David Coulthard has mused that having competed 'around one of the scariest and most challenging racetracks in the world', Hermann Tilke should be able to 'come up with something a little more exciting' than his usual fare – but with hopes rather higher for the prolific German architect's forthcoming United States Grand Prix track in Texas, he admits that F1 does need a race in America.
The last time the sport headed across the Pond to the US was in 2007, but the seeds of its departure from the calendar had been sown a couple of years earlier, when 14 of the 20 starters pulled into the pits and retired at the end of the formation lap due to safety issues with Michelin's tyres at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Americans love a spectacle, and F1's incessant politics had deprived them of any kind of entertainment at all that afternoon. The on-off love affair – so delicate at the best of times – was once again off.
Four years on, however, and agreement has finally been reached to reinstate the US Grand Prix on the F1 schedule, with Austin's Circuit of the Americas set to join the calendar in November, 2012. This time around, Coulthard stresses, the sport needs to leave a positive imprint, not a negative one.
“It does [need a race in America] in order to call itself a true world championship,” the BBC F1
pundit told Road & Track
. “To genuinely have a world championship, it should be represented by as many countries as possible. I was very excited when it came back to Indianapolis and we had a great turnout, but then we shot ourselves in the foot with that tyre fiasco. To be honest, it had nothing to do with Indianapolis and the tyres; it was all politics. I remember I was on the radio saying, 'I'll start the race, I'll start the race'.”
Of course, one key factor in F1's success in the States is that the racing must be fun and draw the fans in; with no home-grown driver to support, it is likely that many spectators' prime objective will be to enjoy a gripping afternoon's action – the like of which has been witnessed on many an occasion already this season. A repetition of Bahrain 2010 would be a major no-no, and could kill off interest in the sport in America as swiftly as it has been revived; hence, asserts Coulthard, the need for Tilke to pull something special out of the bag.
“He's a touring car racer himself – he's raced at the Nürburgring – so you'd think someone like Hermann who's been around one of the scariest and most challenging racetracks in the world could come up with something a little more exciting,” the Scot opined. “Turkey got it right [with] Turn Eight; it's bumpy with multiple apexes, [and] if you get the first one wrong, you have to bail out and you lose time. Malaysia is the first of the new tracks, and they have a few sweeping corners.
“You need overtaking and fast corners. The fast corners give the drivers the ride of their lives, and if the drivers speak positively about it, then the fans will be positive about it and want to check it out. They need it to be a driver's track. If you have a driver's track, people will talk about it and want to go there.
“I went to Watkins Glen earlier this year; I had heard of Watkins Glen but had never been there, so I drove the track and I thought it was the scariest place I had ever driven, but that's what makes you feel alive in a race car, isn't it? You need corners where drivers feel that they're really pushing the limits.”
Coulthard acknowledges that whilst artificial aids such as DRS and KERS have inarguably spiced up the spectacle this year, he 'would love for the pure wheel-to-wheel racing, but to have that, you need all the cars to be the same, and that's not what F1 is' – conceding that 'it'll always be a battle on the human level, between the engineers and the mechanics'. Ultimately, though, he reflects, whatever the era, whatever the technology, there is still nothing else in the world quite like it.