A history of the German track on the eve of the Ferrari Racing Days
Next weekend Ferrari and its cars will descend on the beautiful and modern Hockenheimring circuit on the edge of the Black Forest. The Baden-Württemberg track will be the venue for the second Ferrari Racing Days of the European season, with over 40 458 Challenges ready to do battle along with a similar number of cars from the F1 Clienti and XX Programmes.
Scuderia Ferrari will also be there to add further excitement and adrenaline, offering the German fans a show full of blistering accelerations, lightning-fast pit stops and spectacular burnouts.
The single-seaters will include a very special F1-2000, the car that provided a first win for Rubens Barrichello, a witness to a Hockenheimring that no longer exists. It was a circuit unloved by Alain Prost, who called it a "headache", but it was one that brought out the best from the engines, especially Ferrari's V12, and from the drivers, who had to draw on all their skills to stay on track on the narrow slow corners of the Motodrom after shooting to over 350km/h through the trees of the Schwarzwald.
That track is no more and it feels very nostalgic to try to wind one's way through the woods on what was, along with Monza, the fastest circuit in Formula One.
After curve 1, before the new circuit bends to the right to meet the Parabolika curve, you can still find the Jim Clark memorial, dedicated to the two-time F1 World Champion who lost his life there in 1968. That day a puncture caused the Scot to lose control of his Lotus and hurtle into the trees.
After curve 1 there was a long straight, where a chicane was introduced shortly after Clark's death. Deceleration from crazy speeds to a few kilometres per hour became famous for both successful and failed attempts to overtake.
In 1991, Ayrton Senna forced Prost's Ferrari to collide with the cones that marked out the track, while at the same spot Mika Salo put on a show in 1999 with the bit between his teeth in the Ferrari of injured Michael Schumacher against the McLarens of David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen.
Today, that chicane is hard to make out, because there is an embankment built out of the many kilometres of discarded asphalt from the old track.
The track then shifted slightly to the right to meet the Östkurve, inside which a chicane was positioned following the death of Patrick Depailler in a test session with Alfa Romeo. This is also where, in 1982 Nelson Piquet literally kicked Eliseo Salazar, who had knocked him off track when the Brazilian was about to lap him. You can make out the old layout from the age of the trees.
They may be no more than 15 years old, but soon here too the memory of the engines screaming all their power will vanish irretrievably.
After the Östkurve, we find ourselves on asphalt again, because that part of the track borders the main road and has been converted into a bike path. We are now near the current hairpin, which is connected to curve 1 by the previously mentioned Parabolika.
The third chicane was here, the one dedicated to Senna, one of the drivers who loved the Hockenheimring. From here, after another stretch of straight, we come to the Motodrom, which still exists although back then it was something else. The layout of the track is the same; it is the aerodynamic set-up of the cars that is different.
The old Hockenheimring was superfast, forcing the cars to use high gears to squeeze the most out of the engine and exhaust flaps to achieve the highest speed possible (to the point where you couldn’t read the sponsor’s name above).
This is why the Motodrom used to be a ride to hell through four curves, where drivers had to take those turns almost in counter-steer. It was very tough for cars set up to fly on the straight to take a bend…
Nigel Mansell, Senna, Schumacher and Hakkinen all spoke about Hockenheimring races as some of the most enjoyable and challenging of their careers. After the changes, the track now has a medium aerodynamic load, and life at the Motodrom has become notably easier.
The old Hockenheimring had its swansong in the mad race of the 2000 season (although it was also in use in 2001). Barrichello had to set off that Sunday in 18th. It began to rain during the final laps over the whole track, except the Motodrom. Barrichello decided not to stop to change tyres and, with some incredible counter-steering, notched up a highly coveted first career win.
He shed tears even before he mounted the podium, while the image of the Brazilian flag waving as he looked up to the sky to dedicate his victory to Senna, is still alive in the memory of so many fans.