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The Circuit

Formula One's design king rules new tracks

  • Story Highlights
  • Hermann Tilke has designed every new track in Formula One since 1999
  • Architect will see new Valencia and Singapore circuits debut this year
  • Tilke has new circuits to design in Abu Dhabi, South Korea and New Delhi
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By CNN's Neale Graham
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- From the tight twists of Monaco and the Hungaroring to the fast, flowing curves of Interlagos and Spa, Formula One is contested on circuits of every type.

Hermann Tilke has designed every new track in Formula One since 1999.

The great tracks of yesteryear always seemed to come together as if by chance. Silverstone is an old airfield, Spa is partly run on public roads and Monza's park setting still features the banking of its historic predecessor.

These days, though, nothing is left to chance when it comes to putting a circuit together -- and the risk-free designer du jour is Hermann Tilke.

German-born Tilke has been the go-to man for every new track on the calendar since he turned Austria's legendary Osterreichring into the A1-Ring in the mid-90s.

Tilke, an architect and engineer by trade, founded Tilke Engineering in 1984, which today has 130 employees. Although a lifelong motor-racing fan, he had to be content with more mundane designs, such as tennis centers, in the early days.

"I always wanted to design brand-new race tracks, but it was only a dream. I didn't think that it could happen," he said.

It was Tilke's work on the A1-Ring that saw F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone turn to him for the design of Malaysia's Sepang circuit in 1999.

He has not looked back since, with F1's growth pushing the construction of new tracks.

He has designed the circuits in Bahrain and Shanghai and this season will see his street venues in Singapore and Valencia make their debuts.

He has also overseen the transformations of the Fuji Speedway, the Nurburgring and Hockenheim.

Tilke's tracks have been criticized for being bland and somewhat uniform. He favors a long straight followed by a sharp turn, which is meant to encourage overtaking in a sport often lacking in on-track excitement.

Outlining his design philosophy, the 52-year-old said: "The balance between F1 driver, track safety and the needs of the spectator is not so easy to work out. In the design process we talk to current and former drivers and they have an influence.

"When we design a new circuit, we have a clean sheet of paper and we start with fresh ideas. We learn from every circuit and, step-by-step, the result is a little bit better than before."

Few would quibble that his most recent creation, Istanbul Park in Turkey, is his best yet.

Not only does it incorporate the tricky slow corners so beloved by sponsors hungry for airtime, but it also features a heart-stopping quick 180-degree corner and utilizes the undulations of the land to great effect.

"It's very important to have some elevations -- it's the third dimension," Tilke explained. "When a corner goes over a hill, it behaves completely differently because it goes light. It's very difficult to drive this very fast."

His designs have usually been backed by governments eager to get onto the F1 calendar. The complex in Shanghai, for instance, cost a reported $450 million to construct.

F1's drive into the Middle East and Asia means more and more lavish tracks will be constructed, all to Tilke's exacting standards.


He has also been instructed to work on new venues in Abu Dhabi, South Korea, Moscow and New Delhi, which are set to be on the F1 calendar within a few years.

"When I see F1 cars on a circuit we've designed for the first time, I have to say I'm very proud," he said.

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