The most heart-stopping moments from 90 years at the Nürburgring

In its chequered 90-year history, Nüburgring’s infamous 13-mile Nordschleife loop has witnessed more than its fair share of heart-stopping moments — just as many for all the wrong reasons as for the right ones. Here are some that’ve remained ever present in our hearts and minds over the years...

Comeback king

To see arguably the world’s greatest drivers win the race that would clinch his title of five-time World Champion would be one to remember, and to see it happen at the ’Ring, in one of the most harrowing and epic comeback moments in motorsport, would be beyond amazing. After taking pole in practice, Juan Mauel Fangio, in his Maserati 250F, started off the 1957 German Grand Prix in a very calculated state of mind, allowing the Ferraris of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins to fight for 1st — giving him the opportunity to study their driving techniques from 3rd. Eventually, he passed the Ferraris, increasing his lead by seven seconds a lap until lap 12, when he pitted and his crew performed one of the most poorly executed pit stops of all time. After re-joining the race 48 seconds behind the Ferraris, with only 10 laps left to go, Fangio went on to smash lap record after lap record, ultimately passing the Ferraris in the penultimate lap and crossing the finish line in 1st. It’s a comeback story that will live on as legend. 

The phoenix

While Fangio may have had one of the greatest comeback moments at the ’Ring, Niki Lauda may have one of the most terrifying ones. Prior to the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda had concerns over the safety of the course and even organised a vote amongst drivers to boycott the race. Unfortunately, his warnings fell on deaf ears, and the race went on. In almost a premonitory turn of events, on the second lap, Lauda’s Ferrari 312T2 hit the embankment at Bergwerk corner, burst into flames, and was then struck by the cars of Brett Lunger and Harald Ertl. Trapped inside the car for over a minute, Lauda’s rivals became his heroes and extracted him from the car just in time. After numerous deaths, including the great Peter Collins in 1958, Lauda’s accident was the final straw, and from that moment on, the Nordschleife would be removed from the Formula 1 schedule, indefinitely. 

Speed racer

While there have been both joyous and heart-breaking moments on the Nürburging, there have been a few career-making ones, as well. The most famous of all would have to have been when Stefan Bellof, in his Porsche 956, made a recording-breaking run in 1983. It was the third race of the FIA World Championship and Bellof had already established himself as a bold, young risk-taker of a driver. And at 25 years old, he proved — at one of the most punishing and fear-evoking racetracks in the world — how this daring attitude could pay off in a big way. His record-breaking lap time of 6:11.13 minutes, a half-minute faster than then-reigning World Champion Keke Rosberg, has been open to much debate, as many attribute the achievement to the car itself, being the first of its kind to have ground effect aerodynamics, as well as the newly shortened track from 14.2 to 12.9 miles, but even still, the pure guts and natural skill of this young racer can’t be denied, especially since the record has still yet to be broken. 

’Ring lap times sell cars 

Just because this lap time has never been broken, it doesn’t mean that over the years drivers and manufacturers haven’t tried— in both race and production cars alike. And when it comes to today’s supercars, all of the ‘quoted’ production figures mean very little until they’ve actually been tested and proven on the Nordschleife. The newest production car to the make the claim of being the ‘fastest in the world’, with a 6:43.2-minute time, is the McLaren P1 LM. And seeing as the previous title holder, an all-electric NIO EP9, only held onto this honourable designation for a mere two weeks, McLaren better bask in its glory — and reap the benefits — for as long as it can, before the next speed demon comes out chomping at the bit…

A moment in time

Luckily, throughout the years there have been those who have been able to document every race, every crash, every victory from behind the lens, making motorsport fans feel like they were a part of every heart-stopping moment, whether they were in attendance or not. Photographers like Stefan Bogner and his book Tracks: Nürburgring Nordschleife have brought the Nürburgring and all that it encompasses to the lives and homes of people around the world, and there’s bound to be many visionary snappers like him in attendance this weekend. We can’t wait to see what new moments they’ll capture.

Photos: Stefan Bogner / Rainer W. Schlegelmilch via Getty Images

Classic Driver, in partnership with Richard Mille, will be reporting live from the Nürburgring Classic 2017, and the latest articles from the event can be found here.