'I was embarrassed by Miami GP criticism — we'll look to change chicane', says F1 circuit designer


Complaints over the Miami Grand Prix circuit took designer Clive Bowen aback, but he says that he's proud of how it worked out - and will look at changing the controversial chicane for next year

Turn 7 around fake marina at Miami Grand Prix circuit

Fake marina attracted all the attention ahead of the race; damaged asphalt in Turn 7 was the main topic ahead of the race

Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Who would be a Formula 1 circuit designer? A bit like the tyre supplier you are taken for granted and never praised for doing your job, but always in the firing line when something goes wrong.

The Miami GP weekend was a stressful one for Apex Circuit Design boss Clive Bowen, the man ultimately responsible for delivering the venue to Formula 1, the FIA, and the local promoter who funded it.

On Thursday evening, even before any cars had run in anger, I bumped into him at Turn 17, the hairpin before the start/finish straight, following a tip-off that some damage had emerged. Sure enough there were small patches on the racing line that had originally been reported by safety car driver Bernd Maylander, who had been running that day. There was more of the same at Turn 7, the long left-hander on the outside of the “fake marina.”

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Bowen looked a little stressed that Thursday, but overnight both areas were repaired, and the cars took to the track on schedule on Friday. However that evening more work was undertaken, and at one stage apparently there was a foot deep hole on the racing line that F1 cars would be using just a few hours later. Bowen could have been forgiven for being a little nervous.

In the end the repairs held up, and the race was run successfully. However the track came under fire from drivers on several fronts throughout the weekend. Their major gripe was the asphalt, created amid much fanfare from US rather than imported ingredients, and the lack of grip available as soon as they ventured off the rubbered-in racing line. That in turn made it harder for them to attempt passes as it was hard to “dive in”, as Esteban Ocon put it.

Then there was the tight complex around two-thirds of the way through the lap, and especially the left/right chicane at Turns 14 and 15 that led into the left-hander under the highway overpass. That was seen as way too tight for clumsy and heavy modern F1 cars.

Perhaps the biggest complaint came after Carlos Sainz hit an unprotected concrete wall on Friday. The subject was discussed in that evening’s drivers’ briefing, but the FIA opted not to extend the Tecpro barrier at that point. On Saturday Esteban Ocon hit the same wall at 51G, sufficient force to break his seat and pedals, and put his original Alpine chassis out of action for the rest of the weekend.

Ferrari of Carlos Sainz crashes out in practice for the 2022 Miami GP

Sainz hit the wall during Friday practice

Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images

All of these things landed on Bowen’s plate, and he could be forgiven for looking relieved when we had a good race and it passed without major dramas, even if drivers continued to criticise the track surface after the race.

The layout and design of the track was the result of months of work by Bowen and his Apex colleagues in conjunction with the FIA, and also with the support of F1 engineer Craig Wilson, who has conducted extensive studies into what is required to promote overtaking. And it all had to be achieved in the confines of the car park and other land around a football stadium.

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“I think that the theory of the design was borne out in the reality of the race,” Bowen told Motor Sport after the flag. “I was pleased about that. Because obviously, on Friday and Saturday, with the track being so dirty, it was concerning that we weren’t getting to where we wanted to be.

“But it’s interesting that [during the race] there were multiple lines, there was overtaking on corners. And many of the things that people were criticising, they were actually probably looking at the wrong thing. It’s like binoculars, which side are they looking from?”

Bowen admitted to one major mistake – not using a system for cleaning runways, earlier in the weekend. It’s the most effective way of sucking dust and debris out of any road surface.

“Next year, we’ll start conditioning the track sooner with FOD BOSS, which is an electrostatic way of lifting debris off a circuit. So because it’s such an abrasive, rough surface, in fact all race tracks are, if you blow it, the little critters still sit in the valleys.

“If you sweep it, the same thing happens, you need to lift it vertically. And on Saturday morning, we started using the FOD BOSSes, and from that point forward, the track came to us.”

FOD Boss sweeping system

FOD BOSS system (being used elsewhere) will be brought in earlier next year


Bowen admitted he took the driver complaints, and especially those about the quality of the surface, to heart.

“Actually, it was embarrassment on my part personally, because there’s a lot of time invested in getting this right. There’s professional pride involved, isn’t there?

“There was a lot of research undertaken. We didn’t go off-piste, it was conventional thinking, it was conventional engineering. And you’ve got to remind yourself that first races at venues often have this happen.

“There was genuine pleasure in seeing that we achieved what we wanted”

“It was the same at COTA, it was the same as Singapore, it was same at Istanbul when it was resurfaced. And so if you think of it from that perspective, it’s just a question of waiting for the track to mature. It’s a brand new piece of asphalt, and it needs to do its thing.”

So did he come under pressure from the Miami promoters once they started hearing the critical comments from drivers?

“Believe it or not, that didn’t happen,” he insisted. “There was a confidence that we would have a race. There was a pleasure that we had the race that we had. And there was in my case a genuine pleasure in seeing that we achieved what we wanted.

Lance Stroll and Kevin Magnussen battle in the 2022 Miami Grand Prix

Mid-corner midfield battle between Lance Stroll and Kevin Magnussen


“I call it the Holy Grail. We’ve become very used in F1 to seeing overtaking on straights. And classic races, the ones that people talk about for decades afterwards, are the ones where you see dicing on track through corners. Tell me something. Did you see that happening today?

“Midfield, I saw quite a lot of passing that was in corners. And actually I didn’t expect to see passing in the very high speed corners, because of course, the cars are grip-limited there. But they still did it. As did the W Series, and definitely the Porsches.

“And what that told me is that the line wasn’t restricted to just the racing line. Because you can’t have passing side-by-side when you’re at high G if you don’t grip offline.”

Although he was happy with how the racing unfolded Bowen is prepared to make tweaks for 2023, should they be necessary.

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“I think there’s quite a lot of analysis that needs to be done. I think the race circuit works. I think we achieved what we wanted. We knew that it was not necessarily going to be an easy pass down into Turn 17, but there were going to be passes into 17.

“And there were. But there were also times when people were able to use DRS to get really close into 17. But then, because we had those two corners with 18 and 19, that were not grip limited, you could then dice with each other.

“There was another opportunity for the second bite of the apple, with DRS, and passes were happening at Turn 1. And of course, Turn 1 is where the money shots are, you’ve got the big grandstands, you’re in front of the pit and paddock. It’s not contrived, but it was designed.”

Intriguingly Bowen admits that there could be a change to the controversial chicane. It was tight as it was because he had to follow FIA rules related to car speeds and gradient change – and the circuit had to dip quite sharply at that point to take it under the highway with the 4m clearance specified for bridges and so on by the FIA.

Chicane complex under highway at Miami Grand Prix circuit

Chicane kept speed down as circuit gradient changed

Grand Prix Photo

“There’s a calculation that is based on how quickly you can change the grade of a circuit,” Bowen explained.

“An F1 track typically has very gentle transitions, because the speed of the cars is so high, that they are effectively experiencing a higher level of G vertically, as they go over those crests or through those dips, than any other car would.

“Which means that when you drive an ordinary car on an F1 circuit, you don’t feel the visceral experience you can on say Brands Hatch, which is a Grade 3 circuit really, although I think they give it a Grade 2 licence.

“A sensible conversation might allow us maybe to make a change to the chicane”

“Now, in the case of that sequence, we had to climb to cross the turnpike on-ramp, but we then had to be able to get over a crest, and down again, to be able to clear the four metre clearance that the FIA regulations require.

“And the only way to do that is to go through a certain arc. That arc is linked to the square of the speed of the car. So that told us what the speed could be. And so we then had to design a corner sequence where simulation would tell us that was the speed we would achieve. It was joining the dots to make sure that at the point that you’re underneath the overpass, you’ve got that 4m clearance.”

Bowen is open to the idea of changing the chicane, if the FIA agrees: “What we will do, as a team, is talk about it. It’s not going to be my judgement, it’s not going to be my decision.

“And it’s very much something that I believe that the promoter will ask if we’re able to go further, because one of the things I did notice was that those who cut the corner and went over, they didn’t suffer any problems. So maybe there’s a dialogue to be had with the FIA. Ultimately, it’s all about safety.

“That’s where a sensible conversation might allow us maybe to make a change, and I don’t know if that will be the case but I think we will look at it.”

Esteban Ocon crashes out of third practice session ahead of the 2022 Mimai Grand Prix

FP3 crash ruled Esteban Ocon out of qualifying


The lack of protection at the point where Sainz and Ocon hit was perhaps the biggest controversy, and certainly many drivers were frustrated when nothing was done and the second accident happened.

The FIA has strict guidelines on angles that barriers are likely to be hit at and so on, and tracks are homologated in a certain spec, and thus race director Niels Wittich did not want to start changing things around.

Could there be changes for next year? The actual wall can’t move, but Bowen concedes that extra Tecpro could be added.

“If a car comes through and it slides on in understeer into a barrier, there would never been a problem. But what happened was they lost the back of the car is spun around, and then they reversed down the circuit until they hit the barrier.

“So where do you stop? Where do you stop the Tecpro? Next year the wall will be in the same place, but you can extend the Tecpro.”

So was Bowen relieved to get to the end of a stressful weekend, having dealt with so many apparent glitches?

“Very much so,” he smiled. “I’m not even sure they were really glitches. I think they were probably debates about something that focused on one thing, but actually should have been focused on the other.

“The one regret, I didn’t arrange for the FOD BOSS machines to do their work on the Thursday and the Friday. I just wish that I had made sure that they had run earlier…”