A new film celebrating the history of German Formula 1 venue the Nürburgring will be screened for one night only next week.
The film, called “The Green Hell” after the nickname given to the 73-turn, 20.832km Nordschleife circuit in the Eifel Mountains by Sir Jackie Stewart, is a feature-length documentary that chronologically explains the history of the track and combines previously unseen footage with interviews from past and present F1 drivers.
Directed by Austrian director, writer, producer and film composer Hannes Michael Schalle, The Green Hell features interviews with Sir Stirling Moss, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Stewart, Jochen Mass and Lewis Hamilton, and is narrated by Murray Walker and Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft. It will be shown in selected Odeon cinemas across the UK, Ireland, Germany and Austria on 21 February.
Schalle previously directed the Niki Lauda documentary, ‘Lauda – The Untold Story’, and that project inspired him to tell the stories behind the history of the Nürburgring.
“When I did the film about Niki Lauda I was extremely involved in the Nürburgring topic,” he told JA on F1. “We started to immediately think about making another film only about the track because it’s a 90-year-old racetrack envisioned at the beginning of the 20th century by the old German Emperor – this is a story in itself and the whole story over the 90 years was very inspiring.”
The Nürburgring’s motor racing history stretches back to 1926, and the Nordschleife was a regular feature on the F1 world championship calendar between 1951 and 1976. Triple world champion and current Mercedes non-executive chairman Lauda nearly died in an accident during the 1976 grand prix event, which led to the track dropping off the F1 calendar.
An extended interview with 67-year-old is included in the new film and Schalle highlights the emotions that are brought out in the famously no-nonsense Lauda when it comes to his relationship with the Nürburgring and the circumstances surrounding his crash.
“It is very important that no racer ever saw the Nürburgring as only a race track,” explains Schalle. “They always saw it as an enemy, a partner, a monster – and Niki Lauda was very important for the story because he always loved and hated the ‘Ring.
“The interview he gave was actually very emotional for a very pragmatic man – he’s not really very engaging [in general], but he is very emotional when it comes to 1 August 1976 [the day of his German GP accident].”
The Green Hell also features interviews with drivers from various motorsport categories and eras of history who recall and describe the challenges of driving on the fearsome Nordschleife circuit.
“They always told me the same [thing],” says Schalle. “First of all it’s enormously long – a normal racetrack you drive in one-and-a-half or two minutes and this racetrack you drive between seven, eight and nine minutes.
“You don’t have 50 laps to go, but you have seven laps to go. It goes up and down and there is no visibility because the trees are all around the track. If you start at the grid in sunshine it could rain on the other side. When we filmed there – the first two days it was almost snowing and the next two days it had 30-degree heat and sunshine. This is an extreme climatic area.”
Under threat: the future of the German Grand Prix
The release of The Green Hell comes at a difficult time for the German Grand Prix, which has been held at the Nürburgring on 26 occasions – 22 times on the Nordschleife and a further four times on the Grand Prix layout that was opened in 1984. The GP circuit also hosted 12 F1 races as the European Grand Prix.
The German race was due to be held on the GP version of the Nürburgring in 2017 as part of an agreement with the Hockenheim circuit to hold the event on alternate years, but although it was provisionally listed on the calendar it was officially removed from the final version.
Liberty Media’s recent takeover of F1 has raised hopes that the American company will maintain the links with championship’s historical venues. But after the owners of several circuits recently questioned if their tracks will remain on the calendar in the coming years, it is unclear what can be done to help the venues currently facing difficulties.
Schalle believes that securing the future of the German Grand Prix should be a priority for Liberty Media because of the event’s history and the popularity of the Nordschleife, a place of pilgrimage for many motorsport fans and petrolhead enthusiasts.
“The interesting thing is what the new owners of F1 will do,” he said. “For my opinion they have to bring it back to Germany because the German motor industry is one of the biggest in the world. It’s a leading industry and it would be completely wrong for the fans if there is no Formula 1 race in Germany.
“Especially at the Nürburgring, because it is the biggest mythical place and they have millions of visitors every year and it is known everywhere in the world.”
Bill Lewis, the film’s executive producer also described the popularity of the Nürburgring and he explained how its legendary status appealed to car fans of various ages.
He said: “In terms of age-groups, it’s not just an older generation or the baby boomers or anything else. If you go there on a continuous basis it’s young and old alike – everyone is there because it is what it is.”
Sport, nature and human endeavour
The Green Hell is the first in a series of films about famous motorsport circuits and events – Monaco, Silverstone, Monza, Le Mans and the Mille Miglia are all planned to get the same treatment by Moonlake Entertainment, Schalle’s production company, and Wentworth Arts and Media, Lewis’ distributers.
But for Schalle, the first film is about highlighting the sense of human achievement that is encapsulated by the Nürburgring, from its builders and the racers, to the modern automotive giants – including Aston Martin, Audi and Porsche – who have built technology centres within a few miles of the circuit to test their latest designs.
“I think the most important thing in the film is about human achievement – the people that built the ‘Ring, the people who raced the ‘Ring, the people who survived the ‘Ring, and that it is still there,” he said.
“People will see the history, they will see the biggest racing legend and the most famous cars. They will see the story about a battleground – the ‘Ring was built on blood-soaked ground from battles which happened there in the medieval times – and nowadays it is the biggest test track for every motorsport car in the world.”
Lewis wants viewers of The Green Hell to compare the Nordschleife with modern F1 layouts and see how its natural characteristics created its legendary status.
“Historically motor racing has always been about man, machine and nature,” he explained. “A lot of the tracks that have been built recently in the last ten or 15 years that we can’t classify as nature.
“Even today you can talk about technology – are the drivers playing video games when they’re in the car or is it really men and machine with a big focus on the technology. The Nordschleife is about true nature – it’s an unbelievable driving experience.”
What do you make of the news that a film will be released to celebrate the history of the Nurburgring? Do you hope the German Grand Prix will re-join the calendar in the future? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.
To find out more about The Green Hell and to view the trailer, go to www.thegreenhellmovie.com