F1 EXPLAINS PODCAST
APEX ANSWER YOUR TRACK DESIGN QUESTIONS
Apex was featured on the Formula1.com F1 Explains Podcast answering questions that fans had sent in. Hosts Katie Osbourne and Christian Hewgill were joined by Dafydd Broom (Managing Director) and Andrew Wallis (Engineering Director) in order to provide some background into this little known industry of race track design. Below are some of the questions and answers from the podcast that we provided answers to during the Podcast.
Q | How does the surface of an F1 track differ from a normal road?
A | That's a good one. The surface of an F1 track is quite different from your regular road. Here's why:
The surface must have the ability to handle the lateral (sideways) loading that F1 cars exert on the track, especially in corners and braking zones. These cars can pull some serious G-forces, and the track needs to be able to take it. That's why an F1 track surface has to be designed to consider these loadings that aren't present on regular highways.
The surface also has to be designed to consider the physical characteristics of the cars. F1 cars have aero packages, low ride heights, and stiffness that regular road cars don't. This places even more demands on the track's surface during construction to ensure that it is smooth to provide the right grip and ride quality.
Q | Stats – how long does it take to build a racetrack, how many people are involved, how many tonnes of material are used?
A | Building a racetrack is a complex undertaking, and as you can imagine the volumes and quanties can vary accoding to the tracks length, width, average speed. Let's break it down:
Timeframe: When it comes to building a racetrack, the timeframes can be variable. It depends on various factors, including the type of track, the available resources, and the urgency of the project. For Formula 1 circuits, it typically takes around 12 months, but it can be faster if needed. For instance, we designed and built the F1 Miami race track in approximately 9 months, which was considered a quick build at the time.
Workforce: A lot of people are involved in constructing a racetrack. It's like assembling a small army of engineers, construction workers, surveyors, and more. The number can vary significantly based on the size and complexity of the project.
Material Usage: Race circuit development is quite material-intensive. The quantities of materials depend on the track's size, the number of buildings, and other factors. To give you an idea, a 5.0 km track can require approximately 7200 cubic meters of asphalt. That's roughly equivalent to 17,000 tonnes of asphalt just for the surface layers. Similar amounts of asphalt may be used for the runoff areas, depending on the circuit's layout. Plus, you've got all the earth that needs shaping to create elevation changes in the circuit.
Q | How do you become a racetrack designer, and what skills do you need?
A | To become a racetrack designer, you'll need a specific set of skills and a passion for the sport. Here's what you should consider:
Skill Sets: Racetrack design requires a good understanding of road design and construction. You'll need to be proficient in using CAD tools for drafting and layout. An open and collaborative approach to design is crucial. Having a deep passion for motorsport is also a big plus.
Professional Background: Many racetrack designers have backgrounds in civil engineering, mechanical engineering, project management, and architecture. It's a multidisciplinary field that welcomes individuals with various expertise.
Race Experience: At our company, for example, everyone gets a chance to drive our company track car, which we use for testing and demonstrations. It's a hands-on way to understand the real-world challenges of track design. So having track experience does help.
Teamwork: Collaborative teamwork is essential in this field. You work closely with various professionals and stakeholders in order to turn design into reality.
If you are interested in opportunities with Apex contact us to find out more.
Q | How do you decide how long each straight should be?
A | It often begins with what the client wants. The specific racing series and their regulations play a big role. For Formula 1, the ideal straight length is around 1 km. This allows the cars enough time to reach their top speeds, provides a clear opportunity for using DRS (Drag Reduction System), and creates a long braking event into the following corner. That braking point is crucial for generating overtaking opportunities.
Q | Is there a minimum lap length for racetracks?
A | There isn't a strict minimum set by the FIA guidelines. However, there's a rule of thumb that many racetrack designers use. For Formula 1, we often aim for a track length of between 5 and 5.5 kilometres. Formula 1 also expects this sort of length these days. This track length allows for approximately 55 to 60 laps, which gets us close to the 305-kilometer target for each race. This provides good visibility of the cars and sponsors during the race, offers a sufficient amount of time for race strategies to unfold, and gives spectators seated in grandstands a reasonable time between seeing the cars from lap to lap.
Q | How do you decide if a track runs clockwise or anti-clockwise?
A | There's no strict formula for this. The choice of direction usually depends on the location of the track and the constraints imposed by the site. Racetrack designers don't have a particular preference for clockwise or anti-clockwise direction; it's more about fitting the track naturally into the environment and layout.
Q | How do you decide the distance from pole position to turn 1?
A | The distance from pole position to the first turn is an important consideration. While there's a minimum distance of 250 meters set by the FIA, racetrack designers aim for more than that. The longer the distance, the more exciting the start of the race becomes. Drivers have more time to get up to speed, jostle for position, and find their braking points, which can lead to overtaking opportunities and a dramatic start to the race.
Q | What track (or sequence of corners) on the F1 calendar is your favourite?
A | There are a couple of tracks on the F1 calendar that always stand out for me:
Spa: The Spa-Francorchamps F1 track is a 7-kilometer beauty, set in stunning surroundings with elevation changes of over 100 meters on the track's centreline. It's a high-speed circuit that demands bravery, confidence, and alertness from the drivers. The dramatic elevation changes also pose a significant challenge for engineers setting up the cars, and that's one of the key ingredients for close and exciting racing. (Explore the Apex designs for the FIA World Rallycross in Spa, Belgium)
Interlagos: Returning to the F1 calendar in 2024, Interlagos is a classic circuit that's shorter than most at 4.3 kilometres. It boasts 43 meters of elevation change and has exciting design features like the non-straight "Arquibancadas" and a banked corner. The history and the thrill of the circuit are hard to replicate.
Silverstone: We'd add Silverstone to the mix as well. It's a great example of a circuit with no significant elevation change, but it still provides fantastic racing due to its variety of corner geometries and sequences. The corners at Silverstone are unique and challenging, and it's always incredible to see how much speed an F1 car can carry through sections like Maggots, Becketts, and Chapel. (Explore the Apex master plan design for a new kart circuit at Silverstone)
These tracks offer different flavours of racing, and they all have their unique characteristics and challenges.
Q | Do you have a 'perfect' racetrack in your head that you would build if you had unlimited time, money, and absolute control over every single detail? What's it like?
A | We don't have a "perfect" racetrack in mind when it comes to track geometry and corner sequencing, but we do have a vision of what we like to create:
Eco-Friendly Design: Today, environmental considerations are at the forefront, so building a circuit that has a low impact on the environment is critical. Sustainability and minimizing environmental effects would be a top priority. We are big fan of natural settings for race tracks and like the idea of creating a parkland setting... shaping the landscape into amphitheatres to maximize spectator views and provide an excellent atmosphere.
Versatility: We like to create tracks that are versatile and suitable for a variety of racing categories. What's perfect for Formula 1 might not be ideal for track day users in supercars or lower-level racing. Having the flexibility to host various racing events is crucial.
Driver and Spectator Appeal: The ultimate goal is to create a racetrack that's fun but challenging for drivers and that spectators want to return to time and again. It's about the perfect balance between being a true test of racing skill and providing entertainment for fans.
So, it's not just about the track itself but the whole experience it offers, its impact on the environment, and its flexibility for different racing categories. The perfect racetrack is about striking that ideal balance for everyone involved.
See examples of Apex race track designs across the world.
Q | What are the rules on tracks – a listener asked what a track needs to do to be considered an FIA Grade 1 track?
A | Great question! So, when it comes to race track rules, they're primarily about safety. Different racing series have different requirements, and for Formula 1, you need an FIA Grade 1 licence. Here's some more detail:
Licence Categories: There are different licence categories, and they're often based on the weight-to-power ratio of the vehicles that will be on the track. For instance, F2 and F3 are different categories that cater to specific vehicles. For F1, which involves high-speed cars, a Grade 1 licence is required. It's all about making sure the track can handle these incredibly powerful machines.
Licence Requirements: To get that licence, there are specific requirements. These cover everything from the size and scale of facilities, barrier types and spectator provisions. The primary differentiator is the length of the track and the amount of run-off area needed, which increases as you move up in category.
F1 EXPLAINS PODCAST