Spannerhead Dot

Posts filed under ‘Choice Circuits’

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:

3 Comments on Choice Circuits: Hockenheim

Choice Circuits: Spa-Francorchamps

March 6, 2012 by Matt

Spa-Francorchamps Circuit Track Map Layout Diagram Schematic Belgium Belgian GP Grand Prix F1 Formula 1

Let’s talk about Spa for a bit. Yesterday’s post featured a clip showcasing the track’s most famous corner, the Eau Rouge / Radillion combination, but the whole circuit is noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that, as mentioned, many prominent Formula 1 drivers have ranked it among their very favorites.

Located in the Francorchamps suburb of Spa, Belgium (hence its name), an F1 victory at the circuit doesn’t hold quite as much prestige as a triumph at Monaco or Monza, in spite of its popularity among the drivers. That said, there are few tracks with a more distinctive layout, looking as it does like a kind of gun. It is to F1 circuits what Orion is to constellations: An instantly-recognizable figure. Measuring nearly 4.5 miles in length, Spa is also one of the longest F1 circuits, and the Belgian Grand Prix runs for a fewer number of laps (only 44) than other races on the calendar in order to reach a preset race distance. Spa is a fast track as well, with only two slow corners, the rest consisting of straights or long, sweeping bends. Apart from the aforementioned Eau Rouge corner, the backfield of the circuit, from Rivage on, can be exceptionally enjoyable for drivers who establish a kind of rhythm through the succession of high-speed esses.

All in all, a fantastic track, and one that’s maintained its status as one of F1’s premier venues through all the regulatory upheaval of the past 20 years or so, having undergone notably few alterations compared to other circuits such as Silverstone. As far as I know, only the Chicane has been significantly reprofiled (previously it consisted of a pair of back-to-back chicanes and was named Bus Stop), the rest of the track layout remaining largely the same.

Watch the clip below as Jenson Button delivers a flying lap in his ’04 BAR-Honda:

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:

2 Comments on Choice Circuits: Spa-Francorchamps

Choice Circuits: My Top Three

December 6, 2011 by Matt

I don’t know whether to call these favorites, or tracks I have some kind of personal connection with, or even tracks I would simply love to drive “in anger.” All I know is that if the bomb went off and I had to choose just three auto racing venues to save, these circuits would be the ones.

Monaco Monte Carlo F1 Formula One GP Grand Prix Track Race Circuit Map Layout Course

Monaco. Site of one of the pillars of the Triple Crown of Motorsport. Incidentally, as much of an F1 fan as I am, it’s the only F1 event I’ve actually attended. Twice, in fact—in ’87, at the peak of the turbo era, and again in ’94, exactly one race after the weekend which claimed the life of the legendary Ayrton Senna. It should be noted that in both instances, I didn’t attend the actual race, but one of the qualifying sessions. Still, for sheer spectacle, glamor and excitement, it’s hard to beat the race three-time world champion Nelson Piquet likened to “racing a bicycle around your living room.” Cementing my attachment to the circuit is the fact that I’ve actually driven it multiple times, or as much of it as you can drive in the off-season; several interchanges between parts of the track are set up specifically for the F1 race. It’s impossible not to visualize yourself as Alain Prost, Senna or Michael Schumacher when hurtling through the tunnel or rounding the swimming pool on the harbor’s edge, even while observing the relatively sedate speed limits. Take a lap.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Track Race Circuit Map Layout Course

Laguna Seca. I don’t have a personal connection to this one in real life, but of all the tracks I’ve raced “virtually” (read: in video games), it stands out as the one I’d overwhelmingly want to experience in real life, if for no other reason than to take a trip through the vaunted Corkscrew about 2/3 of the way through the course. It took me ages to get that bit just right in my Viper GTS-R in Gran Turismo 2. Take a lap.

VIR Virginia International Raceway Danville Track Race Circuit Map Layout Course

Virginia International Raceway, or VIR. The “hometown” track, just 90 minutes away in Danville, Virginia. Reopened in ’00 after years of neglect, the venue has since vaulted into in the top tier of American circuits. It’s not hard to see why: Offering a number of distinctive segments and corners, elevation changes and able to be reconfigured into half a dozen layouts, VIR is a model of versatility and character. It’s anything but a sterile, technical track, and as such has hosted everything from a Top Gear episode to magazine comparos. Take a lap.

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:

No Comments on Choice Circuits: My Top Three