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Hockenheim remembered

Hockenheim will always be remembered as an icon of Formula 1 racing, a circuit that provided the ultimate test of both man and machine as drivers weaved their way in between the green walls of the Black Forest, unique in every respect will we ever see a circuit quite like it again?
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

James Parker is head of Business Development at official merchandise and also permanent blogger and writer. He tweets at @F1Jp044.

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July 17th, 2012 (F1plus / James Parker).- Hockenheim, if you close your eyes and think for a second what do you see? I remain an incredibly sentimental person when it comes to Formula 1 and the heritage it possesses over these past 60 years and I think from that sentence everyone will now be able to guess what I see.

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Considered the German “national” circuit in many respects much like Silvestone over here in the UK it held a certain nostalgia with most Formula 1 fans, in the Schumacher dominated era of V10’s over 100,000 fans would flock to the circuit to witness one thing – an F1 car flat out in its skinniest form.

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It is this that gives us a clue on to what this article is going to be all about, the legendary 6.7km of flat out tarmac known as the Hockenheimring.

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In the world of Formula 1 there are certain tracks that provide a unique chance to see a Formula 1 car challenged to its maximum ability, any fan that knows their 2 pence worth will start to reel off those timeless circuits, Silverstone, Spa, and Monza are the immediate examples. However there was one more which saw potentially the most iconic circuit layout in history, that being the old Hockenheim.

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An amphitheatre of speed, this 6.7km ribbon of tarmac situated in the Black Forest offered an F1 fans dream of witnessing the true test of man and machine at its undeniable limit, 3 incredibly long straights connected to 3 tight chicanes and the unique stadium section saw cars tested in every way.

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Forced to trim the cars out in the skinniest wing settings, we saw speeds upwards of 230mph in the glorious V10 era that gripped so many, cars on full throttle for upwards of 80% of the lap when threading the car in between the big green walls of the forest, but then the tighter stadium section would see cars skating across the track due to no downforce seemingly much like they were driving on ice. It was something Juan Pablo Montoya quoted brilliantly with this quote:

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“With the stadium section on low downforce it was like being on skids on snow. It was good fun”.

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Over the years tracks became safer and redesigned to become more coherent with the perception of bringing Formula 1 into the 21st century, Tracks such as the A1 ring were taken off the calendar and existing grand prix circuits were changed to allow more run off. But one track remained unchanged offering that unique sense of speed and danger that every driver craved, that being the iconic old layout.

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It was this reputation along with Monza as being the last of the truly terrifyingly fast flat out circuits, which brought new sentimental value amongst fans, a circuit which tested cars like none other. Enthralling to watch and drive alike, it offered a unique variety on the F1 calendar bringing heritage and passion compared to other circuits of the time.

Of course with many of the iconic circuits in F1 at the time Hockenheim was also the scene for huge tragedy alongside its appeal. At Imola it was the unforgettable Senna, at Spa it was the hugely talented Stefan Bellof and in Hockenheim it unfortunately meant the end for the most naturally talented and likeable man in Formula 1 history - Jim Clark.

The circuit played host to a Formula 2 event in which Clark attended in 1968, however his Lotus suffered a puncture on the main straight which caused the car to vault to the side and somersault into the tree’s killing Clark instantly, it was one of the saddest days in F1 history and at the time was mourned by millions around the world, the fastest driver in the world had been taken, and far too soon.

The remains of Clark's car after his fatal accident.

The track although containing some tragedy, still gave eerie sense of full out power and speed which was craved by every driver on the grid. In the early 2000’s Formula 1 was entering a different phase however as money starting to play a more important role in F1. New tracks were getting talked about such as Bahrain and Malaysia had already been introduced. Bernie was taking F1 into a new path and he had one man who was helping him achieve this Hermann Tilke. It had reached the time where the old Hockenheim could no longer hold its status as a super fast blast around the forests and Tilke moved in to redesign the circuit to create a better “spectacle” for the fans.

We do not necessarily associate “Tilkedromes” with gripping and exciting racing, however on the face of it, you could argue that the new layout offers a huge variety of overtaking over such disasters such as Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. In this sense it has been considered a success where racing is considered exciting in every sense of the word.

However with this, you cannot argue that some of the character has disappeared along with the old circuit, the special sense of occasion and the anticipation of the speed that everyone was going to witness on a grand prix weekend, it was a figurehead of the Formula 1 calender which was iconic in every sense of the word.

Unfortunately the track will only remain through the history and imagination of the fans that got the opportunity to witness it in person, after the tarmac for the old layout was dug up and replaced with trees. It is this that brings huge sadness to the F1 community that the character and soul of the once famous circuit was now reduced to nothing but a hole in the forest, a forgotten icon and something that will be lost to nature forever.

I would like to close the article with the opinion of Mr McLaren himself Ron Dennis who has managed to sum up my thoughts entirely:

“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!”.

In the transitional phases that we are witnessing with Formula 1 in this day and age is it possible that we will never see a circuit quite like Hockenheim of old again?

The 2012 german GP start.

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