CIRCUIT GUIDE: Hockenheimring
LOCATION: Hockenheim, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
KNOWN FOR: Formula One, DTM, Drag Racing
Opinions are divided on the Hockenheimring and the German Grand Prix. One the one hand there’s the opinion that the Nürburgring offers a more complete racing weekend thanks to its fans, campsites and general air of mountainy madness. Then there’s the opinion that says Hockenheim would be fine if only they’d repave the long forest sections and give us a track with real character again. What you won’t hear is that the 2002 to present iteration of this venerable circuit is anything other than a fairly bland, identikit Tilke-drome that rarely gives us a thrilling race, unless, of course it involves Ferrari’s Rob Smedley telling Felipe Massa how he’ll explain the meaning of the word ‘magnanimous’ after a slightly controversial overtaking move.
However, the days of engine-popping flat-out blasts through the forests are long gone now and we must do with the new, spectator-friendly Hockenheim. And that’s actually not as bad is sounds. The fiddly stadium complex and the turn 8-10 section require high levels of downforce, while the high-speed early part of the track, from the Nordkurve through to the hairpin at turn six would optimally need a much lower-downforce set-up. So, there’s a balancing act there: give it up on the straights in order to get it back in the twisty bits or vice versa. It is actually still quite a power-hungry track and about 65 per cent of the lap is taken at full throttle.
In terms of suspension set up, you can go a bit stiffer at Hockenheim. There’s not much advantage in using the kerbs heavily here so you don’t need to soften the suspension to cope with that. You do, however, need a solid, stable car into turn two so as to get a good exit onto the long run through three, four and the Parabolika, the fastest part of the track. Stability is also key in the swift changes of direction through turns nine and ten and in the stadium section.
Pole position is important at this incarnation of the Hockenheimring. The German GP has been run here seven times since 2002 and in that time the pole position winner has gone on to win the race four times (’08, ’04, ’03 and ’02). On two other occasions it’s been the man in second on the grid who has taken victory (2010 and ’06). Only once has a driver started from off the front row and won. That honour goes to Fernando Alonso, who started from third and won in 2005.
Hockenheim is a small village at the side of the A6 motorway, about 20km from Heidelberg to the east and Mannheim to the north. It’s smack bang in the middle of the Rhine valley so the landscape is pretty flat and uninspiring. The village itself is nothing special, being a sort of dormer town for the nearby cities. So what to do? Well, Heidelberg is the obvious answer. It’s a student town, is picture postcard pretty and has a terrific range of bars and restaurant, which will tick all the boxes if you like lots of beer and a heart-stopping diet of pork, bread and fat, usually served with a side order of fat.
Formula One remains the big ticket event here, but there’s plenty of stuff to entertain during the rest of the year. The track also hosts DTM and the 2012 season started at the circuit in late April. If you missed that the good news is that will also host the season finale on the 21st of October (that’s the weekend before F1’s Indian GP, so you’ll have time). Aside from F1 and DTM, Hockenheim also hosts some great drag racing and this year will have the NitroOlympx from August 10-12, a sort of festival of top fuel mayhem.
DID YOU KNOW?
The pre-Tilke Hockenheim, with its punishing straights was always a car breaker, but never more so than in 1994. Eleven of the 26 starters went out in a series of accidents on lap one and a further seven cars retired during the race. At the chequered flag Gerhard Berger led home just eight finishers! One of the most notable retirements was Jos Verstappen whose car was enveloped in a ball of flame when fuel sprayed over the car in a pit stop error. The blaze has become one of F1’s most iconic images.
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