In 1969 there was a lot of grumbling about the Nurburgring not being safe or suitable for modern Grand Prix cars and modem Grand Prix drivers, and Jackie Stewart Rd the crusade to get something done about it. The complaints were about humps that made the cars airborne, blind corners, narrowness in places, trees too close to the edge of the track, unguarded drops into valleys if you went off the road, and so on. The Nurburgring GMBH agreed to rectify all these things and gave the 14.2-mile circuit a gigantic face-lift, with widened roads, grass areas alongside where possible, miles of Armco barriers, the removal of thousands of trees, the elimination of numerous humps and dips, new bridges and resurfacing of the whole route. While they were at it they improved the viewing facilities for spectators, opening up many new areas, and increasing the view from the existing ones. The result toots better Nurburgring for everyone concerned, the drivers were delighted and said so, the spectators got better value for their money, and the organisers were happy because during the rebuilding they had improved the outer fencing so that far fewer people got in without paying. It made little difference to the crowds, they were still enormous a. all paying, when the circuit re-opened for the 1971 German Grand Prix. While all this was happening the German Grand Prix for 1970 was held at the Hockenheim Stadium, which is a flat circuit with a wiggly bit inside the great arena and two fast legs out, and back, to a long hairpin. When the Grand Prix returned to the Nurburgring drivers found that it was much faster than before, with easier corners, vastly improved visibility, fewer dips and humps, and ohs race average speed rose boot 174 k.p.h. to 184 k.p.h., and it has risen ever since, until it is now nearly 190 k.p.h. There are still places where the cars become airborne and there are still dips where the suspension bottoms and the cars scrape the ground, all because they are going that much faster because they can see where they are going and it is relatively easier, even if it is faster.
Now the Grand Prix drivers, led by Niki Lauda, have decided that there are still a lot of things wrong with the Nurburgring and as it stands at present it is unsuitable for Formula One. It appears that a decision has been taken to hold the German Grand Prix at the Hockenheim Stadium once more. One of the complaints is that there are insufficient run-off areas, for use if the driver makes a mistake, or if something breaks on the car and sends it off the road. It is a sad reflection on the state of Formula One that circuits have to make provision for Grand Prix drivers making mistakes. There was a time when the hall-mark of a proper Grand Prix driver was that he did not make mistakes, he had the ability and judgement to keep just under that limit where all is lost, and the closer he could get to that limit without exceeding it, the greater driver he became. Nowadays we have to cater for a much lower average of ability, a lower standard of human being, and accept the fact that no matter how professional they claim to be the Grand Prix drivers commit driving errors. Far more serious is that. we have to cater for error of design and construction of Grand Prix cars, where wheels come off, tyres fail, suspension members break, radius arm mountings pull out, anti-roll bars come adrift and steering components fail. If any of these things happen the car can become uncontrollable and it is not surprising that some of the drivers worry about such things, and ask for a big run-off area in which to dissipate the speed of a wayward car, as well as barriers to stop it going over embankments or into the public enclosures. Other complaints concern the supply of adequate fire marshals, flag marshals and access for emergency services. With a lap time around 7 minutes some of the drivers feel they are away from the pits and security for far too long.
At the beginning of last year a number of drivers wrote short articles for a German magazine, extolling the virtues of the Nurburgring and explaining why they enjoyed it. Among them were Fittipaldi, Mass, Longer, Laffite and Stuck and it will be interesting to hear what they have to say in 1977, just one year later, or next July 31st as they are scratching round the flat Hockenheim Stadium.
Emerson Fittipaldi: “Personally, I don’t consider the Nurburgring the most dangerous circuit, although it does have some nasty aspects for the driver. Weather, for example. One section may he perfectly dry, and then unexpectedly you pop over the top of a hill into the rain. Suddenly the track is soaked. Naturally, the Nurburgring demands everything from the driver, and that’s what I am looking for. After all, my profession is driving, and that’s why this course is my favourite.”
Jochen Mass: “It is one of the most interesting circuits in the world, if not in fact the most interesting. Certainly there are some dangerous sections, but that can’t be avoided on such a long course. Besides, that is part of the game!”
Brett Lunger: “To get around the Nurburgring right without making a mistake is really a lot of work. I think you could only do it after getting lots of experience. I don’t think the Nurburgring calls for the greatest amount of courage, but certainly the greatest amount of concentration to learn the course and master it.
Jacques Laffite: “The Nurburgring is good. You have to learn a lot and it is extremely difficult. That’s why I like it, it is very much like Clermont-Ferrand. You are a racing driver, and you have to accept the circumstances that are given. I like the jumps, I enjoy them, they are fun. Only if something breaks when you are landing does it get critical.”
Hans-Joachim Stuck: “Of course I like the Nurburgring. Not only for the racing, but the whole affair. It demands the most from a drive, and it is ideally suited for setting up a car and testing. Of course, you do have to concentrate 100%, especially over the jumps, but they really are a lot of fun. They are unique; should they be eliminated? You must be crazy! They are what makes the Nurburgring so special. Of course they have to stay.” It is interesting that the general theme among these drivers is that the Nurburgring requires hard work and concentration. Perhaps some of the anti-Nurburgring group want to earn their money more easily and with less effort.
A recent quote from Ken Tyrrell: “The thought of Grand Prix racing losing the Nurburgring is beyond comprehension, but it’s impossible to continue at a circuit where there’s little or no run-off area for a driver who makes an error. On what are for the most part high-speed corners, it’s just impossible to avoid a high-speed collision with the Armco. I hope that Germany can improve the situation at the Nurburgring but it’s going to be very hard because of the very nature of countryside there—it’s all hills and big holes. As far as I’m concerned, I really hope they can bring the Nurburgring up-to-date though—it would be a great shame to lose this fantastic circuit.”
I notice Mr. Tyrrell makes no reference to Formula One cars breaking or falling apart, but then Scheckter’s lucky escape in Austria last year, when a component in the front suspension of the Tyrrell P34 failed, was probably still fresh in his memory.
So what is going to happen about the Nurburgring? That is anybody’s guess the moment. The Formula One “circus” may be persuaded to return in 1978, or they may never return and it will disappear front the Grand Prix calendar, like the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium has. Whatever happens, racing at the Nurburgring will not cease for sports cars, saloon cars, and all manner of smaller single-seaters, it is just that the “cream” will not go there again. To thousands upon thousands of enthusiasts all over Europe, if not all over the world, the “cream” may have gone a bit sour. If you, the reader, feel strongly about this latest happening in the saga of reducing all circuits to a lowest common denominator, I would suggest you let Niki Lauda know by sending him a postcard. A few brief words to Niki Lauda, Pilots Formul Uno, SEFAC Ferrari, Viale Trento Trieste 31, Modena 41100, Italy, might not go amiss.—D.S.J