It’s the most famous and most fearsome race track in the world. It has claimed hundreds of lives over the years. Yet us petrolheads still swarm to the Ring, the greatest race circuit on earth. So why did Jackie Stewart call it the Green Hell? Why is the Nurburgring so dangerous?
In this article we explore the 6 main reasons.
Why is the Nurburgring so dangerous?
The Eifel mountains, home of the Nurburgring, are simply beautiful. Incredibly picturesque, incredibly scenic and incredibly green. The 13 mile long Nordschleife itself is equally as beautiful, winding its way through these mountains. But with its beauty comes danger. A lot of it. Jackie Stewart was spot on.
So why is the Nurburgring so dangerous? We have listed the 6 main reasons below. Everyone should take notice of these, especially newcomers and first-timers, as reading these could well be the difference between you putting yourself in a dangerous situation or not on your next visit.
1 - Anyone, and any car, can drive the Ring
Why is the Nurburgring so dangerous and why are there so many crashes? This is probably the number 1 reason – because anybody can drive it.
The Nurburgring is unique in that it hosts public driving sessions (known as Touristenfahrten – ‘tourist driving’).
During these, anyone with a road legal car and a driving licence can turn up when the circuit is open, pay 30 Euros for a lap ticket and head out on to the most treacherous 13 miles of tarmac on the planet. There is no requirement for driver training or instruction. There is no driver’s briefing, no safety presentation, and no requirement to have looked at the rules.
Whilst the Nurburgring is classed as a public road during these sessions, it is predominantly a race track. This means it has a unique set of rules that you really should familiarise yourself with before heading out.
This also means that people who have never driven on a circuit or in a spirited manner before can get on track. They may have no concept of car control or performance driving. And they can be on track at the same time as seasoned veterans who have done thousands of laps.
And this leads us on to our second reason…
2 - The speed differential
Those Nurburgring regulars who have done thousands of laps will know the circuit like the back of their hand. Some of them in higher performance cars will be driving various parts of the circuit at over 250kph.
The newcomer on their first lap is, hopefully, being sensible and taking it very easy. Their speed may be less than 100kph in the same sections.
The Nurburgring rules state that almost any vehicle can do a lap during tourist driving as long as it has a minimum speed in excess of 60kph. This means you see some very unlikely track machinery heading out for a lap.
Putting these much slower cars on a circuit with guys in their GT3 RS’ or Lambo Huracans is a recipe for danger. The slower drivers will have to be constantly looking in their mirror. If they don’t, they could move across the circuit in front of a car closing on them with a speed difference of 200kph. Trouble.
If you are one of the slower drivers – always check your mirrors. If you’re a fast fella, be mindful that around the next corner could be a much slower vehicle.
3 - Not knowing the circuit
It really does take hundreds, if not thousands of laps to properly learn the Nordschleife. Such is the challenge it poses over its 13 miles and 85 corners, most of which are completely blind. Read our guide on how to learn the Nurburgring before you head on to track to help begin to familiarise yourself with the circuit.
Also check out our full guide to Nurburgring corner names to try and help remember which turn’s coming next.
When you’re learning the Ring there are two points when your lack of circuit knowledge is most dangerous: When you don’t know it at all, and when you think you know it.
When you’re on your first couple of laps you will not know the circuit at all. Sim racing games are getting much better at recreating circuits, so putting some laps in on one of those before you visit is definitely worthwhile.
But it still won’t prepare you for the ferocity of the undulations and elevation changes. When you’re in the early phase of your quest to master the Ring, you should take it really easy. Drive it as if it were a country road you had never driven before.
Don’t be one of the first-timers who goes off track at Adenauer Forst.
The second most dangerous time is when you think you know it. Maybe you’ve done 10 laps, maybe you’ve done 25. You think you know your way around and are starting to push harder. The reality is, it takes a lot more than that to learn the track. Many corners look the same and you would not be the first to think you’re entering a fast corner when actually you’re about to approach one of the slowest. You don’t brake enough and before you know it, you’re in the barriers.
Don’t be too confident and don’t overdrive just to say you did a sub-9 minute lap when you still don’t really know your way around. Is the Nurburgring dangerous? It certainly is if you don’t know the circuit and you push too hard.
4 - The changing weather
Weather forecasts around the circuit are fairly useless. The mountainous Eifel region is its own microclimate which means the weather can, and does, change as frequently as it likes.
Add in to that the size of the circuit and it is fairly regular that there are different weather conditions on different parts of the track. Its common to have bright sunshine on one section and heavy rain, or even snow, on another.
Downpours can stop as fast as they start. Heading out on what appears to be a sunny lap and driving to the limit of grip might be fine in the dry, but if you come round a corner to find the next section of track wet after a sudden shower then you need to scrub off some speed fast.
Check out the video below showing a lap which started as bone dry. After a few KM the rain started to fall and there were 4 seperate crashes over the course of one lap, caused by the suddenly changing weather.
The Nurburgring in the rain is INCREDIBLY dangerous and incredibly slippery. Mastering the circuit in the dry might take 500 laps. Learning in the rain will take another 1000.
Why is the Nurburgring so dangerous in the rain? Bits of the track that were grippy in the dry will suddenly become like ice when the tarmac is wet. The racing line changes completely for every corner. The surface itself is completely inconsistent – different sections have been resurfaced as different times. Grip levels change depending on how fresh that bit of tarmac is.
In the dry, respect the Ring like you respect your mother. In the wet, respect it like you’d respect Don Corleone’s mother.
5 - No run-off areas
When the Ring was built there wasn’t much around. They had a lot of space in which to lay the tarmac and, you would think, even more space to create safe run off areas.
Unfortunately not. Back then, racing circuit safety wasn’t really a consideration. So whilst they cleared some land to lay the tarmac, they didn’t worry so much about gravel traps. And this still holds true today.
From above you can see the Nordschleife slithers its way through the forests of the Eifel. For most of the circuit the clearing in the trees is barely any wider than the track itself.
Of the 73 corners, only 5 have gravel traps. These are Aremberg, Steilstrecke-curve, Brunnchen II, Pflanzgarten I and Schwalbenschwanz. The rest are pretty much bare armco, usually not much more than 6 feet from the edge of the track.
So if you carry a bit much speed in to a corner there is 0 margin for error. Always leave a little in reserve in your driving rather than relying on some additional space off the track. Because there is none.
6 - Limited marshaling / flagging / warnings
Go find a Nurburgring local. Ask them why is the Nurburgring so dangerous. They will probably give you this as one of their top reasons.
As we mentioned before, a huge portion of the corners on the Ring are blind. Not only does this pose a problem for knowing how fast you can go, but it means there’s an additional danger.
If someone had suffered a mechanical breakdown or a crash and their car is stopped on the track, other drivers coming around the blind corner at full tilt have very little chance to stop or avoid them. Check out this video from Apex Nurburg – their GT2 RS MR taxi driver approached a blocked track, with no flags, at high speed, and did amazingly well to avoid everyone.
This wouldn’t be such a danger if the Ring was impeccably hot on their marshalling, flagging and signal lights. But unfortunately they still do not have enough marshals, nor enough lights or flags to warn oncoming drivers. They will say that putting a marshal on every one of the 73 corners during tourist driving sessions is not viable. But if it saved a life, as it could well have done recently, then it would have been worth every ounce of effort and every penny.
Nurburgring management have said they are trialling AI-based technology to enable them to recognise and respond to incidents on track faster.