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New Delhi, New Dawn - Part Two 25 Apr 2011

The 320km/h main straight is just under 700m long. This is how it will all look come race day FIA safety delegate and Formula One race director Charlie Whiting leads the charge through Turn Four on his latest inspection trip Track map for the Indian Grand Prix circuit. © Jaypee Group Computer generated image of Indian Grand Prix circuit. © Jaypee Group Buddh International Circuit logo.

Continued from Part One...

The new circuit is 5141m long (5088m following the racing line), with 16 corners, 14 metres of elevation change (it looks more than it sounds), and a 693-metre back straight where top speeds of 320km/h will be hit, for a predicted Formula One lap time of 1m 27s, making it one of the faster circuits. It’s designed as a dual-use track that will host MotoGP races as well as F1, so its precise spec (details of kerbing, run-off areas, safety barriers etc) have to be fitted to both purposes. The looping Turn 10, for example, will have two distinct profiles: a tighter inner line for the bike racers and a wider, faster, higher and longer outer curve for F1.

What all this translates into for the builders is four million cubic metres of earth that have been moved and compacted to make circuit foundations and to introduce a little elevation interest to an otherwise paratha-flat landscape. At this stage the circuit layout is obvious, as are the shape and scale of the back-straight circuit buildings and grandstands (think Shanghai International Circuit and shrink them, just a little). But, with just over eight months to go until race day, things are a long way from finished.

There is no Tarmac on the circuit foundations, no barriers or run-off areas, no access roads, no grasscrete, no paint, spit or polish. Whiting, however, seems relaxed. “You definitely get a good feeling here,” he says. “The place is a proper building site. You can see it and you can hear it. Without wishing to give the South Korea guys a hard time, when I went there for the first time in July last year, the buildings were going up but the track wasn’t there and the problem was that no one was working on it.”

That’s assuredly not the case here, as confirmed by Tilke head of civil engineering Ralf van Wersch.
A veteran of Tilke Formula One projects in South Korea, Barcelona and Istanbul, to name but three, van Wersch notes: “Every project has its challenges, and here one thing we had to adapt to was the…” he pauses, anxious not to offend the country paying host to his company “… a certain degree of chaos in Delhi. But getting labour here isn’t a problem. In Korea, the construction companies were very high tech, but making progress was more challenging.”

Whiting rates van Wersch as ‘a top guy’, having worked with him closely on several recent new additions to the Formula One calendar. The pair descend from their vehicles and walk a dusty 10 metres to the apex of Turn One, followed by their entourage, where they unfold circuit diagrams and discuss the fine detail. Deafened by the roar of a monstrous yellow earth-mover, Whiting brings to bear the experience of 35 years’ work in Formula One racing, and recommends amendments to the plan for Turn One kerbing.

“What we need here,” he says, “is an ‘Abu Dhabi’ kerb. It lets cars that are out of control at the end of the straight spin and it’s a much smaller thing to fit.” An ‘Abu Dhabi’ kerb, he explains, is a model adopted from experience at circuits such as the Yas Island track, where, without a substantial raised area of kerbing alongside the track proper, drivers would follow their instincts and ‘straight-line’ corners, pushing the limits of inbuilt safety provision. The ‘Abu Dhabi’ kerb, then, is one that rises by between 12-14 centimetres away from the track edge - enough to make the driver of any single-seater think twice about slamming into it.

“This is exactly why you come to a circuit and look at it closely,” says Whiting. “It’s all about confirmation of the details. When you look at a plan on paper, or a computer screen, it’s often hard to see exactly what is necessary.” As Whiting talks, van Wersch and other Jaypee luminaries take copious notes, marking their architects’ plans in a busy hand-scrawl.

Whiting makes notes of his own, and takes pictures - although he, of course, is in the enviable position of being able to dictate action, whereas those around him must listen and act. He represents Formula One ideals of safety and excellence and is therefore present as much to guide as to dictate.

Some of the essential knowledge he has already passed on includes a vector chart of likely accident speeds at Turn 10, which drivers will pass through at around 230km/h. Insight into the behaviour of out-of-control F1 cars and how best to contain them as they leave the track dictates the size of run-off areas, the positioning of barriers, where marshal posts are sited and, eventually, the number of fire extinguishers that will be needed at any given point on either side of the track.

It’s more of the same when the entourage pauses at Turn 11. Here, Whiting notes, there’s a distinct possibility of cars running wide on exit as they approach Turn 12, and he requests an extension of asphalt to prevent them spinning into the Armco as they leave the secure hold of a metalled surface. Layer upon layer of detailed revision will continue to be addressed in coming months (how much TecPro barrier will be needed and where it will go) as Whiting continues to impart guidance via email and phone, and also prepares to visit at least twice more before declaring the circuit ‘fit for racing’.

“Coming to a circuit is all about the stuff you don’t get from a drawing,” he says. “You have to come here to understand what’s going on. That’s what makes the difference.”

So when, come October, the first Indian Grand Prix passes off without a hitch, teams and media having arrived, performed and departed with nary a squeak of complaint, then one of Formula One’s central truisms will once again be acknowledged - that no Grand Prix goes ahead until Charlie Whiting has pushed the button.

Republished with permission from IQ - www.institutequarterly.com.

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