1 when many television viewers noted that the circuit had very few landmarks with the exception of the bridge. Most sections of the circuit looked the same, lined with concrete walls all around. It looked grey and drab. Valencia Grand Prix? It might as well have been the Cumbernauld Grand Prix as far as viewers could see. (Is this the pit buliding?)

The people at FOM obviously noticed because as the weekend progressed, more and more aerial shots were used during the coverage. It was the only way viewers could see the harbour. Albert Park would have a similar problem, but they cleverly painted their walls green so that it did not look grey and dull. Hopefully this is on the list of improvements to be made for next year.

But the list of improvements must surely be a long one. There have been complaints from people who shelled out for tickets for the European Grand Prix that they couldn’t even see any of the action from the grandstands. Incredibly, this is a repeat of the problem from last year’s Japanese Grand Prix! How difficult can it be to build a grandstand facing the right direction?

Most importantly, though, the circuit was scandalously difficult to overtake on. In fact, I counted just one overtaking move all race, made by David Coulthard very early on in the race. He later tried to overtake someone else, but pathetically crashed instead.

The circuit was well hyped-up. It was meant to be great for a street circuit — wide and with run-off areas that would encourage overtaking. We were told there were at least three overtaking spots in the circuit.

This later transpired to be an out-and-out lie. Ferrari revealed that they knew that it would be very difficult to overtake. They were so certain of this that they actually based decision on Kimi Räikkönen’s engine on the basis that it was impossible to overtake. During last week’s Renault podcast, the Enstone-based team echoed Ferrari’s sentiments, revealing that their simulations too told them that it would be impossible to overtake in Valencia.

I can understand why it would be impossible to overtake on an ancient circuit like Monaco which was not built with today’s cars in mind. But the Valencia Street Circuit is practically purpose-built for modern F1 cars — at least it ought to be. And it was a complete failure.

Hermann Tilke gets a lot of stick for his circuit designs. However, we know that Tilke can design a great circuit. Just look at Istanbul Park. Shanghai International Circuit isn’t too bad either. But Valencia Street Circuit is a proper turkey. I think Hermann Tilke needs to save up some cash to buy himself a simulator of his own so that he can tell in advance, just like the teams, which designs will facilitate overtaking more than others.

What bugs me, though, is the prospect that the priority of the European Grand Prix wasn’t even the fans. We know that street circuits do not always lend themselves to the best racing. Yet, Bernie Ecclestone only seems to be interested in street circuits at the moment. The other new circuit on this year’s calendar is the Singapore Street Circuit. If you ask me, the Singapore Grand Prix has disaster written all over it, and the European Grand Prix was an ominous sign of things to come as far as I’m concerned.

All of this leads me to suspect that Bernie Ecclestone’s current priority is not to provide paying fans with some decent entertainment. But it is to provide the rich inhabitants of F1’s inner circle with some nice holiday destinations.

A couple of years ago there was a whisper that the Paul Ricard Circuit could play host to a grand prix where fans were kept out — a grand prix especially for F1’s VIPs and no-one else. The idea was widely ridiculed at the time. But you can believe that Bernie Ecclestone would actually go ahead with it.

It seems that the problem with F1 at the moment is that it doesn’t matter how bad the racing is. As long as the circuit comes equipped with superloos, that’s all the likes of Ron Dennis care about.

I’ve finally got round to writing a proper review of the Turkish Grand Prix. In the end, it turned out that I didn’t actually miss all that much of it (if the highlights programme was anything to go by), although there were a couple of bits that I missed. I think I was mostly just confused by James Allen saying, “It’s been a cracker of race,” and I just woke up thinking, “I missed it all!” But I didn’t.

Anyway, first of all it was great to see Felipe Massa winning a Grand Prix for the first time. I am not a big fan of Massa — I don’t think he has necessarily earned a drive in the most prestigious motor racing team in the world on merit. But anybody who plays the role of subservient second-fiddle to Schumacher deserves to stand on that top of the podium, and it was good to see a win mean so much to somebody.

Of course, were it not for the Safety Car situation it would have been Michael Schumacher crossing the finish line, but instead we were lined up for a classic on-track battle between him and Fernando Alonso. Thankfully, these battles are becoming a more regular occurrence.

Alonso once again showed plenty of skill in keeping Schumacher at bay for the full 15 laps of the battle. The end was very exciting. The two were separated at the finish line by just 0.8 seconds. It’s difficult to imagine them being any closer at the finish, and it’s probable that if the finish line was a bit further down the road we would have seen the opposite outcome.

As it is, Alonso has extended his lead to 12 points. Considering that the Ferrari is clearly superior to the Renault at the moment, Alonso is doing an absolutely fantastic job. If Alonso wins the championship, he will definitely have deserved it.

Another driver who impressed in Turkey was Ralf Schumacher, who cleverly saw a point in the circuit — turn 12 — where he was particularly strong enough to overtake — on the outside. Sometimes it is easy to dismiss Ralf Schumacher, but yesterday he proved that he still has talent (even if he doesn’t quite have his brother’s talent).

Jenson Button had another strong, although anonymous, performance, finishing 4th. Kimi Räikkönen was unfortunate to be crashed into at the hectic start of the race.

Martin Brundle noted how Nico Rosberg showed that he has his wits about him after he got out of the way of a faster car in the pitlane entrance. Rosberg famously scored very high marks in a written exam used by Williams to assess their drivers. But it’s one thing to sit a written test, and quite another to race quickly. After a promising start to the season, Rosberg has completely fizzled out for me. A lot of this is down to his uncompetitive car, but Rosberg needs to shine more in order to justify the hype.

Another winner his Hermann Tilke, the designer of the Istanbul Park circuit. Tilke has a lot of critics, but I quite like most of his circuits. They may be formulaic, but you have to admit that they usually work. Istanbul Park is a particularly excellent track though. Drivers seem to have a lot of room to experiment with different lines, and a lot of drivers are getting caught out, particularly at turn 8 — a real rarity in Formula 1.

What a shame that the race has been jeopardised by some petty political propaganda. Shame on the Turkish organisers, and to everybody at the FIA and FOM who let this happen.