May 23, 2007

F1 Tracks: A Discussion

So Steven was talking about his initial forays into the world of F1 ("Join us, it's all right...") and commenting on the tracks as shown at Formula1.com, the official website for F1. So let's listen in on him and his readers, shall we?

"Monaco is run on city streets, which is part of the charm I gather."

Indeed, Monaco is the only F1 course that runs on city streets (Australia theoretically could be called a street circuit, as it's run on the roads in Albert Park, but it really isn't a 'street circuit'). The track is essentially the same as it was 40 years ago; oh, there's been a chicane added, and they rebuilt the pit lane last year, but for all intents and purposes it's the same track that James Garner ran on in Grand Prix.

In the comments to "F1 On Speed!", Steven says
"Also, that sure is one wicked turn at Loews."
Looks placid, doesn't it?  Heh...

The Lowes Hairpin is the tightest turn in F1, if not all of auto racing, actually being greater than 180 degrees. F1 (and GP2, the feeder league for F1) cars are modified specifically for Lowes, as the usual amount of wheel lock won't allow the car to make the turn. THEN, the teams have to make further adjustments to the suspension, otherwise the wheel rim would mill away the standard F1 car suspension while they were making the turn. Throw in the altitude change (maybe 30, 35 feet from top to bottom) and you've got a beast of a turn.

"The course is surprisingly straight, all told, which means that it will tend to reward engine power. I think I'm going to have to look at some of the other courses, which I bet are more curvy."

Which tells the value of an overhead map. There are practically NO straight spots on the Monaco track, as a glimpse at this satellite map of the track will show. Monaco is actually the slowest track of the F1 season, and rewards handling over raw speed. Steven continues: "The US F1 race is held on a purpose-built course in Indianapolis. The US course seems about middling in terms of difficulty; curvy enough so the drivers won't go to sleep, but straight enough to permit them to really hit top speed a lot."

You would think that the track with the longest stretch at full throttle (23 seconds, from the exit of turn 11 to just before turn 1) would be the fastest in F1. Surprisingly, it's not... the technical stuff in the middle of the track (which David Hobbs of the Legendary Announce Team terms 'the mickey mouse part') slows down the overall speed.

Turn 13, which is better known as Turn 1 in the Indy 500, is also the only banked turn in F1. This causes problems, of course, as F1 tires as a rule aren't designed to run on a bank... which is what led to the 2005 USGP Debacle.

More Steven: "Sheesh; the Canadian course sure looks uninspired! Was that the best they could do?"

Part of the reason for the layout of the Canadian GP is it's location on the Ile de Notre Dame; long thin island, long thin racetrack. As far as 'uninspired' goes, here's a better map... which shows in more detail what's going on with the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Long known as the track that's the hardest on brakes (SuperSato actually had his catch on fire in 2005, and JP Montoya's blew up on him... literally... the same year), the Canadian GP has my favorite bit of trackage: The Wall Of Champions. So called, of course, because everybody who's anybody hits it at least once... and it's so-pleasant "Welcome To Quebec!"...

Steven: "But the worst one has to be Italy. Jeeze... you don't even need a driver for that one. Just send the car out on its own."

Monza. The Magic Track. The fastest on the F1 calendar, and the deadliest. Also has the greatest amount of altitude change, save for Belgium. Looks simple from the air... but try doing it all at 180mph, with curbs that can rip your wheels off, and it becomes much more tricky. Throw in Parabolica, one of the legendary turns in F1, and you've got a wonderful track.

Finally, the Fuji Speedway, home of the Japanese GP, is a completely unknown element today. It's been nearly 20 years since a F1 race was run there (it was at Suzuka the past years... widely considered the driver's favorite track). Looks interesting; big change from the old videogame Pole Position.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 06:26 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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1 So what it sounds like is that the wide variety of tracks represent different optimization problems for the techs and different driving problems for the drivers. And thus the mix of ridiculously curvy tracks (China) and minimally curved ones (Italy) is a feature, not a bug.

It occurs to me that there's something of an analogy to the PGA, where each of the golf courses they visit is different and thus represents a different kind of challenge.

Actually, I've seen PGA golfers complain that the courses are too straightforward. Since they're designed for normal humans, they don't represent enough of a challenge to supermen like Tiger Woods; everyone birdies the same holes, because everyone shoots every hole the same way, because there's really only one way to do it if you're that good.

Apparently the wide variety of courses in F1 doesn't yield that kind of monotony.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at May 23, 2007 08:23 PM (+rSRq)

2 Well, yes and no. Magny-Cours and Barcelona are both brutally dull tracks, though you'd think otherwise by looking at the layout.

Indy is technically challenging, but the drivers don't like it much because there's no feeling of going anywhere... it's just too flat.

And the Hermann Tilke courses (Istanbul, Bahrain, Malaysia, and China) all feel the same in a way that's hard to explain.

Then you have tracks like Silverstone in England, and Spa in Belgium... and all becomes right with the world again.

Posted by: Wonderduck at May 24, 2007 02:21 AM (A5s0y)

3 You can't beat Spa, standing anywhere around La Source is one of the best views in motorsport bar none. And if you get the opportunity, which I was lucky enough to, the best place possible is to hang over the pit wall on the way downhill to it, where the cars will actually go under you. Insane feeling.

Monza was even better before they got chicane-itis, and it is a shame we'll never get to see F1 on the proper Nurburgring again. I also miss old Silverstone, as it used to be the main track in an old computer game called Revs, and I can still picture every corner as it should be.

Posted by: flotsky at May 26, 2007 10:25 PM (hiymr)

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