Istanbul Park is unique for many reasons, one of which is that the track is run in a counterclockwise direction. This makes it one of the few circuits on the calendar where this is the case, but why are so many circuits ‘just’ clockwise and what’s the difference?
Most of the circuits on the calendar are run in a clockwise direction. But when is a circuit clockwise, and when is a circuit counterclockwise? This is determined by the balance between the turns on the track. When significantly more right-hand corners are counted than left-hand corners, we speak of a clockwise circuit. If it is the other way around and so we count more turns to the left than to the right, we call it a counterclockwise circuit. Also, the pit lane is on the left side of the straight, instead of the usual right side.
As mentioned earlier, most of the calendar is run in a clockwise direction. Still, there are a number of circuits where we drive counterclockwise, just like at Istanbul Park. Well-known examples of this are: Interlagos in Brazil, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Imola in Italy and Yeongam in South Korea. The circuit where we were supposed to ride this weekend, Suzuka in Japan, is an odd one out. It is the only circuit on the calendar that crosses itself and is run both clockwise and counterclockwise. A so-called ‘figure of eight’.
But why is it so unusual to build a circuit counterclockwise? There are actually a number of easily explainable reasons for this. Firstly, it is simply tradition and this is how it originated from the past. This used to be the case because a right turn was easier and safer in the cars of that time. This had to do with the distribution of the weight and in addition people used to drive everywhere on the left, so that you sat with your steering wheel on the right and therefore closer to the bends. Later, virtually the whole world went right-hand drive, but the tradition of clockwise circuits remained.
It also has to do with the human body. So because the majority of races are clockwise, drivers are most used to right turns. The G-forces released during frequent left turns are of a different nature, so the drivers’ necks are less prepared for this and may cause physical discomfort more quickly. For that reason, it often takes some getting used to for drivers when they drive on a circuit like Istanbul Park. So it’s a pretty unique situation.
Left pit lane
Finally, it used to have to do with refueling, a reason that no longer applies. Because the pit lane was on the other side due to the counterclockwise circuits, refueling was a hassle. This also had to be done from the other side, which in turn caused the necessary habituation and possible chaos when refueling.