Continental Notes, September 1970

There are occasions when the political manoeuvrings that go on behind the scenes of International motor racing have me completely baffled. One such occasion was August 2nd, when the German Grand Prix was held at the Hockenheimring instead of at the Nürburgring because the GPDA complained to the FIA that the owners of the Nürburgring had not carried out suggested safety measures, as put forward over a year ago. The FIA talked to the Automobile Club von Deutschland, who organise the Gran Prix, and as the proposed safety measures could not be carried out by August 2nd it was agreed that the German Grand Prix would be held at the Hockenheimring, on the face of it because the Nürburgring was unsafe. Yet, even while the Grand Prix was taking place at Hockenheim, a Formula Two race, and supporting events, were taking place on the Nürburgring. I don’t think I was the only one baffled by these happenings. Among the reasons why the GPDA put the clamps in the Nürburgring were inadequate fire-fighting equipment and the risk of a car going into the crowd due to inadequate public protection, yet without any improvements the AvD decided the circuit was quite safe for Formula Two cars. One week later two cars collided and went into the crowd, killing five people and injuring many more, but this was not at the Nürburgring, nor was it at Hockenheim; it was at Karlskoga in Sweden. Earlier this year a driver was killed in a Swedish race and politicians were beginning to suggest that racing in Sweden should be banned. Now that an accident has involved the spectators I can imagine that Swedish motor racing is going to have a hard time from the anti-motor racing element.

I do not know when the Hockenheimring was first used, but I came across it for the first time in 1950 when I went there to compete at a motorcycle meeting. I was racing as a sidecar passenger with a Belgian rider and our outfit had the sidecar on the right—hand side, so we were very pleased when we found that the Hockenheimring was a flat egg-shaped oval run anti-clockwise. It meant that on the sharp curve on the edge of the village I had to climb over the back-wheel and on the fast curve at the other end of the circuit we could scratch round with my lying in the sidecar, but close up to the ending, ready to slide quickly towards the rear if the back wheel looked like becoming airborne. Outfits with left-hand sidecars had to have the passenger leaning right out into the wind on both corners, which lost a lot of speed on air drag’ We were racing a 500-c.c. outfit mixed in with a bunch of 750-c.c. outfits and we deliberately fitted a high top hear so that we could use the slipstream of the bitter bikes to suck us along faster than our normal maximum. Being in the middle of five or six 750-c.c. BMW outfits on a 500-c.c. outfit and keeping pace with them was very exciting. The circuit itself was nothing much, being a flat-out blind, except for the village corner, and not as fast as the absolutely flat-out Grenzlandring on which we also raced, up near the Belgian/Dutch borders, but it was a pleasant weekend at Hockenheim, most people camping in the woods around the paddock.

In 1955 I was at the Hockenheimring again, still circulating anti-clockwise, this time passengering in a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR sports/racing car with Stirling Moss. The object of the visit was to do some final full-speed running in the car before the Mille Miglia, do some aerodynamic studies on windscreen size and cockpit sides, and to test out an inter-com system with throat microphones and ear-pieces fitted in our crash hats. Along both sides of the egg-shaped circuit the 300SLR was holding 175 m.p.h., we came to a satisfactory windscreen shape and discarded the inter-com in favour of hand-signals as Moss found that when he concentrated 100% on taking the fast top curve or the slow bottom corner, he had no concentration left for hearing and there was the possibility of mistaking anything I said. While we were doing this Uhlenhout was doing some practical destruction tests on the drive-shafts and transmission on a W196 Gran Prix car. He was going round the oval alternately putting on full power in 1st or second gear and then braking to the maximum. The violent loads and sudden reverse loads being applied to the transmission were painful to watch, but nothing broke though some interesting data on twisting in shafts were recorded.

In the 1960s a new Autobahn was built in the area, which cut right across the Hockenheimring at about the midway point and the owners received untold money in compensation. With this money they build the present concrete stadium that holds 120,000 spectators, and inside the stadium they laid out a real “mickey mouse” track, with tight corners one after the other so that overtaking was nigh impossible. The fast top curve was retained with outward and inward fast legs from the stadium, the direction now being clockwise. The name was changed from the Hockenheimring to the Hockenheim Motordrom, but for me it will always remain the Hockenheimring. It was never one of my favourite circuits and after watching a race on toe Motordrom I thought: “If that is called motor racing then I’m going to look for something else to do”, which is what I did on August 2nd, 1970. When the Motordrom was opened in 1966 there were muttering in the AvD that the German Grand Prix should be held there, but the idea was dropped because of the outcry that arose on all sides. In 1970 the German Gran Prix was held at Hockenheim, without too much outcry, and the cause was attributed to the GPDA and their “safety songs”, but I wonder if this was right or were the GPDA being used as scapegoats again, like in the Bruxelles people used them last year over the intrigues behind the Belgian Grand Prix and the matter of their new circuit being built just south of Bruxelles. The Hockenheim Motordrom had a side effect when it was opened in 1966, for it caused the death of the magnificent Solitude circuit near Stuttgart. The ADAC applied for their usual permit to close the public roads which made up the Solitude circuit, only to have permission refused, for a race that had been held since the early 1920s, and the Stuttgart authorities told the ADAC to “go and play with your silly racing cars on the fine new Motordrom at Hockenheim”. To anyone who knew the Solitude circuit this was like saying “you can’t have champagne, have a glass of water, it is liquid, it will fill the glass”. The ADAC were powerless and whereas I went to the Solitude races with great pleasure, I now give them a miss for there are more interesting things to do than attend the once classic Solitudrennen now that it is held on the Hockenheim Motordrom.

Even at this moment the GPDA is applying pressure on the Italians and suggesting that the Italian Grand Prix on the Monza Circuit be postposed if it is raining. If the trends of the 1970 season continue I can see the Italian Gran Prix being held on the little circuit at Vallelunga, just north of Rome, in which case there will be another weekend for me to go away and do something more interesting than watching “mickey-mouse” racing. The French Grand Prix will also soon be dead as well, for it is suggested that it might be held on the new Paul Ricard circuit near Marseilles in 1971. Reims, Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand (we’ll forget about the Le Mans Bugatti circuit in 1967) have all seen the French Grand Prix well fought the artificial Ricard circuit will make a mockery of the race by comparison. It all makes you wonder why people bother to go motor racing today, or is it really just for the money, and I can see that the suggestion in the correspondence columns of one of the weeklies was not so daft. A reader suggested that the best solution to all this business of “improvement to suite 1970 conditions” would be to run the Grand Prix Drivers’ World Championship over ten rounds held on the Spanish Jarama circuit leaving the long-distance sports-car drivers with their 5-ltire Porsches and Ferraris to use Monza, Francorchamps, Nürburgring, and Brands Hatch.–D. S. J.

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