Op Ed: Lost Days of the Last Corner

In watching the first free practice sessions for the inaugural Korean Grand Prix, I could not help but notice the oddity which is Turn 18, the final corner before the start/finish straight. But more than the absurdness of the pit entry or the possible dangers that come with it, I considered the inability of drivers to make a pass in this portion of the track. There appears to be, in fact, no real possibility for most drivers (Kobe excluded) to make a pass for the better part of the last half of the Korean circuit.

Now mind you, I live in a world where contac lenses and trendy, thick rimmed Buddy Holly glasses do not exist; only rose colored racing goggles, providing a view of a much forgotten world in which many a race track provided the possibility of a thrilling, last lap, last corner pass for the win. Where have those happy days gone? Were they also lost on that horrible weekend in 1994, with the advent of Mickey Mouse chicanes strewn about haphazardly? Were they forever taken from us on New Year’s Eve of 1954? That’s Hermann Tilke’s birth date, if you must ask.

Formula 1 fans can and do talk until we are blue in the face about the overall lack of passing in our favored sport. Some blame the current car design. Some, like me, blame the tracks. Some blame Massa and Vettel for not being able to win from anywhere other than pole.

A combination of all factors is most probable, but if there were one thing that I could request for Christmas while sitting on Bernie Clause’s knee, it would be a calendar full of reasonably long straights leading into final corners that require equal amounts of breaking and Paul Charsley-esque car control. It would be nice, too, if the finish line were not always just around that last corner. Give us a little room for a drag race if needed, would ya’?

Taking a look at the track maps that make up the 2010 season, it could be debated that Malaysia, Monza and Brazil offer the best opportunities for such a thrilling race conclusion. Canada could also be thrown in, as cars head into the final short chicane (see the last two seasons Bush-or whatever it’s called now- stock car races for proof of this). But the majority of modern circuits end with the type of chicanes, doglegs or double apex corners which leave little to no opportunity for last lap heroics.

So to prove the point to myself, I broke out my trusty “World Atlas of Motor Racing” to contrast the real driver’s tracks of yore to, say, Abu Dhabi and Turkey. And what did my disbelieving, rose tinted eyeballs discover? I found that it may just be my mind that has been lost and not a world of perfect, long forgotten final corners. Chicanes, doglegs and double apex final corners do indeed abound across the entire breadth of racing’s long history.

Say it ain’t so! Maybe, in fact, I have indeed been mistaken. But if that’s the case and tracks have always been as they are today, should I expect to see, in my lifetime, a finish like that in Monza , 1971? Will the top five cars of any Grand Prix in the near future cross the finish line within less than a second of one another? My mind says no…but I’ve already been proven wrong once today.

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