The Nordschleife, also known as “The Green Hell,” is one of the most notorious racetracks in the world. This 12.94 mile track takes more than 7 minutes to lap in some of the fastest supercars on the planet. But the fastest in the world – F1 cars – don’t race on the Nordschleife.
F1 could not race on the Nordschleife as it has become too dangerous for modern F1 cars. The track is also too long to have medical teams and marshals at the required distances for a race to be considered safe. Modern F1 cars can instead race around the shorter (and safer) Nürburgring GP circuit.
Formula 1 has become heavily focused on safety, and protecting the drivers is one of the most important elements of modern F1. This is the main reason F1 does not race at the Nordschleife anymore, but could it ever do it in the future if changes were made? We answer this question and more below.
Has F1 Ever Raced On The Nordschleife?
F1 has raced on the Nordschleife 22 times. These races took place from 1951 to 1976. The then 14-mile track is the second longest to ever feature on the calendar, with the 16-mile Pescara Circuit in Italy being the longest, although it only ever hosted one Grand Prix.
The Nordschleife quickly picked up the reputation of being one of the most dangerous circuits in the world, earning itself the nickname “The Green Hell” from three time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart. Many drivers feared racing at this circuit because of how dangerous it was.
Why Is The Nordschleife So Dangerous?
What made the Nordschleife particularly dangerous was not necessarily the length of the circuit but rather the type of circuit that it is. The track itself is narrow and fast, with barriers close to the actual tarmac leaving little room for error.
The fast and flowing nature of the circuit means that drivers were often going at breakneck speeds in cars that were not prepared well enough to take an impact at those speeds. The result was an extremely high fatality rate at the Nordschleife, with a total of five drivers being killed at the circuit.
In addition to the high speed nature of the circuit and minimal run off area, there are also several blind corners on the Nordschleife that can easily catch a driver out. At the speed Formula 1 drivers were going, it would be easy to misjudge a corner, or not see a slower/stationary car at the other end of the blind corner.
Length Of The Track
The length of the racetrack had two major impacts on Formula 1 drivers. The first is that it was practically impossible for a driver to learn the track off by heart, which is normally something that racing drivers specialize in. Memorizing 150+ corners is no easy task when you only have two days to prepare.
Of course, there were no simulators back in those days either, so it wasn’t possible for drivers to spend time getting to know the circuit as modern Formula 1 drivers do. This made the track even more difficult to learn.
With the racetrack being nearly 14 miles in length during those years, it was also impossible to have enough marshals and ambulances available, which means that most of the emergency services were already spread thinly. If a car did crash, it is unlikely that help would arrive in time for the driver to be saved.
Why Does F1 Not Race At The Nürburgring?
F1 stopped racing at the Nürburgring following Niki Lauda’s accident in 1976. F1 stopped racing at the Nordschleife for good as the racetrack was deemed too dangerous for Formula 1. However, the Nürburgring GP track can still be used for F1 races, but it is currently out of contract.
Ultimately the Nordschleife simply is not safe for Formula 1 cars. The sport has taken massive strides forward in terms of the safety of the cars since the 1970s, but Formula 1 is unlikely to ever return to the track.
The focus that Formula 1 puts on safety would also be contradictory if it returns to a racetrack that was the scene of 5 drivers being killed, and one of the most horrific accidents in the history of the sport.
The length of the track also made it difficult for Formula 1 cars to properly race at the track. It takes incredibly long to get back to the pits (up to 7 minutes) so if something did go wrong on the car, for example a puncture or a broken wing, a driver’s entire race would be ruined.
Current Situation At The Nürburgring
Other motorsport series do still race at the Nordschleife layout though. There are 24 hour races and sports car races that take place on a regular basis. However, the difference is that these cars are slower and therefore safer than open wheel Formula 1 cars.
While the Nordschleife is no longer an option for Formula 1, Germany is an important part of the sport’s history. In 2002, Formula 1 raced on the new Nürburgring layout, which is much shorter, safer, and built to modern racetrack standards.
An Even Longer Track
The Nürburgring GP track is 3.2 miles long and is built right next to the Nordschleife. The proximity of the modern Nürburgring allows it to connect seamlessly to the Nordschleife to combine the old with the new, making the total length of the complete Nürburgring Nordschleife plus GP circuit layout 20.7 miles long.
The upgraded Nürburgring circuit has been hosting Formula 1 races on and off for the past few years. Because it has been labelled as the German Grand Prix, it has to alternate hosting the race each year with the Hockenheim ring. However, neither circuit is currently contracted to host an F1 race.
In the early 2000s both the Hockenheimring and the Nürburgring were on the calendar. This is because the Nürburgring was named the European Grand Prix. However, due to licensing issues the Nürburgring lost out in hosting a Grand Prix since 2013. However, the last Grand Prix hosted at the Nürburgring was the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Effect Of Niki Lauda’s Nürburgring Crash
Niki Lauda was driving for Ferrari in the 1976 season, and on the 1st of August of that year, Formula 1 was at the Nordschleife. The Nordschleife had already earned its reputation as one of the most dangerous racetracks in Formula 1.
On the day of the race, the weather conditions created challenging circumstances for the drivers. Due to the length and sheer size of the circuit, some parts of it was wet and others were dry. Because the circuit spanned 14 miles, it was not uncommon for one area of the track to receive rain and another part to be completely dry.
As the safety spokesperson for the Formula 1 drivers, Niki Lauda called an emergency meeting in an attempt to cancel the race as he said it was too dangerous to drive. In the end his efforts were defeated by just one vote and the race went ahead.
The Crash That Changed Formula 1
On the second lap, Niki Lauda lost control of his Ferrari. His car spun into the barriers, burst into flames, and the impact sent his car back onto the racetrack into the path of oncoming cars.
Lauda’s Ferrari, now engulfed in flames, was hit by Brett Lunger’s Surtees-Ford car. Lauda ended up trapped inside the car, unable to escape the flames. With no marshals nearby and more Formula 1 cars on their way to the fast blind corner, Lauda’s life was in danger.
Eventually, after being trapped in the car for around a minute, Guy Edwards, Arturo Merzario and Harald Ertl pulled Niki Lauda out of the burning Ferrari. Emergency services arrived shortly after, and Lauda was rushed to hospital.
Lauda suffered several injuries, including scarring as a result of the burns to his head, and he lost most of his right ear, the hair on the right side of his head, his eyebrows, and his eyelids. He also suffered lung damage from the smoke inhalation.
Amazingly, Lauda was back in a Formula 1 car just 40 days after his life-threating accident at the Nürburgring. He recovered from his injuries and went on to win another two world championships, one the following year in 1977 with Ferrari and another in 1984 with McLaren.
The Result Of Lauda’s Crash
Niki Lauda’s crash was somewhat of a wakeup call for Formula 1. With Lauda as the spokesperson for driver safety in the sport, Formula 1 began making massive strides forward in terms of safety. Several new rules and car designs were introduced in order to make the sport safer for drivers, fans and everyone else involved in the races.
Nowadays, Formula 1 cars are safer than your average road car because of how protected the drivers are. However, this does not mean that Formula 1 will ever go back to the Nordschleife in the future.
How Fast Could An F1 Car Lap The Nordschleife?
An F1 car could lap the Nordschleife in under 6 minutes, and potentially even under 5 minutes. The fastest official F1 lap time at the Nordschleife is Niki Lauda’s 1975 pole lap, at 6 minutes 58.5 seconds, but modern F1 cars, with their increased downforce, could go much faster.
The Nürburgring is known as the ultimate testing ground for performance cars. All manufacturers that build cars with a focus on going fast have sent their cars around the Nürburgring to see how they match up to others. The circuit is able to test every part of a car’s capabilities, from handling to top speed, making it the perfect proving grounds.
Even though modern Formula 1 cars don’t race at the Nordschleife, they have been driven around the track to see how fast they would be able to go. However, Niki Lauda’s pole lap in 1975 is the fastest official Formula 1 lap of the Nordschleife at 6 minutes 58.5 seconds.
Road Cars At The Nürburgring
Among road cars, the lap record belongs to the Porsche 911 GT2 RS Manthey-Racing with a lap time of 6:38.835. Although it is a modified version, this 911 GT2 is still road legal, which means that it is the official lap record holder of the Nürburgring.
It tops the time sheets over the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bugatti. Porsche also used their Le Mans Prototype 919 Hybrid car to set an astonishing lap time of 5:19.55.
Formula 1 Car Lap Time Estimation
In 2007, BMW Sauber sent one of their Formula 1 cars around the Nordschleife, however it did not go at full pace. The engineers estimated that their car would do a lap time of 5:15 around the Nordschleife, however no one has driven a Formula 1 car flat out at the Green Hell since 1976, so nobody knows exactly how fast they could go.
Considering the fact that 2021 Formula 1 cars are much faster and produce a lot more downforce, it’s safe to say that they would lap the Nordschleife even faster than that estimation. They could potentially even do it in under 5 minutes!
The Nordschleife is considered to be too dangerous for modern Formula 1 cars, which have outgrown the narrow circuit and have become too fast for the undulating nature of the track. Instead, a new Nürburgring GP track was built in 2002 and has been used for F1 races on and off ever since.
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