Changing tracks: Hockenheimring

Changing tracksPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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”

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  1. – correction, ‘some charm’ is what I meant to say…

  2. It really is disappointing to lose the old Hockenheim circuit; but most old circuits do recieve renovations. However, Hockenheim’s was a little too much in remodeling terms; it is now only Hockenheim in name. It lacks the excitement of the older circuit. Tilke’s circuits in general are very repetitive, and lack the speed of older circuits like Monza.
    It’s all about the money, not necessarily speed in Formula 1 these days, and this renovation is a good example. I don’t think the renovation had much to do with safety; that is an excuse for justification of the renovation. If safety was more of an issue than revenue, the renovation would have happened before 2002.

  3. What I dont understand is why they ripped up the old circuit they could have still used it for racing.

    That would be like ripping up the Nordschleife just becase they built a new circuit.

    Why would they choose to destroy history?

  4. bernie and hermann tilke wont be satisfied until theres water jumps and loops in these circuits.

    Hermann tilke has been the worst thing to happen to f1 ever.

    everyone of his tracks sucks especially valencia and singapore. SIngapore only gets by because its a night race and everyone hates valencia.

  5. The track had its place as a unique test, much as Le Mans and Daytona have their unique place in sportscars. Although Keith suggests that it was a hastily built, poorly conceived, morally insufficient replacement for the Nordschleife, it made its own name. And it thus did not deserve to be ripped up. The fact that J. Clark’s memorial at the first chicane is now abandoned forever to the forest, instead of alongside a vibrant historic track and annually blessed with the supernatural screams of F1 engines, is an unforgiveable heresy.

    1. Morally insufficient? Hardly, I was just saying people tend to look back on it with rose-tinted glasses.

      1. Yes, but there is a huge element of the increasing homogenisation of F1 being litterally illustrated by the changes to the Hockenheimring. The latest iteration does produce good racing, but Id swap it for the pre 2002 version in a heartbeat, and I can only remember the last couple of grands prix on it.

        Surely F1 was as much about the variation in the circuits raceed as the variations between the competing cars, I mean next season ther is going to be a mandatory weight distribution! Where is the variation?

  6. Sean Newman
    22nd July 2010, 22:11

    The old track wasn’t great as a circuit but it was worth it’s place on the calendar because it was such a test for the drivers. Getting the chicanes just right and skating around the stadium on low downforce meant it was quite unique. The only down sides were it wasn’t the safest and it was a bit narrow.

    Incidentally during the turbo days I think the (non turbo) Tyrrell team tried something a bit drastic during practice to help them on the straights. Didn’t they try front wheels on the back? Yes thats right I did say front wheels on the back…anyone remember this?

  7. The old circuit was also the biggest car killer of the season, you never knew who was going to win right up until the last corner as breakdowns in the stadium section were so common. I loved it. As Montoya said the new circuit is just like so many other places, ok but nothing special.

  8. HewisLamilton
    22nd July 2010, 23:18

    Two things come to mind when thinking of the old layout at Hockenheim.
    First, the drafting and passing that could be achieved on the straights and into the chicanes.
    Second, which has nothing to do with the layout, is the fight from 1982, Piquet vs. Salazar. Funny stuff, fighting with the helmet on.

    1. Benson Jutton
      22nd July 2010, 23:56

      I loved the old track, can`t stand the new one. And I am not just looking back through rose tinted specs, I just seem to remember it was always one of the most entertaining races of the year. It was something different. Now it is like all Tilke`s tracks, mediocre. I am just thankful that they kept him away from Silverstone.

  9. MouseNightshirt
    23rd July 2010, 0:09

    My first exposure was in 1997 and man I loved that track with a passion back then.

    I vaguely remember the review for F1 ’97 (still one of the best F1 games produced to date in my opinion) in the Official UK Playstation Magazine (it got a 9/10) mentioning Hockenheim specifically. I remember something about them actually looking at footage of the races and then looking in game and finding the trees by the side of the track were actually in the right place. Mental!

  10. I saw the race when Barrichello won it I guess in 2000 or 2001, I totally agree with Montoya about what he said in the last paragraph. It’s bad that we are loosing the older & classic tracks from the calender which are been replace by Tilke boring tracks.

  11. A bit off topic maybe but I would love to see a Nordschleife exhibition race on the calendar. What a track!

  12. The old track surely has more character to racing romantics.
    The forested area is really wonderful as it holds suspense to as which driver made it and those whose sought of went off the track or suffered technical failures.

    There is an air of mystique of drivers not appearing for the next lap.
    Could they have been consumed by some monster, lol.

    Tilke should be designing tracks for road safety tests not race tracks!

  13. I think it’s a shame that they have just let the forrest reclaim the old layout.

  14. Imagine if they did the same thing at Spa – made it a smaller stadium-style track rather than the epic, tree lined course we have now. How disapponted we would be then!

  15. The older circuit had character and an evocative image. It had a purpose and to win there was something special. As JPM pointed out zero downforce in the stadium section would seriously test you after blasting through the forest (what an image that must have been for the drivers!).

    Along came Tilke and castrated it. I’m sorry but most animals once tamed/castrated don’t do well and the same is with the Green Beast of Hockenheim which is now more like the Green Frog of Hockenheim

  16. I certainly prefer the old one. I’ll never forget the 2000 German Grand Prix, when everything imaginable (and quite a few things beyond imagination) happened and Rubens Barrichello won his F1 race from 18th on the grid!

    I know, not every year was like that, but the new track, as many of you said, looks like another Tilke-track. Uninspiring.

    Among all the changed tracks I can remember, Interlagos is the only one where the new circuit preserved most of the magic from the old days… I know purists would say 1970’s Interlagos was the best racetrack in the world, but the 1990’s Interlagos is still too damn good!

  17. I did`nt realise the old track had gone, I just assumed it was still there just as the old parts of other circuits are. I am devastated. Obviously down to the treehugggers, giving something back to the forest because they had to flatten more trees to make the new bit. Or was it Bernie or Tilke`s idea, so that when people realized they had ruined another track there could be no question of returning to the old layout. And what did the changes have to do with increasing seating capacity, as the stadium section appears unchanged ?
    What a shame, what a waste. Well done Bernie, thanks a lot.

  18. Lewis Cotton
    28th May 2013, 22:15

    Why could they not extend the straight after the first corner until the Clark Chicane so it goes through the forested section? Then the cars go very fast and there are good overtaking opportunities. Then, like on the current track, make a long left-hander (Parabolika)/ straight that lasts until it reaches the other side of the track. Then put in the hairpin like the one on the current track. Then remove the silly Senna Chicane and the kink on the current straight and make it last until the stadium section.

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