How F1's most feared track has hit the big screen
The theatrical release of The Green Hell brings the Nurburgring Nordschleife, the most feared of Formula 1 tracks, back in the spotlight. Sam Smith looks at how the movie about the legendary circuit came about.
Green Hell: two short words to describe some very long miles. Miles that shoot a mainline of adrenaline into any racing heart. By their enunciation alone, they demand reverence to those that dare tame the feted Nurburgring Nordschleife.
The place has warranted a film for decades, and now one has been made to tell the histories, the legends, the triumphs and tragedies that pepper the place like the eminent pine trees which encircle it.
Thanks to prolific Austrian director and producer Hannes M. Schalle, (whose Lauda – The Untold Story documentary was released in 2015) you can see the film in all its evocative glory at selected cinemas this month.
"The Nordschleife typifies the danger that went hand-in-hand with racing in this iconic era of motorsport, and our movie very much places audiences at the heart of this," explains Schalle.
"By putting interviews with heroes from this death-defying era alongside never-before-seen footage, we believe we will have audiences on the edge of their seats."
From a content point of view, Schalle and his team had rich pickings, of course. Classic 'Ring occasions such as Nuvolari's 'Impossible win' in 1935, Rosemeyer's 'master of the fog' miracle in 1936, Fangio's 1957 masterpiece and arguably Jackie Stewart's greatest ever grand prix win in 1968 are all illustrated with exceptional archive material.
This pantheon of greatness is described by multiple narrators, including Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft and, most memorably, Murray Walker.
"Murray was a joy, an absolute joy," says Schalle when Motorsport.com spoke with him last week ahead of the film's release.
"It was a perfect situation to have him introducing the Nurburgring and then to have him 'commentating' on Nuvolari, Carraciola, Seaman and Rosemeyer was very special. Murray insisted on standing up while doing it all of course!"
The film presents a chronological history of the fabled circuit, detailing the social rejuvenation that the original circuit brought to this historically down-at-heel Eifel mountain region of Germany.
Nurburgring is much more than a simple racing circuit. It brought a renewed identity to this scenic area of the country and subsequently a whole industry, one which thrives to this day.
Several 'contemporary witnesses' are used in the film, some detailing non-racing times such as the area's war history, which saw families use the spectator underpasses at the 'Ring as shelters, and in the case of one participant in the film, a family home during the intense bombing of the area!
We have the French to thank for the restoration of the circuit post-war after they recalled the bravery and skill of their own heroes – such as Rene Dreyfus, Jean-Pierre Wimille and Raymond Sommer – and were instrumental in rebuilding the damaged track and infrastructure.
There are several first-hand philosophical proclamations as to how the Nurburgring shaped, defined or finished careers and lives. Among them is a simple-yet-poetic tribute by one of its countrymen – Wolfgang Alexander Albert Eduard Maximilian Reichsgraf Berghe von Trips, or 'Taffy' to his racing mates and contemporaries.
"There is something different here," says the Count as his words from a written ode to the track are read out. "You finally have the feeling of driving the right way at last."
Jackie Stewart, who first used the 'Green Hell' moniker for the Nordschleife, makes several typically candid descriptions on what it was like resisting submission to the 'Ring.
"I never did one lap extra at the Nurburgring than I needed to do," says a typically erudite Stewart. "The whole character of the racetrack was so demanding that even if I had had no mechanical failure there was always the risk that I would have an error of judgement."
Such was Stewart's class on the Nordschleife he conquered his fears and managed the risks. Others weren't so lucky. Three years after Stewart's imperious win, the final one of his career, Niki Lauda's accident at Bergwerk brought down a sombre curtain on grand prix racing at the venue.
International racing, particularly in sportscars, touring cars and Formula 2 went on. Few mirrored, in character at least, the rawness of the place more than the mercurial Stefan Bellof. The German's giddy reflexes briefly taunted the patience and temper of the Nordschleife in the early 1980s and his exploits have entered into awed legend.
The footage of Porsche 956s racing in the 1983 1000kms, particularly with Bellof setting the outrageous lap record of 6m11.13s, is breathtaking and unnerving in equal measure.
The Green Hell is an enjoyable film with fresh footage that has an interesting and informative social history background running through it. The archive is fantastic, with Schalle and his team unearthing much never previously seen footage.
The research and production is eye-catching and the grainy amateur movie footage of an agitated Stuck calling for medics to save Lauda from his Ferrari furnace in 1976 is chilling.
The story is brought up to date with a look at the 'Ring today, and the micro-industry niche which it has carved itself over the last two decades.
While this does have the unfortunate feel of a promotional bolt-on, it is nevertheless important to link the essence of how the place came to restore a poor area of Germany to now a famous and vibrant one.
The contributions from 'Ring veterans, particularly Sir Stirling Moss, Jochen Mass, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Lauda and Stewart is rewarding, but some others are slightly incongruous and crop up without an easy thread or link to the overall narrative.
These though are small niggles in an otherwise excellent film, which brings the authentic, atmospheric and downright spooky character of racing's greatest challenge to life. It is an evocative journey that only perhaps Monza and Indianapolis could relate to.
"You know, one thing I noticed when we interviewed all the personalities was how they always personalised the track," says Schalle. "It was never just a track but it was always 'the monster' or 'he enemy.' I think that really spoke a lot about what it meant to the drivers."
'The Stonehenge of Motor Racing' is a description which former McLaren F1 race winner Mass bestows upon the circuit. It's a good expression, one that weaves the mystical past and stoic present of a racing icon.
To find out more about "The Green Hell" and to view the trailer, visit www.thegreenhellmovie.com
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