Nürburgring to Albert Park
from “Our Man in Deutschland”
Hallo folks! Welcome to another post from Our Man in Deutschland, Hophaus’ official Berlin-based correspondent, sending all the latest brouhaha and festive brew-related goings on from the hoppy heart of Deutschland.
It’s that time of year again, folks, every petrol head’s favourite—the return of the Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix! As the speed demons get set to roar four-to-the-floor around Albert Park Lake, screeching engines like turbo jets right through Melbourne city, there’s really only one place (aside perhaps from trackside) to soak up all the burning rubber action: Hophaus! But more on that in a bit…
First, a little GP history—as arbiters of all things Bavarian (and therefore all things Deutsch) it’s worth remembering that our Germans counterparts have been some of the most ardent and respected Grand Prix contenders since the earliest recorded.
It was in nearby France that fast-track car racing first kicked off—1894 was the date, a 126km rally between Paris and Rouen. Speedy racing on civilian roads proved a hazardous affair—the Automobile Club de France decided on a more private option, closing off a 105km circuit at Le Mans. 1906 saw the first international meet take place there, and the Grand Prix (‘great prize’) aka Grande Épreuve (‘great trial’), was born.
Though not yet formalised under a set of core regulations, these first races seeded a fresh calendar of regular events; circuits soon popped up throughout the continent—Italy, England, Belgium, Spain, and of course, Germany.
The German Grand Prix: Großer Preis von Deutschland
The first GP on German soil was held in 1926, superseding the annual ‘Kaiserpreis’ auto race, a 118 km circuit near Frankfurt. It took place near Berlin, at the Automobil Verkehrs und Übungs-Straße (AVUS), but moved the next year to the infamous ‘Nürburgring’—a wild course that sliced through the intrepid Eifel Mountains, riddled with dangerous hairpin bends and a 300-metre elevation. But then, this was an era when life came cheap—racers would push cars to their mechanical limits, and themselves too; OH&S was virtually unheard of, and racers crashing in spectacular fashion was considered par for the course in the risky and daring sport.
Each nation’s vehicles sported their own paint colours back then—blue for France, red for Italy, green for England, white for Germany. Ever the innovators, the German teams shirked the paintwork after the 1933 Monaco GP—their souped up, plain-chrome Mercedes-Benz W25s and Auto Unions become known as the unstoppable ‘silver arrows’, bullet rides capable of speeds as high as 300kph (not bad for the late 1930s!).
In the years leading up to WWII, the Germans planned to replace the Nürburgring with a brand spanking new home track in Dresden: the ‘Deutschlandring’. Alas, it was never used, history ensuring that the course, (and the Grand Prix altogether) was to be shelved for the following decade.
Post-war racing & the start of Formula 1
Formal rules for international racing had been laid out prior to the War, but weren’t formalised until afterward—1950 saw the first coordinated GP World Championship under fresh ‘Formula 1’ regulations.
At this point, Germany had been split into East and West. Soviet-led East was left out of the picture, but West Germany was permitted to take part in international competitions from 1951—the perilous Nürburgring was revived, the annual ‘Nordschleife’ becoming Germany’s showpiece GP race, a massively popular event attracting upwards of 400,000 spectators each year.
The old ‘wild’ days of racing began to shift around 1955 after the Le Mans disaster, and the international schedule was paused as circuits were upgraded with necessary safety measures.
Despite its inherent hazards, Nürburgring remained Germany’s premier track for the next 20 years—Australian Jack Brabham took the event there in 1966.
As the longest and most technically arduous of all the GPs, Nürburgring became increasingly loathed as the sport became evermore modernised. Veteran racer Jackie Stewart called it ‘the Green Hell’. Inaccessible to medics, the sheer length of it making it impossible for broadcasters to cover it entirely, the ring’s days were numbered come the late 1970s. By the 1980s, the GP shifted to just outside Heidelberg, where it stayed for the following 30 years.
Come the 1990s, German Formula 1 enjoyed a peak in popularity with the rise of homegrown speedster, Michael Schumacher—the first German to win the local GP since 1939, Schumacher went on to dominate the international tournament, with 91 Grand Prix victories and seven world championships to his name.
Today, local lads Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel continue Schumacher’s legacy, while Mercedes-Benz remains one of the most successful and dominant teams in the competition.
Since 2007, the German GP has alternated between Hockenheim and the Nürburgring. Unfortunately, in 2015 it’s on shaky ground, both tracks running into ownership difficulties and low attendance rates. Deutsch diehards hope that the cherished tradition of German GP will live on (here’s hoping!)
Nürburgring to Albert Park Lake: Melbourne GP 2015
In the meantime, GP season kicks off on home turf here in Melbourne on March 13, this year marking the 20th anniversary at Albert Park Lake—it’s astonishing to realise just how far the sport has come since the crazy days of the early 20th century, not to mention how much it has become a truly international race.
Trackside is a pretty safe deal these days (except maybe on the eardrums). But nothing beats a little extra comfort, so why not make this years’ Grand Prix a truly veritable feast…
Between March 13 qualifiers and the big race on the 16th, we invite you to take a few pit-stops with us here at Hophaus to fuel that belly mid-lap with delicious rounds of crisp German brew, and all the finest Bavarian fare in the land. We’ll be screening all the F1 action daily on the in-house big screen, with our Southbank HQ just a k or two away from the screeching, roaring action.
Strap on your racing colours and get on down to Hophaus!
Prost! See you then!