The history of the Nürburgring

The Nürburgring is known as one of the most unforgiving and challenging race tracks in the world. Its full of blind corners, jumps and little to none run off area. Because of this, car companies and the media have become obsessed with the track. It also has a fascinating hidden rich history that might just surprise you… If you have a related fact that you would like to have mentioned, make sure to leave a comment below or visit my contact page.

The first stone was laid on September 27, 1925, and for the next two years around 2,500 workmen laboured to construct the circuit. The basic layout was set by Hans Weidenbrück, using the rolling hillsides and plateaus around the Schloß Nürburg to create a massive circuit that was a true test of both man and machine. Designed to be completely separate from the public road network, it nevertheless incorporated a certain amount of normal road character, increasing its relevance for automobile testing. In part, existing roads and trails were followed, particularly in the area from Hatzenbach to Adenauer Forst and much of the Südschleife, while other sections were totally new, particulalry from Breidscheid to Hedwigshöhe.

There were two main circuits, a northern loop (Nordschleife in the local language) of 14.18 miles and a shorter southern circuit, the Südschleife at 4.81 miles long. Where the two intersected at the shared start/finish straight, a short link circuit could also be used, popularly known as the Betonschleife (‘Concrete Loop’) though officially titled Start-und-Ziel-Schleife. Both north and south loops could be combined to form 17.58 mile leviathon, though this was rarely used for racing beyond the 1931 season. In addition, a steep test track, the Steilstrecke, was also constructed to make use of the steep climb between Klostertal and Hohe Acht.

The new circuit was constructed in four sections, each by a different contractor, with the Nordschleife completed first in 1926, the Südschleife and Steilstrecke courses being completed the following year.

The Nordschleife

The Nordschleife opened for racing action in June 1927, with the first race actually for motorbikes on June 18 and won by Tony Ulmen on a Velocette. The following day Rudolph Caracciola entered the record books as the first four wheeled winner, triumphing in a supercharged Mercedes S class. The Grand Prix arrived on July 17, won with another Mercedes S by Otto Merz. Thereafter the ‘Ring established itself as one of the toughest Grands Prix on the racing calendar in the world.

One of the Nordschleife’s defining characteristics found itself literally set in stone (well, concrete) during the 1933 season. At the Karrousel, Rudolf Carraciola had been in the practice of hooking his inside wheel into the ditch to guide the car round – gaining himself as much as two seconds per lap in the process. After several years where other competitors began to copy this innovation, the ditch was finally concreted over and the banked corner was born. Over time, the banked section was extended further, allowing the whole car to be positioned on the concrete section allowing for a slingshot around the hairpin.

World War II provided an inevitable interruption to activities. The Sporthotel grandstand was set up to accommodate evacuees from bombed cities and later served as a military hospital. Other parts fo the circuit were turned into arable and pasture land – cattle even being kept in the lower rooms of the Mercedes tower. In the last months of the war the track was badly damaged by the tanks of the advancing Allies and the grandstand hotel and administrative buildings were destroyed.

When peace returned, the process of rebuilding and reopening the circuit began. The Südschleife reopened first, hosting a motorcycle Eifel Cup race in August 1947. To attract the crowds, race organisers took the novel approach of offering every ticket holder a meal of two sausages, potato salad, bread and half a litre of wine. Unsurprisingly, it worked and people flocked to the meeting.

A year later and the repair works began on the Nordschleife, with racing resuming in May 1949. Soon racing categories of all kinds returned, from sportscars to single seaters. Formula Two came first in 1950, followed by Formula One in 1951. The Nürburgring was back as an international venue.

A Lotus Evora at the track

The Dunlop scoring tower was erected in 1954, the first electronic scoring board of its type in the world. Various resurfacings took place in the following years; the start/finish in 1957, Schwedenkreutz to Pflantzgarten in 1965. Still the circuit retained its narrow hedge and tree-lined corners and safety concerns grew. Over the years, several drivers lost their lives; Čeněk Junek is generally regarded as the first in 1928, but Onofre Marimón, Peter Collins, Count Carel Godin de Beaufort and Gerhard Mitter also all perished while racing on the Nordschliefe.

By the end of the 1960s, the first significant changes began to be made in response to these mounting safety concerns. After several near-misses with the Dunlop scoring tower as cars drifted through the high-speed curve that lead from the Nordschleife onto the start-finish, the Hohenrain chicane was installed just prior to this section in 1967. This had the twin benefits of reducing the speeds and altering the racing line to a safer position. In 1969, a new pit area was installed, separated from the track by a guardrail for the first time.

Still the concerns remained and, a boycott of the circuit by the Formula One drivers in 1970 resulted in the German GP switching to Hockenheim. To regain the race, the Nürburgring needed to make significant changes.

The final race on the old Nordschleife was a round of the Veedol Endurance Cup in October 1982, followed by a final club event on the Betonschliefe. Then, in November, the bulldozers moved in, tearing down the pits and Nordkehre, in order to create a new connecting section from Hohenrain to allow the Nordschliefe to function independently during the 1983 season. A new grandstand overlooked this section and housed rudimentary pit and paddock facilities. Greater run-off areas were also created at corners like Aremberg and Brünnchen and further easing of the bumps and jumps at several corners were made and bushes and hedges lining parts of the circuit were replaced with Armco and grass.

As the year unfolded the new Grand Prix circuit gradually began to emerge as racing continued on the slightly truncated original course. During the 1983 1000km, Stefan Bellof set a competition record on the Nordschleife unmatched to this day, lapping his Porsche 956 in an incredible 6:11.13.

After less than two years construction, the new Grand Prix circuit was inaugurated on 12 May 1984, a then relatively-unknown Ayrton Senna beating a host of Formula One drivers in a special race of lightly-modified Mercedes saloon cars. Those attending the opening found the new circuit unpalatably sterile in relation to its older neighbour, but such comparisons were always likely to be unfavourable. It was safe, provided good viewing facilities for spectators and produced decently good racing; in essence it fulfilled its brief to the full and provided a template for all circuits that followed.

A Touring car Mercedes on one of the famed banked corners

Two visits from Formula One in 1984 and ’85 proved a slightly false dawn, with the German GP returning to Hockenheim in 1986. Nevertheless, the circuit firmly re-established its international credentials, hosting a full calender of two and four-wheeled events. The long distance GT and touring car races continued on the Nordschleife, as did the 24 Hours, incorporating the new Grand Prix loop at its southern end. When not entertaining racing or testing, the Nordschleife continued in use as a tourist road – just as it had from its earliest days – but perhaps because of the relative blandness of the new course, it gained even more popularity among the public.

1995 brought the return of Formula One, as the popularity of Michael Schumacher convinced authorities of the merits of a second race in Germany. A new, tighter, Veedol chicane was installed ahead of the race, though the original also remained in use for motorcycle racing and during the VLN and 24 Hour races.

Though Formula 1 hasn’t raced there since, its supposed to come back for the 2020 season. I hope that you enjoyed this article and learnt a lot. Please don’t be offended if I got the German wrong it was very hard to write. Please continue to scroll through my website if u liked it.


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