MEDLAND: Could any circuit really run an F1 race backwards?

Image by Motorsport Images

MEDLAND: Could any circuit really run an F1 race backwards?

Insights & Analysis

MEDLAND: Could any circuit really run an F1 race backwards?


I’ve got to admit, this is a column I didn’t think I’d be writing because I didn’t think it would ever be a credible idea.

A couple of weeks ago, Silverstone managing director Stuart Pringle said it wasn’t silly to think about the option of trying to run the circuit in reverse in order to host more Formula 1 races this season. And I thought it was silly, but of course a circuit promoter trying to make as much money as possible wouldn’t want to close a door.

Yet after having a few weeks for the idea to stew, Charles Leclerc brought up the idea himself during a conference call with the media early on Wednesday morning, and said how cool it would be.

And I still thought it was silly.

But I’ve not driven an F1 car, and I’m not the one who has to face the risks. So if an F1 driver likes the idea and wants to see it implemented — he pointed out that he’s actually done it at lower racing levels before — then who am I to dismiss it?

So that got us at RACER thinking. Not just Silverstone, but could any circuit currently on the calendar actually host a race in reverse? The FIA might well disagree with these very basic assessments, but we’re going to give it a massively optimistic look and pick out what would become some of the highlights at certain venues. Let’s run through them…

Australia – Albert Park

No. As a temporary circuit, it takes too long to build. If there were no grandstands and it was behind closed doors, then maybe there would be more potential, but the run-off at the current final corner — what would become the new first corner — is basically non-existent.

Bahrain – Bahrain International Circuit

This certainly has potential. There are big run-off areas almost everywhere, but like Melbourne, the corner that would become Turn 1 doesn’t have the space and would need reprofiling. It’s the only corner that really needs attention, though.

Vietnam – Hanoi City Circuit

This one’s a no. Untested in its regular guise, and there are huge straights that need loads of extra space beyond the following corner.

China – Shanghai International Circuit

A firm no despite it being a permanent track, because of its unique layout. There’s no potential to extend run-off at what would become the first corner because of the long straight directly behind it.

Netherlands – Zandvoort

Another no (this is going well, isn’t it?). Loads of work was needed just to make this track safe in its normal layout. They’ve done an incredible job at adapting it given the lack of space though, and if safety wasn’t an issue, running in reverse would lead to an amazing, high-speed, banked first corner.

Spain – Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

For a while I was getting my hopes up here, as the run-off space is pretty good in most corners regardless of direction. But then you reach what is currently a brilliant place to watch an F1 car — Campsa — and it all falls apart. Turn 9 going the normal way is a generally flat-out high speed right-hander, and in reverse you’d arrive at a higher speed after a long straight and there’s no space on the exit. Boo.

Monaco – Monte Carlo

It’s already canceled for this year, and if we’re being honest, if you were trying to add it as a new venue today it probably wouldn’t be permitted even as it is. But imagine a braking zone that starts inside the tunnel, or the downhill run to Ste Devote from Casino Square…

It’s already relatively common to see someone going in the opposite direction at La Rascasse. Image by Motorsport Images

Azerbaijan – Baku City Circuit

This track is crazy enough for drivers as it is before you start trying to do it in reverse. Some turns could switch run-off thanks to the space offered by roads, but others — such as what would become the first two high-speed corners after a huge flat-out run to start the lap – would require fresh underwear every lap, at best. The section around the old town would still be pretty remarkable, too.

Canada – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

There seems to be a few too many trees and walls to get rid of on this one, but there would be some very cool corners, too. And none more so than the hairpin approached at crazy speeds after a small kink. Guaranteed action.

France – Paul Ricard

This definitely could, not that it has enjoyed a lot of love since returning to the calendar. The fact it was redesigned as a test track means there is loads of space if drivers get it wrong in basically any direction. Signes would be easy flat given the approach, but things could get interesting at the end of the Mistral Straight running the other way.

Austria – Red Bull Ring

A simple layout, but long straights and big braking zones are a bad combination. Imagine taking the first two corners of the normal layout in reverse, where there would be zero space between the outside of the corner and the barrier, and you’ll see what I mean. What would become Turns 3 and 4 in the reverse layout would be cool, though.

Great Britain – Silverstone

There would be some epic corners in reverse, such as the Chapel, Becketts and Maggots section, but then you’d probably run out of room at Copse. Even if the FIA were being lenient there, then Luffield is the killer when arriving at over 180mph as it has little gravel before you hit the barrier.

Hungary – Hungaroring

The reverse first corner is borderline, but by the time you’re in the quick changes of direction in the middle sector you’ve got big problems. Bit of a pity, as those would be approached at higher speed because of the straight leading into it, while the final part of the lap – attacking the usual Turn 3 and then 2 in reverse – would be a test.

Belgium – Spa-Francorchamps

You know this isn’t possible at all but you really, really, really wish it was. Far too many close barriers out of high-speed corners, and we’ve all-too-recently seen how dangerous Eau Rouge and Raidillon is in the normal configuration. But through that section backwards after the Kemmel Straight would be outrageous.

Italy – Monza

Similar to Austria. But imagine Parabolica in reverse. So much of it works, but the exit of Ascari would have nothing but barrier, as would what is currently the second chicane (although there’s reprofiling potential there given the run-off that already exists in the normal configuration).

Singapore – Marina Bay

You’d think there’s no chance, but somewhat ironically it’s actually the permanent section of track around the pits (the first and final corners) that let this idea down. The reverse Turn 1 would have no run-off and get very messy. Everywhere else on the track that there’s a big stop comes at intersections on existing roads where temporary barriers make it possible, albeit probably a challenge to turn around quickly enough for multiple races close together.

Bizarrely, a reversed Singapore is one of the less improbable candidates on the 2020 calendar. Image by Motorsport Images

Russia – Sochi Autodrom

Sochi winds around the Olympic Park, and if you ran it in reverse pretty much every corner would need barriers pushing back, where most already have existing stadium infrastructure in the way. The first sector would have a bit of a Baku feel to it, and there’s not really anything that jumps out as any more interesting in reverse.

Japan – Suzuka

Don’t shout at me, but I reckon Spoon in reverse would be better than 130R is now… In fact, so much of Suzuka would be epic if driven backwards. The figure-of-eight layout is a problem as there’s no way of creating any run-off at 130R in the other direction, but how good would the original first sector be if you were attacking it downhill?

United States – COTA

Shock: Another one that actually looks like it could do it. OK, you’d ideally have a bit more run-off for the new Turn 1, but it’s a slow corner so it’s almost passable. Maybe. Most other areas appear to have enough space, and like Silverstone the high-speed sector (the first sector when run in the normal direction) would be just as good either way.

Mexico – Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez

There’s a reason the Peraltada was cut in half with he redesign: it was too dangerous with no space on the outside at all. So imagine approaching it at over 200mph when it’s the new Turn 1… It would be amazing, but I’m not sure I’d even want to try it in the virtual world.

Brazil – Interlagos

Not too far off for such an old circuit. The long run from the start line to the first braking point at Juncao would be sensational, but you’d arrive there downhill at a rate of knots and with a barrier waiting. Aside from that, and potentially the current Turn 3 needing some more run-off, most of the rest would just about work out given the twisty middle sector. It would be some climb through the last couple of corners, too.

Abu Dhabi – Yas Marina Circuit

Another one that only falls foul in one or two places, because you can’t add run-off where there’s water. The hairpin in reverse would be a great overtaking spot (even if you’d need more space there when things go wrong) and while the new Turn 2 and final corner would both be borderline at best, they’d make for a great test flirting with the barriers on exit.

So, even being massively fanciful, there aren’t many venues where running backwards is remotely realistic. And of course, none of this takes into account the logistics of things like the angle of certain barriers, pit entries and exits, marshal posts, starting grids etc, but that would really have ruined the fun.

But we don’t really need anything in reverse, we just need to go racing again. Soon. Please.

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