This month, Joe gives us a brief history of the Hockenheimring, and gives us his thoughts on the mental gymnastics required by each team’s engineers to find the ultimate setup for the Hankook 12H HOCKENHEIMRING.
Words – Joe Bradley
Images – Petr Frýba
“It's not the track it used to be” is a comment I hear a lot when we speak of the Hockenheimring. No matter how Hockenheim has changed over the years, we all understand the reasons behind the changes (I think!), and while you could argue that the likes of Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps lack the lustre they once boasted, it does not eradicate their rich history. The same is true of Hockenheim.
The original circuit layout from its earliest events in 1932 followed the rudimentary designs seen at many tracks, connecting a number of points with long straights. Known as the 'Dreieckskurs', much of the triangular design can still be traced to this day via the public roads around Hockenheim, picking through the forest on public roads.
Changes were made in 1938, shortening the layout from 12km to around 7km, as well as the creation of the famous 'Ostkurve' that would remain pretty much as it was until the full redesign for 2002. The track was mainly used for motorcycle racing through the 1950s before a further redesign followed for 1966, adding the 'Motordrom' final section through the Stadium which, along with turn one, is roughly the same to this very day.
Safety concerns at the Nürburgring (the Nordschleife layout) led to Formula 1 first visiting Hockenheim in 1970, with Jochen Rindt taking his sixth and final grand prix victory there that year. F1 returned to the Nürburgring the following year, but would once again depart following Lauda’s infamous accident in the 1976 race, with Hockenheimring once again becoming the permanent home of the German Grand Prix from 1977.
It would also feature strongly in the World Sportscar Championship during the 1980s. A grid of Group C and C2 Sportscars must have been quite a sight snaking through the stadium and out onto the start-finish straight.
Minor tweaks have been made here and there, but the layout remained largely unchanged until its overhaul in 2002. As is the case with a lot of revised circuits, as seen at Silverstone and the Ostereichring (now the Red Bull Ring), the disused portions were not preserved ‘just in case,’ but instead allowed to become overgrown. While bosses at the Red Bull Ring may be evaluating a possible track extension, the Hockenheimring is unlikely to ever go back to its former state. Which is a shame, given the history attached to the old layout. The Jim Clark memorial is well worth a walk out onto the old circuit to pay respects and reflect on one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport.
Hockenheim may be a different animal now to what it was 20 years ago, but the changes made should not diminish the history this track boasts, nor the circuit’s place in motor racing’s illustrious annals.
Hockenheim’s current layout is perhaps one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar. Long straights (yes, not in comparison to the old layout, there we go again), heavy braking areas, and very fast constant radius turns which really load the car and driver.
All of which means that Hockenheim calls for a compromise in terms of setup, especially on an aero-dependent car. Do we peel off some downforce to go quicker down the straights, only to then scrabble for grip through the stadium section? Such a setup would have the twofold affect of the tyres sliding around and wearing themselves out quickly, as indeed would the driver, who would have to work even harder hanging on to a wayward car.
But we’ll leave that dilemma to the team engineers, who, as is so often the case in the 24H SERIES, will also have the dilemma of using the Code 60 periods during the race to their advantage.
The Hockenheimring is also totally different to the previous round at Spa-Franchorchamps insofar as the length of lap: a GT3 sportscar should be lapping Hockenheim in around 1 min 40 seconds, while at Spa, they’d on average be looking for a time in the 2 min 20 seconds range. So track position won’t be as great a concern is it was at Spa, where it’s even harder to earn back a lost lap. The circuit has lots of overtaking opportunities, so getting through the traffic for the faster classes shouldn't be too much of an issue. And, in complete contrast to Spa again, there are a lot of tarmac 'run off' areas where mistakes won’t be as damaging.
That’s not to say of course that the goalposts won’t be constantly moving at Hockenheim. It’s one the reasons why we love long distance sportscar racing.
You can also check out Joe’s column in our magazine for the 2022 Hankook 12H HOCKENHEIMRING, available for download below.