|The Nostalgia Column|
|Looking back at the history of Nurburgring||by Marcel Schot, The Netherlands;
images provided by Rainer Nyberg
With three races to go, the Formula One circus arrives at the Nurburgring this weekend. Although the track has been changed, shortened and has lost most of its characteristics, the name Nurburgring brings back memories of heroic acts and terrible accidents. A legend of its own, the track has been butchered after Niki Lauda's 1976 accident, to become a faceless track, which hosted the German, European and Luxembourg Grands Prix over the past fifteen years.
The building of the original Nurburgring was started in 1925 as means of decreasing unemployment in Germany. In 1927 the track was opened, consisting of the 22.8 kilometre Nordschleife and the 7.7 kilometre Sudschleife. The first race was won by Otto Merz in a Mercedes sportscar. In the following years, the race at the Nurburgring was won by legends such as Rudolf Caracciola and Louis Chiron.
Once the German Grand Prix became part of the Formula One World Championship in 1951, it soon appeared that it was the race where only the very best could win. Alberto Ascari (twice), Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manual Fangio (three times) shared the first six race-wins between them.
Especially Fangio's third victory stands out as one of the best Formula One races of all times. After a poor start, Fangio's Maserati dropped behind the Ferraris of Mike Hawthorne and Peter Collins. Soon Fangio grabbed back the lead, but with a pitstop for fuel and fresh tyres in mind, he had to push hard to increase the gap to the Ferraris, who were on full tanks with no plans for pitstops. When Fangio pulled in for his stop, he was 28 seconds in front of the competition. Much to Fangio's grief, the stop was executed as bad as humanly possible, leaving the Argentinean over a minute behind his rivals.
Once Fangio got underway again, the crowd couldn't believe their eyes. The Maserati driver was running nine seconds a lap faster than the Ferraris, even breaking the pole-time after eighteen laps. The gap was closing fast and the Ferraris of Hawthorne and Collins were pushing hard to keep their lead, but to no avail. Fangio was driving the race of his life and ran faster and faster, eventually setting the lap record of 9 minutes and 17 seconds, 24 seconds off the standing record.
On lap 21 of 22, Fangio won his battle and passed Hawthorne for the lead in the Sudcurve, after which the Argentinean took it easy, finishing three seconds ahead of Mike Hawthorne. Fangio later explained that he had never driven like that and never again would. He proved himself right, for it was his final victory.
Of course the other milestone in the history of the Nurburgring is Niki Lauda's accident in the 1976 race. On lap two of the race Lauda lost control of his Ferrari and crashed across the track into the barriers. The car immediately caught fire and after that was hit by one of the following cars. Lauda was pulled from the wreck by Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards, Harald Ertl and Brett Lunger, who had all stopped their cars to rescue the unfortunate Austrian.
The situation didn't look good for Lauda. He had lost his helmet during the crash, exposing his head to the flames. He was taken to a nearby hospital with severe burns to his head, face and hands, and damaged lungs because of inhaling poisonous gases. Many feared for his life, but after an amazing recovery, Lauda stepped into his Ferrari again just a few weeks after his accident and finished fourth at Monza. Eventually, Lauda's accident did not only cost the Austrian the World Championship, but it also cost the Nurburgring its Grand Prix hosting.
Eight years later, the Ring was back on the Formula One calendar as the European Grand Prix, but sadly it had lost almost all of its glory. Of the racers who competed in the final race on the old track, only two were present on the new track: Niki Lauda and Jacques Lafitte, with the former being the centre of attention, returning to the place of his worst nightmare. Lauda was closing in on his third world title with only McLaren teammate Alain Prost left to battle him. The first qualifying session put the Austrian back in fifteenth position after having technical problems. On Saturday the rain made further improvements impossible.
When the race started, the one thing the organisers prayed for not to happen, did happen: at the first corner, a massive pile-up took place, leaving Ayrton Senna, Gerhard Berger, Keke Rosberg, Marc Surer and Piercarlo Ghinzani beside the track. The race continued without them as a boring procession in which Prost took the victory and Lauda finished fourth, not enough to secure the title.
Since the introduction of the new Nurburgring, the exciting moments were few and far between. In the last four years, the Nurburgring has been a part of the Formula One World Championship with Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve (twice) and Mika Hakkinen taking victories for Ferrari, Williams and McLaren respectively.
Of these four races, last year's one race stands out. With the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine taking up the front row, things didn't look good for Mika Hakkinen and McLaren. Going into the race, Hakkinen and Schumacher were tied at 80 points in the World Championship standings and with one race to go after the Luxembourg Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, every advantage was more than welcome.
The start of the race presented the expected scenario: Schumacher took the lead and Irvine played roadblock to the McLarens. However, Schumacher wasn't able to strike the gap he wanted, only leading by four seconds after ten laps. After that, the German got into the rhythm, gaining a second per lap until Mika Hakkinen passed Irvine. Until the first pitstops, the situation remained unchanged, Hakkinen getting back to five seconds behind Schumacher.
When the smoke of the pitstop had settled down, Hakkinen's McLaren was in the lead to the surprise of many people. After that, Hakkinen was in control, although still driving full force to keep ahead. With a two second lead, Hakkinen crossed the finish-line, taking a four point lead before the final race of the season.
|1998 Race Results|
|1.||Mika Hakkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||1h 32:14.789s|
|2.||Michael Schumacher||Ferrari||+ 2.211s|
|3.||David Coulthard||McLaren-Mercedes||+ 34.163s|
|4.||Eddie Irvine||Ferrari||+ 58.182s|
|5.||H.H. Frentzen||Williams-Mechacrome||+ 1:00.247s|
|6.||Giancarlo Fisichella||Benetton-Playlife||+ 1:01.359s|
|Pole Position:||Michael Schumacher||Ferrari||1:18.561s|
|Fastest Lap (25):||Mika Hakkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||1:20.450s|
|Marcel Schot||© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.|
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Images are kindly provided by Rainer Nyberg