MARCH 16, 2009

More details emerge from Flins-Mureaux

The planned Formula 1 circuit at Flins-Mureaux, near Mantes-la-Jolie to the west of Paris, is aiming to become the home of the French Grand Prix in 2011. There is still some scepticism in France regarding the project but the design of the new facility is very interesting and sets new standards in terms of ecological design standards.

The conseil general of the Yvelines departement, which is funding the circuit, asked for tenders for the design in the autumn and has now chosen the winning bid, presented by the French firm Wilmotte, which boasts offices in London, Paris and Cannes and employs 150 designers. Wilmotte decided to ally with Britain's Apex Circuit Design, headed by Clive Bowen, who has a list of circuit designs behind him including the Dubai Autodrome, the Eurasia Autodrome at Domodedovo in Russia, plus ongoing projects such as the Iceland MotoPark, the Eastern Creek Raceway in Australia, Hampton Downs in New Zealand and the new Alabama Motorsports Park in the United States. Apex has also designed international kart tracks for Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

The conseil general asked the firms to meet a number of stringest requirements, many of them to do with the drainage of the Flins-Mureaux site, which is very tricky because of local flood legislation and fears of contamination because of a nearby water-treatment plant. They also asked that the facility be "anchored" in the existing landscape. The land picked for the project lies on the alluvial plain of the River Seine, within easy reach of the river. The soil is very fertile and the land has traditional been used for growing fruit and vegetables. However, since the 1950s this stretch of the river has become increasingly industrialised with the vast Renault factory at Flins, gravel extraction, a cement works, a factory producing roofing and paneling materials, an EADS factory where parts of the Ariane space programme are manufactured and an Elf oil storage facility. In addition to all this there is a vast new container port at Limay-Porcheville. To the west of Mantes-la-Jolie the valley takes on a much more rural nature.

The authorities were therefore keen to integrate the circuit into the landscape and Wilmotte's designers have thus retained the many trees and orchards along the river bank and placed the racing circuit close to the main Paris-Rouen railway. They have, however, incorporated access to the riverbank in the design, with avenues of trees from the track to three jettys, which will allow access to the circuit from the river. There is, nonetheless, a screen of trees to reduce the effects of noise and to hide the track from the river. The area between the circuit and the river will continue to be operated for agriculture with a variety of orchards. The track is entirely surrounded by embankments: these will do several things in addition to providing elevation for the seating (there will be 120,000 seats). They will act as noise barriers, deflecting sound upwards, while at the same time preventing any possibility of water contamination as the circuit will be entirely independent of the surrounding drainage, with all water run-off on the site going into two small lakes in the infield, which will then be discharged into the Seine having first been treated in the circuit's own water treatment facility. They will also prevent the circuit from being flooded if the Seine does overflow.

All construction work will use materials to fit in with the landscape. The plan includes a large main grandstand, which will incorporate a conference centre with a large amphitheatre so that the facility can generate revenues from events as well as racing and will create jobs for the local area. The roof of the conference centre and the medical centre will be planted with gardens and all the buildings will have the latest environmental technology, including solar panels above the pit buildings. These will also be used to provide shade for the VIP terrace above the pits. All heating and cooling of buildings will use heat pumps.

The biggest environmental problem for all big sporting venues is the pollution caused by cars queueing to get access to the parking. It is estimated that a race with 100,000 people, each travelling an average of 50km, produces as much as 1000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, but if there are mass transportation systems involved that can be reduced by 63%. The railway is thus vital. The plan is for the SNCF to build a special new station right beside the race track, with very long platforms The main line will pass through the middle of the station so that regular high-speed traffic will not be affected but the crowds can be ferried in from five different Paris stations at a rate of 40,000 an hour. To achieve this the plan would apparently involve the use of Metro trains rather than the regular commuter roling stock as the additional doors would speed up the flow of people.

The circuit has been designed to be deliberately compact to allow spectators to see as much of the action as possible on the 235-acre site. The 2.8-mile track itself will be able to be divided into two, with a north and a south circuit that will be able to operate independently of one another, thus making it possible to generate more income from events. The flat land means that height changes on the circuit are restricted to just 6m but the design includes an interesting "corkscrew" section with the track going backward and forwards, rising and falling as it does so. There is also a high-speed corner reminiscent of Hermann Tilke's famous Turn 8 in Istanbul.

There will be considerable parking space as well, using an old motocross track, to the south of the new station and using the vast car lots of the Flins factory will also be linked to the track.

The entire project is budgeted to cost $142m.