Leaner and meaner Hockenheim

Safe, swift, and spectacular -- The new Hockenheimring meets all the theoretical requirements of a modern Grand Prix circuit. Its first trial run will be this year's German Grand Prix The reconstruction of the Ring, in time for the 2002 German...

Safe, swift, and spectacular -- The new Hockenheimring meets all the theoretical requirements of a modern Grand Prix circuit. Its first trial run will be this year's German Grand Prix

The reconstruction of the Ring, in time for the 2002 German Grand Prix, was intended to create a completely new track -- a modern arena that would retain the fabulous atmosphere in the grandstand section and extend it throughout the rest of the circuit.

As one might imagine, it was a tricky task facing Hermann Tilke, the internationally renowned specialist in circuit design (Sepang in Malaysia, the new A1 Ring in Austria). The long stretches through the forest were to be removed, because the spectators couldn't see the action there. Tilke's job, however, was clearly defined: the Ring was to retain its character as a high-speed track.

There was also another essential requirement, described as follows by Harald Roth, the vice president of the Baden racing club and director of the course officials at Hockenheim: "Safety was the priority in the reconstruction work. It was the number one objective." Directives from the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) ensured that all the safety requirements for both drivers and spectators were implemented during construction of the new circuit.

The new Ring is more than two kilometres shorter and uses only about two kilometres of the old circuit. A total of 4,489 metres of circuit await the drivers at the 2002 German Grand Prix on July 28. The grandstands now offer seating for 120,000 fans, which is 40,000 more than before. The long stretches of track through the forest have been eliminated, which in itself improves safety. "The forest sectors presented real hazards," says Harald Roth, who monitored the construction work. "The cars were driven at full speed there, which was an enormous stress on them -- and very risky if a wing broke off."

The new Parabolica, a 1,060m stretch with a slight bend, still guarantees high speeds. Cars will reach about 315 km/h on the fastest part of the new circuit. The Parabolica has been surrounded with wide run-off zones so that in case of an accident, any airborne car components will remain on track rather than flying into the spectator area.

After the extended corner there is a tight bend to the right, from which the drivers then enter the original circuit. This hairpin curve, which is taken at around 70 km/h, is designed to allow overtaking. Three new grandstands have been erected at the hairpin bend, thus creating a second motordrome for viewing what designers hope will be spectacular overtaking manoeuvres. Another new bend combination follows on the way to the main grandstands.

Formula One can be experienced up close on the new Hockenheimring -- yet at a safe distance. The spectators are protected by fences stipulated by the FIA. These are 3.5 meters high and are made of wire mesh and linked with steel cables. Not only the spectators but also the course officials are protected by fences. The tight hairpin bend proved to be a special challenge in this respect. At this section, track marshals are protected by two fences.

There's another innovation that's already passed the safety test, namely the asphalt run-off zones like those found at the first corner after the start. "They are intended to prevent an accident at the start caused by several cars becoming stuck in the gravel bed," explains Harald Roth. At previous races on the new Ring, for example the German Touring Car Masters, these asphalt zones produced good results. There were fewer accidents and the crane lifts came out less frequently! In order to meet FIA regulations, the last 4.5 meters before the safety fences consist of gravel, and the rest, around 20 meters, are asphalt.

Lap times of between 1 min 20 secs, an average speed of 200 km/h, 68 laps instead of the previous 45, plus 17 corners. Even those who were initially critical have since become convinced that the new Hockenheimring will cause a sensation. The circuit builders have fulfilled their task -- and set new safety standards in the process.

-allianz-

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Series Formula 1