Nurburgring, more than a circuit…Written by Αυγερινός Δημακόπουλος
Translated by Giannis Binas
''There are many famous race tracks but only one is the symbol of pure driving and the biggest challenge for a driver'' - Jacky Ickx.
When, in the middle of the 1920s, Otto Creutz was visualizing a route, capable of hosting motorsport racing and new vehicles testing, similar to which the world had never seen, he couldn’t, probably, imagine that, nearly a century later, his creation would constitute the, as commonly admitted, Mecca of motorisation.
An arena, at the tarmac of which, the majority of car manufacturers consume time and money, creating ever faster vehicles and chasing its lap time as if the Holy Grail.
A challenge that every race driver that respects himself, owes to accept, just like the 24 hours of Le Mans, the Grand Prix, the 500 miles of Indianapolis or the Dakar rally.
An urge, thousands of speed enthusiasts answer to, coming from every corner of the planet to experience from up close, with an excitement similar to the era of romance that gave birth to it.
These elements, together with various incidents, great performances, as well as tragedies, comprise the history of the asphalt rhapsody that winds around the medieval castle of Nurburg…
In the beginning of the 20th century, the rapid car development led to the introduction of the first races in Europe and USA that were held in public roads and proved extremely popular.
In Germany, the first race took place in 1904, at Bad Homburg, while, in 1907, a race series was established to honor the emperor William the 2nd.
The rapid expansion of the German car industry and the dangerousness of public roads brought the first thoughts on the creation of a permanent track in the standards of Brooklands and Indianapolis, but everything was permanently postponed at the outbreak of World War I.
In 1920, two years after the end of the hostilities and in spite of the difficult financial conditions, the first German motorway was founded.
It was the Opel Rennbahn of the homonymous car maker that was built in Russelsheim, where the firm’s headquarters are situated up to this day.
It was oval shaped and hosted many races during the 20s, but was fully abandoned by the end of World War II.
In 1921, it was Berlin’s time to inaugurate the AVUS, a semi-permanent route that was comprised of two huge straights and two very steep 43 degree curves.
The first German GP of 1926 took place there, while, in 1959, it constituted the 6th round of the F1 championship, won by Ferrari’s Tony Brooks.
The AVUS continued to host races until 1998, when it became a permanent part of the Autobahn.
The Ring’s time
In 1924, ADAC (one of Germany largest automotive clubs) organized the Eifelrennen – multiple category races - centered in the city of Nideggen, west of Bonn, where, Franz Xaver Weber, Hans Weidenbruck and Hans Pauly were among the spectators.
The first was a coffee shop owner in Adenau, the second was a huntsman from Bonn and the latter was the major of Nurburg.
Weber and Weidenbruck proposed Pauly to organize an equivalent race in the area of Nurburg and specifically around the Eifel mountains.
Pauly accepted to support the venture and Weidenbruck undertook to present his proposal at the ADAC club of Cologne, whilst, on parallel, he created Adenau’s automotive club, calling for the interested parties to become members, in order to promote the race.
The major of Adenau, Dr. Otto Creutz, was present at the first meeting of the club and it was asked of him to be its president as the preparation and maintenance of the roads would be the local authority’s obligation.
Weidenbruck’s enthusiasm convinced the officers from Cologne to come and inspect the area, and they were impressed.
The first meeting with the major took place in a hotel of Adenau and several possible routes were proposed, being made clear that the area’s farmers wouldn’t be able to cross them for safety reasons.
Otto Creutz turned down the proposals, claiming that as a major, his prime obligation was to consider of the farmers, thus spreading disappointment to everyone, as for the same reason, similar plans hadn’t bore fruit in other areas.
Most of the races dealt with the same problem, so nobody contradicted the major’s words, who, after a small pause, continued to talk and made a new proposal.
He proposed the creation of a new route, exclusively for that purpose, which would wind around the mountains of Nurburg, passing up or down existing roads, leaving farmers and their stock unbothered, since they wouldn’t have access to it.
That peculiarity, combined with the diverse weather conditions of the area, would also constitute it ideal for testing new cars.
Creutz spoke of an imposing space that would exceed the current state and would represent Germany at an international level.
The officers, in spite of their initial enthusiasm, were cautious, as a similar action for the creation of a permanent track in Cologne had failed because of financial problems, but the major confidently stressed out that he would personally take care of the project’s funding.
In the middle of 1925, having the support of the major of Cologne and later chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer, he went to Berlin to present his project at the ministries of Development and Transports, where it was warmly welcomed.
The government viewed that such a big project would bring growth to the area and would provide jobs to a lot of people, at a time, when Rhine was ravaged by unemployment.
Thus, the green light was given immediately for the start of the constructions and, despite the high inflation of the time, the initial budget was as much as 2.000.000 marks.
Adenau’s authorities assumed the completion of the construction and the two biggest German automotive clubs (ADAC, AvD) agreed to organize 3 to 4 races every year.
From that time to this day, AvD (Automobilclub von Deutschland) organizes the German GP and ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club) all the rest.
The materialisation of Creutz’s vision was assumed by Gustav Eichler’s architecture firm, who studied the area extensively, taking countless strolls on the mountains.
Having created roads at the Black Forest and Switzerland, he designed a demanding course, following the natural outline and incorporating the best characteristics of the European roads, with steep uphills, downhills, quick and slow turns, without compromising drivers’ security.
A team of university professors has later pointed out that, in fact, if the government knew what he was up to, it would never approve it!
The land was bought and expropriated, but several residents opposed the construction of a circuit.
However, officials of the federal state rejected their objections and the first works began on April 27, 1925, while, the President of Rhine, Johannes Fuchs, with Otto Creutz, placed the founding stone on September 27.
As in every big project, the budget was revised several times, leading the government to its limits and to sending representatives to oversee the progress, while, the vice president of the automotive club of Cologne and Creutz’s friend, Alex Dahmer, assumed the financial and, later, the track’s management.
Eventually, it took 2.500 workers, 2 years and 14.000.000 marks for the titanic project to be completed on June, 1927.
It became the largest permanent circuit in the world, as its length reached 28.265 meters and was consisted of 2 parts, the North (Nordschleife, 22.835m.) and the South (Sudschleife 7.747m.), while the width varied between 7 to 9 meters, apart from the start - finish straight, where it reached 20 meters.
It had 187 corners with the difference in altitude between the lowest and the highest point reaching 300 meters.
There were 3 variations in essence; Nordschleife and Sudschleife could be used separately or combined.
A concrete part united the two parallel straights and allowed the use of Sudschleife only, the return of the vehicles to the pits and was also useful as a short warm-up lap.
Alongside the start-finish straight, there were 50 pit boxes and a three story building of Continental that housed the organizers.
The main grandstand had seats for 2.500 spectators, while, under it, there was a hotel with 30 rooms and a restaurant.
The square space of the paddocks was behind the grandstand, possessing 70 garages and was connected to the pits through a tunnel that was passing under the track.
There was a complete phone network all along the motorway, with which the marshals could directly contact the organizers.
The days when no race or testing was hosted, the motorway would be open to the public for a price, something that stands to this day.
After a relevant contest, the proposal of an official prevailed and the track was named “Der Nurburg Ring”, after the medieval castle that was rising imposingly in the area and stood there before the village, having been built in 1167.
The first years
In the context of the opening, ADAC organized there the Eifelrennen, which would become established and would go on up to the 70s, when it would become a precursor of DTM.
The opening took place on Saturday, June 18, 1927, from Otto Creutz with special guests and government officials, and was followed by the first official motorcycle race, which was won by tomi Ulmen in an English 350cc Velocette.
The first car race took place on the next day, won by Rudolf Caracciola, who needed 3,5 hours to cover 340 kilometers, driving a 6,2 liter Mercedes Benz S Class.
Before WWII, the Ring would host the Eifelrennen, a motorcycle Grand Prix (until 1931) and, of course, the German Grand Prix, which was counting for the European Championship, that, post War, would evolve to our familiar Formula 1.
Starting on July 1927, the Nurburgring will host 11 German Grands Prix, until 1939, creating the first generation of Ringmeisters, the drivers that tamed the uncompromising course of Gustav Eichler.
Otto Merz was the winner of the first Grand Prix that was held at the Ring, while, next year, Rudolf Caracciola and Christian Werner would prevail, sharing the same car.
1929 was the last occasion, in which the whole course was used in a Grand Prix (only Nordschleife would be used), and, thus, the Monegasque Louis Shiron, who won that year, driving a Bugatti 35C, still has the lap record (15:06:1).
Rudolf Caracciola proved to be the prevailing personality of that time, who, with 6 wins (5 at the ring and 1 at AVUS), still holds the record of the most wins at the German GP, while, he also prevailed 4 times at the Eifelrennen.
The German driver was the first to exploit the cement that was placed at the inside line of the famous Karussell corner, at his hunt for the fastest lap.
Since then the corner bears his name: Caracciola Karussell.
Worth mentioning are the early lost Bernd Rosemeyer and the Italian Tazio Nuvolari, who claimed an epic win at the GP of 1935 (against a Mercedes Benz and Auto Union armada) in front of Hitler himself, with an obsolete Alfa Romeo.
German Grand Prix 1935
The automotive press, such as Motor and Autocar magazines, contributed in spreading the reputation of Nurburgring, dedicating dithyrambic columns on the circuit and the atmosphere of the races, urging, at the same time, the interested public to visit it, giving clear directions.
The Ring was continuously improving during the 30s, as many corners received an incline for safety reasons, a 35 kilometer iron fence was placed all around the course and the tarmac was renewed.
The success of the races as well as the large crowds that were drawn, led to the creation of similar venues throughout Germany, such as Hockenheimring and Solitudering.
In 1940, the German GP was to be held at the Deutchlandring, a new circuit that was constructed out of Dresden, but the start of the War postponed all racing activities and that venue was later turned into a public road.
The Nurburgring wasn’t left unharmed by the worldwide clash, as, in 1943,the fence was used for the needs of the Wehrmacht, while, in 1945, American tanks used the Sudschleife for their march, destroying the tarmac.
When the French assumed command of the area, they ordered the restoration of Sudschleife and the rest of the facilities, wanting to organize an international motorcycle race.
Thus, on August 17, 1947, 80,000 spectators watched the rebirth of the Ring, which, in turn, gave a new impetus to the area, convincing the authorities to fully restore the rest of the circuit.
The constructions were completed in time for the Nurburgring to be ready to welcome all the international championships that started emerging after the war, such as Formula 1, Sportcars and MotoGP.
In 1953, the 1.000 kilometer race was created, which would become the point of reference for the world endurance championship and would be held uninterruptedly from 1956 to 1984.
In 1955 and 1958, the Ring hosted MotoGP races for the first time.
Formula 1 visited the German circuit for the first time in 1951 and constituted an integrated part of the annual program, with the exception of 1955, when the race was cancelled due to the fatal accident at Le Mans, and 1959, when the Grand Prix was held at the AVUS.
Alberto Ascari, in front of an audience of 400.000 spectators, won the first post War Grand Prix (that wasn’t counting for the championship) as would in 1951 and 1952, while, he also won the first endurance race, in 1953, all of which with Ferrari.
In 1953, the Italians celebrated again, by the hand of Giuseppe Farina, before Juan Manuel Fangio took over.
The Argentinean maestro took 3 checkered flags (’54, ’56, ’57), driving for Mercedes, Ferrari and Maserati respectively, with the Grand Prix of ’57 being his last win and, perhaps, his greatest appearance.
Having lost the lead due to a slow pit-stop, he managed to eliminate a 50 second difference, and, smashing the track’s record 9 times (9:17.4), he reached and overtook Collins and Hawthorn, one lap to the end.
Since 2002, Fangio’s statue, accompanied by the Mercedes W196 with which he won in 1954, adorns the motorway’s entrance.
In 1958, the total laps of the Grand Prix were lowered from 22 to 15, in order to shorten the duration of the race, which was way beyond 3 hours.
Tony Brooks with Vanwall prevailed, but the race was marked by Peter Collins’s death, after the exit at Pflanzgarten.
In 1952, the Nurburgring magnificently celebrated its 25 years with Continental placing 400 large banners at the roads leading to the circuit, wanting to make the way to it, triumphant.
In 1954, Dunlop built, at the entrance of the pits, a tower, which, apart from the classification of the contestants, showed the position of the leader through an electronic map of the circuit, something useful to everyone, especially in races taking place at the Nordschleife.
Aremberg and Schwalbenschwanz corners were rebuilt, Wippermann was altered and a big part of the surface was renewed.
Τhe Grand Prix of 1960 was meant to be held at the AVUS, but the F1 drivers refused to race for safety reasons and, eventually, the race was held at the Sudschleife, counting for the Formula 2 championship.
The British and their colonists monopolized the wins throughout the decade with Belgian Jacky Ickx breaking the monotony, barely in 1969.
Stirling Moss set the ball rolling in 1961, with Lotus Climax and was followed by Graham Hill (’62, BRM), John Surtees (’63, ’64 Ferrari), Jim Clark (’65, Lotus Climax), Australian Jack Brabham (’66, Brabham Repco), the New Zealander Denny Hulme (’67, Brabham Repco) and the Scottish Jackie Stewart (’68, Matra Ford).
Jim Clark was the fastest of the period, starting 4 times from pole position, until 1967.
In fact, in 1966, the British champion proved that the Nurburgring was a venue, at which the driver could make a difference, achieving the fastest time in qualifying, with his Lotus 33 possessing a 2 liter engine, as opposed to the majority of the grid that were racing with 3 liter ones.
A tour of the Ring in 1967
In 1967, the 22 year old Jacky Ickx would do something similar, recording the 3rd fastest time in qualifying with a Matra F2 (back then, F2 entries were allowed to fill the grid).
In 1968, in a race that was held under rain and fog, Jackie Stewart claimed an amazing win, driving with a broken arm, after an F2 race accident, thanks to Dunlop’s tires, finishing 4 minutes (!) in front of the second, Graham Hill.
After the race, he called the Nurburgring, the «Green Hell», an epithet that accompanies it up to this day.
Jacky Ickx became the first driver to lower the lap time under 8 minutes, taking the pole position of 1969 with a time of 7:42.1, and he managed to win the race as well, after a strong fight with Stewart.
During the 60s, the changes in the track went on.
Many trees were cut around Karussell, offering better visibility to the drivers, and several improvements were made at the Bergwerk, Flugplatz and Hazen Bach corners.
In 1967, a chicane was added at the and of the long straight, raising its length by 25 meters, in an attempt to lower the speed in front of the pits, as there was no dividing strip.
A new press center opened under the main grandstand in 1968, and protective barriers were placed in front of the pits in 1969, shortening the width of the start-finish straight.
Those changes were not enough to keep the Grand Prix of Nurburgring in 1970, as the drivers, after a vote of their union (Grand Prix Drivers Association) refused to race, and as a result, they received tons of negative criticism from the organizers and the press.
The GPDA’s president, Jo Bonnier, mentioned that, in 1968, he had given the organizers a list of changes that must have been made to the circuit, in order to continue hosting the race, but up to the middle of July, 1970, very few had been completed.
Towards the end of the 60s, the non existing safety measures and the losses of drivers, pushed the GPDA – with Jackie Stewart in front – to start a campaign demanding from the races organizers to properly configure the tracks so as to offer a minimum level of safety in case of an accident.
Inevitably, the Nurburgring was found in the spotlight and, even though it didn’t have the largest share of accidents, it had a considerable death toll.
In Grands Prix alone, Viktor Junek (1928), Ernst von Delius (1937), Onofre Marimon (1954), Peter Collins (1958), Carel Godin de Beaufort (1964), John Taylor (1966), Gerhard Mitter (1969) had lost their lifes.
Jackie Stewart pointed out that in case a driver made an error and got off the track, he had minimal chances of survival, as, usually, he would end up on a tree or a cliff.
The great length, the insufficient surveillance, the absence of barriers alongside the course and, of course, the speeds of the single-seaters that had almost doubled, made it necessary to have radical changes on the pre War motorway.
A fence was placed around the spectators’ seats to reassure the profits, and new parking places were created.
Double height barriers were raised at the greatest part of the course, while the road surface was renewed, in an attempt to fix the inclination in dangerous corners like Flugplatz and Brunnchen, where the cars were jumping, without, though, altering the course.
In 1974, the area around the long straight was widened with the removal of the bushes that were an integrated part of the specific section.
Costing 2.000.000 marks, the Nordschleife tried to satisfy the new demands, which meant the total abandonment of the Sudschleife that was hosting minor races up to that time.
In 1970, ADAC’s 24 hour touring race was created, in which, everyone could take part, from professionals and constructors to amateurs.
Formula 1 will return at the Ring in 1971, where, in the presence of 250.000 spectators, Jackie Stewart will claim the win for Ken Tyrrell’s team, something he would repeat in 1973 as well.
In 1972, Ferrari will claim the chequered flag by the hand of Jacky Ickx, while, in 1974, it was Clay Regazzoni’s turn to win for the Italians, in a race that was marked by Mike Hailwood’s accident at the second Pflanzgarten, which dealt to him severe injuries in the legs, ending his F1 career.
In the qualifying session of 1975, Niki Lauda became the first to record a time under 7 minutes (6:58.06) but a flat tire during the race cost him the win that was claimed by Carlos Reutemann with Brabham.
And we reach 1976.
The safety committee of the GPDA decided by vote that the race would be held normally, as that year, the deadline that had been granted by the drivers to the organizers for further improvements was expiring.
At an interview of his, at Pete Lyons of Autosport, ahead of the race, Lauda accused Nurburgring for its dangerousness, stressing out that the absence of escape routes could be fatal in case of an error, as in the case of Hailwood.
Unfortunately for him, fate confirmed his fears.
On the 2nd lap of the race, he lost control for an undefined to this day reason, at the left curve before Bergwerk corner, his Ferrari hit the fence and caught fire.
Even though the rescue vehicle of the organizers was mobilized immediately, Lauda would probably not have survived if he wasn’t rescued by his co-athletes Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards, Brett Lunger and Harald Ertl.
The race was interrupted and the ambulance took the Austrian, who was transferred next with a helicopter at a hospital of Koblenz.
On the restart, James Hunt’s McLaren prevailed, with the British claiming a crucial win in the chase for the title.
Maurice Hamilton, one of the most important journalists dealing with F1, was wondering then, at Autosport, if that accident would seal the fate of the legendary circuit.
At that race weekend, he had the chance of being the co-driver in a BMW driven by Jackie Stewart, in a demonstration of the Nordschleife and describes his experience:
I remember many of his descriptions as if he had spoken them yesterday.
Stewart on the downhill charge into Fuchsröhre [Foxhole].
"This is flat out; 170 mph.
And see this dip at the bottom?
When you go in there and bottom out, you’ve got to try and stop your feet from flying off the pedals.
Because you go immediately uphill and need to brake for this left-hander."
The descent to Adenau Bridge:
"This is the trickiest part of the circuit.
It’s downhill, very fast and some, but not all, of the corners have adverse camber.
You’ve got to remember which ones."
On Kesselchen, the flat-out, slightly uphill and curving run towards the Karussell:
"D’you see those small trees on the right?
Well, they’re not small trees.
They’re the tops of very tall trees.
If you go over there, they’ll never find the car, never mind the driver."
The approach to Karussell:
"See those trees on the horizon?
Choose the tallest one, aim for that as you straight line these curves.
It drops you straight into the [banked] Karussell [which is completely blind on the approach]."
On the Tiergarten Straight:
"Now this may look simple because it’s near the end of the lap and you think you can relax.
You’re flat out, 175 mph plus, and there’s a gap in the trees…just there!
A gust of wind through there can catch you out and unsettle the car if you’re not ready."
I got out of that BMW totally lost in wonder over how Stewart won this race in 1968, driving through rain and fog when the track truly lived up to its nickname ‘Green Hell’.
Stewart finished so far ahead that he was standing on the podium when the second man, Graham Hill, crossed the line.
After that, at the motorhome of Elf, he asked Stewart how he felt about what could be the last F1 race hosted at Nurburgring.
''I have mixed feelings.
Nothing gave me more satisfaction than to win at the Nürburgring and yet, I was always afraid.
When I left home for the German Grand Prix I always used to pause at the end of the driveway and take a long look back.
I was never sure I'd come home again.''
Seven months after his accident, Niki Lauda returned to Rhine with John Watson to inspect the circuit, ahead of the German Grand Prix, finding-as expected – than it was unsuitable for F1, resulting in the permanent transfer of the race to Hockenheim.
However, the same didn’t apply for F2 or the 1.000 kilometers that continued to be organized for 6 more years with participations and wins by F1 drivers.
Those raves weren’t considered as dangerous…
The motorway’s managers, wanting to follow the prevailing logic of the smaller circuits, decided to create a new venue at the area around the start-finish straight.
In 1982, after the 1.000 kilometer race, the constructions began with the demolition of the pits and the surrounding buildings.
Nordschleife was cut off the constructions and became autonomous (it would later be united with the new part) with its length dropping to 20.8 kilometers, and, that way, it welcomed, for the last time, the 1.000 kilometers, in 1983.
Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass were the winners, driving a Porsche 956, while, with a similar car, the tragically lost Stefan Bellof recorded during qualifying the fastest time in the specific configuration of the Nordschleife, stopping the timer at 6:11.13, a record that stands to this day.
In his honor, on August 2013, the second Pflanzgarten was renamed into Stefan Bellof S.
The Grand Prix circuit, as it was named, was ready in 1984 and, with a length that wasn’t exceeding 4.5 kilometers, didn’t look at all like the Nordschleife.
It possessed wide escape routes, new pit-paddock complex with a press center and VIP suites, while, it could host 150.000 spectators.
Meanwhile, various stripings were painted, in order to be able to host a variety of races.
In 1988, the main grandstand that accommodated the hotel and the restaurant would be demolished too and its place would be covered by a new, more modern one.
It was inaugurated in May and the organizers, taking advantage of the occasion, invited the widow of Otto Creutz, Hedwig, to be present at the events, wanting to make up for a historical injustice.
In 1933, with the rise of the nazis to power, Otto Creutz, being a member of an opposing party that the new government despised, was accused of embezzling state funds during the construction of the Nurburgring and was sent to prison, while, after the War, he wasn’t able to clear his name and was sidelined.
Thus, he wasn’t invited to the first post War race of 1950 and one year later, unable to withstand the successive hits, he committed suicide.
Hedwig, in spite of her 88 years, was still vigorous and didn’t miss the opportunity to stress out to the organizers that it took them 2 years to construct a 4,5 kilometer circuit, when, 60 years earlier, her husband, at the same amount of time, had constructed the whole circuit literally by hand.
Many other personalities from the past were present, such as Manfred von Brauchitsch, Hermann Lang, Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Phil Hill and John Surtees.
Nobody was impressed, however, by the new course which they found predictable and completely boring compared to the Nordschleife.
A demonstration race took place on May 12 with identical Mercedes 190E, at which, many former and current F1 stars participated.
The then newcomer Ayrton Senna was the winner, having replaced Emerson Fittipaldi on the last moment, in front of a menacing Niki Lauda, who started last and overtook everyone that happened to be in front of him.
F1 visited Rhine on October of the same year for the European Grand Prix, à title that the Nurburgring had previously hosted 4 times (1954, 1961, 1968, 1974) and Alain Prost prevailed at the helm of the then powerful McLaren.
The German Grand Prix returned to the Ring in 1985, with Michelle Alboreto claiming his 5th and final win in F1, on behalf of Ferrari.
For the next decade, F1 was absent from the mountains of Eifel and the organizers shifted their attention at the 1.000 kilometers, the MotoGP (alternating with Hochenheim) as well as the new touring championship that was created in 1984, the well known DTM.
If anything, the DTM would be hosted at the Nordschleife up to 1995, when it was transferred to the Grand Prix circuit.
Since 1985, the circuit started organizing every summer the Rock am Ring, a rock festival that would evolve into the greatest of the kind in Germany.
In 1994 and 1997, the chicane before the pit entrance was reconstructed to reduce the crossing speed and to allow the creation of a double striping for the cars and motorcycles.
In 1991, with the collapse of the world endurance championship, the organization of the 1.000 kilometers ceased, while, after the 1995-1997 period, MotoGP was permanently moved to Sachsenring.
When, in 1994, Michael Schumacher reached the top of Formula 1, there was an explosion of interest for the championship in Germany, and, next year, the European Grand Prix returned to Nurburgring.
Schumacher, driving for Benetton, honored as fit the return of the historic circuit to the calendar, claiming an emphatic win after a fight with Damon Hill and Jean Alesi.
In 1996 and 1997, it was William’s turn to celebrate with Jacques Villeneuve claiming successively his first and last wins in F1, whereas, in 1998, Mika Hakkinen prevailed with McLaren Mercedes.
Due to a weird provision of the FIA, which prohibited the organization of two races with the same name in one country, and, since the circuit of Jerez had the rights of the European GP, the Grands Prix of 1997 and 1998 borrowed Luxembourg’s name, because of the proximity of the track to the borders of the specific country.
From 1999 to 2007, the European Grand Prix title would permanently accompany the Nurburgring.
In 1999, in an eventful race, Johnny Herbert made the surprise, claiming the only win of the former Ringmeister’s team, Stewart.
The new millenium
The Nurburgring welcomed the new millenium reconstructing the pits, which now had 33 garages, with plenty of internal height, wanting to accommodate the holding of European Truck Racing Championship races.
As for F1, in 2000 and 2001, Michael Schumacher will claim his first wins on German soil with the colors of Ferrari.
In 2002, the first corner (Castrol S) was redesigned by Hermann Tilke, raising the length of the track to 5,15 kilometers, in an attempt to have more overtakes and avoid accidents, like the one of 1999.
The new section was named «Mercedes Arena», after Mercedes’s semi-circular grandstand that was there.
That year, Ferrari celebrated again, with Schumacher and Barrichello claiming the 1-2, whereas, in 2003, it was Ralf Schumacher’s turn for Williams.
Michael Schumacher won again in 2004 and 2006, whereas, in 2005 and 2007, Fernando Alonso will prevail on behalf of Renault and McLaren respectively.
The first withdrawal of Michael Schumacher from action will bring the reduction of interest by the German crowd for the sport, resulting in the start of the annual alternation of the Grand Prix between Nurburgring and Hockenheim.
In 2007, the circuit, wanting to honor the German champion, renamed the Shell S into Michael Schumacher S, in a special event at the GP weekend.
In 2009, the Grosser Preis von Deutschland will return to Rhine, and Red Bull will claim the 1-2 with Mark Webber getting his first win in F1.
Lewis Hamilton will win in 2011 at the steering wheel of McLaren, and, in 2013, Red Bull will prevail again, with Sebastian Vettel getting his first win on German soil.
On April 28, 2007, the sound of a single-seater sounded again at the Nordschleife, when, in a special BMW event, Nick Heidfeld completed three demonstration laps with the F1.06, the car that competed in the 2006 championship, on behalf of BMW Sauber.
The single-seater, however, had short gear ratio, high ride level and Bridgestone’s demonstration tires, as it wasn’t targeting to break any records.
The scene was repeated on May 19, 2013, in a Mercedes event ahead of the 24 hour race, where, Michael Schumacher drove the W02 with which he competed in the 2011 championship.
On track, he was accompanied by Nico Rosberg, Bernd Maylander, Karl Wendlinger and Bernd Schneider with other racecars of the firm, but it was once again for demonstration purposes.
The Ring also organized the German round of the world Superbike championship, from 2008 to 2013.
From 2000 and on, the 1.000 kilometers constituted part of various leagues, but, in 2015, they returned to the World Endurance Championship (WEC) with a new name, 6 hours of Nurburgring, with the race being held in the small 5,1 km. circuit.
On the contrary, the German round of the World Turing Car Championship (WTCC), which returned in 2015 too, was held in the whole circuit (apart from the Mercedes Arena), with the Nordschleife hosting an international race for the first time after 1983.
Sebastian Loeb drives us through the legendary course:
Meanwhile, it continues hosting local touring championship races (VLN), part of which is the 24 hour race, where, usually, the entries are more than 200.
Theme park and bankruptcy
The creation of a theme park next to the track’s facilities was decided in 2004, in an attempt to attract more visitors as the motorway was not profitable.
The government of the German state of Rhine invested more than 200 million euros for the ambitious project, which planned to extend the administration facilities, new hotel, business center and a rather fast roller coaster that was named Ring Racer but never functioned due to technical issues.
The facilities were ready in 2009, but failed to attract public and investors, while the debt was accumulating.
That way, in 2012, when the management company of the motorway needed a rescue package by the government, the European Union intervened, considering the continuation of funding illegal, resulting in its bankruptcy.
On top of that, after an investigation by the competent authorities, the financial minister of the state and member of the governing board of the management company, Ingolf Deubel, was found guilty of embezzling the investion’s funds and was sentenced to 3,5 years in prison (nobody escapes, right Mrs Merkel?)
In 2013, when it was Nurburgring’s turn to host the Grand Prix, the organizers, not having the adequate funds and to avoid losing the race, granted the circuit to Bernie Ecclestone, who, paying for the expenses, pocketed the profit.
Ιn 2014, the Ring was auctioned and the German parts firm Capricorn was the highest bidder.
When it failed, however, to pay the second installment of the auction proceeds, the buyout was completed by the German pharmaceutical firm Pharmstandard, of the Russian billionaire, Viktor Kharitonin.
In 2015, the circuit, once again, didn’t have the necessary resources to host the F1 race, and Bernie Ecclestone, fearing the reduced spectator attendance, withdrew it from the calendar.
The organizers stressed out that it was a matter of 2-3 million euros.
Races come and go; what is left behind, is the impact of a circuit in the automotive world.
Car makers, such as OPEL, cite the circuit in their models, whilst, others, such as BMW, create there permanent testing facilities, because it simply comprises all the possible situations a sports car can sustain during its evolution.
Then, they chase the fastest lap, for it functions as a credential in the global market, as well as an ideal promotion tool.
The Nurburgring sticker tends to become the trademark of every «petrolhead» around the globe, whereas, no serious racing game can omit the German circuit.
The fact that today many speed addicts congest at its gates with every kind of vehicle to pay the price that will enable them to live the experience of pure driving, is a hymn for Otto Creutz’s vision and Gustav Eichler’s design.
Flugplatz, Schwedenkreuz, Fuchsrohre, Adenau Forst, Ex-Muhle, Lauda-Linksknick, Bergwerk, Karussell, Wipperman, Pflatzgarten, Stefan Bellof S, Schwalbenschwanz and many more are included in the anthology of the most famous corners of the world.
The width of the history and legacy of the Nurburgring is such, that, even if it’s present and future are still unclear, nothing can make you believe it will be lost.
It’s an eternal monument of the human need to reach the limit and, at the same time, a place at which most of us can grasp that, probably, we wouldn’t even attempt what the authentic Ringmeisters accomplished…
Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit
Circuit length: 5.148 meters
Fastest lap: 1:28.351 (M.Schumacher, Ferrari F2004, 2004)
Circuit length: 20.799 μέτρα
Fastest lap: 6:11.130 (Stefan Bellof, Porsche 936, 1983)
Total length: 25.947 μέτρα
Years of presence in F1: 40 (1951-1954, 1956-1958, 1961-1969, 1971-1976, 1984-1985, 1995-2007, 2009, 2011, 2013)
Drivers with the most wins: Michael Schumacher: 5 (1995, 2000-01, 2004, 2006)
Jackie Stewart: 3 (1968, 1971, 1973)
Juan Manuel Fangio: 3 (1954, 1956, 1957)
Teams with the most wins: Ferrari: 13 (1951-53, 1963-64, 1972, 1974, 1985, 2000-02, 2004, 2006)
McLaren: 5 (1976, 1984, 1998, 2007, 2011)
Williams: 3 (1996, 1997, 2003)
PS. I thank my friend, Kostas, who lives at the outskirts of the circuit, for his idea…