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Choice Circuits: Hockenheim

November 17, 2012 by Matt

Hockenheim Hockenheimring F1 Formula 1 One Track Circuit Old Classic Full Pre-2002

Once known as the fastest F1 track, eclipsing even Monza in that regard, Hockenheim has been maimed, reduced to a shadow of its former self.

It happened in 2002. Once a 4.2-mile collection of flat-out straights connected by a series of brief chicanes and one “twiddly bit,” the race organizers finally succumbed to pressure from the various Formula 1 powers-that-be to make the circuit shorter, and thus easier on the cars and more spectator friendly. So the fabled Hockenheimring went from the layout shown at top, to this genericized “made to order” 2.8-mile aberration:

Hockenheim Hockenheimring F1 Formula 1 One Track Circuit New Post-2002 Redesign Herman Tilke

What am I on about? In truth, the redesign advocates did have a bit of a case. The long high-speed stretches were very difficult on engines and transmissions, and since the only real grandstands were clustered in the “stadium section” near the Südkurve, race fans really only caught a glimpse of the inter-car action as the cars made their way through that relatively small portion of the circuit.

That said, was the only solution to alter the course so radically? Allow me to indulge in a touch of Monday-morning quarterbacking when I say no, it wasn’t. Who’s to say additional grandstands and infrastructure couldn’t have been built to accommodate spectators at different locations around the track? And furthermore, F1 by its very nature is supposed to be a mechanically-demanding motorsport, and the intensity of the Hockenheim challenge pushed the designers to their uttermost limits in order to deliver the maximum amount of horsepower out of the engines, get it to the ground effectively and still be reliable. It’s arguable that the majority of the viewing public could care less, but for a F1 technology nerd like myself, the knowledge of what the engineers had to achieve to make an F1 car win at Hockenheim was exhilarating.

Hockenheim Hockenheimring F1 Formula 1 One Track Circuit Remains Destroyed Jim Clark Curve

The real tragedy, though, may not be simply the fact that Hockenheim was redesigned, but that the race organizers opted to destroy the unused portions of the classic circuit, ripping out the asphalt and reclaiming the area with foliage, as shown by the remains of the Jim Clark Curve above. It was an incredibly short-sighted move, eliminating the possibility that the traditional layout could be used for classic races, assuming that F1 would never again be in a place where the old circuit would be desirable, and to my mind perhaps demonstrating a hint of passive-aggressiveness on the part of the race organizers for having been made to redesign the track.

The old circuit holds particular appeal for me as it was the site of Ferrari’s first race win in almost 4 years when “my” driver Gerhard Berger triumphed in 1994. The Ferrari 412T of that year was one of the few remaining cars persisting with a V12 engine configuration when all their competitors had switched to lighter, more frugal V10s and V8s. This decision made the 412T for the most part uncompetitive except when it came to sheer engine power—an important advantage at a circuit like Hockenheim that prioritized brute force and top speed over apex-clipping nimbleness. So in a season filled with change (most drivers’ electronic aids were banned) and tragedy (Ayrton Senna’s tragic death at Imola just a few races before), Berger provided a morale-boosting victory at the German Grand Prix, a race I’ll never forget.

Watch and listen as BBC commentator and former F1 driver Martin Brundle provides a turn-by-turn analysis of Mika Hakkinen’s lap of the pre-’02 classic circuit:

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing legendary and notable racing venues from around the globe. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Choice Circuits, Formula 1, Racing

3 Comments

  1. John D says:

    Is it just me or did that one lap of 4.25 miles seem to go by much quicker than one would think possible?

  2. Jason says:

    it was my Favourite circuit in the world and F1 destroyed it, this was like a stab in the heart when they did this and the pain will always be with me until i die now

Leave a Reply to Jason