JULY 22, 1996
What you may not know about Hockenheim
THE Hockenheim circuit was built in the late 1930s in the dense forests of the flat plains close to the mighty River Rhine. It was built as a testing circuit by Mercedes-Benz - to emulate the high speed blasts of the Tripoli circuit in North Africa - and was completed in 1939. It was originally 4.8 miles long and consisted of a long curving section followed by a fast but tight corner and then a long straight back to a second curling turn, looping around the town graveyard of Hockenheim.
After the war German racing recovered slowly and most of the effort went into restoring the Nurburgring. It was not until the late 1950s that Hockenheim was used again. In the early 1960s it was closed down to allow for the construction of a new motorway, which cut through the middle of the circuit. The authorities paid out considerable compensation and, by selling off other land, came up with enough money to modify what was left. Dutch circuit designer John Hugenholz was hired and he designed a new 4.2-mile circuit which retained the long blasts through the woods but added a twisty section of track, around which were built huge grandstands, creating what is now known as "the stadium".
The track reopened in 1966 and a year later Formula 2 visited for the first time, the race being won by Australian Frank Gardner. A year later F2 returned, but the 1968 Deutschland Trophae meeting would be remembered as the race in which JimĘClark, the greatest driver of the day, was killed in an unexplained accident when his Lotus ran off the track and into the trees. Further accidents led to demands by drivers for better safety standards and, ironically, in 1970 the Automobilclub von Deutschland was forced to hold the German GP at Hockenheim while safety work was carried out the Nurburgring.
Hockenheim was given two chicanes - one on the run out to the Ostkurve, the other on the return leg. The race was won by Austrian Jochen Rindt - who would himself die a month later at Monza.
After that, F1 went back to the Nurburgring until Niki Lauda's fiery accident in 1976 closed the great track to F1 cars. In 1977, F1 came back to Hockenheim. Lauda, recovered from his injuries, won and the locals celebrated.
In 1980, French ace Patrick Depailler was killed at the Ostkurve while testing his Alfa Romeo F1 car and so a new chicane was added for 1981. A year later World Championship leader Didier Pironi was grievously hurt when his Ferrari cartwheeled after running into the back of Alain Prost's Renault during a wet practice session. It ended the Frenchman's career. Coming just a few months after the death of Villeneuve, it was a dreadful blow to Ferrari, but Patrick Tambay raised the team's spirits the following day, winning his first Grand Prix.
The races at Hockenheim tend to reflect the competitiveness of the car, more than the skill of the driver, although the dive into the first corner at the start can turn the race on its head as happened in 1994 when almost half the field was wiped out on the first lap - leaving Gerhard Berger to win ahead of the two Ligiers.
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