Start, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021

F1 drivers want safety changes to Jeddah’s “Suzuka with walls” layout

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Formula 1 drivers want changes to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit to lessen its dangers after the first race weekend on the track was marred by incidents.

The inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was red-flagged twice and saw a spate of Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car periods.

The support races were also disrupted. Sunday’s Formula 2 feature race was cut from 28 laps to five after it was delayed due to barrier repairs and also stopped twice. The first stoppage occured on the first lap after a violent crash which left one driver in intensive care.

Both series are due to return to the track in March for the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend.

While F1 drivers largely praised the fast layout, the potential for crashes was a talking point throughout the weekend. Before the race Sergio Perez said he feared a “big shunt” would take place. In the race he was one of three drivers eliminated in the crash which caused the grand prix to be stopped for a second time.

After the chequered flag fell several drivers agreed more could be done to make the track safer to race on, particularly around its many high-speed blind corners. Their concerns focused on the limited visibility in places and lack of run-off area.

Mick Schumacher, Haas, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Several drivers crashed, including the Haas pair
“With the red flags, it’s because there’s no room,” said four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. “It’s an exciting track because there’s high speed corners. But I think we largely rely on the skills that we have, and also luck, if things go wrong.

“It doesn’t take much, you know. You can’t see nothing when you go around, and there were some close calls.

“I think Suzuka is an amazing track, but you wouldn’t do Suzuka with walls. And that’s what they’ve done, more or less, here. So it’s challenging but pointless to be so blind for so long.”

Nikita Mazepin was unable to avoid George Russell when several drivers swerved to avoid Perez’s crash. The Williams climbed on top of the Haas’s halo in the collision.

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Carlos Sainz Jnr attributed the carnage to the nature of the circuit. “They were very clear examples of what drivers we’ve been saying all weekend,” the Ferrari driver said. “We’ve seen it with Mazepin. This is exactly what this track kind of generates.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Perez expected a shunt, and had one
“There’s basically no space to go to avoid an accident, no visibility and Nikita couldn’t avoid a crash in front of him, which is what we’ve been saying since we arrived here on Thursday. So there’s some things to learn, analyse and see for March if we can make everything a bit easier.”

Sainz’s Ferrari team mate, Charles Leclerc – who suffered a heavy crash at the end of Friday’s second practice – also sees scope to lessen Jeddah’s dangers.

“It’s, of course, challenging, and in some places it can be dangerous,” he said. “It would be good to re-look a little bit some parts of the track to make it a bit safer.”

Pierre Gasly admitted the race had played out “worse” than his expectations going into the event. “I didn’t expect such a thing, and even at some point I started to think like, ‘okay, we’re going to do like half of the race under VSC or full Safety Car if it keeps going like this.'”

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The AlphaTauri driver wants the track operators to “open the corners so we have a bit more visibility a bit further ahead, because even during the formation lap or if we have a Safety Car, when you start pushing you arrive at such high speed.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Much of the track offers little room for run-off
“[If] the guy behind decided to brake or slow down there, the speed difference is very, very high. So if they can increase the visibility, I think that will just make it a lot safer for all of us.”

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl acknowledged the concerns expressed by some drivers over the weekend, including his own, but believes the risks posed by the track are “manageable”.

“It is clear that with the characteristics this track has, which is in one [way] very exciting, when you listen to the drivers, when they drive the first laps here, it is clear that a certain amount of risk is involved as well with the walls being so close and with the track layout how it is here,” Seidl said. “I still think it’s a risk that is manageable, to be honest,” he added.

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43 comments on “F1 drivers want safety changes to Jeddah’s “Suzuka with walls” layout”

  1. Don’t change the layout. Move the barriers and walls further away. Althought I think this is impossible. This track is hot, a shame that I don’t have any simulators to drive or play on it. I think the DRS on the back straight before the final corner needs to be removed.

    1. @krichelle It’s available in F1 2021 now. And it’s errr………. very hard. Suzuka with walls is a good description, I think I did maybe 20 laps in Free Practice before I did one I was happy with and I was still way off the pace.

      I don’t know what it’s like in an online lobby. Chaos, I imagine. Bit like the real grand prix.

      1. I’ve set 1:31:289 without the racing line and all the other assists (ABS, TCS etc.) turned off. Was pretty proud of myself until I saw the pole laps on Saturday.

        1. @rockgod We’re both slower than Mazepin. You’re 10m up the road from me though (not that I can see you at 200mph).

          1. Why did you have to twist the knife more @bernasaurus? 😔

    2. I love the track but then I’m not in danger watching at home. Maybexwithout changes next year will be better in that drivers have a fear factor of the track. They are so used to taking liberties at modern tracks with airport carpark of space in which they take the mick out of track limits, going off line, no problem. I think these modern drivers could race this track well now they have the fear.

  2. I do find it incredible, after the years of pushing for safety since Bianchi and having seen the massive benefits of the halo, that we find ourselves in a situation where a brand new custom built track made specifically for F1 flies in the face of so many of the learnings we’ve earned over the decades.

    This site itself has asked questions of what could and should be changed at Spa since the fatal crash there in F2. This new track, which could have had any configuration they wanted, is packed with high speed blind corners that it feels inevitable will see huge crashes that injure drivers. I just don’t get it.

    I don’t tend to believe the people who think everything is a conspiracy by Liberty to get more drama, no matter how that happens, but with the Jeddah track it does start to feel that way. “Imagine if we can have a Grosjean level crash every season!”

    1. Very well said, think that sums it up really…

      I get the resounding impression that safety concerns were ignored for the sake of money in this event. I hope the GPDA takes action.

    2. Motorsport is dangerous.

    3. Martin Elliott
      7th December 2021, 15:18

      It may seem crazy, but FIA culture on safety and its iimplementation has hardly changed in decades. Lots of talk but little other than empirical reactions.

      There are many industries which are also intrinsically hazardous due to activities and/or substances. Real Health & Safety has addressed the problems since the 70s as industries AND legislation. The real change is the culture of managing safety before empirical reaction.

      There are still many expert consultancies helping to implement these approaches enshrined in International Standards and Legislation.

      FIA has adopted some of the Environmental Standards, but without independent scrutiny, one wonders if it’s really imbedded.

      With a ‘new’ Presidency, there is a slim chance of ‘walking the walk’ rather than ‘talking the talk’.

    4. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      7th December 2021, 18:58

      @davidhunter13 I’m at a bit of a loss. I thought it’s a street track meaning streets converted for racing like Monaco, Montreal, Baku, Singapore etc.

      You said it’s a custom built track. Is it a real racetrack like Circuit of the Americas?

    5. @davidhunter13 In the middle of the weekend I was thinking that this track is straight from the histroy books. They said nordschleife is way too dangerous for its lack of runoff area. In some places this track has even less and we are still racing here. Of course Jeddah is almost as flat as it can be but speeds are on the high end of F1’s capability. Only thing what is missing is elevation change.

    6. The track is safe. It doesn’t kill you if you lose control as a single car. This is likely what Tilke’s simulations feature; as single car losing control.

      What is not safe is the situations created after an initial accident. Such as pile-ups, debris, stricken cars.

      These are things that can be designed to be better by altering the barriers and access routes etc.

      I would love to see this racing at this track with all the barriers moved back. The spectacle would rival the esses kf silverstone and suzuka.

  3. I don’t really understand how you can build from scratch something like this with hazards everywhere. This wasn’t a street track limited by a city, it was an empty bit of land. They purposely made the track twisty with blind, fast corners. Specially that last sector. And it goes wide and goes narrow again, creating a funnel which is exactly the spot where Perez, Leclerc, Russell and Mazepin had that incident.

    I don’t understand either how we get places like Abu Dhabi, where they kept telling us for years that it was difficult to change the layout because the run offs were very limited and then approve this design with hardly any room. This isn’t Monaco that needs special dispensation because of it being an historic place. We’ve heard a lot of voices asking to change Spa which is defined in shape by nature, but then we get a brand new track like this one. It makes no sense.

    There’s more than enough room, judging by the aerial shots, to move the walls back a little maintaining the white lines in place.

    Plus the first corner, of course what we saw with Verstappen and Hamilton shouldn’t happen, but if the corner is like that, it’s bound to happen. People going of track and cutting a big chunk of the circuit.

    I think we were lucky no one was close behind Alonso when he spun around and stopped with half his car on the racing line. That’d have been a horrible one…

    1. Note: a small part was allready a road but the rest was created.

    2. @fer-no65 I think the contrast between Abu Dhabi and Jeddah isn’t some inexplicable conundrum that came out of nowhere — it’s the culmination of several trends. Not the least of those is precisely that fans have been criticising Abu Dhabi ever since it was built, and in that decade, F1 has changed ownership and they and Tilke have listened. And related to that, Liberty’s interest in street circuits has allowed Tilke to design tracks without the need for the runoff needed for bikes or amateur club racers.

      You can certainly trace the “Suzuka with walls” concept to sector 3 of Hanoi. Suzuka’s esses were explicitly cited as inspiration there, and if you watch the sim laps of that circuit, the blind corners and close walls in the final sector are a clear precedent of Jeddah.

      The advent of Tecpro and Safer barriers has likely allowed certain corners on street circuits to have zero or limited runoff that otherwise would not have made the cut with only concrete barriers.

      I was also reminded of an interview with Tilke on this very site, where he talked about the difference between designing a street circuit that is solely used by elite professional drivers and designing a road course like Bahrain for owners who get revenue from amateur track days. It seems likely that Jeddah is an example of the sort of street circuit Tilke has always wanted to build for elite F1 drivers, with free rein in the layout and no more safety measures than deemed necessary.

      None of that answers exactly how Jeddah (or Hanoi) were approved, but my guess is it was simply because it meets all the engineering requirements for Grade 1 circuits — barriers, geometry, gradients, track width, drainage, etc. It would be a very F1 sort of mentality to say it’s fine because it meets all the requirements that we have defined, bang on, and to exploit as much as possible any area that has not been defined. At least in what is published, there are no requirements for driver visibility except restricting obstructions by advertising.

      The regulations also say the track width must be 15 metres on the grid and maintained through the exit of the first corner, and that width changes should be limited to 1 metre in width for every 20 metres of track length (if I’m reading section 7.3 correctly; the English there seems a bit garbled). So 15 metres can become 10 metres over just 100 metres of track. I wouldn’t be surprised if the portion of the track where Perez and Leclerc made contact exactly meets that specification.

    3. Constantijn Blondel
      7th December 2021, 18:16

      And yet … and yet … there is this part of me that wonders, “but isn’t this exactly what you’ve all been asking for since forever?”

      I mean … …

      1. Constantijn Blondel
        7th December 2021, 18:18

        It’s not the criticism that I take issue with … I get it, and to some extent I agree.

        It’s the outrage that I find a bit distasteful.

    4. That some people sat in a room and signed off on this circuit is incredible. A child could tell you that it is unnecessarily dangerous.

  4. Sunday’s Formula 2 feature race was cut from 28 laps to five after it was delayed due to barrier repairs

    Can anyone actually confirm what these barrier repairs were for? I presume that there a support race prior to F2 that I’m unaware of? Cos if not, how can the first race of the day be delayed? Thanks

    1. It wasn’t that. If you read the AMA (ask me anything) with a confirmed security person from the circuit, it was delayed because the marshals were on strike – they weren’t provided with water.

      1. The delay mentioned in the AMA was for one of the Saturday races. The delay for the barrier repair after the Porsche race was for the Sunday feature race.

    2. @eurobrun The barrier damage was caused by a crash exiting T13 during the Porsche Sprint Challenge Middle East series race.

      A car spun towards the exit & hit the inside wall which apparently damaged the barrier & caused that race to be stopped & the following F2 race to be delayed.

  5. I suggest Suzuka, without walls.

  6. Seidl you are my man! Too many run offs, not enough run offs. Track limits here no track limit there. Wall of shame here dangerous there. Not enough visibility, too many opportunity to cut. Too fast, too slow. Too dry, too wet. Too hot Too cold.
    This track is no perfect, it could probably use a little less blind area but not at the cost off cutting through. We didn’t ear much about track limits abuse this week because the limits are not debatable. Going over the limit will cost you big time.
    The drivers will learn this track need a different attitude. The race engineers will learn to give timely positional info. Maybe teams could use “scouts” around the track. F1, FIA and mostly Liberty need to stop efing around for the sake of entertainment! Be tough and enforce the rules consistently. Like Seidl said it’s manageable

  7. Imagine that. A circuit that was built at the last minute and only received its certification to hold an F1 event the same week as the race isn’t as safe as it should be. Who could have ever seen that coming? I think everyone except those at the FIA, F1, and Liberty who think with their wallets instead of their brains. I’m just surprised there wasn’t a bigger accident there actually. And that’s saying something given the wreckage over the weekend with all the support races included.

  8. The track is just fine as it is.

  9. Some safety tweaks at max, but proper track configuration changes would be unworthy since Jeddah Corniche Circuit is only a stop-gap solution anyway until the Qiddiya track is ready, either 2023 or 2024 AFAIA.

    1. BTW, Seb did a double-negative. The first time for everything.

      1. Haha I noticed too. His English is always so perfect yet unstilted. This type of phrasing is used kind of for emphasis or to sound more real/colloquial but done wrong it sounds weird.

  10. They should keep it as it is. It has a Grade A license, meaning it matches the highest safety standards.

    I am done with all these parking lots in F1. This is a proper race track. Whining about safety… good thing these kids weren’t around 50 years ago.

    1. You mean in the period where over one driver died per year? I have nothing against tracks being difficult and punishing drivers for mistakes. However, punishing and injuring drivers due to car damage or breakdown isn’t what racing is about.

  11. Jeddah is now the 2nd best close-barriered track on the calendar after Baku or even the best one!! I hope they preserve the layout 100%

    Nobody who’s been complaining at Tilkedromes has the right to complain about this track. It’s a gem and should be protected!

  12. They could make it better by moving the start finish line, I dont know, say a thousand miles in any direction….

  13. The only changes I’d do pronto are demanding neat stewarding and putting a gravel trap at the exit of T1, right where everyone was cutting through.

  14. Shouldn’t they be doing some laps done on a F1 car to understand the potential hazards of blind corners, visibility before certifying the track

  15. Just spotted that Hamilton’s total race time was 2:06:15.118 – how come the 2 hour rule wasn’t triggered?

    1. My thoughts exactly… there will be some inexplicable excuse to explain why the 2-hour rule was exceeded of course…

    2. 2 hours of race time, part of the time was under red flag so isn’t counted in the 2 hours.
      The race can be up to 3 hours long with red flag stoppages, however the ‘race’ element still can’t exceed 2 hours.

  16. The track is brutal, violent and needlessly complex. I guess the design description was to have a product that reflects the country’s leadership.

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