Ranked: The best and worst F1 circuits designed by Hermann Tilke

Aerial shot of the Marina Bay in Singapore at blue hour

Marina Bay: Home of the Singapore Grand Prix

Architect and circuit designer Hermann Tilke has been one of Formula 1’s most influential people from the last thirty years, and has been responsible for the creation or modification of numerous race tracks. But which is his greatest hit?

Over the years, Tilke has been entrusted with extortionate projects and investments aimed at creating memorable and iconic Formula 1 races, drawing a mix of praise and criticism from drivers and fans. Where possible, we have tried to rank them on their ‘racing credentials’ rather than things like atmosphere or glamour.

For fairness, we have decided to only rank the Formula 1 circuits that were created from scratch, so we have excluded the historical circuits which were revised, such as the Hockenheimring. We also decided to exclude the Hanoi Street Circuit, which fell off the calendar during the Covid-affected 2020 season, because judging it from only a few laps on the PlayStation would be silly.

13) Valencia Street Circuit, Spain (2008-2012)

At the bottom of the list of the Tilke circuits is the venue that was used for a second Spain-based Grand Prix, although this was run under the ‘European GP’ title. It broke the mould of purpose-built venues from emerging nations and was set on the streets of Valencia’s harbour.

The 25-turn layout looked promising on paper. A mix of high-speed sweeping corners, medium-to-long straights and hard braking zones generated intrigue, but it struggled to generate entertainment.

It regularly appeared at the foot of the overtaking charts, and the drivers weren’t often complimentary either. The 2012 version will live in the memory as a chaotic race that gave Michael Schumacher his only Mercedes F1 podium, but that’s perhaps indicative of how strong the 2012 season was. Mark Webber also spectacularly crashed into a backmarker in 2010.

12) Sochi Autodrom, Russia (2014-2021)

Perhaps the organisers of the first ever Russian Formula 1 race became unlucky that their appearance on the calendar coincided with one of the most dominant periods in the sport’s history. Mercedes have a clean-sweep of the Sochi Autodrom, even though the 2021 GP win was handed to Lewis Hamilton after botched wet weather tyre call from McLaren’s Lando Norris, who was destined for a first F1 victory.

The long run off the start line often created an interesting Turn 2, and the long sweeping left-hander of Turns 3 and 4 sometimes generated a spectacular crash, but the remainder of the lap faded into a sequence of 90-ish-degree corners and overly generous run-off zones.

Overtaking was often at a premium, and the Russian GP was threatening to move to a new location, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered a contract termination.

11) Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (2009 – present)

The curtain-closing event on the Formula 1 calendar hasn’t forged a strong racing reputation in over a decade’s worth of hosting Grands Prix, despite it being the host of a few championship deciders. The layout does produce some overtaking due to the two long straights separated by the Turn 6-7 chicane, but drivers have often required big offsets in tyre performance to help them out. Sequences of low-and-medium-speed corners have also resulted in drivers having difficulty in closely following a competitor, due to the ‘dirty air’.

The 2010 and 2016 title deciders were settled partly because of drivers being unable to overtake (or able to resist being overtaken), and the final lap pass in the 2021 championship was aided by a big tyre differential. Aside from that, it’s the scene of numerous celebratory donuts and fond farewells often seen at the final race of a season.

10) Korea International Circuit, South Korea (2010 – 2013)

Set in a relatively isolated location in Yeongam, the 18-turn circuit fell off the calendar mostly due to a lack of funding, an absence of any spectacle, and plans to build a town/city around the circuit not really materialising. The drivers largely approved of the track layout, which featured overtaking opportunities into Turns 1, 3 and 4, followed by relatively flowing sections which required consistency.

It will be remembered mostly for the pivotal moments in the 2010 Drivers’ Championship, when Mark Webber crashed out in the wet conditions from second place to hand the advantage to Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, only for Vettel to retire later on in the race with an engine issue.

9) Buddh International Circuit, India (2011 – 2013)

Formula 1 has often attempted to expand from its European roots and increase its following in a variety of new markets. A Grand Prix in one of the most populated nations in the world had the potential for more success, but the event lasted for only three years, remembered mostly for Sebastian Vettel’s iconic celebration on the finish line after taking his fourth and final World Championship.

The fact that Vettel enjoyed a 100% win record at the Indian GP might be part of the reason why this venue isn’t looked at more fondly.

The flowing, undulating, 16-turn track gained respect from the drivers, some of whom made comparisons with iconic tracks such as Spa-Francorchamps and Suzuka. The Turn 1 and Turn 4 braking zones often gave us the overtakes to back up the praise from the drivers. Tax disputes between the government and the promoters led to the event falling off the calendar in 2014, and it never returned.

8) Shanghai International Circuit, China (2004 – 2019)

China’s showcase circuit features a healthy mix of high-speed sweeping corners and overtake-inducing straights which are complemented by big braking zones.

Some of the flat-out sections become treacherous in the rain, which has impacted numerous events, such as Hamilton’s championship-challenging campaign in 2007. The wheel-to-wheel action has been competitive, aside from a couple of events in the Mercedes era of dominance.

The Chinese GP has been off the calendar since the Covid-19 outbreak and, with China’s own lockdown laws easing, the event is finally expected to return to the schedule for 2024.

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7) Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore (2008 – present)

The combination of the heat, changeable weather and close barriers in a race that is almost two hours long often results in a very watchable Grand Prix. Drivers don’t often have time to think around the tricky Singaporean street circuit. The combative nature of the races mean that the Safety Car has been deployed more times than there have been races held at Singapore.

Fans will likely remember the controversial ‘Crashgate’ race of 2008, the 2012 race that decided the career directions of Michael Schuamacher and Lewis Hamilton, the Turn 1 crash in 2017, or Vettel’s final win in 2019.

The overall challenge of the event might have been brought down by a smidge by the removal of four corners for the 2023 race (the right-left-left-right section which went around a grandstand towards the end of the lap), with a straight being situated in its place. The number of corners drops from 23 to 19.

6) Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain (2004 – present)

Formula 1’s first adventure into the Middle East was to circuit in the middle of the desert of a small island nation. However, there has been little threat of the venue being removed since.

The big braking zone of Turn 1 invites overtaking, with many battles lasting until Turn 4, and even until the flowing complex of Turns 5 to 7. See the classic race between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in 2014 as a fine example.

The venue gained extra kudos with the use of the ‘outer’ circuit during the Covid-affected 2020 season, with the fast configuration leaving a lasting effect on some fans, who would still like to see the layout used today. The outer circuit might be a solid candidate for a Sprint weekend double-header, but there are probably huge logistical issues with a circuit using two layouts in one race weekend.

5) Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Saudi Arabia (2021 – present)

The fearsome Saudi Arabian circuit retains your attention mostly due to the relentless nature of the high-speed, close-walled venue. The clumsy first chicane is then followed by sequences of fast corners which rarely let the drivers straighten the steering wheel. One misplaced wheel can result in a massive – or at least very costly – accident.

The fast layout triggered obscure battles for the DRS detection zones in the opening two iterations of the race. This divided opinions, but was fundamentally very watchable.

Another Saudi Arabian circuit in Qiddiya is on the way, but it would have a lot to live up to.

4) Circuit of the Americas, USA (2012 – present)

Prior to Formula 1’s Drive to Survive boom, the sport had often failed to break America, but the Texan race has had a permanent spot on the calendar since 2012. Only Watkins Glen has held more US Grands Prix, and both Miami and Las Vegas have claimed F1 calendar spots since.

The counter-clockwise, 20-turn circuit is essentially a greatest hits of several historic Formula 1 venues. The circuit takes inspiration from the Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel sequence of Silverstone, the stadium section at the Hockenheimring, and Turn 8 from the Istanbul Park circuit (more on that later). The uphill Turn 1 has developed an entertaining reputation, too.

The first race was a classic Hamilton vs Vettel duel, the 2015 event had a title-clinching drive from Hamilton, and Kimi Raikkonen secured his final F1 win in 2018.

3) Istanbul Park, Turkey (2005 – 2011, 2020-2021)

Many circuits rise to prominence due to the notoriousness of one corner. The Spa-Francorchamps circuit has Eau Rouge, Suzuka has the 130R and Laguna Seca has The Corkscrew. Istanbul Park quickly earned praise for a thrilling multi-apex corner, which was un-thrillingly named ‘Turn 8’. The four-apex corner quickly became a favourite with fans and drivers for its borderline-flat-out nature that rewarded the bravest competitors.

Turn 8 was complemented by the rest of the circuit, which featured overtaking locations at turns 1, 9 and 12, the latter of which featured entertaining cutback opportunities.

Fans might remember it as one of Felipe Massa’s favourite venues, the clash of Red Bull drivers in 2010, and Lewis Hamilton’s championship-deciding wet weather drive from 2020.

2) Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia (1999 – 2017)

This was the first ‘blank canvas’ race track designed by Tilke, and provided the springboard for more Formula 1 work. The wide, sweeping, 15-turn circuit quickly won over the drivers and became an eagerly-awaited race on the calendar due to its overtaking opportunities and volatile weather.

Two massive straights were separated by an overtake-enabling hairpin (Turn 15), whilst big braking zones into Turns 1, 4 and 9 provide glorious side-by-side racing opportunities. Each of these are followed by smooth high-speed corners which have often seen prolonged duels. Red Bull’s ‘multi-21’ drama from 2013 springs to mind.

Disappointingly, the organisers opted against continuing to host a Formula 1 race due to the increased costs, and the event not providing the same value-for-money that it once had.

1) Baku City Circuit, Azerbaijan (2016 – present)

With Formula 1 gradually adding more street circuits to the calendar, the Azerbaijan venue quickly cemented its place as one of the maddest tracks in the sport’s history. It simultaneously features some of the fastest and slowest corner sections in the sport, the narrowest section on the calendar (7.6 metres), and the longest straight (2.2 kilometres).

This mixture provides the test of concentration that is normally seen at Monaco and Singapore, along with the limiter-busting speeds of Monza. A driver’s race can be ended in the clumsy low-speed castle section, or the high-speed start-finish straight. The unique challenge means Safety Cars are commonplace.

The fact that the 2023 version of the Azerbaijan GP was slightly dull probably triggered more surprise than outrage. Rarely have fans had so much confidence in a track that they’re prepared to collectively believe F1 is broken rather than lay any blame at the venue.

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