In his latest F1 blog, Matt Youson talks us through the pros and cons of the 'new' Hockenheim circuit and concludes that in his view there's rather more of the latter.
Last night Mercedes hosted a very convivial evening for their peers and the media, appropriate under the Mercedes Tribune. One of my colleagues spent a while with furrowed brow, convinced that the last time he went to Merc party at the German Grand Prix the grandstand was in a different place. Eventually he figured out that it was – Mercedes have a grandstand at the Nürburgring as well.
Mercedes, with a little help from Baron de Rothschild, throw a good do, and it’s gratifying to see that many of the paddock’s luminaries found time to stop by for a glass of red and a plate of roasted animal: if the teams got together socially a little more often instead of communicating via fax (yep, F1 still uses fax machines for the important stuff) perhaps there’d be a little more consensus when the big decisions came up.
'I’m definitely not a fan of modern Hockenheim'
The Mercedes grandstand is the big feature of the ‘new’ Hockenheim that appeared about a decade ago. This circuit was castrated a couple of years before I started working full time in F1. I’m definitely not a fan of modern Hockenheim. Germany has plenty of circuits and a marvellous history of racing: I think it’s sold short by turning this place into an identikit track by getting rid of those marvellous long runs through the forest in favour of a fairly innocuous medium-speed circuit. F1’s great races tend to have iconic sections of track that either test the driver or thrill the spectator. New Hockenheim struggled to do that.
Emasculating Hockenheim followed faultless logic and for once it was done with the best interests of spectators in mind: they were all sitting in the Motodrom section while the action all took place out at the chicanes in the woods. Furthermore, the length of the old track meant a race at Hockenheim didn’t consist of too many laps, so what the spectators did see, they didn’t see very often.
So, chopping off the long legs out into the forest and putting in a couple more twists and kinks in has increased the number of laps from 45 to a more respectable 67 but whether or not it’s delivered more action for the spectators is a matter of some debate. The best overtaking spot is the hairpin, which is still some distance away from the main grandstands. With all the big screens around the place that probably doesn’t matter – but that argument could have been applied to the run through the forest.
Then there’s the question of action overall. It’s tough to quantify but I don’t think the modern race is as exciting as the old one. Obviously when you had a circuit with long straights into tight chicanes there was always plenty going on, not so much now. DRS has improved the show but there are certain tracks where a good driver could always make a move stick before DRS came in: Montreal and Interlagos never had the dearth of overtaking opportunities that plague many of the more modern circuits, nor did the old Hockenheim.
'I think the German Grand Prix deserves better'
It’s left Monza as the only proper low-downforce flat-out blast on the calendar. Of course, you could make the same arguments about Monza that you do about Hockenheim. The spectators are mostly clustered on the Parabolica and Rettifilo whereas much of the overtaking takes place further out in the boonies. There are a few more laps (53) but the speeds are so high at Monza the race rarely lasts more than 80 minutes. You wouldn’t consider chopping up Monza, ditching the Curva Grande, Roggia and Lesmos and simply bending the track back from the Rettifilo chicane to the Ascari corner with a couple of wiggles thrown in to get it up to the required length and the reason you wouldn’t do it because Monza is one of the crown jewels of F1 – whereas Hockenheim is just Hockenheim.
There’s plenty of drivers who will defend the circuit, though to a man they talk about the crowds and the atmosphere, rather than the track. I think the German Grand Prix deserves better.
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