The German Grand Prix is upon us, so it’s time for a look at three classic races from dear old Hockenheim, once a blast in to the woods with a few chicanes, now a fairly standard 21st century circuit. Still, there’s been some excitement here down the years. Here are just three that we’ve picked out for a closer look.

2000

“I had been told that when you are leading a race the last lap is the longest- it really felt like it.

Rubens Barrichello

© LAT/Autosport

The German GP of 2000 was memorable for two reasons. Firstly, it ended with the first F1 win for one of the paddock’s most popular characters. Secondly, it saw a disgruntled (and probably deranged) ex-Mercedes employee wander on to the track to vent his anger at his former employers.

In a rain hit qualifying session David Coulthard put his McLaren on pole ahead of the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher, with Giancarlo Fisichella (Benetton) and Mika Hakkinen behind them on the second row. Rubens Barrichello meanwhile could only manage 18th, having made a mistake on his final run.

A stunning getaway from 4th starter Hakkinen saw the Finn lead in to turn one, where Schumacher and Fisichella’s races would end. Coulthard veered in front of Fisi, who was left with nowhere to go but in to Schumacher’s car. Both were done for the day.

So the McLarens were one-two and looking comfortable, whilst Rubens was charging through from the back. By lap 13 the Brazilian had climbed to 3rd, but found himself over 12 seconds behind the leading pair. He’d been running light on fuel to make up positions, and soon stopped.

Then, on lap 25, the aforementioned madman appeared on the side of the track heading to the first chicane. It later transpired that he was protesting his dismissal by Mercedes, and he did give them a real headache by forcing the Merc-powered team to compromise one of their drivers by leaving them out for an extra lap behind the ensuing safety car. Not for the first time, Coulthard got the thin end of the wedge.

The race restarted with Hakkinen leading from Trulli’s Jordan and Barichello. Another safety car appeared after Pedro Diniz ran in to Jean Alesi’s Prost, resulting in a spectacular shunt that the Frenchman was lucky to walk away from. Soon after that pulled in heavy rain began to fall in the stadium section of the circuit.

This prompted many, including Hakkinen and Trulli, to pit for wet tyres- wrong choice. Barichello meanwhile stuck it out on his dries- right choice. With much of the track dry Rubens only had to play it safe in the wet stadium section, and did so skillfully. He began to edge away from Hakkienn, and despite the rain intensifying the Finn couldn’t peg the gap- Rubens had won his first grand prix.

And it was emotional. He half climbed out of his car on the in lap, visor up, tears streaming from his eyes. And this is part of why we love old Rubinho- he wears his heart on his sleeve. Be it weeping at his first victory or Blah-Blah-gate last season he doesn’t hide his emotions.

So with a combination of luck and brilliant car control Barrichello had won his first grand prix. It had been a real classic, and one that, for a number of reasons, is definitely one to remember.

1997

“I really felt I had some very special powers here this weekend”

Gerhard Berger

© Rainer Nyberg/FORIX

What can we say about Gerhard Berger? During his F1 career he developed a reputation for practical jokes (he once threw Ayrton Senna’s briefcase out of a helicopter), shrewd contract negotiation and being willing number two to Senna at McLaren. But he was also two other things. Firstly, he was a man who suffered from sinus problems; and secondly, on his day, he was a also a world class racing driver.

We mention the sinus woes because they’d kept him out of three grand prix in 1997, his swansong season.  Upon his return to the Benetton Gerhard was grieving the recent loss of his father. With personal issues still in his head (but thankfully no sinuses) he would surely be out of sorts at Hockenheim.

Not a bit of it. He was refreshed from his break and determined to make his late father proud, and stunned the paddock but putting his car on pole, ahead of impressive rookie Giancarlo Fisichella in the gloriously liveried Jordan-Peugeot. At the start these two held position, with Michael Schumacher third and Mika Hakkinen fourth.

By lap 14 Berger held a 10 second lead over Fischella, before making his first stop. He rejoined 4th, behind Hakkinen, but wasted no time in passing the McLaren driver. He then cruised up on the back of Fischella and Schumacher, who pitted before he could make a move.

With Fisichella one stopping Berger needed to increase his lead. By lap 23 it was 18 seconds, but he’d need to extend that by another 7 to get in and out ahead of the Italian. So Gerhard got his head down and reeled of some blistering laps, but following his stop on lap 33 he found himself just behind the Jordan. Could he make the pass?

Could he ever! With surprising ease Berger making the move exiting the Ostcurve and immediately set about building a lead, and the race seemed his.

So the day looked set to finish with the old fighter edging out the young pretender- but there was heartbreak in store for Fisi. He suffered a puncture just a few laps from home, and despite getting back to the pits for a fresh set, would soon pull out for good with an oil pipe failure.

But that was a mere sideline to the main event- Gerhard Berger’s winning return to Formula One. People had said he was no longer motivated by the racing, that he was just cashing a final cheque before bowing out of the sport. How wrong Gerhard proved them to be that day at Hockenheim.

1982

“I was very sensible to keep my helmet of after the crash!”

Eliseo Salazar

© FORIX

What was so memorable about the 1982 German Grand Prix? Why, a spot of kickboxing of course! And who else would we expect to have indulged in such activities but a rather angry Nelson Piquet, who directed his fists (and feet) of fury towards former buddy Eliseo Salazar. The Chilean driver was lucky he was wearing his crash helmet at the time- old Nelson was pretty ticked off.

Driving the tailend ATS car Salazar was about to be lapped by Piquet. Entering the chicane Nelson made his move, but moved a tad to early. Salazar clipped his rear, and both spun out of the race. A furious Piquet jumped from his car, briefly remonstrated with Eliseo before launching several kicks and punches at the Chilean.

The event has gone down in racing folklore. Compilations of F1 action from the eighties always find space for this one, and it’s at its best with the original Murray Walker commentary: “take that, and that- oh my word!” Murray chimes, briefly imagining he were Piquet dolling out retribution for Eliseo’s foolishness. Still, the Chilean isn’t too bitter that this embarrassing moment is the best remembered of his F1 career. “I actually had a lot of respect for Nelson. He was instrumental in helping me in my early career,” Salazar recounted many years later. “He took me to my very first McDonalds”. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

But the race wasn’t all crazy South American kickboxing bouts. It was also tinged with tragedy, what with Ferrari star Gilles Villeneuve having lost his life at the Belgian Grand Prix just 12 weeks earlier. His teammate (and since the San Marino race arch-enemy) Didier Pironi would suffer a crash in practice that ended his Formula One career, which in turn set him on powerboat racing. The Frenchman would eventually lose his life in this pursuit.

Oh, and by the way, the race was won by Patrick Tambay, replacing Villeneuve in the number 27 Ferrari. It was a glimmer of light for the Italian squad in what was one of the darker times in their history. Still, 1982 is best remembered for Piquet vs Salazar,