As a racing fan, it's a big weekend with two great races scheduled for July 22. First I'll be watching the German Grand Prix for some Formula 1 action, then I'll get my fix of IndyCar with the Edmonton Indy race. The German Grand Prix, or as it's formally known, the Formula 1 Santander Grand Prix of Germany is on what I think is one of the world's greatest tracks, the Hockenheim course, HockenheimRing. As a spectator, one of my favorite features is the stadium-like effect of the start / finish and final curves, with two sets of J-shaped grandstands facing each other and almost surrounding the track, containing what's known as the Sachs curve. It's why the track is frequently used for big music concerts when not hosting racing. The track also has a lot of wide areas for overtaking, which I think makes the races more exciting.
To get some real insight into the track, I was lucky enough to speak with a Formula 3 driver who just raced on the Hockenheim course at the end of April. California's Michael Lewis is only 22 years old and I do think we will see him competing in F1 alongside guys like Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton really soon. Lewis is a Mercedes-Benz team driver in F3's Euro Series for the Prema Powerteam. In his two races at the Formula 3 Euro series event at Hockenheim on April 29th, he started in 14th place in both, finishing in 9th place in the first race and 10th place in the second.
I had a chance to get him on the phone and asked him to break down the Hockenheim track for me, from a driver's perspective, and he gave me some real insight into the track, which will make the race more interesting for me to watch. Now I know just a little bit about what those drivers are thinking as they race on the track. (His reference to turn names and numbers is based on the track map on the Formula 1 website.)
Tell me about driving the Hockeheim track
I've raced there twice and for me, it's a free-flowing track, with one big braking point, that's nicely let-into and then you kind of go out of it into a nice rhythm section. What I really like about this track is the flow is good. So it will built up your speed, then stop it. Build up your speed, then stop it. Instead of a bunch of random corners, the flow of the track is really nice.
Are there sections of the Hockenheim track where the race is won or lost?
The two fast corners, the Nordkurve and the Mobil 1 Kurve. It's crazy, you're not lifting off the throttle so much, but just by lifting one percent too much, you can lose so much time.
What are some some of the key sections, as a driver?
The track narrows massively before Turn 2, so you need to be prepared for other cars. The turn is pretty narrow on entry but then the moment you hit the apex of the corner, which is the moment the car has the most lateral g-force before you exit the corner, at the apex, it just gets huge. You enter this three-car wide track and then it goes to like six-cars wide. So you have all this area where drivers can interpret the corner in different ways. So maybe one driver goes into the corner tighter and faster and exits really wide. Where another another driver maybe stops his car more and stays tighter and goes less distance, so you can really play with some lines to find the best way.
The key to the Hairpin is how soon and where to brake. You enter the corner around 150 MPH and go down to first gear, from sixth or seventh gear. Really, really important to win as much time as you can on the brakes, that's where you make the time. From the apex to exit, everybody's the same.
You always have to look beyond the corners, to see how much margin you have to make a mistake. Hockenheim has a lot of margin, so you can really push the limit, like on the Hairpin turn and try braking later. Some other tracks, like Monaco, there are walls right after many turns, so if you push the limit even braking a few meters later, you crash into the wall. At Hockenheim, you can push it.
Turns 7 and 8 are great places to pass. On the exit of Turn 7, you can be side by side and just push the other guy out to the other open area, or if you're outside, you can push the other guy too. That's also a great vantage point for fans to watch the race.
Another key section where you can gain a lot of time, or really get behind, is coming out of Turn 8. When you exit Turn 8, going through to Turn 10, you need to be flat out. So if you're behind another car and have dirty air, you won't be able to be flat out (Dirty air is turbulence from other cars that interferes with F1 cars' aerodynamics, which affects their grip). You really need to be set up, you need to be far enough behind the car in front of you to have your own free air so you can be flat-out around the corner. Also, if you want to get someone off your tail, you can slow down on purpose, then they have to lift more.
Mobil 1 Kurve is cool because its part of a dragstrip they run there, and you actually point the car down the strip to make a wide turn. It's a fast curve, you have to turn flat out, at full speed. It sounds strange, but with F1 cars, the cars we run and IndyCar too, the aerodynamics of the car are so important and helpful to you in really fast corners, that the faster you go, the more grip you have. Also, at full throttle, the car is squatting towards the rear, the moment I lift off the gas and brake, the car goes forward and I lose rear grip.
The last three corners are kind of NASCAR-style in that they're banked, which is rare for Formula 1 tracks. And it's progressive banking like a NASCAR track, so you can choose a line: low, middle or high.
How do the German fans compare to other tracks in Europe where you race?
Germany is probably one of the most passionate countries for motorsports, especially for Formula 1, they go insane. Hockenheim is the epicenter of Formula 1 racing in Germany. I compare it to the Indy 500 race, the intensity is that high. Another key thing it Germany is better off economically than a lot of other European countries, so the people have more money for entertainment.
Knowing the track, are there any F1 drivers you think will do especially well at Hockenheim?
I think Romain Grosjean is really aggressive and really pushes hard from the moment he leaves the box. For me, he's really strong with intense corners, but all those guys are really good and you also need to have the right car to win.
A lifetime auto racing fan, Freddy Sherman collects vintage muscle cars and attends races and rally events in the U.S. and around the world. He loves and writes about IndyCar and Formula 1 racing and you can follow him on Twitter -@thefredsherman
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