It seems increasingly likely that in the second half of the season we will hear that Formula One has decided not to return to Monza. If that scenario comes to pass it will mean the end of F1 racing on true high-speed, low-downforce tracks.
Before Monza the last such course to vanish was the original Hockenheimring layout, which in 2002 was replaced with what we’ve come to recognise as a thorough conventional modern layout. A combination of commercial, environmental and safety factors lay behind the decision.
Today’s track is a hybrid of the narrow old sections of circuit, including the stadium-like Motodrom section, and the new, wide corners including a fast run to the Spitzkehre hairpin, a notable overtaking spot. The new configuration may lack the unique character of the old one, but it has usually proved one of the easier circuits for drivers to pass each other.
A lap of the Hockenheimring
The recent changes to the Hockenheimring also introduced another modern problem: confining the drivers to track limits. The quick right-hander at turn one with its generous asphalt run-off on the outside is one of several points on the track where drivers can gain an advantage by running wide.
However earlier this year a Formula Three driver was launched into the air after going off at this point on the track. New ‘double negative kerbs’ have now been laid and the artificial grass replaced with concrete at this corner. There is also a new wide kerb at the exit.
Nonetheless Romain Grosjean considers this corner “the most exciting one” on the track. “It’s a very high-speed, right-hand side corner. Normally you brake just a little bit, just one gear downshift, and then you’re on a straight line.” The track widens considerably on the approach to the next corner.
Somewhat appropriately the corner where the track diverts from the classic course and onto the unloved modern layout is called “Bernie Ecclestone-Kurve”. It is actually a right-left sequence officially numbered as three separate corners.
Negotiating this sequence involves “tricky braking and certainly very tricky throttle application”, says Grosjean. “You’re turning from right to left to go on the main straight. You really want to go on the power as early as you can to get a good straight line.”
The flat-out ‘Parabolika’ which follows gives Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen a reminder of what the track was like when they first raced on it. At 1.2-kilometres it doesn’t quite recreate the screaming speeds of the four long straights on the old track, mainly because today the cars carry much more downforce because of the higher number of slow corners.
Nonetheless the arced run through turn five offers a decent opportunity for overtaking into the slowest corner on the track. With DRS available here and on the preceding straight a chasing driver gets two chances to make a move stick.
Drivers must be wary of not using the run-off at the exit of turn six to stay ahead if forced wide by a rival: Sebastian Vettel made that mistake in 2012 and was stripped of his podium finish after the race. However a new domed kerb has been added at the exit to discourage this.
After a brief straight the drivers flick right at turn seven (named after Mercedes) then enter another sequence of bends where position-swapping can often take place. The track bends left and right through turns eight, nine, ten and eleven. “Again, there’s a challenging throttle application there as you’re turning right straight after, just about flat,” says Grosjean. The final exit kerb also has a new domed part to discourage drivers from running wide.
On the next straight the cars approach the old Motodrom section. Here the track narrows sharply and borders a barrier close to the racing line on the left-hand-side – a detail which surprised some drivers when the ‘safer’ new configuration was first revealed.
A gravel trap awaits on the exit of turn 12 to punish any driver who tries to carry too much speed through the quick corner. Like turn one, the exit of the corner now has double negative kerbs and concrete instead of artificial grass.
The slow and steeply banked Sachskurve follows which, despite its narrowness, “is quite open, with a few lines through it” according to Grosjean. “Then you go to the last couple of corners – they’re quite famous. You try to carry as much speed as you can to the first one, and go as flat as you can for the second one to get a good lap time.”
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