Austin track “not F1 level” and needs work to fix “rally car” bumps, say drivers

Formula 1

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Formula 1 drivers urged the operators of Circuit of the Americas to do more work to ease the track’s notorious bumps.

The Texan circuit has always been one of the roughest permanent tracks on the F1 calendar. Several attempts to ease its many bumps have been made over the years.

Max Verstappen, who won both F1 races at the track last weekend, was adamant the track needs to be resurfaced again.

“It needs to be redone because at the moment it feels like it’s better suited to a rally car,” said the Red Bull driver. “I’m jumping and bouncing around.

“In an F1 car probably you don’t even see it as much because we are glued to the ground because of the downforce. But the bumps and jumps that we have in some places is way too much. I don’t think it’s F1-level.”

However Verstappen, who has won the last three races at the circuit, was quick to stress how much he enjoys its layout.

“I love this track, honestly, the layout is amazing,” he said. “But we definitely need new Tarmac and it needs to be a lot smoother for the coming years because we have already been asking for this for I think quite a few years and it’s not really been done.”

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Lewis Hamilton, speaking before he was disqualified from second place due to a plank wear infringement which the circuit’s bumps likely contributed to, agreed with Verstappen.

Aerial view, Circuit of the Americas, 2023
COTA has been resurfaced and patched up many times
“It is bumpy. I mean, I like some of the bumps because it adds character to a circuit, but there’s way too many. As drivers and the [Grand Prix Drivers Association] we’re open to discussing with them and helping them, like maybe not doing the whole thing so it costs a fortune.

“From the last corner to the start line, for example, that’s smooth, but then the rest is bumpy. The pit lane is smooth. But there are other areas that for sure we could patch up and improve.”

The circuit was built specifically to host F1, and held its first race in the world championship in 2012. Its bumps have worsened during that time and many attempts have been made to fix different sections of the track.

However the positioning of some of those patches have added to the problems in places, says Lando Norris. “They resurfaced some places and they start the [new] Tarmac at the 100 metre border into turn 12 which is where we brake. So there’s just little things they could do.

“But from what I heard, they’re resurfacing the first sector or something next year, so we’ll hope it’s a little bit better.”

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Teams strengthen some of their car parts for the particular demands of Austin but still experience some damage. “The track is brutal,” said Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack. “It’s really very, very tough.

“There was one part of the floor edges on the right that has just broken off like half a metre in length, just gone.”

Aston Martin retired Fernando Alonso’s car from the grand prix due to floor damage, and Krack believes the drivers are “best-placed” to judge whether changes are needed. “We’re sitting outside and looking what they do, they drive it, and they [know] also the comparison to other circuits.

“We know that this is a hard circuit. You come here, you reinforce everything, you strengthen the brake ducts, you strengthen the deflectors, you strengthen everything that you can strengthen. If you look at the [FIA’s parts] replacement list, there is also some teams that had to replace some parts because it’s so tough.

“I think it’s also the combination of the circuit with this generation of car that you have to run on the lower side that makes it hard. But it is a fact that it is a very hard circuit.”

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30 comments on “Austin track “not F1 level” and needs work to fix “rally car” bumps, say drivers”

  1. So the 2021 repairements proved insufficient in the end with ground-effect cars.

    1. The issue is rather that repairing the track surface, or even resurfacing it, does not really solve the issue @jerejj.

      As a person coming from a country where we built almost everything on settled mud like this track is – you really have to dig out the foundation again, put in fresh fragmented rocks and a load of sand, then best to let it settle for a year or so to get it stable. Or build it on pillars, put concrete on that, and then start building up the layers under the tarmac.

  2. Actually I prefer when a track has character and proves to be more challenging. Accept it as a challenge, you’re F1 teams, and I didn’t see anything that shows that this track is undrivable or unsafe. Some got penalized for lowering their cars, but they did it because they wanted to extract extra performance. Their cars could be higher and there would be no issues. I wish all tracks were as bumpy, since “best in the world” drivers surely don’t need best in the world asphalt to make things easier and smoother. I like when things are more complicated, instead of having races look like repeats of each other.

    1. The bumps at Austin aren’t character. They’re just a sign of poor construction and maintenance.

      This is a permanent circuit, in the world’s most prosperous country, certified by the FIA at the highest level. The surface should not be something that teams have to strengthen the cars for.

      The MotoGP riders have found it borderline unsafe in the past.

      1. It’s not necessarily a sign of poor construction. The track was built on a marsh. This was always going to happen as the land settled under the weight of the track and rain caused fluctuations in the amount of groundwater. You could argue that it has been poorly maintained but I would argue the FIA knew what it was getting into (or at least should have known) when they certified as a Grade 1 circuit.

        1. Much of the western Netherlands is built on former fens that, due to constant drainage, continue to ‘sink’. It’s pretty well known how to handle these challenges, and for a relatively small venue like a racetrack, any kind of surface issues should be manageable with proper construction and maintenance.

          In the case of COTA, it seems their initial faulty construction has left them with very expensive maintenance requirements. If they can’t fix the foundations, it’s just going to keep happening until they run out of money.

      2. David, one has nothing to do with the other!
        The bumps at Austin are a sign of poor construction and maintenance. = YES, of course, and those bumps ARE exactly what adds character to the track.

        1. I understand what you mean about the character bit, but when you have Lewis saying that he loves some of the bumps cause they add the character, like you mentioned, but finds that there are way too many and Max saying he loves the layout but thinks Austin as is is not at F1 level and it’s more suited to a rally car, probably means something is not right. These guys have 10 titles between them, I would take their word for it, as they are the ones racing on it.

          Fernando had is floor damaged by some of those bumps and had to retire. The track already have plenty of details that add a lot of character, the altitute change, the blind turn 1, the “esses”, turns 16, 17 and 18 as one, it doesn’t need an excess in bumps, that apparently raise safety concerns, for “more character”, imo. If they keep trying to fix it, it’s because there is a problem.

    2. It’s road racing, not billiard table racing. Let the drivers show their skill in dealing with some real world conditions and raise the car if necessary.

  3. As long as the bumps aren’t a safety concern I’m not sure the track needs to deal with them. F1 races in a number of places you could call “not F1 level” but as long as the conditions are safe and the same for all the competitors then I don’t see a problem from a sporting standpoint, as opposed to an entertainment standpoint.

  4. It’s pathetic that they won’t fix the track when it’s a problem every year

  5. I wonder what the cost of fixing it would be? Surely that is the reason they haven’t yet done so

    1. A lot I suspect. That’s why it hasn’t been fixed properly. Just band-aids.

  6. Texan here – this is not a problem they can just fix. The problem is the soil, it is expansive. TX gets hot dry periods followed by wet periods – the soil expands & contracts. The roads around TX are full of bumps for this very reason.

    They can fix the bumps, but they will come back.

    1. That should in some ways be similar to how it is in our frosty countries. Its expensive to build stuff because you have to dig out the ground deeply and replace it with coarse packed gravel,. which i guess they skipped.

  7. I’d argue that many F1 drivers are not ‘F1 level’ – nor are the teams anymore.
    Bit of perspective – COTA is still much smoother than just about every F1 track 30 years ago.

    Might be refreshing for the current F1 mob to watch some videos and read some books about the people who used to make race cars for the circuits they visited back in the day, rather than arguing for the circuits to change to meet they cars they build as they do now.
    Toy cars race on billiard tables – real cars race in the real world.

    1. COTD

      What’s next, the cars can’t race in the rain? /s

      1. F1’s problems:
        – the track is too wet
        – the track is too slippery
        – the track is too bumpy
        – the track is too new
        – the track is too old
        – the wind is too strong
        – the altitude is too high / the air pressure it too low
        – the corners are too sharp
        – the straights are too long
        – the track is too loud
        – the track is not suited for LGBTQ
        – the track doesn’t feel quite right

        1. Also, my personal favourites:
          – the track limits are not in the right place for where I want to drive
          – I can’t drive well enough to stay on the track
          – the tyres…. (insert every possible aspect of tyre construction and performance here, always as a negative)

  8. Formula Whine always whines about something. Whats next?

  9. Back in the day a bumpy track was just a bumpy track. A smooth one, a smooth one.

    If you need to lift the car because of bumps, just lift the car. What’s the issue?

  10. There was a really good video back in the day when COTA was getting constructed, David Coulthard drove an old Red Bull on wet tyres around the layout as a dirt track before anything had been put down.

    You could even see back then this was going to be a problem down the line given that’s what the track was getting built on.

  11. Robert Henning
    23rd October 2023, 23:05

    Yes it’s suboptimal but that’s also part of the challenge. If Singapore was smooth, RB would have walked away with another win as well.

    They may need some improvement but I think it’s fine as is. Drivers and teams want everything perfect except themselves. Maybe they should run cars higher much higher than now, lose performance and try to see how it goes.

  12. They should perfect the areas of the track the cars currently don’t use much, to make them late braking overtaking opportunities.

  13. We should be talking about the racing, but because of the nature of this track we are talking about the events after the race finished. The track needs expensive repairs. I’m not sure who should pay for them. I’m guessing the owner expects F1 to provide some, or even all, of the money, and I’m guessing F1 expects the owner to pay for it all himself.

    1. We should be talking about the racing, but because of the nature of this track we are talking about the events after the race finished.

      Nope – we are talking about the teams’ failure to set their cars up for the characteristics of the track, not the track itself.
      The track hasn’t changed since Friday when the teams did their setup work (except for where the limit is defined….).

      I’m guessing the owner expects F1 to provide some, or even all, of the money, and I’m guessing F1 expects the owner to pay for it all himself.

      Although this is a complete misidentification of where the problem lies (if there is a problem at all, which is quite subjective) – it’s up to the track owners to provide a track, then the FIA to grade the track, then F1 to decide whether they want to go there or not.
      F1 has no control over the track – but I’m sure the owners wouldn’t turn down a blank cheque to spend on it (not going to happen, obviously).

  14. Let me tell you children (downs a beer):
    The Flugplatz at Nurburgring, now that was a real bump.”

    (Leans back in rocking chair and watches a re-run of the 1971 Italian GP.)
    Yes I’ll use my headphones, all RIGHT! How do I turn the sound up?

  15. I’d prefer if they spent the money on graveling the runoff

  16. Seeing some posts in here that the bumps are just the result of poor construction or just the soil conditions. Actually, it was built very well, and the bad soil was accounted for in the engineering design process. The problems started with how it was handled after design and construction.

    Of course, the expansive black clay is the underlying problem, but they did dig deep to install a soil mitigation solution that was very clever and worked just fine until the 2015 storms.

    The bad soil was accounted for in the engineering design process. The problems started with how it was handled after design and construction. It is indeed sad and embarrassing. And Epstein won’t even acknowledge the actual problem, trying to pass it off as just ‘old asphalt’. There’s much more to it than that. It’s the bad soil + the weather + a human element, as it seems there always is.

    Prior to construction, the engineers had done extensive soil core sampling and knew about the expanding/contracting, shifting/heaving soil problems. They came up with a great plan and put an engineering solution in place to limit the issues. They dug down as much as 10-15 feet in places and laid an impermeable polymer barrier, then refilled it all with specific different layers of prescribed, imported road base aggregates, compacted that layer by layer, then paved on top of that in a very precise layering process with specialize paving equipment, supervised by an F1/MotoGP track paving specialist.

    Obviously, the track is built along the side of a hill. A drainage solution was designed to divert rain from the track down the hill – around and under the track and under the water barrier. This way, the engineers sought to create an isolated ‘tube’ on which the track would rest and which would be made more stable than the surrounding soil by controlling the water content inside it .

    They designed a robust drainage system which was a critical component of the system. That solution worked very well and kept the track very smooth until 2015, when poor/no maintenance led to failure of the drainage system that’s a key component of the soil mitigation solution.

    I’ve been told by multiple people who worked on the design, the construction, and at COTA in different capacities that the scheduled maintenance on the drainage system that was prescribed by the engineers was canceled by COTA brass to save money. Then when big rain events predictably occurred, the unmaintained drainage system was overwhelmed. Water is always going to find a way downhill, no matter what, so it ran across, under, and even through the now-damaged subsurface barrier ‘tube’.

    The water moving inside the tube weakened the track base, eroding the substrate and causing subsidence. That created bumps and cracks in the surface. You can see evidence of this during and even days after any significant rain at COTA, as water weeps up from the track base (where it’s not even supposed to be) and out through cracks in the track surface.

    Now the drainage system needs to be repaired to help stabilize the track’s substrate, but in short that’s not happening, so the cheaper, superficial fixes (patchwork grinding and lower-grade repaving only portions of the track) only last a few months rather than years.

    Yes, it would be very, very expensive to properly repair. I’m told that nothing they do at this point will hold up for long until they repair the drainage system first. Then if they want to do it right, the way they did it before, they need to painstakingly rebuild the substrate, compacting it layer by layer with specialized aggregates, and resurface on top of that, layer by layer with very precise equipment and a grade variance of only a few mm per 100 feet of track, and using 3 specialized pavers running simultaneously to keep from having any seams. Instead, they just do much cheaper patches with plain local equipment, materials, and supervision … and it doesn’t work. All it does is buy Epstein and COTA a little more time. Then when MotoGP or F1 complains loudly enough, he’ll do the minimum they demand, to keep them coming back another year or two. Having received more than $350 Million to date from the State of Texas taxpayer subsidy (MERP), you’d think COTA could afford to fix the track and represent us better on the world stage. COTA literally would not exist without that funding.

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