Tilke - the man behind the track 21 Sep 2004
Another all-new circuit designed by German engineer Hermann Tilke will make its debut with this weekend's inaugural Grand Prix of China. Tilke is of one of the people who exerts the greatest influence over the modern shape of Formula One racing.
Shanghai is the third Tilke-designed track on the calendar, his engineering company also being responsible for Bahrain and Sepang, in Malaysia. Not that his influence on the sport ends there, Tilke being involved in the redesign of the A1-Ring in Austria and the new circuit at Hockenheim in Germany. Tilke Engineering is also carrying out work at the Nurburgring, Silverstone, Monza and Barcelona. And - with an eye to the future - the company has also carried out track studies at Calcutta, Moscow and Dubai.
The 3.38 mile (5.45 km) circuit in Shanghai shares many characteristics with other Tilke-designed tracks, especially the long back straight leading into a hairpin (turn 14), intended to help promote overtaking. Tilke himself has plenty of competition experience, including drives in the European Touring Car Championship, and knows how frustrating it can be to drive on circuits that are "not designed for racing."
Another common Tilke theme in China is the proximity of fans to the action, with grandstands capable of accommodating 50,000 people positioned as close to the track as possible, and the track itself passing under a gigantic 'wing' structure 140 metres across on the main straight. Tilke doesn't think that racing should be just about watching, reckoning that "you should be close enough to smell it, as well."
The entire circuit has been designed to resemble the Chinese character "Shang", which translates as "high" or "above", and gives Shanghai part of its name. With seven left-handed and seven right handed corners it will offer plenty of technical challenge as well as opportunities for good speeds and the possibility of slip-streaming down the long straights.
Some of Tilke's tracks have been criticised for lacking character, but all of them have been designed with safety as a key priority - vital to the business of hosting a modern Formula One race. Shanghai's generous run-off areas, catch fencing and state-of-the-art medical facilities should help to ensure that it is one of the world's safest circuits.
That doesnt mean it wont be exciting. Tilke knows that overtaking is essential to an exciting race. Of course, it wont be easy (it never is), but the mix of long, fast straights and slow, tightening corners should give the drivers plenty of potential opportunities.