Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez turn four rendering, 2015

Run-off areas ‘too big’ on older circuits

2015 F1 season

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Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez turn four rendering, 2015Modern Formula One circuits can have smaller run-off areas because they use asphalt instead of gravel, according to race director Charlie Whiting.

Asphalt run-offs have replaced gravel traps at many F1 venues, leading to some criticism that they do not penalise drivers sufficiently for running wide. However Whiting says the use of asphalt on new tracks allows for smaller run-off areas.

“I like to get spectators as close as we can to the circuit,” Whiting explained in the latest issue of the FIA’s quarterly publication, Auto.

“You can start off with big run-offs but they’re seldom used. Certainly circuits that were designed 12 to 15 years ago have some run-off areas that are a little too big and they wouldn’t be as big these days because we have a lot more experience of how cars go off as certain corners and we have better impact attenuating devices.”

Whiting has already made two visits to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico which is being renovated ahead of its return to the calendar in November for the first time since 1992. Although Whiting says the track will be a “world-class facility” when it is complete, the venue requires large-scale redevelopment.

“Every advance made over the last 23 years is missing,” said Whiting.

New F1 tracks since 1999

YearCircuitType
1999Sepang International CircuitNew-build road course
2004Bahrain International CircuitNew-build road course
2004Shanghai International CircuitNew-build road course
2005Istanbul Park*New-build road course
2008Valencia Street CircuitStreet circuit
2008SingaporeStreet circuit
2009Yas MarinaNew-build road course
2010Korea International Circuit*New-build road course
2011Buddh International Circuit*New-build road course
2012Circuit of the AmericasNew-build road course
2014Sochi AutodromStreet circuit
2015Autodromo Hermanos RodriguezRenovated road course

*No longer on calendar

“The run-off areas were not right. The track surface was worn down and was never going to be suitable. The drainage system wasn’t working, the kerbs were outdated and the fencing was unsuitable. The entire infrastructure of the pit was wrong. The pit wall didn’t exist in the way we now need it to. The medical centre was not in a suitable location; it didn’t have the right footprint; all the equipment was wrong.”

“The list goes on, but with the FIA we have addressed all those issues and now we are very much on time.” He expects track to be 90% ready by the end of next month.

The extent of the work being done to the track in the heart of Mexico City means that every corner is being altered and several new ones added. The signature 180-degree Peraltada corner has been replaced – according to Whiting it “was gone long before I got there”.

However another of the most demanding features of the circuit has been retained. “The fast, sweeping corners that lead onto the back straight are still there,” said Whiting, “although we had to modify the alignment slightly to get adequate run-off there.”

Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez development pictures

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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40 comments on “Run-off areas ‘too big’ on older circuits”

  1. Not accepting a word of that. Explain tracks such as Bahrain, Shanghai, and India, compared with the classic gravel trap.

    1. Certainly circuits that were designed 12 to 15 years ago have some run-off areas that are a little too big

      1. Sepang, Bahrain, Shanghai

      2. Oh. Just kicked myself, that was embarrassing, I don’t know how I missed that. Nevertheless India and Korea both have a lot too – too much in my opinion.

    2. Arent you interested in the business of running a major motorsports track? Don’t you think it would be interesting to read about the safety issues learned in the last 2 decades surrounding gravel traps, especially for MotoGP? Isn’t anyone aware that these places operate 365 days a year and only 1 week of that has anything to do with F1? Usually they lose money on the F1 event and spend the rest of the year making it up. Or do you just want to have a knee jerk, parrot, unoriginal reaction that 98.54% of fans on this sight seem unable to let go of? GRAVEL. IS. DANGEROUS. Grow up.

      These tracks invest in something that needs to last 20-30 years. Everyone cries for faster cars, yet seem unable to recognize that TILKE especially has designed tracks that can handle cars 15-25% faster than current spec. THINK.

      1. until the cars get up to speed, we could always add a few nails in the tarmac so anyone using too much of it gets a flat tire…

  2. I’d much rather large gravel run offs than small tarmac run offs any day

  3. Yeah… and with small tarmac run offs and close to the track grandstands we get the magical motor racing experience that is Abu Dhabi.

    The Buenos Aires racetrack still has acres of run offs available and it’s still incredibly enjoyable to watch the cars blast by the back straight AT THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LAKE from the main grandstands.

    Not to mention grass and gravel run offs give some character to the tracks. Look how beautiful the Red Bull Ring looks compared to the track within a carpark that is COTA (except the colours, which are quite nice to see, but still…).

    1. @fer-no65 Love for the number 15 layout! Flat out around the lake..

  4. yeah right… that’s why the sport is in decline, because people want to sit closer than they’ve ever wanted before the last 60 years, NOT because the tracks and regulations and media usage (old and new types of media) are inefficient, unintuitive and frankly boring.
    NOT because the funds are so fundamentally skewed from the rightfull hands and into the moneygrubbing ones… yeah right

    Imagine Suzuka S’es with tarmac runoffs…. bluergh!

  5. Did I just read an article in which someone involved in running F1 talks in practical terms about a subject which is a point of concern for the fans? What is this witchcraft?

    1. @hey
      There was a time I genuinely believed Charlie and Prof Watkins were the only sane people involved in the running of F1. Charlie sometimes gets lead astray by Bernie, but he does come up with the odd good idea.

  6. The signature 180-degree Peraltada corner has been replaced – according to Whiting it “was gone long before I got there”.

    He’s correct in one sense because the Peraltada that has been there since the mid/late 90s is not the corner that was there when it was last an F1 track.

    Yes the profile is basically the same, But its narrower, less banked, marginally tighter & has no runoff compared to how it was in 1992 (Last year F1 raced there).
    When they build the stadium on the inside & the public streets/roads on the outside they re-profiled the corner & effectively made it unsafe for most of the faster categories & its only really still there because of the oval layout that they run there.

    If they still had runoff on the outside I could see them using the full Peraltada, But with no runoff & walls on both sides (Which also limits visibility through the corner) there was no chance of them ever even considering it.
    I’d also point back to Champcar, Cars designed to run on ovals yet which also felt running the full Peraltada too unsafe. They ran the stadium layout the 1st few years & installed a chicane before the Peraltada for the final 2-3 years.

    1. Nice video links, thanks for that!

      Anyway I have to disagree with Whiting here. If a driver is unconscious, I’d rather have gravel than tarmac to slow down the car. With tarmac, the car goes at 200+ mph in the wall, far from ideal.

      1. @paeschli
        Other than Massa’s crash after being hit on the head by debris, when were the last times an unconscious driver crashed in F1 ?
        My memory isn’t what it once was and I’m struggling to think of any others from the last 20 years.

        As a fan of motorcycle racing, I’m not a big fan of gravel (in most cases). It can help slow you down, but it can also cause flips and other types of accidents that can be very dangerous, and even fatal.

        1. @beneboy An unconscious driver is one example, a high speed brake failure is another.
          I’m not saying it’s very likely, but if it happens, the driver is in big trouble.

          1. @paeschli
            I’m not disputing the risks mate, I was trying to think of incidents such as Massa’s I may have forgotten.

            Circuit safety is a constant compromise, what’s right for one type of accident can be really dangerous for other types. Even standard safety features such as the tire barriers can be fatal if a car gets stuck in or under them, then catches fire. Add in the complexities of dealing with vehicles as different as a moto3 bike, F1 cars and racing trucks and it must make for a very difficult job.

          2. Hamilton in Nurburgring for example, when his tyre literally exploded..

      2. @paeschli

        If a driver is unconscious, I’d rather have gravel than tarmac to slow down the car. With tarmac, the car goes at 200+ mph in the wall, far from ideal.

        If a car is out of control at 200mph and goes into a gravel trap, there’s a good chance it will dig in and roll over – especially if it’s not travelling in a straight line.

        I can’t think of any past crashes where we’re had an unconscious driver who had his foot on the throttle but not the brake. In Massa’s 2009 crash he was at least able to get his foot off the throttle and apply some braking. But even if the driver can’t get on the brake (and isn’t accelerating) the huge drag effect of F1 cars off-acceleration means they will quickly shed speed in the scenario you describe.

        For me the bottom line is the only subject you can rely on normally diffident F1 drivers to voice an opinion on is safety. If asphalt run-offs were less safe than gravel, they would say so. But they don’t.

        1. @keithcollantine Was it Hammond on Top Gear or DC I don’t know but I once heard a F1 has already more braking power just going off the throttle than our very own cars.

        2. Further to my comment above.

          Well said – people generally have no idea of just how destructive gravel is to both vehicle and the body…

          Even if those advocating spend one afternoon at a track helping someone in the lesser classes try to get the stuff out of the chassis or repair the damage from a dig in and flip (after an engine rebuild!) let alone watching anyone in the lesser classes or bikes snap legs and arms when Tarmac would have allowed a slide…

          Well, I am pretty sure the forum would be quieter today…

    2. Nice videos and great review!

  7. The signature 180-degree Peraltada corner has been replaced – according to Whiting it “was gone long before I got there”.

    He’s correct in one sense because the Peraltada that has been there since the mid/late 90s is not the corner that was there when it was last an F1 track.

    Yes the profile is basically the same, But its narrower, less banked, marginally tighter & has no runoff compared to how it was in 1992 (Last year F1 raced there).
    When they build the stadium on the inside & the public streets/roads on the outside they re-profiled the corner & effectively made it unsafe for most of the faster categories & its only really still there because of the oval layout that they run there.

    If they still had runoff on the outside I could see them using the full Peraltada, But with no runoff & walls on both sides (Which also limits visibility through the corner) there was no chance of them ever even considering it.

    Hm, that’s an interesting piece of info.

    I still think it would be possible with SAFER barriers. It would not be worse than an oval corner for IndyCar these days – also, a low-banked oval corner at that which is always slower and less dangerous.

    1. @atticus-2 I don’t believe they can install safer barriers there because the wall’s are not concrete like on other ovals but are instead stone slabs which cannot have safer walls attached to them.

      There is also the problem of the visibility through the corner which is very limited because of the wall on the inside. If a car were to crash there & slide off the wall into the middle of the track, Cars behind wouldn’t be able to see it until they were about to hit it.

      Ovals tend to be a lot more open so drivers have good visibility through the corners to see crashed cars, They also have the spotters on top of the grandstands warning them about that sort of thing.

      1. @gt-racer

        Surely, it wouldn’t be that big of a job to build proper concrete walls for the SAFER barriers.

        However, you do got me on the visibility issue the Foro Sol poses on the inside of the corner. It’s such a shame they weren’t respectful of the circuit characteristics when they built it.

        1. @atticus-2 @gt-racer Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think there are any corners in F1 where a SAFER barrier is used. It’s an IndyCar thing. F1’s equivalent is the TecPro barrier.

          I say this because IndyCars race on oval courses where the speeds are consistently far higher than F1 cars corner at – they’ll do 370kph at Fontana this weekend – and the run-off is obviously minimal. The cars and barriers are designed accordingly, so just because a SAFER barrier would be a suitable solution for an IndyCar, that doesn’t mean it would be for F1.

          1. @keithcollantine Only time safer barriers have been used in F1 is when they raced at Indy and the safer barriers were installed on the oval turn 1.

            When Ralf Schumacher crashed there in 2004 he was unfortunate enough to miss the safer barrier & backed into the concrete wall.

            The cars and barriers are designed accordingly, so just because a SAFER barrier would be a suitable solution for an IndyCar, that doesn’t mean it would be for F1.

            Should be OK, The crash structures are practically identical between F1 & Indycar now & the cars are designed around the same FIA crash test’s.

          2. @keithcollantine

            I think that’s one more reason to make an exception and use a SAFER barrier at the Peraltada – I mean the higher cornering speed is which would obviously be above average there, closer to IndyCar speeds. (I assume SAFER barriers are designed for exactly these kind of situations whereas a TecPro may be unable to cope with it considering all of its usage so far has been on different types of corners.)

            I think it’s rather some contractual issue that blocks SAFER barrier usage in F1 (as you said it’s TecPro domain, mostly) – and, in this case, it might just as well rule out the inclusion of this particular corner in the layout.

  8. Personally, I find paved run-offs too forgiving for the drivers. Maybe Mercedes wouldn’t seem so dominant if Hamilton and Rosberg had a few more DNFs for landing in a gravel trap?

    1. You should see the above comments.

      And remember F1 does not pay the circuit bills…

  9. the kerbs were outdated

    Does he mean they weren’t those horrible 2m wide flat ones, or 30cm high sausage kerbs? (Sorry, ubiquitous kerbing is a pet peeve of mine).

    On a more serious note, I agree with most of the other things in that paragraph. Charlie gets a lot of stick for sanitising tracks, but things like medical facilities and fencing are obviously vital, and sorting the drainage out means more wet running instead of sitting behind safety cars because of aquaplaning.

    1. @george It’ll be ironic if we hear about ‘track limits’ when drivers are going too fast over these modern flat kerbs..

  10. Omar R (@omarr-pepper)
    23rd June 2015, 22:13

    Even if they created a run off grippy enough that stopped cars in 2 meters, that’s not all the concern, at least not in my opinion.
    A flying or rolling car needs space to stop “naturally”. If the run-off is too short it would mean debris could fly straight into the fans. If the crash involves 2 or more cars coming in the same direction, a short run off could end as Kimi and Alonso accident last week, with one car on top of the other. I know fans want action as close as possible, but debris going at bullet speed is something you don’t want coming straight at you.

  11. Fwiw, shouldn’t Indy be listed as a new F1 circuit that went into service in the year 2000 (no longer in use of course).

  12. If he were dead, Jackie Stewart would be rolling in his grave. As it is, he probably rolled his eyes at hearing this.

  13. Modern Formula One circuits can have smaller run-off areas because they use asphalt instead of gravel, according to race director Charlie Whiting.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t every single Tilke-dome track feature large run off areas that are asphalt, T1 Sepang, T1 China, Esses in COTA, Entire track of Abu-Dhabi. If that is close, then I may need to get my eyes tested as I wouldn’t expect to see much.

    Flip that and look at older circuits, like Albert Park (T3, T6, T9, T10/11) and Monza (Chicanes, Lesmos) where there are very short gravel traps…

    What I think is happening here is, Charlie has been asked to justify how the Mexico track can go from one of the most dangerous tracks on the calendar in a time when safety standards weren’t very high; to being safe for modern grand prix standards and he’s just spun some words together that made him sound quite clever to the reporter, but to the rest of us, we’re wondering what is going on.

  14. Wasn’t there some talk a while back about a circuit having special tire-munching asphalt for the run-off areas? At the back of my mind I think it might have been Paul Ricard. To me, it sounds like some particularly abrasive surface, perhaps one that also has a tendency to gather particularly high amounts of dust and marbles, would offer us an appropriate compromise between cars’ behaviour in accidents, and cars’ behaviour when drivers make errors and run off track.

    Anyone care to reassure me that I haven’t gone mad?

    1. They’ve got that stuff at Abu Dhabi I think

  15. Daniel Stallard
    25th June 2015, 15:10

    Have to disagree with Charlie Whiting’s comments on this, purely on a safety point of view. As at many British circuits with grass and gravel run offs, I would choose to be stood behind a gravel trap any day of the week. I will admit that the impact bearing safety devices have come a long long way in recent years, but why take that risk?

    Raikkonen’s crash at Silverstone last year could have been prevented if there was gravel, and in my mind prevention is better than cure, and as has been said thousands of times before (and will be said thousands of times more), drivers are not penalised for exceeding track limits, and the sausage kerbs put in place to deter people simply become dangerous.

    I feel that if you keep allowing people to push the track limits, and lull them into a false sense of security, it’s just going to end in tears, possibly for anyone involved in motorsport.

  16. And then we get the races like the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP where a driver can run very wide and not be penalized for that, especially if the race is on a track that doesn’t allow much overtaking.

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