Hockenheim thanks Niki


And we’re talking about a transformation in the widest possible sense: covering track design and technical characteristics, as well as historical weight and symbolism. Everything began in the 1930s with what was essentially a triangular street circuit, run anti-clockwise over a 12-kilometre lap, most of which snaked its way through the dark forests around the town that gave the circuit its name. Not long afterwards Adolf Hitler began to build new circuits throughout Germany, underlining the myth of cars and speed, which sent out a clear symbolic message about his country’s industrial and economic power – which hastened the advent of World War II.

In 1938 Hockenheim underwent its first major transformation. A permanent track was built: the trees were chopped down in order to create long straights that were much wider than their predecessors, giving rise to what would become the legendary Ostkurve for more than half a century, and defining the typical oval circuit layout with rapid straights and a lap length of just over seven kilometres. In 1964 the famous Motodrom arrived with a series of slower corners, enormous grandstands, and new pit garages. This is the layout in which Hockenheim is mostly remembered. The new clockwise track was shortened to 6,768 metres and hosted races both on two and four wheels. By the end of the 1960s Hockenheim was known as one of the fastest circuits in the world. The death of two-time world champion Jim Clark in 1968 at a Formula 2 race prompted the decision to build two chicanes in the middle of the long straights, lowering average speeds considerably. This new format was seen at the 1970 German Grand Prix for the first time. But the main venue for Germany’s round of the world championship was always the legendary Nurburgring, which enjoyed seemingly untouchable status. At least until the huge accident suffered by Niki Lauda.
In 1977, one year after the unforgettable flames that consumed his Ferrari, followed by the harrowing life-and-death ordeal endured by the Austrian before he made a remarkable comeback, the 23-kilometre Nurburgring track was banished from the championship forever (the Nurburgring name would actually return a few years later but in an entirely different guise) and Hockenheim took over. Ironically this was exactly what Niki Lauda had proposed should happen for safety reasons even before his fiery accident. So fittingly it was none other than the Ferrari driver who won that first event on the forest track in 1977: a success that was to prove crucial to his championship victory at the end of the season. But of course Hockenheim was far from immune to serious accidents as well. In 1980 Frenchman Patrick Depailler died there during a private test with Alfa Romeo. In 1982 a terrible accident befell Didier Pironi during practice, cruelly cutting short his title challenge and career, and also injecting into him an uncompromising obsession with speed that would lead to a new career in offshore powerboat racing, which ultimately claimed his life in August 1987. In 2002, Hockenheim underwent its final makeover. The commercial mandates that govern everything in Formula 1® led to the circuit being truncated to its current 4,574 metres, removing the entirety of the rapid section towards the Ostkurve, allegedly because the sponsors’ logos were hard to read in the gloom of the forest. A new series of slow corners were built to link the Motodrom, pit straight and Nordkurve to another new section with more grandstands. Which brings us right up to date...

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