Corners are so much more than just turns on a track. They are the centerpiece of the F1 race, where drivers push themselves and their cars to the very limits. Corners are often the most exciting bits on the track, but new fans may wonder what all the different types of corners are in F1.
Corners in F1 come in various shapes and sizes and are all designed to test the capabilities of drivers around the track. They also vary in levels of danger and intrigue, with some corners building up reputations as fan favorites over the many years of Formula 1.
It isn’t just danger that draws fans into Formula 1. There is a high level of technique required from drivers to effectively get round a corner. In this article we will discuss the different types of corners on F1 tracks, as well as their fundamental characteristics such as apexes and racing lines.
Basics Of Corners In Racing
The defining part of a corner isn’t always the direction it takes the driver, or the distance a driver must cover to get round it. It is the radius. The actual corner itself, if you take away the straights attached to it, is nothing more than part of a circle. The radius of a circle is the distance between its center and its circumference.
Larger circles with larger radiuses (or radii) mean faster and longer corners, whereas smaller circles mean tighter, shorter turns, like hairpins for example. Drivers will use the radii of corners to determine which racing line they want to take in order to get through the corner as quickly as possible.
Three Parts Of A Corner
There are three main parts for a driver to think about after they decide the line they are going to follow around the corner: the entry, the apex and the exit. Obviously, this is a very simplistic way of looking at a complicated topic, and no two corners are identical, but if a driver wants to effectively get round a corner, they must be sure to master these three aspects of it.
During the entry to a corner the driver will be working out their braking point and changing gears to get ready for turning. Upon turning, the driver will be aiming to hit the most inside part of the turn, known as the apex (which we will soon discuss in further detail), before accelerating out of the corner and onto the next part of the track.
Of course, turning won’t be as formulaic as this, especially when you consider that there may be traffic to navigate or that a driver may be embroiled in a tense battle to overtake or hold their position. However, it is a rough guideline as to how a driver will take a corner, whether it be a hairpin, chicane, or a constant radius turn (more on these shortly).
What Is An Apex?
The apex is the one of the most important aspects of the racing line. It is the innermost point of the corner. Identifying the apex correctly will leave the driver with the correct trajectory to exit the corner and provide the best angle to accelerate into the racing line.
The apex is seen by drivers as the point where you close out the corner and shift your focus to accelerating into the next area of the track. Once you hit the apex, you’ve stopped braking, and you can continue to follow the arc of the racing line at higher speed. There are two different types of apex that vary depending on the context of the race. These are the geometric apex and the racing apex.
The Geometric Apex
The geometric apex takes a more mathematical approach to turning, where the apex will be centered to the absolute middle of the corner. The reason for hitting the geometric apex is that the driver will minimize the severity of their steering, utilizing the shallowest arc of the corner to carry more speed and momentum out of the turn – essentially ‘straightening’ it out.
The geometric line requires drivers to use every inch of the track, starting out as wide as possible, before coming back inside to hit the apex at the center of the turn, and then exiting the corner at full throttle and returning wide again. This will involve braking and steering slightly earlier than if you were using the racing apex.
While this may seem the fastest way to deal with a corner, it requires the corner to be completely isolated with no other obstacles before or after it, something which is very rare on an F1 circuit.
The Racing Apex
The racing apex offers a more fluid approach to corners than the geometric apex. The turning point for a racing apex is slightly later, meaning drivers will have to delay their braking. This means the driver loses more speed on entry, but they’ll gain more speed through the exit due to the straighter line they will have coming out of the corner.
The racing apex is seen as the faster apex of the two, because the angle at which you come out of the corner lends itself to reaching full throttle sooner than the more rounded angle offered by the geometric apex. The one downside to the racing apex is that the driver must brake heavily for the sharper turn, meaning their minimum speed will be lower than a driver taking the geometric apex.
This downside is outweighed by the fact that the driver will lose speed for a shorter distance taking the racing apex, and then gain speed for a longer distance before they take the next corner, whereas the geometric will have a wider and slower line when exiting the corner.
What Is A Fast Corner In F1?
A fast corner in F1 is a turn that requires minimal to no braking, meaning the cars can navigate it at incredibly high speed. If a turn allows the driver to accelerate while going through it, or if they don’t have to reduce their speed by that much, it’s a fast corner.
A fast corner doesn’t have a specific speed associated with it. Instead, you might hear them being referred to as ‘high speed corners,’ and there’s a middle ground between these and slow corners (more on them below) called ‘medium speed corners.’
Tracks with lots of high speed corners require the car to have a decent amount of downforce (relative to the car’s default setup) to maintain the speed through the corners, but not too much that the car can’t take the corner at the theoretical maximum speed and that the driver loses out on lots of top speed on the straights.
Examples Of Fast Corners In F1
130R – Suzuka
Turn 15 at Suzuka, known as ‘130R,’ is the fastest corner in F1. Drivers tend to take it on at around 190 mph due to its very shallow curve and limited need for braking. Suzuka has become one of the most loved tracks in the F1 calendar since it was first used back in 1987, and a lot of this is due to the famous 130R corner.
The track has undergone some revisions since it was first introduced into Formula 1 but it has largely remained unchanged since 2005. A change to 130R was made following the high-speedcrash of British driver Allan McNish in 2002.
Thankfully McNish escaped without any major injuries, but track officials decided that something needed to be done to make 130R safer, so they redesigned it as a double apex section, leading into the ‘Casio Triangle’ chicane, which was introduced to slow drivers down.
Maggotts & Becketts – Silverstone
Another track known for its infamously demanding corners is Silverstone. A former RAF landing strip during the Second World War, Silverstone has been synonymous with speed since it hosted its first ever Formula 1 meeting in 1950. The fastest corner on the circuit is Maggotts Corner, approached by drivers at around 182 mph.
Maggotts is often taken flat out by drivers coming out of Copse corner, which is the second fastest corner on the track. Drivers are then slowed down by the upcoming Becketts into the Chapel curve. Becketts follows on from Maggotts so quickly that they are often referred to together and Maggotts and Becketts.
What Are Slow Corners In F1?
Slow corners in F1 are corners in which the driver will have to reduce their speed dramatically in order to safely navigate the turn. Examples of slow corners would be hairpin turns, or decreasing radius turns where the corner ends up sharper than it was when the driver first entered it.
Slow corners also have no single speed or range associated with them, but they are just corners that require the driver to slow down heavily in order to make the corner. Tracks with lots of slow corners usually demand higher downforce setups than tracks with lots of high-speed corners.
Examples Of Slow Corners In F1
Fairmont Hairpin – Monaco
Fairmont Hairpin in Monaco is iconic – and it’s also the slowest corner on the F1 calendar. Drivers take this hairpin at close to 30 mph, and it’s not uncommon to see a bit of a traffic jam here at the start of the race. This corner is so slow that the cars can’t generate much downforce, so it’s largely just down to the car’s mechanical grip to get it round the corner.
Curva Tosa – Imola
One of the best examples of a slow corner where downforce is key would be Curva Tosa at Imola. Curva Tosa is a long hairpin, which doesn’t require the driver to slow down quite as much as at the Fairmont Hairpin, but it still has the sharpness to lock up a Formula 1 car should it be taken too quickly.
Turns 9 & 10 – Bahrain
The Bahrain International Circuit also has a plethora of tricky and slow corners, made even more dramatic under the floodlights. Two of the many tight turns, turns 9 and 10, require drivers to brake, shift down the gears and turn, all at the same time, dropping their speed from roughly 130 mph to about 40 mph.
What Is A Chicane in F1?
A chicane in F1 is a sequence of turns, one after another, implemented on racetracks to slow down cars to prevent high-speed accidents while also testing the drivers’ skill. They are usually placed after long straights, making them a prime spot for overtaking.
One of Formula 1’s most challenging chicanes is the Nouvelle Chicane, or the Chicane du Port as it is sometimes referred to, in Monaco. Not only does this chicane exist within Monaco’s very narrow barriers, but it is positioned close to the exit of the tunnel, meaning once drivers have adjusted to the dazzling natural sunlight, they have to make sure they brake in time for the chicane.
The chicane is also on a downhill slope, making it even tougher for the drivers to judge their braking points. Drivers must also be aware of how they position the car as they go into the chicane, as slight errors on either side of the track can lead them to either cut the corner and face a penalty, or crash into the barriers on the other side.
Perhaps no other chicane is as infamous as the ‘Singapore Sling’ chicane in Singapore. Over the years its narrow curbs have claimed many a victim, including Kimi Raikkonen late in the race at the 2008 Grand Prix.
Known as the Singapore Sling both in reference to the famous cocktail and because it repeatedly sent cars flying, the chicane’s curbs were amended the following year, although they still proved a challenge for a lot of drivers. And finally, in 2013, the Singapore Sling was no more, removed from the circuit because of its habit of sending drivers into the air, and subsequently into the wall.
What Are Esses In F1?
Esses in F1 are sections of the track with combinations of two or more corners, resembling the letter S. The esse can be regarded as a faster version of the chicane, characterized by less intense shallower turns. Esses come in two forms, with high speed esses, and low speed esses.
High Speed Esses
We see high speed esses from turn three to turn seven at the Suzuka racetrack in Japan. Drivers often approach this section of the track at around 160 mph and carry this speed through until the end of turn seven. Drivers will also have to keep on top of their gear selection, as it is likely they will spend most of their time in fourth or fifth gear throughout this section.
An example of high speed esses outside of Formula 1 is the Pflanzgarten II section of Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany. Renamed the Stefan Bellof S in 2013, in honor of the late German driver, this section of the track is particularly tough as it is very difficult to pinpoint a racing line. Drivers must rely on their front-end steering response to ensure they navigate it safely.
Low Speed Esses
The S do Senna, or simply Senna S, section at Interlagos in Brazil is an example of a lower speed esse. The Senna Esse is a three-part corner and is notoriously difficult for drivers to get right. The cars arrive at the Esse at around 200 mph, but they will quickly decelerate to around 70 mph. Go into the turn too quick and you will risk your car locking up, due to the severity of the turn.
What Is A Constant Radius Corner?
A constant radius corner is regarded as the most predictable type of corner on an F1 track, as it maintains the same arc throughout the entirety of the turn. This means that the turn doesn’t have any change to its radius the whole distance around it, making it far easier to judge.
An example of a constant radius corner is the 130R at Suzuka pre-modification. The name 130R itself is a reference to the fact the corner has a radius of 130 meters. As previously mentioned, it is also the fastest corner on the F1 calendar.
The most famous constant radius corner is the ‘Parabolica’ at Monza. It has built up a reputation for being one of the most iconic corners in Formula 1, despite the track at Monza not being particularly corner-heavy. Drivers will enter the Parabolica at a staggering speed of around 200 mph and spend a total of around seven and a half seconds going round the corner.
The Parabolica, since re-named the ‘Curva Alboreto’ in honor of the driver Michele Alboreto, is the final corner before Monza’s final straight towards the finish line. Maximum exit speeds are needed at this turn to ensure the best run down the long straight, with accuracy and bravery the key components required to cap off a good lap time.
Increasing Radius Corners
An increasing radius corner has a similar entry to the constant radius corner but features a longer exit. These corners are generally quite difficult to judge as there are very few reference points on which to base a racing line. The corner lends itself to earlier accelerating as it gets straighter the further round the driver goes.
An example of an increasing radius corner is La Caixa in Barcelona. At their slowest point round this corner, drivers will be going at around 60 mph, before accelerating early to gain some speed before they reach the next turn, which is a constant radius corner.
Decreasing Radius Corners
Decreasing radius corners are one of the most difficult types of corners to prepare for in any form of motorsport. Perhaps the most challenging part of the decreasing radius corner is the fact that as you go round it, it gets tighter and tighter.
This involves the driver having to turn and brake at the same time, in order to meet the late apex accurately. China’s turns 1 and 2 are essentially one decreasing radius corner, although in the form of what is really a hairpin.
What Is A Hairpin Corner?
A hairpin corner is a corner with an incredibly sharp inner bend, resembling the top end of a pin you might put in your hair. Often angled at 180-degrees, drivers will take hairpin turns considerably slower than any other type of corner.
Hairpins are usually placed on a downhill part of the track in order to reduce the speed of the drivers, but they can also be added to flatter tracks to add a bit more difficulty to the circuit.
They are a real test of a car’s braking capabilities and require cars to have good front end grip when leaning into the corner. Braking on hairpin corners tends to take place late on, with drivers hitting a late apex. This lessens the radius of the exit, allowing drivers to build up more power when coming out of the hairpin.
An Example Of A Hairpin In F1
The most famous hairpin of them all, The Fairmont Hairpin, is a 180-degree hairpin at turn 6 in Monaco. It is the slowest corner in the F1 calendar, with drivers often choosing to approach it at about 90 mph before braking and navigating the turn at around 30 mph.
Drivers can’t allow themselves to be distracted by the scenery though, as the tight walls offer very little room for error. Drivers must turn their steering wheel aggressively in order to stay in the correct line and hit the apex accurately. In days gone by, this hairpin would have been a prime spot for an overtake, but due to the size of modern F1 cars, this is no longer a viable move.
Upon closer inspection it is clear to see why corners stir up such interest in certain races across the F1 calendar. From the speeds of 130R to the tightness of the Fairmont Hairpin, each turn has its own character and place in the sport’s history, making them far more than just kinks in a racetrack.