Saturday, January 09, 2016

The tortuosity of modern F1 circuits

In recent decades, Formula 1 circuits have tended to lose their character; flowing tracks, sculpted by the contours of the land, have been supplanted by clinical autodromes designed to maximise sponsorship exposure and minimise running costs. 

Perhaps surprisingly, it is soil physics which offers a means of quantifying this loss of flow. Specifically, we need to adapt a quantity called the tortuosity factor, which is used to analyse the permeability of soil to the flow of water.

As Daniel Hillel explains, "The actual length of the path traversed by an average parcel of liquid is greater than the soil column length L, owing to the labyrinthine, or tortuous, nature of the pore passages...Tortuosity can be defined as the average ratio of the actual roundabout path to the apparent, or straight, flow path," (p177, Fundamentals of Soil Physics, Academic Press, 1980).

So, let's calculate and compare the tortuosity of a corner complex on a traditional F1 circuit to that on a modern Hermann Tilke designed circuit. In particular, let's compare the Becketts sequence at Silverstone with the Turn 1/2/3 complex at Shanghai.

Courtesy of Google Maps, the distance between the entry and exit of the Becketts sequence, as the crow flies, is about 517m. The distance along the path of the track is about 600m. Hence the tortuosity of Becketts is T = 600/517 = 1.2

The distance between the entry to Turn 1, and Turn 4 at Shanghai, as the crow flies, is about 145m. The distance along the path of the track is about 650m. Hence, the tortuosity of the opening corner sequence at Shanghai is T = 650/145 = 4.5

So, the tortuosity factor of a modern F1 corner complex can be as much as 3.75 times greater than that of a more traditional sequence. Which is a way of placing a number on how much F1 has lost its soul.

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