Saturday, July 24, 2010

History Lesson: The German Grand Prix(s)

Tomorrow kicks off the 2010 German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring located near, you guessed it, Hockenheim, Germany. The Grand Prix of Deutschland has, for better or worse, been held at the Hockenheimring since 1977 after the shocking 1976 German Grand Prix held at the Nurburgring where Niki Lauda had a suspension failure that pitched his Ferrari 312T into the Armco at Berkwerk resulting in a horrible fire that nearly killed him. The accident reaffirmed what many had thought (ironically the drivers nearly striked that weekend because of safety concerns - led by Lauda - but ultimately didn't) that the Nurburgring wasn't safe and as a result it was never used again for the German Grand Prix - with one small, exception in 1985 at the then-new GP circuit that excluded much of the original track. Many of the problems were to blame on the poor response of the track marshals and crews as fellow drivers had to pull Niki from his burning Ferrari and only a safety marshal with in Porsche 911 and single fire extinguisher was on the scene a first few minutes after the accident.

The Nurburgring has reappeared on the roster of venues for Grand Prix racing but only in the constantly changing European Grand Prix and only on the GP portion of the fabled circuit.

That's a shame too - some pretty important races were held on the old Nurburgring. In 1968, Jackie Stewart had what he would call his "best" Grand Prix of his career when he stormed - literally - to victory when rain struck the race and the Nurburgring was described as "having rivers across the track" in some places. Scary stuff but the scary part was the attrition rate and how much slower everyone was behind Stewart. A handful of cars spun off in the rain while everyone else slowed down so much so that Sir Jackie crossed the finish line a full 4 minutes before second placed Graham Hill caught up. Much of the field being minutes behind that or a full lap down. Stewart pulled off this feat with a broken wrist - which is unheard of in modern racing. You can read his account of it here.

The Nurburgring would go on to scare the hell out of Grand Prix drivers for a few more years until the fateful 1976 race in which Lauda's Ferrari wrecked, caught fire and nearly took Niki to the grave. He managed to fight back from the edge and get into a car at Monza 6 weeks later to come 4th in the Italian Grand Prix - with a head covered in bandages, blood seeping through where the top of his ear used to be. Everyone's probably seen the video of Lauda's crash and the ensuing mayhem so instead of focusing on that, I've listed the video below of the incredible 1975 German Grand Prix where Herr Lauda launched a great start and led much of race until a tire puncture set the Ferrari 312T back in pace and sent him into the pits, allowing the other front-runners to slip past with Reutemann taking the win in his Brabham. Incredible footage of nearly the entire race! It's in 5 pieces so you can catch all of the clips as they're linked into each on YouTube. It's worth watching the entire first clip just to see the outright speed of the cars on track with the green, rolling hills of Germany as a very picturesque backdrop. Out of 26 cars to attempt to run the 1975 German GP - only 10 managed to finish!

I've also included this video of the 1969 German Grand Prix where you can see the advent of aerodynamics beginning to sneak onto the front and rear of grand prix cars. This is nothing but 10 minutes of footage and engine notes!

The 2010 German Grand Prix has Vettel at the front of the pack with Mark Webber just below and the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa and the McLaren twins bearing down on him. Should be interesting to see if Vettel can hold it together and keep the lead or will Webber step out of Sebastian's shadow again for the win.

I only hope that somehow the full Green Hell returns to the list of venues for Formula One.

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