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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Image (C) BMW