Controversy at the Circuit of the Americas?

After the dangerous conditions of the COTA track were highlighted by the recent MotoGP race, ATRL’s Trina Sriram takes a look at what happened and the possible ramifications for F1.

Written by Trina Sriram

October 22, 2021

It is finally Race Week in the United States for the first time since 2019! As we eagerly anticipate the return of Formula 1 to the Circuit of the Americas, there has been a great deal of discussion around the track itself and its dangers across many mediums lately. The Circuit of The Americas (COTA), designed by renowned architect Hermann Tillke in 2010, built in a similar style to Suzuka in Japan and Silverstone in Great Britain, has similar problems to Silverstone. However, Silverstone overcame this issue by continuously maintaining and repaving to ensure the track is up to par. Let’s explore why COTA hasn’t quite gotten there yet. 

The bumps of the circuits, indicating unevenness of the circuit itself, have captured headlines for weeks now. Following the MotoGP race a couple of weeks ago, many riders, including Fabio Quartararo, Marc Marquez, and Joan Mir, publicly denounced their return to the track in 2022 unless their safety concerns regarding the dangerous bumps were addressed. How exactly did it get to this point? 

A closer look at the part of the track

 

It has to do with the soil quality in Texas and the lack of continuous repaving and maintenance projects that have plagued the track in the past couple of years. The soil in Texas is predominantly clay, and according to the Department of Geosciences at Texas A&M University, “it is not known for its large solid rock.” The stability of the rock is what ensures the stability of the ground, and the bumps at COTA can be entirely tied to the consistent shifting of the soil below the circuit, causing inequities in the smoothness of the topsoil layer and by result, the track itself. 

Also, there have been consistent ties to climate change as one of the indirect causes of weathering down the track. The crippling ice storm that came to Texas in February 2021 is merely a symptom of a long line of extreme temperature variation that has caused the ground temperature to vary as much as 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit in a single day and unnaturally hot humid conditions for this time of year. Overall, the situation causes a level of uncertainty that continues to plague COTA officials and the track’s future.

COTA repaving 40% of the track for this weekend’s race (Photo via Twitter)

FIA director Michael Masi has stayed in contact with officials directly to express his concerns and recommend that they work on repaving the dangerous parts of the circuit before the Formula 1 race this weekend. The Circuit of the Americas Officials decided to repave almost 40% of the circuit with asphalt after the MotoGP race and before the F1 race. This is helpful, as many MotoGP riders complained of the lack of grip during their race. Motorcycles also have less grip than the average Formula 1 car and thus, struggle more on tracks where Formula 1 cars have more leeway.  However, the areas that were resurfaced initially did not account for the areas that required grinding down. The circuit agreed, according to Tony Cotman, one of the FIA platinum inspectors. Though Formula 1 cars can be set up in a manner that can adapt to these uneven track conditions, it is sure to show that the complications of the circuit are sure to yield some exciting results at the Grand Prix this weekend.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trina is a recent convert to the world of Formula 1 but is no stranger to the world of sports. She graduated with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Spanish and currently, she works for a large multinational consulting firm in technology strategy. She enjoys Formula 1 at the forefront of innovation in technology and is interested in its developments in sustainability. She spends her free time traveling, exploring tapas bars with friends and working out. 

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