The new Silverstone layout has been widely praised after its
initial unveiling — but will the design present more overtaking opportunities
and after many changes have they finally got it all right?
In an era when Hermann Tilke rules the roost on circuit design, the new
Silverstone layout has a real opportunity to shine. Aside from Abu Dhabi, which
was given significant praise from most quarters for both track layout and
facilities, many other recent Tilke designs have been widely criticised for
being 'the same old formula'.
Silverstone has been developed by UK-based Populus, who designed Wembley
Stadium (so we better hope the track is laid better than the turf!) as well as
the Emirates and 2012 Olympics stadia, but initial comments suggest they know a
thing or two about racing too.
It is often a concern that when classic circuits are re-developed they will
ruin the tradition of old. We saw it with Hockenheim, back in 2002, when the
long forested straits were cut back and Pedro de la Rosa admitted at the time: "It
has lost its character...you could be racing anywhere. The individualism has
been compromised too much."
Even new tracks can be quickly ruined, and Bahrain was a case in point this
year. When I raced Mark Webber around the new layout in the Red Bull simulator
before the season began I saw him take his first lap on the track and it was
amusing to see his initial reaction: lots of swearing. "Tesco car parks
come to mind," he said. "They've taken out the enjoyable section and
added on a low inspirational section of tarmac, which is a bit of a shame."
So Silverstone was under pressure to produce — but it's not like the track
has never been changed before.
The original layout only lasted two years before the start-finish line moved
to its current location. In 1975 and 1987 the Woodcote and Bridge chicanes
respectively were added to slow speeds then a big change came in 1991, which
saw the end of the coat hanger shape but the arrival of the stunningly fast
Maggots-Becketts-Chapel section, the undulating Vale section and an all-new
complex of Bridge, Priory, Booklands and Luffield corners.
Then, as now, the focus was on retaining traditional fast sweeping elements
and the first half of the track was a success but the complex, which was
designed purely to create an arena for fans, actually offered good views of
limited action, with the twisty slow speed corners far from spectacular. Three
more tweaks to Abbey and the Stowe-Vale-Club section came in the 1990s before
Luffield was re-profiled in 2000 in an attempt to improve the complex.
Yet Silverstone has always been praised as one of the best tracks on the
calendar and criticised (mostly by Bernie Ecclestone) for its lack of
facilities. So why spend all this money on re-designing the track when it's not
the layout that is the problem?
The simple reason is that while the layout was not a problem for F1, it was
for MotoGP, who demanded it be brought up to bike standard when the circuit won
the rights to host the British GP from 2010. Initially the new arena section
was designed with bikes in mind but fortunately Silverstone anticipated the
disaster Donington would get into with plans to host the F1 Grand Prix and also
garnered expert advice from F1 drivers on how to make the circuit suitable for
On first sight, David Coulthard said there are new areas in the arena that
could create overtaking but added: "Otherwise it's the same, the start
finish straight is the same, Copse is the usual mighty corner - a real opener
that you drive right on the edge."
And that's the point. Unlike Bahrain,
Silverstone has taken the best bits of the circuit and left them alone and, by
all accounts, made the poor sections better.
After seeing the new layout, Webber admitted: "When I heard them
initially saying they were going to change the layout, I thought: 'Here we go,
Tesco's car park again.' But they haven't, which is great."
He pointed to the tight section from Village as an area where "there
might be a bit of niggle and overtaking potential" and said the track is
now one of very few where the car is tested on fifth gear and above corners. "Silverstone
has been notoriously bad (for overtaking)," he added. "The changes
will make it better."
The FIA GT cars put in the first competitive laps on it on Friday morning
ahead of their race there this weekend, and opinions backed up Webber's
thoughts. Former F1 driver Enrique Bernoldi said: "It is very interesting
and I think there are some new overtaking opportunities heading into the slower
sections of the track so it should make for some good racing."
Fortunately, it seems Silverstone has remained true to itself and focused on
creating a fast, flowing and spectacular track before lining it with swanky
glass-clad buildings that would look more in keeping with central London than rural
Those buildings, of course, are on the way, with the impressive new pits
complex due for 2011 to appease Bernie Ecclestone (who will no doubt find
something to complain about this year!) but unlike many of the new tracks, it
looks like the decision (albeit forced) to put function before form could prove
to be Silverstone's finest hour.