DC: Tilke must produce exciting circuit for America
16 August 2011
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.
“I loved the late '80s/early '90s, wide slicks, wide cars, V8s, V10s and V12s – all different,” recollected the 13-time grand prix-winner, now racing for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM touring car championship. “I remember when I was a kid, in 1990 standing down at Stowe Corner at Silverstone during warm-up on a Sunday morning and as was more often than not the case at Silverstone, there was morning mist.
“Out in that morning mist there was the unmistakeable noise of a V12 Ferrari, and it came down through Stowe and went around, and it probably wasn't even going that fast, but I remember a shiver going down my spine. It's fantastic when you can identify a car like that.
“From when I was in karting at eleven-years-old to when I won in Monaco, my vision of how I looked at the corner, of what I wanted to achieve with the car, what I did with the engineers to get the right balance is all the same. Grand prix cars really are an uncomfortable place to be, but what allows you to pass over that discomfort is just the absolute focus on this high-stakes game. I cannot put myself back into that pressure zone again.
“I can still drive competitively in other formulas, but for me, F1 is unique. The DTM is not like that. I can drive and I can feel like I'm pushing the car and I'm taking myself to the limit, but that limit is nowhere near the limit of an F1 car. It's just incredible, and when I look at them now and I try to remember what it was like when I used to do that, I can only remember a little bit of it, because it was such a higher level of concentration than I ever use in everyday life, that I'm actually quite amazed I used to do it.
“There's nothing I've experienced in life like driving a grand prix car around Monaco or through Eau Rouge flat. It's just incredible. When it's really set up well, it will brake as late as you want, it will turn as fast as you want, it will do everything, it will absolutely deliver on your expectations. I don't know the last time you drove something where you just said, 'My God, this thing just doesn't have a flaw', and it only happened a few times in my grand prix career – but when it happened, it was fantastic.”