With the upcoming German Grand Prix marking a midpoint to – what some consider – the most exciting Championship in decades, let’s take a look at the two Formula One hosts in this part of Europe – and their hefty baggage.
Both German GP circuits date back to early 20th century. Nürburgring was a motorsport complex built in 1927 to provide a safer and more practical arena to showcase German driving talent than the previously organised public road races; the whole track was over 28km long, and the part used for Formula One racing in the 1950s, Nordschleife, was 22km long. After several alterations the current track extends to 5.148 km.
Hockenheimring was built in 1939 as a high-speed test track for Mercedes-Benz and its simple layout of two curved straights amounted to 8km; it was rebuilt, however, after the government had decided to run a motorway that would separate the original circuit from Hockenheim village. It differed from the present state, currently at 4.574km, as the long picturesque drive through a forest, where most overtaking occurred, meant that a lot of action was missed by the spectators.
Both circuits have on and off hosted Formula One races in the past, but not necessarily as the same event: in 1984 Nürburgring was the home of the European Grand Prix, with the German Grand Prix held in Hockenheim at the same time. The same was the structure of the Championships between 1995 – 2006, with the ’97 and ’98 European GP renamed to Luxembourg Grand Prix; and currently both circuits host the German race interchangeably, due to the same reasons as to which the future of two events in Spain is now in question, that is – previous low attendance and lack of money.
But what really makes these venues so particular is the gruesome part of their track history.
The numerous fatalities and severe injuries – together with the drivers boycotting either of the circuits due to the dangerous driving conditions on the track – were the most common cause of the German Grand Prix moving from one venue to another; starting with the 1968 death of Jim Clark in an F1 race in Hockenheim, through Niki Lauda’s – the only driver ever to lap the 22km Nordschleife in under 7min (6:58.6 in 1975) – horrific accident on the Nürburgring, resulting in severe burns, after his cry out to drivers to boycott the race, among many others.
“The problem with the Nurburgring stems from three major factors: the speed, the undulation of the track and the proximity of the barriers,” explains James Dunford from Race Track Reviews.”A track which is incredibly fast in the first place is made even more challenging by the bumps and cambers, making it an awful lot easier to loose control. Once a driver has lost control the third problem occurs; no run off areas and lots of trees!”
Despite many dark stains in the circuits’ history, they also had times of great glory, with their most obvious star still shining in the Championship today. Following the amazing debut of Michael Schumacher in Spa in 1991, when after his 7. place qualifying the German press proclaimed him “the best talent since Stefan Bellof'”, the sport reincarnated on the German tracks.
This year Hockenheimring will be a home race to five out of 24 drivers of the current season; among them the two-time and current title holder, Sebastian Vettel and the seven time winner, and considered one of the greatest drivers in the sport’s history, Schumacher.
“Hockenheim is only half an hour away from my home town, so I have a lot of friends and family there and it’s always a special crowd to race in front of,” said Vettel, who has so far not won a German GP. “I’ve driven on that circuit in different series and it’s always been great.”
“As a German driver, you naturally have a different sense of excitement when you arrive at the German Grand Prix and know that all the spectators in the grandstands are supporting you. That makes you proud, and always boosts your motivation even higher,” said Schumacher, owner of four Germany Grand Prix trophies.
But this home Grand Prix will be mostly cherished by the company that brought the track to life in the first place. Mercedes-Benz are this year celebrating 111 anniversary of their Motorsport division, whose vice-president, Norbert Haug, told the Formula 1 website that the team will be working hard to please the Hockenheim crowd:
“The German Grand Prix, in the country where the automobile was born, is a highlight of every Formula One season and especially so for our Silver Arrows works team.
“In Hockenheim, our team will be working hard to deliver a similar level of performance to that we have seen this year with Nico’s win in China three months ago, his second place a month later in Monaco and Michael’s podium finish two races ago in Valencia.”
German Grand Prix statistics: 68 - drivers killed during official events in Nurburgring; 24 in Hockenheim 59 - number of Formula One Grand Prix held post-war 21 - Constructor wins by Ferrari; Mercedes-Benz won only once in the post-war Formula One Championships 3 - highest number of consecutive wins by one driver - Ayrton Senna (1988-90)