The Nürburgring
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The Nürburgring
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 1927 - Today
Nurburgring Circuit Map

Dr Creutz

The history of the famous Nürburgring can be traced back to 1925 when a certain Dr Creutz, Eifel Councillor, commissioned the construction of a super-circuit in the beautiful Eifel mountains, a mere forty miles by autobahn from the city of Cologne. Creutz had two reasons for backing this ambitious project. Firstly it offered employment to hundreds of local workers who would otherwise have added to the lengthening dole queues. Secondly, it provided a test track for Germany's growing motor industry and a race track that would be envied by the rest of the motoring world.

The Südschleife and Nordschleife

The site and scope of the project were breathtaking. A closed circuit totalling 17.563 miles (28.265 kilometres) was split into two loops using a common pit area. The south loop, or Sudschleife, at 4.814 miles (7.747 kilometres) is little known or used compared with the famous north loop or Nordschleife. The latter was 14.17 miles (22.810 kilometres) and officially had 89 left hand bends and 85 right hand, leading through forests and over blind brows and bridges. The vertical drop was almost 1000 ft from the pit area at 2034 feet above sea level (620 metres) to 1050 feet (320 metres) at Breitscheid near Adenau.

The Second German Grand Prix

In 1927 Germany's newest motor-racing circuit was opened in time for the second German Grand Prix. Fortunately for national prestige the event was won by Otto Merz in a Mercedes at 63.38 mph. In 1930 virtually all restrictions regarding the construction of Grand Prix cars were removed, leading to an increase in engine sizes and also, consequently, in lap speeds. Though a minimum weight limit was imposed in 1934, engine size continued to grow, up to as much as six litres.

The Ultimate Battleground

And it was during this period that the Nürburgring quickly became renowned as the ultimate battleground for supremacy among prestige-seeking nations. Most eagerly of all, Hitler sought the largest share of this prestige for Germany. Subsidies were offered by his Government to motor manufacturers who could produce race winning cars, the challenge being enthusiastically taken up by Mercedes and the new conglomerate, Auto Union.

The struggle for superiority between these two makes alone electrified spectators and enthusiasts all over Europe, with the greatest attention focused on the Nürburgring events. Varzi, Stuck and Rosemeyer in Auto Unions duelled with the Mercedes of Caracciola, Fagioli and von Brauchitsch, the exploits of all six making them national heroes in Germany. The super-track at Nürburgring completed the picture; Germany world-dominant in yet another international sphere.

In 1939 the full Ring was used for the last time in major racing events, as future Grands Prix would be held only on the Nordschleife. Motorcycles and minor races mainly used the shorter and safer Südschleife. Many memorable pre-war races took place at the circuit, featuring the talents of early Ringmeisters (Ringmasters) such as Rudolf Caracciola, Tazio Nuvolari and Bernd Rosemeyer.

After World War 2 racing recommenced in the 1950s and the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring again became the main venue for the German Grand Prix as part of the Formula One World Championship (with the exception of 1959 when it was held on the AVUS in Berlin). A new group of Ringmeisters arose to dominate the race – Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart and Jacky Ickx. On 5 August 1961, during practice for the 1961 German Grand Prix, Phil Hill became the first person to complete a lap of the Nordschleife in under 9 minutes, with a stunning lap of 8 minutes 55.2 seconds (153.4 km/h or 95.3 mph) in the Ferrari 156 "Sharknose" Formula One car.

Legendary Mercedes team manager Alfred Neubauer rushes to Manfred von Brauchitach's car during the 1938 German GP
Legendary Mercedes team manager Alfred Neubauer rushes to Manfred von Brauchitach's car during the 1938 German GP.

Sports cars on the Nurburgring in the early 1950s
Sports cars on the Nurburgring in the early 1950s.

Cars approach the Karussel during the 1972 Grand Prix
Cars approach the Karussel during the 1972 Grand Prix.

Cars passing the pits and control tower complex at the start of the 1972 Nurburgring 1000km
Cars passing the pits and control tower complex at the start of the 1972 Nurburgring 1000km.

Denny Hulme's Brabham gets air at the Nurburgring
Denny Hulme's Brabham gets air at the Nurburgring.

Clay Regazzoni heading for victory at the 1974 German GP
Clay Regazzoni heading for victory at the 1974 German GP.


In 1953 the ADAC 1000 km Nürburgring race was introduced, an Endurance race and Sports car racing event that counted towards the World Sportscar Championship for decades. The 24 Hours Nürburgring for touring car racing was added in 1970. By the late 1960s, the Nordschleife and many other tracks were becoming increasingly dangerous for the latest generation of F1 cars. In 1967, a chicane was added before the start/finish straight, called Hohenrain, in order to reduce speeds at the pit lane entry. This made the track 25 metres (about 80 feet) longer. In 1970, after the fatal crash of Piers Courage at Zandvoort, the F1 drivers decided at the French Grand Prix to boycott the Ring unless major changes were made, as they did at Spa the year before. The changes were not possible on short notice, and the German GP was moved to the Hockenheimring which already had been modified.

The Flugplatz

In 1970 the Grand Prix Drivers' Association forced a major safety reconstruction programme. Then, the trees and hedgerows stood thicker than ever at the 'Ring, lining the edge of the road, cutting off the sight of corner apices and making it easy to see why the name 'Green Hell' so rapidly gained acceptance in the circuit's early years. From North Bend behind the pits the track disappears downhill to Hatzenbach where a series of swerves leads onto the approach to the notorious Flugplatz or, literally, flying place. Even since reconstruction, faster cars still become airborne, landing only in time to line up for a fast right hand bend.

The Fuchsrohre

Soon after that, one of the steepest and fastest sections was reached. The plunge down into the Fuchsrohre (fox hole) sends the cars darting around the road at almost maximum speed with the drivers searching for the gentlest slope into the dip at the bottom. Two kilo- metres later, the track follows the edge of a hill, diving down to a tiny bridge in a truly terrifying series of fast off-camber curves, where the tendency for new drivers is to hug the inside of the hill like novice mountaineers. Across another tight narrow bridge at the very bottom of the valley and within half a mile the track heads uphill into the other side of the forest.

The Karussel

Round the famous banked Karussel, added since 1927, up to Hohe Acht (high place) and into Wipperman, Esch- bach, Briinnchen and Pflanzgarten. These were the sections that in the past looked so alike; that fooled tired drivers into turning left instead of right or vice versa. Even after the 1970S widening and levelling programme, several corners in these sections still look alike, calling for the utmost concentration and circuit memorisation. Finally the long undulating straight leads from Schwalbenschwanz (swallow tail), past the centuries old Nurburg castle and into the newly added chicane before the start/finish line.

The Ringmeisters

For those whose performances merit special recognition whether before or after the war, the Germans coined a special name - Ringmeister. This is probably the greatest unofficial accolade that a racing driver can aspire to and the performances of a mere handful of men have been memorable enough to warrant it. The first of these Ringmeisters was Tazio Nuvolari. In 1935, in what was regarded as the classic race of a decade, the great Italian, driving a 3.8-litre Alfa Romeo, inflicted a stunning and humiliating defeat on the immensely powerful Mercedes and Auto Union teams ... a close parallel to the story of David and Goliath.

Rudi Caracciola also earned the title for his five Mercedes victories, while Alberto Ascari earned his for three consecutive Ferrari victories in 1950, 1951 and 1952, the first of which marked the resumption of racing at the Nürburgring after World War 2. Juan-Manuel Fangio was awarded the accolade for his victory in 1957 in a Maserati. Stirling Moss was awarded the honour for his 1961 victory in a Lotus 18.

Safety Concerns

Fifteen years later, on the 1st August 1976 World Champion Niki Lauda's Ferrari crashed heavily and burst into flames in the Bergwerk section of the Nürburgring, during the German Grand Prix. There were no marshals at the scene of the accident and Lauda was removed from his blazing car by other drivers. The accident nearly cost Lauda his life and almost certainly sealed the fate of the Nürburgring for Grand Prix racing. Suddenly, the fact had to be faced that the 14.2-mile circuit, in its then present form, was unacceptably dangerous for modern Formula One racing. Its very scale made the problems of adequate marshalling virtually insurmountable, yet the circuit's challenge and atmosphere guaranteed that racing enthusiasts would not easily accept its demise.

After Lauda's accident, the Grand Prix moved to Hockenheim in 1977 and plans were revived for a shorter, safer circuit to be built at Nurburg. A major factor in saving racing at the 'Ring was the fact that the spectators attracted by the circuit did much to bolster the area's otherwise limited income; consequently both local and national government bodies were anxious to provide aid. The building of the new circuit, a twisty, seven kilometre complex near the old Suidschleife, was confirmed in October 1977. Meanwhile, long distance races, sports cars, saloons and even Formula Two continued to use the 'Ring as it was originally intended.

The New Nürburgring

The new Nürburgring was completed in 1984 and called GP-Strecke. It was built to meet the highest safety standards, but was considered in character a mere shadow of its older sibling. Some fans, who had to sit much further away from the track, called it Eifelring, Ersatzring, Green Party Ring or similar, believing it did not deserve to be called Nürburgring. The new circuit also had a characteristic of many of the circuits at the time, in that it offered few overtaking opportunities.

To celebrate its opening, an exhibition race was held, on 12 May, featuring an array of notable drivers. Driving identical Mercedes 190E 2.3–16, the line-up was Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, Denis Hulme, James Hunt, Jacques Laffite, Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann, Keke Rosberg, Jody Scheckter, Manfred Schurti, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and John Watson. Senna won ahead of Lauda, Reutemann, Rosberg, Watson, Hulme and Jody Scheckter. Besides other major international events, it has seen the brief return of Formula One to the 'Ring, as the 1984 European Grand Prix was held at the track, followed by the 1985 German Grand Prix.

The Haug-Hook

As Formula One did not stay, other events were the highlights at the new Ring, 1000km Nürburgring, DTM, motorcycles, and rather new type of events, like Truck Racing, Vintage car racing at the AvD "Oldtimer Grand Prix", and even the "Rock am Ring" concerts. Following the success and first world championship of Michael Schumacher, a second German F1 race was held at the Ring between 1995 and 2006, called the European Grand Prix or, in 1997 and 1998, the Luxembourg Grand Prix. For 2002, the track was changed, by replacing the former "Castrol-chicane" at the end of the start/finish straight by a sharp right-hander (nicknamed "Haug-Hook"), in order to create an overtaking opportunity. Also, a slow Omega-shaped section was inserted, on the site of the former kart track. This extended the GP track from 4,500 to 5,200 m (2.80 to 3.23 mi), while at the same time, the Hockenheimring was shortened from 6,800 to 4,500 m (4.23 to 2.80 mi).

In recent years, both the Ring and the Hockenheimring events have been losing money due to high and rising licence fees charged by Bernie Ecclestone and low attendance due to high ticket prices; starting with the 2007 Formula One season, Hockenheim and Nürburgring will alternate for hosting of the German GP. In Formula One Ralf Schumacher hit his brother in 1997, which may have cost Michael the championship. In 1999, in changing conditions, Johnny Herbert managed to score the only win for the team of former Ringmeister Jackie Stewart. One of the highlights of the 2005 season was Kimi Räikkönen's spectacular exit, while in the last lap of the race, when his suspension gave way after being rattled lap after lap by a flat-spotted tire that was not changed due to the short lived "one set of tires" rule.

Prior to the 2007 European Grand Prix, the Audi S (bends 8 and 9) was renamed Schumacher S after Michael Schumacher.
Carlos Reutemann, Carlos Pace and Emmerson Fittipaldi on the Nurburgring
Carlos Reutemann, Carlos Pace and Emmerson Fittipaldi on the Nurburgring.
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