Hockenheim time: Five facts about the German Grand Prix

by Rachel Hack

The German Grand Prix has now been part of the Formula One calendar since the championship’s second year of existence in 1951, and has continued to take place nearly every year since, except for the 1955 season when it was cancelled (along with the Spanish, Swiss and French events, due to the devastating fatal incident that took place that year at Le Mans, when 80 people were killed), 2007 and 2014.

Three different locations have been the host venue of the German Grand Prix throughout its history, which include AVUS in Berlin (a sole event during the 1959 season), Nurburgring and Hockenheimring in Baden-Württemberg.

Hockenheim was first used as a grand prix venue back in 1970, having originally been built as a high-speed test track for Mercedes-Benz. In those early days, the circuit was a series of long straights that ran through a dense forest, connected by fast chicanes, which started and finished in the well-known stadium section. This all changed in 2001 however due to safety concerns, as well as to improve the inaccessibility for spectators within the wooded area of the circuit. The track was dramatically shortened, but the new design allowed more possibility for overtaking.

From 1977 to 2006 the German Grand Prix was held almost exclusively at the Hockenheimring, only venturing back to Nurburgring in 1985, when it was re-opened after being removed from the calendar following Niki Lauda’s infamous crash on the Nordschleife in 1976.

The Hockenheimring track contains fast straights, technical sections and is relatively low on tyre degradation due to its smooth surface, however the cooler temperatures can make keeping the rubber in the required performance window tricky. This year sees Hockenheim return to the calendar after a one year break, prior to that the race alternated between here and the Nurburgring, which makes the track somewhat of an unknown quantity this time around.

Michael Schumacher has taken the most victories at his home race of the German Grand Prix with four wins, followed by a number of drivers all on three, including current driver Fernando Alonso who could equal the German’s record this weekend, but it is highly unlikely, given the current performance of the McLaren-Honda.

The Scuderia Ferrari team is far and away the most successful squad to compete in the German race, with a whopping 22 wins to their name, ahead of the Williams F1 team who have just nine in comparison. No doubt the Italian squad will be hoping to find some of that past form, at this weekend’s race!

Great rafts of history and nostalgia surround the German Grand Prix, here are just a few interesting moments and facts from races gone by:

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

At the 1982 German Grand Prix, early race leader Nelson Piquet looked to have victory secured after carving out a substantial lead to the rest of the field in his Brabham-BMW. Just eighteen laps in however, the Brazilian was taken out of contention by the ATS of Eliseo Salazar, when the pair collided just before Ostkurve as Piquet looked to overtake the backmarker.

The three-time world champion was enraged and once out of his car, hurled himself towards Salazar before punching him in the face and kicking him for good measure, ensuring the Chilean had no confusion over just what Piquet thought of his catastrophic error.

Everything but the kitchen sink

The 2000 German Grand Prix had a bit of everything….drama, spectacular crashes, safety cars, rain and a crazy man running onto the track!

It was a race in which Rubens Barrichello took his first ever grand prix victory after starting way down in eighteenth place on the grid. It looked like there would be no hope for Ferrari after Michael Schumacher collided with Giancarlo Fisichella just a few laps in, putting an immediate end to the German’s race. The Maranello based squad’s hopes of any points that day, then laid solely in the hands of Barrichello.

The Brazilian carved his way through the field from towards the back of the grid, rising up to fourth place after just twelve laps. Three laps later he was up to third, with just the McLaren’s of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard ahead of him, albeit fourteen seconds down the road.

It began to look like third place would be the best Ferrari could hope to achieve, however luck was about to shine on the red team, when an angry ex-Mercedes employee decided to stage a protest by running onto the track. A safety car was deployed whilst the man was caught and removed, which meant the extensive lead the McLaren’s had forged out at the head of the field was now non-existent.

With the leaders now almost within touching distance, Barrichello had a chance to salvage a victory from what had seemed like a dead rubber. On the re-start following the safety car, Pedro Diniz and Jean Alesi collided, sending the French-Sicilian spinning through the field of cars, across the track and into the barriers, in what was a considerable shunt. Then on the second re-start, with ten laps of the race remaining, it began to rain on one side of the track…

A decision on whether to pit for wet tyres now had to be made and fast, and whilst Hakkinen opted to make the switch, Barrichello chose to stay out. With the Finn now ten seconds back following his pit stop, and just a few laps remaining, it was a tense finale as everyone watched on the edge of their seats in anticipation. Would conditions change? Would the McLaren catch the Ferrari?

In the end the rain remained, but got no heavier and Barrichello went on to take his first ever F1 victory, an extremely popular winner for many.

We didn’t start the fire

The 1994 German Grand Prix was the location for the now infamous pit lane fire involving Jos Verstappen.

Having pitted for a routine re-fuelling stop in his Benetton, Verstappen remained stationary in his pit box whilst the mechanics got to work. However, the fuel nozzle became detached from the hose when it was applied to the B194, allowing fuel to splash out freely across the car and surrounding areas. The heat from the rear brake disc caused the fuel to ignite, and a raging fireball engulfed the car, driver and pit crew who were now all ablaze.

The flames were put out within three seconds, though to those caught in the fireball it must have seemed like an eternity, and amazingly everyone involved escaped with just minor burns.

Investigations after the event revealed that the filter inside the hose, designed to eliminate any possible risk of fire, had been team removed, possibly in an attempt to reduce pit stop times. The Benetton team were later sanctioned for their actions, but did not receive a penalty, after it was found that Intertechnique, the company that manufactured the refuelling equipment for all F1 squads at that time, had advised other teams to remove the filter from their refuelling rigs.

To pole or not to pole?

Jim Clark and Jacky Ickx have achieved the most pole positions at the German Grand Prix with four a piece. Of the current drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen have two.

Being on pole at Hockenheim does not always bring reward, with seven of the races run this century, not being won by the driver on pole, making the figures more or less even steven. The last driver to take victory when not starting from the number one position on the grid, was Sebastian Vettel, when he took victory from second at the 2013 German Grand Prix.

“Fernando is faster than you”

At the 2010 German Grand Prix we witnessed the now fabled radio conversation “Fernando is faster than you. Confirm you’ve understood the message” between Felipe Massa and then radio engineer Rob Smedley, when both were at Ferrari.

The Brazilian reluctantly moved aside for team-mate Alonso, which ultimately stopped him from claiming his first victory since his accident in Hungary almost a year before, and Smedley apologised for having to deliver the message to his good friend.

It was a team orders scandal for Ferrari however, who were fined $100, 000 by the FIA for bringing the sport into disrepute with their antics.

2016 Race weekend

Going into the 2016 German Grand Prix this weekend, Mercedes AMG PETRONAS driver Lewis Hamilton has now taken over the lead in the championship from team-mate Nico Rosberg. Will the Brit start to run away with his advantage from here, or can the German keep cool under pressure on home soil, and turn the tables back in his favour?

Red Bull Racing appear to have got the jump on Ferrari in the last few rounds, and now look to be Mercedes closest rivals. Can the Milton Keynes based squad cause an upset in Hockenheim, or can the prancing horse gallop back into contention?

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