Formula 1 will next weekend race on Bahrain’s Outer Layout, of length just 3.5km, where lap times are predicted to be only 55 seconds. But is it possible to adopt a similar stance at other venues? MotorsportWeek.com takes a look.
There are some caveats – the Bahrain International Circuit is the only venue in the world that has multiple layouts which are currently in receipt of a Grade 1 FIA licence needed to host an F1 event. The Outer Layout’s use has also come solely through the desire to mix up a schedule heavily compromised by the Covid-19 pandemic, a situation which Formula 1 hopes will never be repeated. Plus a one-off would soon lose the intrigue and excitement if the idea is replicated elsewhere. But there are viable options for revised layouts at the same circuit if alternatives were ever to be explored in future years – or if Formula 1, as in 2020, is forced into holding multiple events at the same location.
Yas Marina Circuit
Formula 1 first visited the opulent Yas Marina Circuit in 2009, with a specially-constructed marina, a honeycombed-roofed track-traversing hotel and array of floodlights transporting the championship into a futuristic aura. But in spite of the substantial funding and blank canvas the 5.554km circuit has rarely captured the imagination and has frequently led to a forgettable end-of-season show. One alternative layout is a Grade 2 4.73km circuit that cuts left on the exit of the Turn 3 right-hander before rapidly plunging to re-join the grand prix layout around a third of the way along the back straight. That was used by the GP2 Asia Series in 2011. Even more extreme options would be to use the 3.1km circuit, which re-joins the pit straight after the Turn 8/9 complex, or to use the 2.3km circuit that would bypass Turns 20 to 9, shifting the entire pits and paddock area to where the support categories currently rest.
The French Grand Prix returned to Paul Ricard in 2018 and the circuit was not universally appreciated. Its habitual occupation in recent decades as a test facility means it has a possible 247 different layouts and Formula 1 currently uses the longest possible – the 5.842km grand prix circuit complete with the Mistral Chicane. Tweaks were due to be made to the layout for 2020, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but if a shorter layout was plausible then Paul Ricard is surely the ideal laboratory. Formula 1’s last pre-2018 visit, in 1990, used a truncated layout, as did Formula 3 in 2016, turning right a few metres before the current Turn 1 and re-joining the grand prix circuit just ahead of the Mistral Chicane. That would leave a lap of around 3.8km that could be completed in only a minute – though would risk robbing drivers of one passing spot. Given the abundance of options a layout that changes annually could even be plausible.
Silverstone’s has evolved over its 70-year history and its current design is such that it has two circuits that can be used concurrently and this has been useful for companies that each want to hire the venue – as has sometimes happened with F1 teams carrying out shakedowns. The 2.979km International Circuit features the current pit straight, Abbey, Farm and Village before cutting across and re-joining at the start of the Hangar Straight, while the 2.639km National Circuit utilises the old pit straight and turns right at Maggotts onto the Wellington Straight. Given the Grand Prix Circuit’s tendency to provide a stunning challenge and spectacular action it would surely be a waste of a great track to bypass any sections. Nevertheless a 115-lap race around the National Circuit would facilitate some super side-by-side action and lead to a chaotic qualifying hour…
Monaco is Formula 1’s shortest circuit, at only 3.34km in length, and has a low average speed to the extent that it is the only grand prix on the calendar that does not run to the usual 305km length – instead maxing out at 260km. Even then 78 laps are needed. But even in the tight and narrow streets of the Principality there in theory exists an alternative layout. Formula E has typically used a 1.765km circuit, officially listed as Grade 3, that turns a sharper right at Sainte Devote and runs downhill along the tree-lined Avenue Kennedy where it meets the Nouvelle Chicane, turning the four-apex complex into a hairpin. It would mean an F1 race 147 laps long! But, given Monaco’s enormous challenge, history and lack of passing places it would hardly be an upgrade – plus it would remove some stunning spots and cut out iconic landmarks.
Formula E has raced at Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on a 2.6km circuit that almost cuts out the first two sectors of the full circuit, revising the layout through the Foro Sol Stadium, and utilising a modified version of the Peraltada. COTA has a National Circuit that bypasses much of the second sector while the already short Red Bull Ring has the option to cut out over half of the circuit to create a track with only six corners. Shanghai has a Grade 2 layout called ‘Track 3’ that effectively bypasses Turns 4 to 8 but which would surely bring little to the table. Suzuka, too, has an East and West circuit within its figure-of-eight track, which meet between the Casio chicane and Dunlop curve. But who would ever seriously consider modifying the majestic Suzuka?