Atlas F1

A Lap of Hockenheim

Hockenheim, Heidelberg, Germany

Along with Monza, the Hockenheimring is one of the two fastest circuits currently visited by the Formula One teams. Main features are a pair of dauntingly fast straights, now interrupted by chicanes, which hurtle off into dark coniferous forests, plus the so-called "stadium" section, best described as a large, natural amphitheatre.

Chassis set-up is actually more complicated than at first appears to be the case. The long straights, where cars can reach speeds of up to 350 kmph, dictate a low-downforce chassis set-up, but the second-gear chicanes require good braking and chassis stability, as does the fast, fourth-gear corner that leads into the stadium section.

As a result, the optimum chassis set-up for the latest generation, narrow-track Formula One cars at a circuit like the Hockenheimring is to run them with some downforce. This is at the cost of a slight increase in drag, but on balance, a driver can actually win more time under braking and through the tight corners than he loses through marginally lower maximum speeds on the straights.

As the cars pass the start/finish line, they do 290 kmph in sixth before braking to 175 kmph for the Nordkurve right-hander. The drivers then have a few moments to relax, or pass an opponent, before braking heavily for the Jim Clark Kurve.

Approaching at 330 kmph, the cars have to change down four gears and lose 235 kmph before negotiating this tight chicane. Since the teams remove all unnecessary car downforce for the straights, these twisty sections become doubly treacherous and the slightest slide can quickly turn into a bone crunching collision with the armco.

The cars pass along another sixth gear straight, brake for another slow chicane, and continue another straight before entering the fast Ayrton Senna kurve. This is one of the quickest chicanes in Formula One, despite its alterations in recent years, and offers the better drivers a real chance to gain on an opponent before the stadium section.

As the cars come out of the forest and enter the final series of turns, they are greeted by the packed grandstands and their fanatical occupants. This set of corners - a fast right hander, a left hand hairpin and a couple of slow right handers - require all of the driver's skill to hold an ill handling car before he engages another lap of this fast and challenging circuit.

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