Old venues and new faces
The modern Nürburgring, the GP-Strecke, may be a tricky venue to race, but its challenge pales in comparison to that of the legendary Nordschleife – the 20km-plus, up-to-160-turn monster of a circuit that used to be the home of the German Grand Prix. That layout, used (in various iterations) until 1976, rightfully earned the moniker “the Green Hell” due to the sheer technical, physical and mental challenge it presented drivers with: even at the (more or less so) sedate speeds of a road car driven when the old track is open, it is easy to imagine the contrasting feelings of intimidation and exhilaration that a lap around here would have produced.
Not to be outdone, in more recent times, the “new” Nürburgring created indelible memories on its own: and while the new layout couldn’t match the old one in terms of the bravery it required, there were many breath-taking moments even on the shorter, 5.1km circuit. We had the Luxembourg Grand Prix, the European Grand Prix, the German Grand Prix (and we’ll be adding the Eifel Grand Prix this year). Kimi suffered heartbreak twice, retiring from the lead in both 2003 and, crucially, on the last lap in 2005. 2007 saw a massive storm break over the track as the cars completed the formation lap, rewarding the bold call of Markus Winkelhock, who pitted for wet tyres and went on to lead the race – by quite a margin – on his debut in an unfancied Spyker as his rivals aquaplaned off track in the rain. Things did get crazy, here.
To race modern Formula Ones at the Nürburgring, however, is not just a throwback to the past. Ours is a sport that never stands still, and each new round, even in this topsy-turvy 2020 season, is a new page in the 70-year-old book of racing we’ve been writing: a new qualifying battle, a new race marked by overtakes, pit stops, crashes and near misses, success and despair. A new record, like the one Kimi Räikkonen will set by taking the start of the race on Sunday – his 323rd, nobody before reaching this tally.
It is therefore fitting that, in this venue that mixes past and present and creates new history with every turn, new faces make their first foray into the world of Formula One race weekends at a time when old records are falling. When Mick Schumacher will head out of the garage in Free Practice 1, one of the drivers making his practice debut this weekend, in a venue in which this legendary name won five times, a new generation of racers will start putting ink to paper and writing their story.
This sport never stands still. Even the concrete and tarmac of the Nürburgring itself morphed through time into the track it is today. The legends of today are breaking the barriers of what is possible; the new generations make their first steps, as did their predecessors years ago. The story continues.