With Silverstone recently suggesting it could host a race on a reversed layout, we drove the wrong way on every 2020 Formula 1 circuit (for science, obviously) to see which one would be the best
Last week, Silverstone boss Stuart Pringle said that the track would be happy to host more than one race this season if necessary, perhaps utilising different layouts - one of which could be in the opposite direction. It’s a neat idea, but it simply wouldn’t be feasible. Most race tracks are designed to run in a specific direction and are designed accordingly, with gravel traps and run-offs positioned where cars are most likely to go off and safety measures positioned accordingly around the track. If a race were to be run in the other direction, it would require fairly substantial infrastructure changes.
Still, that didn’t stop me wondering… what would Silverstone be like in the other direction? In fact, what would every track on the 2020 calendar be like in the other direction? Using the PC version of F1 2019 for 20 of the tracks (and rFactor 2 for Zandvoort, and a mod on Assetto Corsa for Vietnam), I spent some time lapping each circuit the wrong way (which only required a slight change from my usual attempts at sim racing) and have given a rating for each, loosely based on how fun it was and whether or not it would actually lead to good racing.
Australia - 7/10
Although it’s not the most interesting layout in its normal direction (sorry!), driving it backwards dramatically improves things. The final corner is surprisingly fast when you go around it the wrong way, and many of the braking zones around the track are now located in fast sweeping bends - Turns 2 and 10 are now really tricky. The highlight of the reverse layout, though, is the high-speed chicane of Turns 11 and 12. It’s just as fast as before, except now it narrows dramatically, meaning you have to be even more accurate, and there’s a big scary wall on the exit if you get it wrong. It’d be hard as heck to find anywhere to overtake, but then it’s not exactly easy on the forward version.
Bahrain - 5/10
There’s nothing too spectacular about Bahrain’s layout in reverse, but there are a couple of really good bits. Plummeting downhill through the fast sweeps of Turns 12 and 11 is extremely entertaining, with the gentle tightening of Turn 11 making for a really satisfying challenge. The other good bit is flicking the car left through Turn 3 and then having to slam on the brakes as you slow down through Turn 2 in order to get the best possible line through Turn 1. That bit of circuit was clearly never designed to be run in the wrong direction, which is probably what makes it seem so special. Unfortunately, this layout probably wouldn’t be as good for racing as the regular one.
Vietnam - 3/10
This is a difficult one to judge since we haven’t seen a race here yet, nor even a real-life lap of the finished circuit. It does feel very much like a track geared towards generating overtaking as the regular layout doesn’t have a whole lot going for it in terms of driving enjoyment. Backwards, it’s much the same - the fast squiggly bits are OK, but it takes away one or two passing opportunities that seem to be there on the regular layout. Put it this way - I won’t be itching to jump back on the sim to drive the Hanoi street circuit in either direction any time soon.
China - 4/10
The highlight of backwards Shanghai is undoubtedly barrelling down the long back straight and then flinging it left into the long, banked Turn 13 before frantically trying to slow down for Turn 12 in a corner that feels like it lasts forever. The rest of it is pretty unremarkable though, and overtaking would become immensely difficult.
Netherlands - 7/10
Like Vietnam, this one’s slightly hard to judge, though in this case it’s because Zandvoort’s revamped banked corners weren’t in the version of the track that I used. It’s a great track normally, and in reverse… well, it’s pretty good too. Arie Luyundyk Bocht makes for a fantastically fast first corner, leading into a satisfyingly cambered Turn 2. The run through Schleivak and down towards Hugenhotlz Bocht is superb, too and although the overtaking opportunities seem like they’d be even more limited than they are in a regular direction, as a track, reverse Zandvoort feels surprisingly cohesive.
Spain - 9.5/10
Holy crap was this fun - I could lap Catalunya backwards all day. Charging almost flat out into the final corner and then slamming the brakes on for the chicane feels great… and things only get better from there. In the reverse direction, you’re suddenly faced with a ton of fast, downhill corners which are truly spectacular to drive, Turn 9 at Campsa being the obvious one. And I promise you, Turns 3, 2, and 1 suddenly becomes one of the most epic corner sequences in an F1 car - it’s a bit like Maggots and Becketts at Silverstone, but with elevation change. The only reason I haven’t given it a full 10 is because there would be sod all places to overtake. Seriously though, go and drive it backwards (not IRL, obviously) - you won’t be disappointed.
Monaco - 2/10
Maybe it’s because all the corners are so iconic but unfortunately, driving Monaco backwards wasn’t especially enjoyable as I felt it took away from the theatre of a circuit that’s so deeply ingrained in all of our minds. On the plus side, I feel like overtaking coming out of the tunnel and into Portier might be a touch easier than it is into the chicane, and there may even be an opportunity down the hill into Ste Devote, too.
Baku - 5/10
You know all those kinks at the start of the long main straight? Yeah, they’re nowhere near as easy when you’re going in the other direction, especially with DRS open. The camber change (and sticky-out wall) makes Turn 15 a challenge, and the high-speed turn 13 is a blast. The rest of the track is slightly disappointing, though - the castle section is nowhere near as fun as I thought it would be, and from then on it’s just 90-degree corners, which unsurprisingly feel the same whichever direction you’re driving in. Overtaking on the reverse layout might be a little harder, but I suspect it would probably be a touch more chaotic.
Canada - 4/10
Driving Canada backwards is a bit like Melbourne in that all of a sudden, you’re faced with quite a few high-speed corners which serve as tricky braking zones. Unlike Melbourne - and indeed the normal version of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve - it’s not quite as fun or as flowing, and it’s probably an overtaking opportunity or two short. The Wall of Champions chicane is still reassuringly difficult, though.
France - 2/10
You won’t be at all surprised to learn that Paul Ricard is as unremarkable to drive backwards as it is forwards. No big deal though - there are plenty of other layout options at Paul Ricard before we have to resort to driving it in reverse…
Austria - 9/10
The gniR lluB deR is utterly superb in the opposite direction. The first half of the lap is absolutely rapid, and plunging down through Turn 8 into Turn 7 is a joy. The uphill braking zone into Turn 4 is incredibly tricky, and although there’s nothing special about the rest of the lap, it at least retains the overtaking opportunities present in the normal layout.
Great Britain 6/10
Although Silverstone is still fun in reverse, it’s not quite the same. Going through Stowe without the build-up of the Hangar Straight doesn’t feel right, and Maggotts and Becketts (or rather, Becketts and Maggotts) becomes a reasonably straightforward acceleration zone and loses a bit of magic. Copse is still superb though, as are Farm and Abbey Curve. The entry to Club is surprisingly fast, too. However, it doesn’t feel like the racing would be quite as good so although backwards Silverstone is still a good track, you’d just spend the whole time thinking how much better it is in the normal direction.
Hungary - 5/10
Until now, I don’t think I’d ever realised just how symmetrical the Hungaroring circuit is. I like the track, but driving it in reverse feels almost exactly the same as it does forwards, to the point where I felt like I’d driven it before - I certainly didn’t make nearly as many mistakes on my first reverse lap as I did on other tracks. The fast section out the back feels the same, the hairpins at the start and the end of the lap feel very similar, and going from Turn 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 requires almost exactly the same techniques and lines as it does in the normal direction. Remember when tracks on racing games had a ‘mirror mode’? It’s like that. It’s left me having a bit of an existential crisis if I’m honest, so let’s just move on before I start questioning whether the Hungaroring was built by an ancient race of alien visitors.
Belgium - 7/10
I know what you’re wondering, so before you ask - no, the car didn’t take off when it went down over the top of Raidillon (though if I remember correctly, if you knocked your wings off on F1 2000 and drove down it the wrong way, your car would sort float into the sky). It was a lot of fun though, as is much of the rest of Spa in the wrong direction. The entry at Stavelot 2 is really satisfying, as is the Fagnes chicane. Just like the normal direction, though, the best corner is Pouhon. In reverse it has a relatively easy entry but then tightens slightly - not enough to need to brake, but enough to mean that if you’re not on the perfect line, you’ll be having some kind of off. The uphill section through Bruxelles, Malmedy and Les Combes is a bit frustrating but overall, it’s a decent drive. I’d love to see a couple of cars coming down through Eau Rouge and then battling into La Source…
Italy - 9/10
Backwards Monza is good. It’s very good. The entry speeds into Parabolica and Ascari are ridiculous, and trying to get through the second Lesmo is like threading a needle at over 200mph (other clichés are available). The only negative is that the only real overtaking opportunity would be at the first chicane but still, that’s better than nothing.
Singapore - 7/10
In a way, Singapore suffers from the same problem as Baku (and other street tracks) in that the abundance of 90-degree and short-radius corners mean that it doesn’t feel like a particularly different challenge when driven in the wrong direction. Some of the corner entries are opened up a bit though, which is nice, and the last two corners (22 and 23) are really quick when coming off of the pit straight. If anything, the very subtle differences actually make the track feel a bit faster and more flowing without sacrificing potential overtaking opportunities.
Russia - 1/10
Didn’t think Sochi could get any worse? Think again. The only interesting corner on the track (Turn 3) is now mostly a forgettable acceleration zone, leaving the whole circuit feeling like an endless stream of unidentifiable 90-degree bore-fests. Driving a lap of it backwards merely left me with the feeling that there were two minutes of my life that I’d never get back.
Japan - 3/10
If you look at the tracks so far, you might notice that one thing I’ve enjoyed about reverse layouts is the number of corner sequences which have fast entries into slow, tricky braking zones. That’s what Suzuka has on its normal layout (think the first two corners, the Degners, Spoon) so when you drive it backwards, you actually lose most - if not all - of the most entertaining turns. The track also loses its flow, and although I quite enjoyed the new challenge of braking into the chicane and think the run from Spoon to the hairpin would be a great overtaking spot, backwards Suzuka has probably been the most disappointing layout of the lot.
USA - 2/10
Although it makes for great racing, I’m not the biggest fan of COTA’s layout from a driving perspective, but it could be worse. It could be backwards. The one bit I thought would be entertaining - the esses - just feel clumsy and to make matters worse, it loses a number of good overtaking spots.
Mexico - 4/10
Coming down the pit straight at more than 200mph, driving into the Peraltada and trying to pick a braking spot ready to enter the stadium feels like trying to drive a lorry into your garage and then exiting through the side door into the kitchen. It’s mad, but not necessarily in a good way. The esses in the middle sector are good fun backwards but aside from that, there isn’t really much to get excited about.
Brazil - 5/10
There’s a lot to like about driving backwards around Interlagos. The run down the hill into Juncao feels like warp speed, and hammering around the Curva do Sol and braking for the Senna S is exactly the kind of challenge I like. Unfortunately, it seems like backwards Interlagos would diminish the number of overtaking opportunities - which let’s be honest, is one of the best things about the track in the first place.
Abu Dhabi - 4/10
We’ve wondered before whether Yas Marina would be better in the other direction and y’know what? I think it would - but only fractionally. The track itself doesn’t feel too different (although the section through Turns 4, 3, and 2 is good), but the simple fact that the Turn 7 hairpin now comes at the end of a long straight just feels like it would generate much better racing than the clumsy 11/12/13 chicane does. I also think overtaking into Turn 21 would be doable. It almost feels like when the layout was designed, whoever put the finishing touches on the track map drew the arrows in the wrong direction…
What struck me most about driving all of these tracks the wrong way was just how many of them felt slightly off. Even the ones which had fun sections or the odd decent corner felt incredibly disjointed - take an innocuous section like Les Combes at Spa - it wasn’t necessarily bad, it just didn’t feel right. This shouldn’t be surprising as these circuits weren’t designed to be run in the opposite direction, but it shows that there’s more to designing a track layout than doodling an interesting-looking squiggle on a bit of paper.
Of the 22 tracks, there are few which, strictly from a driving perspective, felt like they could actually work backwards. Catalunya and the Red Bull Ring are the two main ones (as good as Monza was, it still didn’t feel ‘right’), with Hungary possibly in there too, but the others - Singapore, Sochi, Yas Marina - did so not because they were good, but because the actual layouts are so bland to drive that they didn’t really have an identity or positive association to lose in the first place.
For the reasons I outlined at the start, I’m fairly confident that F1 won’t resort to running any races on reverse layouts this year. But if it did, I implore them to do so at Catalunya. If the reverse version of that was a race, nobody would want the Spanish GP to drop off the calendar.