A History of the German Grand Prix 21 Jul 2004
A look back at more than half a century of racing
The German Grand Prix is among the oldest events on the Formula One racing calendar, having joined the world championship in only its second year back in 1951. It has been staged at three different venues since then, although since 1977 its principal home has been the Hockenheim circuit near the historic city of Heidelberg.
Hockenheim hosted its first German Grand Prix in 1970, having been made famous two years earlier for unfortunate reasons. On April 7, 1968 legendary Scottish driver Jim Clark lost his life during a Formula Two race there and the cause of his accident has never been fully established.
The circuit's Formula One championship chance came when the German Grand Prix's usual home, the Nurburgring, was being modified. In a bid to improve safety at Hockenheim, a chicane was added to each of the track's two very fast main straights and the first of these was named in Clark's honour.
Hockenheim's first German Grand Prix proved to be a close-run affair, with Lotus driver Jochen Rindt taking a narrow victory from the Ferrari of Jacky Ickx. The following year the race was back at the Nurburgring, where it remained for the next six seasons. However, the 'Ring' fell out of favour following Niki Lauda's horrific accident in 1976.
Ironically, it was Lauda who then won the first race back at Hockenheim the very next season. That was followed by victories for Lotus's Mario Andretti in 1978 and Williams Alan Jones in 1978, before tragedy struck again in 1980 when Patrick Depailler was killed in a testing accident.
Jacques Laffite won that year's race for Ligier, with Nelson Piquet taking victory the following year for Brabham. 1982 saw further changes at Hockenheim, designed to make it safer. A third chicane was added at the demanding Ostkurve, scene of Depailler's earlier fatal crash.
But it wasn't enough to prevent another major accident. Ferrari driver and title favourite Didier Pironi crashed heavily in wet and treacherous conditions during practice. He broke both his legs and despite numerous operations never returned to Formula One racing. Team mate Patrick Tambay, who had been drafted in by Ferrari just three months earlier following Gilles Villeneuve's death, went on to win the race.
It was Ferrari again in 1983, this time with Rene Arnoux at the wheel, while McLaren took their first Hockenheim win in 1984, courtesy of another Frenchman, Alain Prost. The race returned briefly to the Nurburgring in 1985, with Michele Alboreto victorious for Ferrari.
Back at Hockenheim the following year, Nelson Piquet scored the first of two back-to-back German triumphs with the Williams team. Fellow Brazilian Ayrton Senna then took over, with three successive wins in 1988, 1989 and 1990, all with McLaren.
It was Nigel Mansell's turn to take consecutive Williams wins in 1991 and then 1992, when the Ostkurve was again modified to slow the cars further. Prost finally returned to the Hockenheim podium in 1993, having surrendered the German lead in both 1987 and 1989 due to technical problems.
Gerhard Berger put Ferrari back on top of the podium in 1994, after an eventful race in which close to half the field retired in the opening laps. The result brought an end to what had been the Italian team's longest-ever stretch without a victory. Berger was to win again at Hockenheim in 1997, this time for Benetton, on his first race back after missing three Grands Prix through ill health.
Michael Schumacher took his first German Grand Prix win in 1995 after close rival Damon Hill had crashed out of the lead. However, Hill had his revenge the following season, when he took the flag after Berger's Benetton's engine gave out just three laps from home. Mika Hakkinen led home a McLaren one-two in 1998, on the way to his first drivers' title, winning by less than half a second from team mate David Coulthard. The following year it was Hakkinen's title rival Eddie Irvine who took the honours for Ferrari, with Mika Salo, standing in for the injured Schumacher, a close second.
Rain and Rubens Barrichello were the stories of the 2000 event. The downpours were heavy enough to flood many of the teams' garages during practice, but they couldn't stop Barrichello storming through the field from 18th on the grid to clinch an emotional maiden Formula One victory.
In 2001 Ferrari were unable to stay in touch with the powerful Williams cars at Hockenheim and Ralf Schumacher took a popular victory in front of his home crowd, Only ten drivers finished the race, which had started in dramatic fashion when Luciano Burtis Prost was launched into the air after running into the back of Michael Schumacher's ailing Ferrari.
For the 2002 race, Hockenheim underwent the most extensive alterations in its history. A large stretch of the old forest section was removed, including the Ostkurve, and in its place a number of new corners, including a long, sweeping parabolica-type curve and a tight right-hand hairpin. The changes made for a shorter lap and lower top speeds.
The alterations were also designed to improve the spectator experience and plenty of them turned out to see Michael Schumacher triumph for only the second time in his home race. In fact, a Schumacher one-two had looked on the cards until Ralf had to make an unscheduled stop in the dying laps, handing second place to Williams team mate Montoya.
Montoya went one better last year, putting in the most dominant performance of the season. The Colombian finished the Hockenheim race over a minute ahead of McLarens David Coulthard, while Michael Schumacher could manage only seventh after a late puncture dropped him down the order. The race was also memorable for the first corner crash, in which Ralf Schumacher was deemed responsible for squeezing Barrichello into Raikkonen, putting all three men out of the running.