Changing tracks: Hockenheimring

Changing tracks

The Hockenheimring used to be one of the fastest tracks on the calendar, where F1 cars would blast through the forests at over 220mph (360kph).

But that all changed in 2002 when the circuit was drastically shortened. Here’s how the current tracks compares with the old one.

Hockenheimring, Germany – 1970

Length: 6.789km (4.218 miles)

There’s a certain amount of misplaced romanticism about the original Hockenheimring. The first configuration used by F1 in 1970 wasn’t thought of as fondly at the time as it is today.

It was first used as a substitute for the mighty Nurburgring Nordschleife – and was best known as being the circuit where Jim Clark lost his life in a Formula Two accident two years earlier.

Hockenheim took over as the home of the German Grand Prix in 1977. But as other tracks became increasingly alike, the unusual characteristics of the track gradually made it one of the more distinctive racing venues.

Until 2002 the only significant changes were a tightening of some of the chicanes and the installation of a new one at the Ostkurve after Patrick Depailer was killed there during testing in 1980.

Hockenheimring, Germany – 2010

Length: 4.574km (2.842 miles)

Circuit officials referred to the 2002 changes, paid for by the government at a cost of $45m, as ‘modernisation’.

But they could also have been termed ‘homogenisation’, for cutting back the long straights and adding a series of tight corners transformed the Hockenheimring into a circuit much like many others on the calendar.

There was a clear economic rationale behind this: it allowed the circuit to increase capacity from 83,000 to 120,000 and in some grandstand spectators were now able to see half of the track, where previously much of it had been obscured by trees. The reduced lap length meant more laps were covered, improving ticket value for spectators.

But the Hermann Tilke-devised changes robbed the track of its character. F1 drivers and team personnel had mixed views on the changes at the time.

Ralf Schumacher, the last person to win a race on the original Hockenheim, was firmly in favour, saying:

I am really enthusiastic about the new circuit. It is a lot of fun. The area before the hairpin offers a good opportunity for overtaking. The circuit is one of the best I have ever raced on, my compliments to the designer.
Ralf Schumacher

As was his brother, who won the first race on the shortened track:

In my opinion it is a great success. The new layout flows nicely and there are some overtaking opportunities. It is quite demanding.
Michael Schumacher

But Juan Pablo Montoya spoke for many of the drivers when he expressed his disappointment at the loss of the old track:

It’s a shame we lost the old track, a big, big shame. I flew over it and it’s like when you fly over Silverstone, you see the Grand Prix circuit and then suddenly you see the national circuit. It’s like that.

In public perspective it is probably better because people can see more, but it was a classic circuit. It was quite interesting, even if it was straight-chicane. To get the car right to go over the kerbs was difficult.

With the stadium section on low downforce it was like being on skids on snow. It was good fun. Now everybody is full downforce and it is like any other corner anywhere.
Juan Pablo Montoya

And Ron Dennis, then McLaren team principal, concurred:

It’s not Hockenheim anymore. These new circuit changes have cut the heart out of something which was very special, very emotional, something which had its own spirit.
Ron Dennis

Many drivers on the grid today never raced on the original circuit and most of those who did would rather have the old one back:

Hockenheim has some real history and in its old guise it demanded a lot from the drivers, in terms of set-up, driving and in getting all the little details right. However, now it?óÔé¼Ôäós a more conventional circuit, and while I like it, I preferred the old layout.
Jarno Trulli

What do you think of the modern version of the Hockenheimring? Have we seen better races since they changed the circuit? Have you spectated at the new or old versions of the track? Have your say in the comments.

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89 comments on Changing tracks: Hockenheimring

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  1. Steezy said on 22nd July 2010, 12:58

    In comparison to the old one it’s not as interesting, but in comparison to other circuits in the modern calendar it’s not a bad circuit or an annoying layout.

    F1 needs to bring back a circuit like the old Hockenheimring though, I think the ‘closest’ for now would be using the ‘outer course’ at Bahrain…. maybe.

    • Why bring the old layout back? For historical reasons? I hope not – times change and so does F1. Look at the tracks 50 years ago – how many are still there in their original form and shape?

      • F1iLike said on 22nd July 2010, 22:00

        Yeah, and for the better often too… I think we already have one with long straights and chicanes – Monza. Thight regular chicanes is one of the most boring things on a track – except from really long straights. Silverstone, Spa, Suzuka – Those are the best tracks in the world, and what do they consist of? Great medium to high-speed corners and combinations.

        • Jonathan said on 23rd July 2010, 9:18

          No one would be complaining if the new Hockenheim was like Spa, Silverstone or Suzuka! Unfortunately it’s just like every other Tilke track.

    • Apparently they can’t bring the old one back. Or at least there would be… some serious issues: http://forums.finalgear.com/formula-1/2009-german-formula-1-grand-prix-36823/#post1020665

  2. Electrolite said on 22nd July 2010, 13:03

    I remember racing this track when I was younger on Formula 1 2001 (an unpardonably terrible game I know) and even through the pixels I loved that track. But the new one I still like, however it was nice to have cars going that fast through the forest and the straight/chicane/straight/right turn really reminded me of Circuit La Sarthe.

    • damonsmedley said on 22nd July 2010, 15:33

      You remind me of my childhood disappointment – specifically in 2002! It was my first year of watching F1 regularly (and passionately) and I had been familiarising myself with upcoming rounds of the championship on F1 World Championship (1997) on Nintendo 64. I loved racing on that Hockenheim track and was eagerly looking forward to the real thing. In 2002 the coverage in Australia was even worse than now and the race would come on at around 1:00 am – far past the bed time of an 8 year old no matter how boundless my enthusiasm was!

      What a disheartening shock I received, for when I woke and played my timer-recorded VHS, I was horrified to see the changes! I was one year too late in jumping on the F1 fan’s bandwagon and I regret it to this day!

      Nevertheless, from what I can remember it was a good race wasn’t it? A nice battle between Raikkonen and Montoya if I remember correctly?

      • Electrolite said on 22nd July 2010, 16:56

        Haha I don’t remember much from 2002 if i’m being honest(i’m afraid I stopped watching quite early that season, thanks Mr Schumacher) Watching in Australia must be a bitch sometimes. But yeah I swear the first time I tried the new track on a game it ended horribly; probably involving 180 mph, a tire wall and bitter disappointment.

      • Mike said on 23rd July 2010, 10:36

        I had F1 world Championship (97), it was my first computer game. :D.

        I still think that’s the best console based racing game I’ve ever seen.

        The new Hockenheim ring, For a “Modern” Circuit, is quite good. But, the old one, well…

        F1 will continues to remove the old circuits, Do you think Bernie realises we always like the “old” circuits?

        I just hope the balance between new and old doesn’t tip too far towards new.

  3. John Edwards said on 22nd July 2010, 13:13

    I think shortening the track was justified, but the way they went about it was poorly executed.

    The drive down to the hairpin is pretty good and is the bit of the track that works well but the extra infield after that adds nothing to the lap whatsoever.

    If I’d have designed it I would have shortened it to about 3.5 miles taken the chicanes out and replaced them with proper corners and insert at least one screamer in there.

    The track now is bland as there isn’t one decent corner on the whole track.

    • A Singh said on 22nd July 2010, 15:32

      Yeah I agree they should have done it a different way.

      The first straight (after turn 1) should have included the whole leg of track from the previous version so that it included a taste of history.

      Otherwise I would have had no problems with it.

  4. PJA said on 22nd July 2010, 13:19

    I miss the old layout, mainly because I like variety on the F1 calendar.

    For me the biggest shame is that the old track was torn up so it is not as if it is possible to use it for other motorsport series.

    • Xibi said on 22nd July 2010, 19:24

      Allowing nature to take over in that manner saddened my heart as well. It’s as if they wanted to completely erase that track off the planet.

    • The current f1 calender does lack in variety.
      I look foward to spa and monza every year because there truly fast interesting circuits.

      There used to be truly fast tracks on the calender:

      Imola
      Österreichring
      Hockenheim
      Silverstone
      Fuji

      Look whats happened to all of these tracks

      These tracks now are all the same.

  5. Like the others, I miss the full Hockenheim circuit. It was unique, full throttle and utterly enthralling to watch. However, the new circuit is a very good circuit… it’s just a shame they destroyed something special to make it.

    • Mike said on 23rd July 2010, 10:43

      I have some pictures somewhere of the old track, only after it was dug up. It’s quite sad, because you can see all the old spots where the track was, and you can remember parts of old races.

      To be honest, the pictures have a similar affect to WW1/2 memorials….
      I don’t believe in ghosts, but if I did, I would believe that old drivers would still be there.

  6. I can entirely understand why the organisers did what they did. But once again with my rose-tinted spectacles on, I prefer the old circuit. There was something highly evocative about the cars hurtling out of sight and into the woods. A bit like Monza I suppose, ghost of long passed greats included…

  7. zomtec said on 22nd July 2010, 13:53

    The whole thing went wrong. They spent far to much money for the modifications to the circuit and business class grandstands. Now they are in trouble because there are only 60-70.000 people coming to see the race.
    So basically they should have kept their 83.000 spectator capacity and the character of the circuit, maybe by keeping the first run to the clark chicane and connecting it directly with the entrance of the motodrom.

    • bosyber said on 22nd July 2010, 20:27

      Yes, but back then they had the half of Germany coming around to see Micheal Schumacher, and his younger brother :) Maybe Vettel, Sutil, MSC, and Rosberg will draw a crowd once again?

      • sodhal said on 23rd July 2010, 0:22

        That picture reminds us of the days when BMW Williams were such a strong team challenging for victories

  8. I always found the old track to be cool, just like JPM said it was cool with no downforce in the Stadium section!

  9. For business it’s clear why they did what they did. But the character, the spirit, the challenge is gone. I think Montoya’s final paragraph sums up the old and the new very well.

    With the stadium section on low downforce it was like being on skids on snow. It was good fun. Now everybody is full downforce and it is like any other corner anywhere.

  10. Donal said on 22nd July 2010, 14:00

    I went a GP here in 2000 -when barichello won in the rain and that lunatic ran on the track. we had cheap tickets at the east end of the circuit. I remember the long long walk in the rain from the campsite through the flooded underpass. we arrived during saturday practice and the sound of the F1 engines in the forest really was something special.

    We were even able to walk back along the track after the race which was cool. walked on the main straight and had some banter with the jordan mechanics packing up. Then we went to the first corner and took photos with the finns who were celebrating beside the big hole in the tyre barrier that schumi made on the first corner!!
    good days..

    • We were even able to walk back along the track after the race which was cool.

      So does that mean that the guy who was on the track during the race was simply trying to beat the crowds and get home early? :D

      • Donal said on 22nd July 2010, 15:51

        he was actually down our end of the circuit but just around the corner from us so we couldn’t see him directly, only on the big screen. apparently he was a disgruntled mercedes employee or something. seriously dangerous though – at the point he was on the track the cars are at top speed – very lucky he wasn’t killed and maybe a driver too

  11. HounslowBusGarage (@hounslowbusgarage) said on 22nd July 2010, 14:04

    Actually, this is the third iteration of Hockers, although the first version was not a grand prix track. The original was opened in the 30′s and was about eight kilometres long. If you have a look at the top photograph and look at the bottom left, you will see the Autobahn. Before this was built, the track used to continue south-west and with a hairpin-ish bend almost in the town. If you look carefully, you can follow the lines of the original track towards the corner.
    Once the autobahn was built, the Motodrom was created.
    The old sweep out into the forest was so long that you could watch out of sight from the Motodrom, go and get a snack and have a drink before the cars returned.
    Once they introduced the chicanes, you had time to go to the loo as well!
    It’s not just an F1 circuit of course, and one of the final reasons for the removal of the forest section was the death of two side-car racers between the Ost curve and the Senna chicane I think, in the late 90′s. I’ve been trying to recall/find details without result. Can anyone else advise?
    The new track is fine, I think. The view from the Mercedes Benz stand along the back (curved) straight and then around the hairpin and right towards you in the infield is great. Never seen a Grand Prix from there, but the noise must be deafening.

  12. Chalky said on 22nd July 2010, 14:12

    The original circuit shares my early F1 memories. I always looked forward to the German GP as it’s unique layout meant that it wasn’t always the same team that would have the advantage.

    I never went, as I was too young to go on my own. After they changed the layout I lost interest in going to the race. It was just another identical track in Europe.

  13. Robert McKay said on 22nd July 2010, 14:12

    As a “Tilke venue” it’s actually not bad and has generally produced a lot of good overtaking and racing. I’d still rather go to new Hockenheim than some of the newer Tilke tracks.

    But it wasn’t like the old one didn’t having passing and great battles, and the sport has become desperately short of low-downforce, high-speed blast slipstream circuits with relatively simple layouts.

    There’s almost a case for having both the old track and the new one on the calendar, or even alternating the two, although neither will ever happen of course.

    • It won’t happen because the old track is gone. The tarmac was torn up and left for the forest to grow over it.

      Very very sad.

      • Matthew McMahon said on 22nd July 2010, 17:53

        Shame. They should have kept it for local events or for special events or even as a reminder of the past. The old bank at Monza is still there albeit a bit overgrown.

  14. Rui said on 22nd July 2010, 14:41

    For me it is the biggest shame that F1 was given me over the years even more than Estoril,my “home” track..
    Just just wrong.

  15. Havergal said on 22nd July 2010, 14:45

    I don’t know if many have read Martin Brundle’s excellent book ‘Working the Wheel’, but his chapter on Hockenheim is interesting. He doesn’t view the old layout with rose tinted glasses, finding it more an odd mixture of terrifying and quite dull. He comments that the effect of the long fast sections of the track was to spread the cars out meaning those actually at the track saw little in the way of action. His description of the effect on drivers is of them ‘being frightened silly those long straights to nowhere and back’.

    • Xibi said on 22nd July 2010, 19:31

      Interesting perspective.

      Back then, it was mostly about engine power. But now, with several teams using the same engine, it would have been really interesting to see what aerodynamic work to the cars teams would do, in order to gain that advantage back.

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