Formula 1

Hockenheim is a shadow of what it once was

Many of the world’s greatest racetracks have evolved over time with alterations to the layout in a bid to improve safety and the challenge to the drivers.

A track like Silverstone, where F1 raced 10 days ago has seen it’s layout change maybe more times in 64 years than any other track on the F1 calendar.

Even places like Spa have seen alterations with the redesign of the Bus Stop chicane a few years ago but when Germany changes a racetrack it seems they go all the way.

The current Nurburgring, while it has carved out its own history in its 30-plus years of existence, is still seen as the result of modern motorsport outgrowing the Nordschleife and the current incarnation of Hockenheim, set to host this weekend’s German Grand Prix, is another venue that is a shadow of its former self.

High-speed monster

There is nothing wrong with the current track, it has one of the best overtaking places of any circuit anywhere and also offers facilities to spectators that rival any of the grandee hundred million dollar circuits built for F1 in recent years. For those who can remember the old layout, however, it is very hard to ever fall in love with the new Hockenheim.

Of course when I say new the current track is now 12 years old after it was completed in less than a year between hosting the 2001 and 2002 German races but now the circuit is only on the calendar once every two years as it shares hosting duties with the aforementioned Nurburgring.

Potentially after this year it may not host F1 again, at least in the short-term, as the new owners at the Nurburgring look to secure a new four-year deal to host the race from 2015 and if it is the case then the sport will lose a place with a lot of history.

The impact the original Hockenheim had with its long straights intercepted by chicanes and the sight of cars blasting over 200mph through the forest truly made the circuit a worthy successor when F1 stopped race at the Nordschleife in the 1970′s.

As the reliance on wings for downforce increased, specially designed parts had to be used so the cars could be very slippery and achieve a higher top speed, even special engines were developed to cope with the stress of this awesome track.

Redesign

That is why when F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone and bosses at Hockenheim decided to redesign the circuit the loss of the old layout really was met with great sadness.

Now, as part of the plan when the current circuit was built, the old track has been left to be reclaimed by the forest and the trees that were cut down to create the new layout replaced so those who don’t remember the old track would never know it had existed apart from the narrow alleyway through the forest as the new trees grow.

It was the need to make the circuit more financially viable that was the main reason behind the redesign as now more spectators could go to the track and the bosses only had the costs for about a third of the area of land as compared to before.

Detailed lap

Now lets look at the current track and before I go into the layout in detail check out the on-board lap with Michael Schumacher from the last time F1 visited Hockenheim back in 2012.

Much of the current circuit does still use stretches of track from the old design though the profile of the important Nordkurve (turn 1) was altered.

Before it was a more sweeping medium speed right but now its all about hitting the apex on the inside and not running too wide on the exit.

The past two races have been full of talk when it comes to drivers exceeding track limits and I suspect the need for at least one wheel to be inside the white line at all times rule that Charlie Whiting has imposed will apply again here.

Maintaining speed is key though as a new DRS zone will be placed on the run to Ostkurve at turn two, where the old track carried on into the forest now the cars turn into a slow right which will see some overtaking during the race.

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The kink of turn three leads onto the old reminder of the high-speed past as a long curving straight called Parabolika sees the cars reach nudging 200mph in the second DRS zone before one of the biggest braking zones in F1 into the Spitzkurve hairpin.

A lot of action takes place at this very slow right and is also known for a lot of incidents particularly on the first lap.

The track rejoins the old tarmac briefly for a short straight before the flat-out right of turn six leads into the Mercedes-Benz section.

Some overtaking occurs in the braking zone for turn seven before the circuit sweeps right back onto the old third straight and into the famous Stadium section.

With the cars running higher downforce this is now a much easier sequence of corners than before as the cars go right through the Mobilkurve before a short straight into the banked hairpin left of Sachskurve, a short straight through a small chicane leads into the tricky final double apex right of the Sudkurve.

Again track limits will be carefully watched here as cars run wide through both corners in the hope to maintain as much speed as possible onto the pit straight and complete a lap of the modern Hockenheim.

There is still plenty to like then about the current track and it does promote some of the closest racing seen all year but for those who know it will never match for what it used to be and if this year does prove to be the final race for a while at this great venue, then in many ways it only has itself to blame.

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