Interview with Hermann Tilke

The 47-year-old architect Hermann Tilke, owner of Tilke GmbH in the German town of Aachen, and his team of a 100 people, build, modernise and improve race tracks all over the world. The former racing driver, also known as "Lord of the Rings", has already put his unique mark on nearly 30 race tracks - from the A1-Ring to the circuit of Zandvoort.

Interview with Hermann Tilke

The 47-year-old architect Hermann Tilke, owner of Tilke GmbH in the German town of Aachen, and his team of a 100 people, build, modernise and improve race tracks all over the world. The former racing driver, also known as "Lord of the Rings", has already put his unique mark on nearly 30 race tracks - from the A1-Ring to the circuit of Zandvoort.

'Naturally', the new Hockenheimring Baden-Wurttemberg, with its futuristic infrastructure, was also the brainchild of this first class architect of the international motorsport scene. It is another top class achievement, confirmed by Jean Alesi, former Formula One driver. Alesi, with 201 races under his belt, was the first to complete a lap on the newly modernised circuit in a Mercedes CLK roughly a month prior to the German Grand Prix.

"I can only congratulate him in the name of all drivers," said Alesi. "He has done a fantastic job here. He has created a modern track for modern race cars. And no doubt this is a track where we will see plenty of action including overtaking manoeuvres. I can hardly wait to see the first race."

Question: How does an architect get into motorsports? What was your primordial interest?

Tilke:

At the age of 18 I started to compete in races. At some point I passed my A-levels and started my studies. However, I continued racing throughout all that time.

Q: In which categories?

Tilke:

At first I did mountain races using my mum's Scirocco, then I raced in all sorts of categories up to the European Championship for touring cars. Up until the end of my studies I continued to work on my own cars and with a friend, I even ran a small garage where we prepared the cars of some competitors in order to finance our own racing.

Q: And while you were racing you thought 'Oh, I am sure I can build much nicer race tracks.'

Tilke:

No, but you tend to think that the corners that you don't know how to handle are absolute rubbish! The truth is that after my studies I worked in an architect's office. After that I started my own business and at this point the idea to have something to do with race tracks was not that far-fetched. This dream then became reality. In the beginning I was only doing small jobs at the Nurburgring but step by step I got more and more work and became increasingly involved.

Q: Later on, the Hockenheimring GmbH contacted you to do the changes to their traditional race track. When exactly was that?

Tilke:

This was about six months before the 2001 German Grand Prix.

Q: What were the exact requirements of the client?

Tilke:

They wanted to build a compact and futuristic race track, but it was important to preserve as much forest as possible and of course the Motodrom.

Q: On the one hand a clearly outlined task that on the other hand gave you a lot of creative scope. Did you just take a white sheet of paper, draw in the old circuit and set to work?

Tilke:

First of all I had to consider the given facts, such as a public highway that needed to be preserved. After deciding on how to optimise the use of space I set to work. I think the result is a good one, with a wonderful second Motodrom, a quick section and a possibility to overtake.

Q: How many blueprints were necessary before the final layout of the circuit was finalised?

Tilke:

Everything was discussed step by step with the client. Here and there small modifications were made until everybody agreed.

Q: Did the FIA have its say in the process?

Tilke:

The FIA does participate in the discussions, but normally only with regards to security. Still, we have included the FIA - and also the German Motorsports Association (DSMB) - into the process of optimising the track.

Q: At this point race drivers must surely be useful discussion partners.

Tilke:

Of course. We also talked to Formula One drivers.

Q: Did they give some useful advice?

Tilke:

Absolutely, it was very helpful.

Q: Given that your original ambition was to construct terraced houses, villas and business buildings...

Tilke:

My studies concentrated on houses, streets and general infrastructure.

Q: It surely must have been a surprise to you, too, to turn into a worldwide renowned specialist for a niche business such as building race tracks. On how many circuits have you left your mark as an architect - be it completely or partially?

Tilke:

Up to now we have been involved in 27 concepts. Some of them were completely new, others never even saw the construction stage. This includes both small modifications and big projects like the new Osterreichring, the Sepang track in Malaysia and now the Hockenheimring.

Q: Basically your work is about looking after the interests of both the pilots and the spectators. Is it easy to reconcile both sides?

Tilke:

It is certainly not easy because the fans have different tastes. Some would like a part of the track to be ultra quick, others prefer to overlook the track as much as possible and some want to have slow curves to see braking manoeuvres and action. I think that on the new Hockenheimring everybody gets their money's worth. The speed changes a few times, from over 300 km/h down to the speed of the 'Spitzkehre' that is driven in first gear. And the pilots finally have the possibility to overtake, something they have missed in the last few years.

Q: The quickest part of the track is 'Parabolica' and being faithful to Hockenheim's traditions this curve is not straight like a ruler but rather more of a bend.

Tilke:

First of all it is the longest curve in the world. But it is certainly true that as an architect you try to take over certain elements of the old structures when modernising.

Q: For how many years do you think the new race track will now be suitable for Formula One races?

Tilke:

This is difficult to say but I should think this would be the case for the next ten years or so.

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