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?s 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

  1. RobR (@robr) said on 22nd July 2010, 15:15

    Does Bernie really think that a circuit full of Tilkedromes is the future of his sport?

    Has he even thought about it at all? Or does he think everyone will always tune in no matter what, because “it’s F1″?

    • Alex said on 22nd July 2010, 16:12

      If that future makes bernie a lot of money, then yes.

      • RobR (@robr) said on 22nd July 2010, 16:56

        He makes the biggest money through convincing emerging economies that having an F1 race will “put them on the map”. He hasn’t made himself, or the sport, a profit, from neutering Hockenheim, or any similar neutering of the sport in Europe.

        It cost a ton of money to make the renovations at Hockenheim, and now they can only afford to have the race once every 2 years because the crowds aren’t enough to fill the grandstands he viewed as more important than the track itself.

        If Bernie keeps gutting the heart of the sport and turning the core fanbase away, he will have nothing left when he eventually runs out of suckers in emerging countries.

  2. Dan Thorn (@dan-thorn) said on 22nd July 2010, 15:23

    There’s a tendency to look at the old track through rose tinted glasses. Yes, it was a unique challenge for the drivers, but as a spectacle it wasn’t all that great. Overtaking moves were often simple slipstreaming manoevers and none of the chicanes were anything special – the only decent part of the forest section was the pre-chicane Ostkurve.

    The new track is much better, very good for overtaking and it still has all of the best corners. It’s fantastic watching onboards through the stadium section, it’s so narrow, bumpy and fast with plenty of camber changes, a wonderful piece of tarmac. It still has the Nordkurve as well.

    The only thing the new track loses on is character, but as with any track that takes years to accumulate and I suspect that in years to come the new layout will be quite fondly looked upon in context of other tracks on the calendar at the moment. It’s a terrible shame that they’ve simply planted over the old race track though, talk about covering up history.

    • Joey-Poey said on 22nd July 2010, 15:55

      yeah, that’s honestly my biggest beef. Seems like such a waste and a saddening sight. All that’s left now of it are photos and footage.

  3. Its Hammer time said on 22nd July 2010, 15:30

    We remember the old Hockeheim fondly because of the awe of the high speed & compromised set-up for the long straights and tight complex. However, I never saw there a race as action packed and exciting as watching Hamilton there in 2008. That was Mclaren vs Ferrari, evenly matched, Giant-fighting toe to toe which we rarely see these days because performance differencials are so marginal on the current cars! (I still have the recording on the sky plus box)

    Tilke has made some truely terrible tracks make no mistake but new Hock is a stonker!

    • Dorian said on 23rd July 2010, 1:21

      Sorry dude, but that’s the worst gravatar I’ve ever seen (totally meant in gest by the way)

      Why is it that Hamilton fan boys are willing to have him as their gravatars but you don’t see Alonso/Schumacher/Vettel/Webber e.t.c. fans having their faces as gravatars…..

  4. maciek said on 22nd July 2010, 15:42

    Hi Keith – the circuit maps won’t load (Mac 10.5); (anyone else?) instead I see:

    “This webpage is not available.

    The webpage at http://www.quikmaps.com/ext2/53590?t=1&ln=0&sn=1&zb=0&d=1&o=0&lat=49.32976475&lng=8.5740137&zl=15&mt=1 might be temporarily down or it may have moved permanently to a new web address.

    More information on this error
    Below is the original error message

    Error 324 (net::ERR_EMPTY_RESPONSE): Unknown error.”

  5. BigB said on 22nd July 2010, 15:47

    I watched the race in 1996 and was right at the first turn. As a Spectator at the race…. It doesnt make a difference now. But back then watching it on TV…. lot’s of overtaking an all straights. But It took sometimes nearly two minutes for a car to come back from it’s lap.

    I have to say I miss the old track and the old Prices too. Full weekend for maybe 130Euros on The start finish straight, full view of pit and first turn into the woods….

  6. Joey-Poey said on 22nd July 2010, 15:52

    I think the biggest disappointment to me is that they destroyed the old track. The fact that it’s all gone and slowly turning back into forest is disappointing. I don’t know why they didn’t simply keep it for other series to run on.

    The new one IS better for overtaking, but as most have said: it’s generic and now indistinguishable from other circuits. Variety is the spice of life and I think in spite of it’s downfalls (the huge length, the boring straight-chicane style, being unable to see much of the circuit), it did bring something unique and we only now understand the value of that in hindsight.

  7. Alastair said on 22nd July 2010, 16:11

    I miss the 220mph dash through the forests. Don’t think cars even get over 200 MPH much these days.

    • Dorian said on 23rd July 2010, 1:19

      Totally agree, I was devastated when the V10s were dropped for V8s, I wanted the cars to eventually hit 500 km/h!! :-)

  8. Sulman said on 22nd July 2010, 16:13

    I think there was something terribly evocative about the cars screaming at long at full chat into the narrow green walls of the forest. It’s a race I always looked forward to, and it was unique on the calendar for Rizla-thin aero, cooling, and the engines running at full-throttle for so long.

  9. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 22nd July 2010, 16:43

    Well, they had to change it. But the changes have been hit-and-miss.

    I like the new circuit up to the hairpin, but then the new infield section is just plain and boring. What they should have done was leave the track screaming down to the old stadium section and make the entry tighter, creating more overtaking opportunities.. It would have also forced the teams to continue to compromise on the downforce/drag balance the old circuit had.

  10. Wificats said on 22nd July 2010, 17:07

    Whilst the new track certainly lacks the character of the old one, and does look wrong on the satellite maps; sitting in the grooves of the old track, like a child in its father’s shoes, it is probably much better suited to the cars of today and has undeniably provided some decent racing. I was driving the circuit on rfactor just now, and was enjoying myself just as much as on the old version, which rather surprised me.

    It was always exciting to see the V10’s and V12’s screaming down the straights at over 200mph, but in today’s V8’s, that particular spectacle would be rather lessened and it would leave the cars out of sight of spectators for an even longer time than in the past. Also, the potential for the unique looking ultra-low downforce aero kit has been lessened nowadays, as even on low downforce tracks, they seem to run much steeper wings than before, so the new track is probably the right one for the moment.

    However, I do agree with the other comments, that it is such a shame that they pulled up the old circuit, they should have left it, either to come back to if the excessive POWER of yore ever returns, or to moulder as a relic, like the banking at Monza.

  11. Bartholomew said on 22nd July 2010, 17:09

    They should build the original Hockenheimring in Texas.
    Suzie will give out the money for a good one like that.

  12. Sutil.M said on 22nd July 2010, 17:11

    Heres what i think of the old hock track- It was more fun to watch than the new track as cars had even more oppertunities to push their engins hard

    New hok- pretty lame to be honest

    CMon Adrian Sutil!!!

  13. sumedh said on 22nd July 2010, 17:44

    In my opinion, every generation has its own taste of what is a good race-track. It is similar to how every alumnus who visits my college campus says, “It is not the same anymore”. There is a certain nostalgia, romanticism associated for the viewers who started following F1 when the old Hockenheim was being used. Which gives rise to the rose tinted glasses through which they view the old track.

    I started following F1 only in 2002, and unfortunately, I haven’t seen any race on the old circuit.

    But I do foresee being in the shoes of the old viewers in the foreseeable future. If the day comes when the oh-so-boring Turn 1 in Shanghai – where Michael Schumacher made a breath-taking pass on Fisichella to gain his last win in Formula 1 – were reprofiled, I would be the one sad to see the corner go, but I am sure many of the new generation of F1 followers won’t be sad to see the back of the corner.

    If the penultimate turn at Interlagos – where Hamilton passed Glock and made one lakh Brazilian hearts stop – were changed, it will be the saddest day of Formula One for me.

    The notions of History, Nostalgia, Romanticism differ from generation to generation. And each generation must be allowed to build a tradition, a collection of memories, a ‘history’ of its own.

    Here’s to a ‘historic’ German GP 2010!! :-)

  14. Bebilou said on 22nd July 2010, 17:49

    I miss the old layout: F1 at 350kph through the forest was something outstanding.

    While making the new track, they could have kept the trees. And the “Mercedes Arena” corners (after the hairpin) should not exist: we should go straight into the stadium in order to keep the spirit of the old track.

    I agree with Ron Dennis and JP Montoya… Another track Tilke has killed :(

  15. I guess that the main thing that I have against the new layout is the part right before you enter the stadium section… it seams so “not flowing” and artificial with strange corners! Would like to have the old one back, or at least parts of it! It was 3 long straights, why not keep 2 of them and change the 3rd one to something with more corners!?

  16. -A- said on 22nd July 2010, 18:06

    There were some solid reasons for building the new track and layout as it’s being used today, but I agree with those who are saying the old circuit had a unique character. For the drivers, navigating the motodrome with not as much downforce as they’d have liked (because setup had to be amended because of the long straights) was a challenge – and nobody could afford to get bored on the top speed parts, because nailing the braking points and turning the car through the chicanes was essential. The old circuit also presented a challenge for engine manufacturers, as there was a lot of room on the circuit to show performance differentials between different engines.

    One has to accept the change, though, I think, as obviously, the old parts of the circuit have been demolished, forest being planted in place. There’s nothing left of what once was out there.

  17. It’s not surprising to hear that some drivers like it too. I used to drive in the “F1 challenge ’99-’02” a lot(very realistic physic model, really gives you idea about driving a F1 car on limit…). I like the new layout of Hockenheim in that sim a lot, felt it indeed quite flowing too, one of my favorites. So I can imagine how much fun the Schumachers had racing on the real one.

    BTW, I don’t think Tilke should be blame for killing the old track’s character, if they already decided to shorten the track, there’s no way anyone could keep the “spirit” of it.

    And I’ll be there this weekend! :-)

  18. James said on 22nd July 2010, 18:37

    It’s a crying shame that so the old track has been lost, but it is one that had to be made. It makes sense to increase capacity to increase revenue.

    I used to love racing at Hockenheim and Monza on Formula 1 Championship Edition for the Playstation (released 1995, I think), as well as later versions of the game up until the new track layout.

    As far as track’s go, the new layout isnt bad, but it isnt the same. Imagine if someone butchered Spa down (again!)? Would it be the same track?

  19. I remember reading Bernie saying that hockenheim was being redesigned because it was not up to the F1 standars

    And I remember myself thinking just a second after “F1 standars… you mean boring”?

    and I hoped nobody let Tilke (or Bernie’s next henchman) get near Suzuka, Spa and Monza (too late for Spa)

    • AJ Ball said on 22nd July 2010, 19:19

      Ha ha yes I recall at the time reading things about “satisfying FIA standards” or something similarly ominous. I remember thinking of the Mulsanne chicanes at Le Mans and how they were put there because of “FIA standards” and fearing the worse.

  20. AJ Ball said on 22nd July 2010, 19:11

    The ‘-ised’ word I’d use in describing newer Hockenheim is Rationalised. It makes lots of sense to make the area of the track much smaller, to make it easier to manage and marshall etc. It makes sense to give fans more laps and try to fit in more seats. But if you overdesign things, especially in landscaping, then all the interesting little idiosyncrasies get ironed out. I think Hockenheim would’ve been fine if they’d spend a few euros building a link road between the first and third chicane. Even if it had been dead straight with two 90 degree corners at each end and a couple of escape roads it would’ve had it’s only charm. Sadly ‘charm’ and ‘character’ aren’t often heard around modern F1 tracks.

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