Bring back the (real) Nurburgring

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Nurburgring Nordschleife, 2007, 470150

This weekend is the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. The mammoth race with over 200 entrants takes place on the mighty Nurburgring Nordschleife, home of the German Grand Prix until 1976.

I’m sure the following is no more than a pipe dream, but let’s allow ourselves a little indulgence here and ask, how could F1 ever go back to the real Nurburgring? And how spectacular would it be if it did?

Looking at the restrictions on building a modern Grand Prix track makes for depressing reading.

Take smoothness for example – an F1 track’s surface must no vary by more than 3mm every four metres. Or corner banking, which may be no greater than a mere 10 degrees.

I understand the need and importance of pursuing a safer sport. But I think F1 has gone too far in terms of making tracks easier rather than safer. Look at how flat and unchallenging circuits like Bahrain and Shanghai are compared to the original Nurburgring.

The N???rburgirng is the greatest circuit in the world. Seeing F1 cars race thee again would be immense.

In order to do it the restrictions on track radius, gradient, smoothness and s on would have to be waived. The cost of installing new run-off areas would be huge, but hell, F1 is awash with cash and I bet if there was a will then a way would be found.

Yes, I know I’m being crazy, unreasonable and romantic. But Monte-Carlo’s extremes have been tolerated for decades. If it’s OK to have F1 cars blast through the Monaco tunnel at 150 mph with zero run-off in dim light, then perhaps with a little imagination and an Ecclestone-sized wad of cash, they could do the same at the Nurburgring.

At the very least, can we agree that F1 tracks have become too simple, too uniform, and too unchallenging, and that taking a bit more inspiration from the Nordschleife would be no bad thing?

More about the Nurburgring Nordschleife

34 comments on “Bring back the (real) Nurburgring”

  1. Does anyone know where I can watch the Nurburgring 24hrs in the USA?

  2. Always dreamt of seeing F1 cars go around on the mammoth circuit. Not only is the track pretty dangerous, but the logistics of making sure that safety/medical vehicles and cranes would be available at all parts of the huge track would be mind-boggling.

    I’d also be happy to see Laguna Seca on the F1 calendar, since everyone wants a GP in the United States.

  3. Yes the logistics in terms of safety features would be immense but considering the millions of dollars that surround F1 surely it would be possible. What blows me away is the F1 telecasts are not digital yet. Come on, leading edge?

  4. Good post. It’s something I’ve thought about myself in the past. The track was of course abandoned after Lauda’s crash on the consideration that it was to difficult to marshal or provide adequate medical facilities due to it’s length.

    But technology has moved in since 1976. With the ready availability of on site high tech medical facilities, helicopters and computer monitoring of the race (all of which were not in abundance in the 1970’s) surely the Nurburgring could be brought in line with safety standards.

    The facilities and infrastructure are all there of course thanks to the modern circuit so any investment is already taken care of in those departments. If F1 can afford close off and light up large chunks of downtown Singapore then surely it can afford to upgrade a few miles of tarmac and barriers?

    It seems simple enough on paper, but like you say, it’s probably a pipe dream.

  5. Tracks are having so much run off now! Bahrain mite aswell just be a 5 mile square peice of tarmac with a line that the cars must follow around.

    Did lauda crash into the forest and most of the damage was his car setting on fire? This doesnt happen in f1 and all tracks have safe barriers around them so it would be fine. If they just smoothed out the cracks in the road it could work. Never going to happen though

  6. And yes to the comment about a Laguna Seca GP!

  7. Andy Duncan
    23rd May 2008, 16:06

    The sheer cost of bringing the Nordschleif up to spec would be exceeded only by the spectacle of a race there. It would be fantastic and fantastically expensive.

    One thing is for certain though: re-grading and resurfacing the track, and creating all the necessary runoffs and barriers would forever change the Nordschleif.

  8. It would be the greatest race of all time for me… Just only thinking about the sensible car setup problem, trying to provide the extreme downforce needed through almost the entire track, and the need of top speed to gain seconds on the final straights,,,, how many differents strategies could be seen? Surely we would find who driver got the balls….

  9. theRoswellite
    23rd May 2008, 16:30

    Keith……….yes, yeS, yES, YES.

    Of all the issues surrounding F1 this is one that seems to slip past those……in power.

    Tracks have a HUGE import in the formation of the normal fans CONNECTION to the sport, only second to drivers. And , of course, that life time connection means….dollars to all those commercially connected to the sport.

    Gosh, what are the most famous races in the world? Indy, Le Mans 24 hrs, Monaco…..all defined by the track, and how about Spa, Monza, and the unreal Nurburgring!

    If this track could be returned to a “useful”, read safe, status, it would become the greatest track in the world….and then you could hold………….the greatest race in the world.(The German GP) Even I could figure out how to market that.

    Great idea Keith…………oh, Laguna Seca should be the permanent home of the USGP (right on “cyanide”). If you doubt the soundness of this suggestion, just visit the Monterey Bay area….you don’t need a reason to go there.(yes it would need to be updated….but it could be, if promised the USGP…cars & bikes…for say a couple of decades.

    Let’s hear it for track personality.

  10. Speaking of LeMans…. how great would it be to see the French GP being held on the Circuit de la Sarthe.

    What better a world championship would we have than:

    Nurburgring (north course) – German GP
    Circuit de la Sarthe – French GP
    Indianapolis (oval) – US GP (East)
    Laguna Seca – US GP (West)
    Suzuka – Japan GP
    Brands Hatch – British GP
    Monza (LONG course – w/ oval) – Italian GP
    + Current Monaco, Canadian, Brazilian, Singapore, Valencia, Turkish, Belgian and Australian GP’s

  11. Linking back to what Robert McKay was saying about F1 and NASCAR, why not have a one-off non-championship event at Laguna Seca as a showcase for F1? Staging an event at the most famous track in the US (apart from Indy) would surely bring American fans into F1.

  12. Scootin good idea. There should be history to the calender too. Its only Monaco, Spa and Monza that are real classics. Racing on at Monaco-Indy-Le Mans would be really cool. Wouldn’t count as the triple crown though :P

  13. I’d add Silverstone to that list – it did hold the first ever championship F1 race!

  14. “…most famous track in the US…”

    surely you must mean Indianapolis? No, oh, then you must mean Daytona? Texas? Bristol?

    I live 2 hrs from Watkins Glen, and the ‘general public’ hasn’t even heard of it (even though NASCAR goes there). The only “great” or “famous” tracks to the general public here are ovals.

    Of course most ‘car guys’ know about the road courses, but they aren’t the general public. If you want to attract the NASCAR fans in the US, you’ve gotta do it on an oval.

  15. I’d love to see more of the historic tracks updated to be run in the current calender. While a few of the newer tracks have provided some good racing, most don’t compare to the tracks of old. More elevation changes please. I’d love to see them go back to the Osterreichring too.

    As far as coverage in the US, no on tv, but that’s what the internet is for. Live feed here…

    There will also be video footage uploaded to GT TV if you own GT5P and a PS3.

  16. I’m sure the nurburgring is a great track, but the F1 GPs i saw on the full track were the dullest i’ve never seen…

    The track is too long so if any car/driver has an advantage in only one lap he builds a huge gap, and that makes closing pace for the others really hard.

    While i’d like to see the return of more elevation in F1 tracks (and laguna seca would be great) i don’t want to see nurburgring come back.

  17. Leaving aside the fact that you’d never find an F1 driver to do it, a modern F1 spec car will never run in competition on the Indy oval.

    Regarding the non-championship race in Laguna Seca, that’s a fascinating idea. Think of it this way, the manufacturers could put their money where their mouth is – prove to Bernie that there’re people there by putting their own money on the line and going racing. And heck, even if no one would pay Bernie’s blood money, run it anyway. I the manufacturers want to pay more than lip service to their desire to have an F1 race in the USA, put one there.

    (also, I live about 60 minutes from Indy so I strongly support the USGP returning there but to be honest I would gladly cede it to Laguna Seca for a chance to see modern cars go through the corkscrew in competition.)

  18. If they had a GP on the Nordschleife, they could charge whatever they want for admission, and I would pay.

  19. MJohnHurt wrote: ‘Leaving aside the fact that you’d never find an F1 driver to do it’

    If that’s true (which I doubt) then we simply need new drivers in F1.

  20. Robert McKay
    23rd May 2008, 18:41

    From a practical side of things, leaving aside the upgrading of the circuit, (possible, just expensive) it would be tough to marshal and keep the same level of safety of a normal F1 race. However, they manage to do it pretty well at Le Mans, so I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s tough to televise a bit as well, since you would have gaps at some sections, presumably, because having a camera on every corner just isn’t practical. However with decent onboards and a couple of helicopters, as opposed to just one, you could probably do it.

    I think a race there is a pipe dream at least for F1. I suspect some enterprising businessman may well try and set up a proper historic GP type racing series in the near future, either using an existing series or a new one, if the current move away from “traditional” tracks continues.

    But maybe realistically a sort of F1 time trial thing could be held there without too much effort? If the problem really is safety, having just one car at a time blasting round makes it easy for them if anything does go wrong. Might not quite be what we’d hope for but still I wouldn’t mind seeing something like that.

  21. Andy Duncan
    23rd May 2008, 18:52

    I love Laguna but it would need a lot of work to bring it up to Eccelstone standards, and it’s not a very pretty track which makes it bad for television.

  22. I think they messed up when the current GP circuit at the Nurburgring was built.
    I remember a website called (sadly no more) that showed the earliest configuration with the nothern and southern loops. The original sudschleife would have been more than ample to stage the GP and much shorter to convert into a modern GP circuit. Had plenty of turns and challenges that would have been more like Spa-francorchamps is today, now wouldn’t that have been great?

  23. Couple of thoughts:

    – Looking at the quality of the marshals these days, are we really that much safer then Lauda crashed?

    – If they raced at the old ‘ring, we could see the first 1,000,000 in attendance for any sporting event… ever. Who would not go and see that race?

    – The Nurburgring is the ultimate test where unlike the Tilke-dromes of today, the driver makes the most difference. The race would be a lot more competitive than anyone could imagine.

    – I went through the track and found that there are lot less that needs to be changed in terms of run off area. If you added some run off space at Flugplatz, Bergwerk, Eschenback, Brunchen and the other higher gear turns, it would go a long ways to improving the safety of the track. Remember, there is a lot of the track where you don’t get over 4th gear.

    – We are to the point now in terms of communications, wireless electronics, emergency medical knowledge, and the safety of the cars themselves where this would be possible. Oh man would it be great.

  24. I think a race on the Nordschleife would watch like a rally, which would be entertaining in its own special way. I wonder how to deal with the race distance, would it only be about 20 laps around?

    I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that the running theme for ruination of circuits is the notion of the long straight followed by the incredible turn, which must be taken perfectly to ensure you maintain enough speed in the next long straight.

    F1 drivers have absolutely no problem with keeping up their straightline speed, except maybe Jenson Button, so which is the better answer:

    Take all the chicanes out of Monza?

    Or introduce dozens of chicanes into the straights of Catalunya?

    I also don’t know what F1 has against banked, sweeping corners, I think they have the potential to be more difficult than the kinks and hairpins of today. I submit Turkey’s Turn 8 as evidence: let’s renovate that into a tightening, banked curve and watch the g-forces climb.

  25. Steven Roy
    24th May 2008, 1:16

    The only slight problem with a Nordscleife race is that modern F1 cars can’t survuve a single lap of it.

    When Heidfeld did his demo he couldn’t get anywhere near the line at the Karussel because BMW were worried it would literally shake their car to bits and that is only one corner.

    Since 1976 we have lost suspension travel and gained massive aerodynamically. If a modern car was to take Flugplatz flat out it would smash into piece on landing.

    It really shows the mess F1 is in that the ultimate racing cars are utterly incapable of running on the ultimate racing track.

    It goes to show what I have been saying for years. The technical regulations need a massive overhaul.

  26. When watching the video replays of Niki Lauda’s near fatal crash there in 1976, one is drawn to several major dilemmas involving the old Nurburgring circuit.
    As others have mentioned, the track is extremely long, very hard to marshal safely. Add into that equation. What is to stop a member of the public from entering the track under green flag conditions, as in Hockenheim in 2000?
    Also, the closeness of the barriers. In Lauda’s crash, his car slams into the armco, bursts into flames, and then spins right back onto the racing line. A split second after the car stops spinning, Lauda is broadsided by another car at speed. One very, very lucky Austrian.
    If you could imagine that happening today, on the same straight, to the lead car, with another 19 cars behind him. It would be like Spa 1998 times ten.
    The simple reason why this terrific, legendary circuit is not used is because it is too dangerous, too notorious. The powers at be are not prepared to a. spend the money needed to revamp the circuit. b. to take the risk in case of another accident, such as Lauda’s.
    The reason the run off areas are there is obvious. They are there to help slow the cars in the event of an accident, and also to prevent a car from entering back onto the racing line. In not all circuits is this possible, but the racionale is, the bigger the run off, the less likely it is to happen.
    Don’t forget Senna’s crash for example, which is one big reason for these rules being in place.

  27. Michael Counsell
    24th May 2008, 4:23

    It would be a challenge for everyone but its just not realistic. Its a great circuit for 24 hour racing but its just too big for an F1 race. Taking all things into consideration I have no real desire to see F1 cars at the old nurburgring and I understand why they race on the short circuit.

  28. Oh, one of my favourite subjects!!

    1. You could never pay for changing the track to confirm with the F1 regulations, and I for one would never want that to happen as it is too much fun right now.

    2. So F1 would have to change their regulations, well, that’ll never happen as they are there for a reason and if you would race on the Nordschleife as it is, even with some safety changes, means there is a high likelyhood of seeing dead drivers again. Nothing is worth that cost.

    3. With regards to drivers not having the cojones, at least Kimi is one of the current drivers who has said he’d be up for racing there.

    4. With regards to suspension travel, Heidfeld’s lap etc..
    I don’t think an F1 car would smash to pieces at Flugplatz as it probably won’t even take off. In any case, it shouldn’t so that is a place where the drivers would really have to watch how fast they are going, as death would be waiting for them if they were going too fast. That would arguably be a step back to the good old days when it comes to driver motivation. As would be many other corners for that matter as an F1 car would go round there so much faster that you wouldn’t see that many 3rd gear corners as you see with normal racing cars now. If Heidfeld would have driven one lap without slowing down for pics etc. at the safe speed that he was travelling at, it would have been a new lap record. BMW intentionally didn’t let that happen.

    So yes, today’s F1 cars are able to race on the Nordschleife today, with changes to the setup, and no, they won’t break. But considering the speed they would be racing at, it’s unbelievably dangerous. Now there will be some “experts” saying that it’s up to the drivers to decide what’s safe and what’s not, well, what do think happens if you put a bunch of egomaniacs in F1 cars on the track? Yes, they will racing to the limit, and there will be deaths over the course of a few years, so it’ll sadly never happen…

  29. There’s obviously a nice ring to having “the ultimate racing cars” running on the “ultimate circuit”. However, I don’t think this would really work. As some mentioned before, current F1 cars could hardly survive more than a couple of laps on the ‘Ring… and with a starting grid of just 20-24 cars we’d hardly get much of a race on a track of over 25 km (including the GP circuit).

    Changing the track itself (track surface, run-off zones) would be next-to impossible in my opinion. First, it wouldn’t be FIA paying for those modifications, but they’d rather leave it to the track owners; who in turn would have to try and get government subsidies. A couple of years ago, when both Nurburgring and Hockenheim had to be modified, it was already hard to convince the government to shell out the kind of money needed.

    Now, with Schumacher gone, no other German pilot even close to a chance of getting driver’s champion, and GPs held in Germany down to just one… let’s just say chances are slim to get the necessary funding.

    And then there’s the track itself. Nordschleife is being called “Green Hell” for a reason… have a look at the live streams from the 24h race, the hundreds of youtube clips, or try to do a lap in GT4 or any other game that has it. Could you imagine all this being replaced by wide runoff zones and a clean, F1-proof track surface? It would take away most of what the ‘Ring stands for, and at least I wouldn’t want to see that kind of sacrifice for a racing series which over the recent years has turned more into some kind of political drama than actual motor sport.

    Besides security issues, it would also be hard to “sell” a feature race on the ‘Ring… the only grandstands are near the GP circuit, so you’d have to cover the rest of the track with helicopters and stationary TV cameras… it’s not impossible, but I wonder if it’d be worth the effort for just a 2 hours race. As for spectators, I believe that there’s somewhere around 200,000 there for the 24 hours race… at a ticket pricing of about 30-40 Euros.

    So… as I’m ranting on for far too long here, maybe taking a different approach would work. Somebody already mentioned time trials, and BMW showed (was it in ’06 or ’07?) that they COULD modify their cars to tackle most of the circuit at somewhat reduced speed. So… how about something like the “Race of Champions”? Let’s maybe also get in some former F1 pilots or drivers from other series as well, and then have them compete for best times in different cars (including modified F1 cars)…

    Oh… and before I forget about it. Keith, I fully agree to your last paragraph: More Nordschleife couldn’t hurt any modern track, I guess.

  30. I know your saying Ecclestone sized wad of cash in terms of his fortune, but taken literally that would be like 56 euros.

  31. HERE HERE!
    I have been to the Nurburgring on several occassions, it is one of the best spectator circuits, it is easily got to, it has excellent views of the track, the scenery is beautiful, the facilities are fantastic, and people are very welcoming.

    I would recommend the driving of the Nordschleife is something else.

    Bring it back, PLEASE

  32. nice comments from all

    but your all forgetting one thing, money!, how much does the Nordschleife make in a formula one weekend?

    before you say sponsors! what is the cost of bringing the paddock to F1 standards?

    sorry to sound pessimistic (realistic) but i’d love F1 at the real Nurburgring. with the south too, not just the north circuit.

  33. i’d be happy if i could find a single word about what happened in this race without touching a keyboard. unfortunately, enduros seem to have been kicked to the kerb until june. it would be nice if this ends up adding a second jewel to a crown not yet built.

  34. I know this is a few months old, but we’re planning a ‘Ring trip and I ran across the site. While it’s an interesting fantasy, as everyone here realizes, it’ll never happen. I own a company that is building a very large motorsports complex so I’m able to comment on some of this with a degree of recent experience. We looked at F1 requirements but they’re outrageous — there is a reason the new tracks are not privately-funded efforts.

    Michael K brings up a great point, first of all: Implementing modern F1 requirements would essentially destroy the ‘Ring as we know it today. By the time they were finished, 90% of the reason for this exercise would have been eliminated.

    Ignoring the track changes, the facility requirements for F1 are truly staggering. A huge array of buildings, apartments, meeting areas, and other structures are required for each team. The broadcast support infrastructure, and accommodations for press and F1 officials all contribute many tens of millions of dollars to the cost of a facility. Granted some of these may exist at the current F1 course, but given F1’s uncompromising expectations, I question whether they’d find that acceptable.

    Then there are the track changes itself, which would cost many, many tens of millions. 13 miles through challenging terrain, the now-mandatory high-grip asphalt runoffs, barriers, access improvements, the grandstand requirements… it simply isn’t realistic.

    Finally, though, we get to the biggest nail in the coffin: TV. Television does not like long road races. All of the major sanctioning bodies are pushing for shorter tracks. 2.5 to 3 miles is considered optimal. If you watched Spa on Speed last week, you heard the announcers griping a bit about how the cars got spread out on a track that was only about 4 miles long. Imagine 20 cars floating around by themselves on a 13 mile track.

    That’s the primary difference between racing today and racing in the 70s. In the 70s it was for the fans who went to races. Today it’s for the fans who record the race on their Tivo then watch it a few hours later when it’s convenient, never getting anywhere near the track itself.

    As for there being hundreds of millions involved with F1, the fact is that those dollars are committed. There are hundreds of tracks that could be upgraded for a lot less money, all run by track owners that would dearly love to run even a single F1 race if F1 teams were footing the bill. It doesn’t work that way.

    I love to dream about it just as much as anybody here, but it won’t happen.

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