13 January 2020

Fascinating F1 Facts: 41 - If you go down to the woods today...

Duke Karl Eugen von Württemberg had a couple of passions in life. He liked women and had a string of mistresses, producing 11 illegitimate children with no fewer than eight different ladies. Born in 1728, he succeeded his father as the ruler of Württemberg in 1737, when he was just nine years of age. He married at 20 and the new couple went to Paris for their honeymoon where he was impressed by the Chateau de Versailles and its contents. He ended up making four other visits to Paris during his lifetime, buying things for his castles. Building castles was really his biggest weakness. In fact, he built so many that the duchy struggled to pay for all of them. He had an extensive library and was passionate about opera, but it was building castles that really got him excited. That and his mistresses, of course. His wife left him after eight years and he ended up without a legitimate heir, the duchy going to his younger brother when he died in 1793.

Thirty years before his death he felt the need for a hunting lodge and summer residence and ordered a new castle to be constructed to the west of Stuttgart, close to the road to Leonberg, in a forest known as Glemswald. He had already built a castle, known as the Bärenschlössle (the Bear Castle) close by but wasn’t grand enough for the extravagant Duke and so a new palace, designed in late Rococo style, was built just up the road. This featured a wide tree-lined avenue that went in a straight line for a modest eight miles until it arrived at Schloss Ludwigsburg, which boasted only 452 rooms. 

The new castle was named Schloss Solitude, the Duke choosing the name because it was meant to be a refuge where he could relax and reflect on life, with only a huge staff of servants present, to keep him fed and watered. The problem was that with so many palaces to choose from (and mistresses to be entertained) Duke Karl Eugen rarely had time to visit all his castles and a year after it was completed he decided to set up an elite military academy inside the castle. The most famous student being Friedrich Schiller, the celebrated playright, poet and philosopher. After the Duke died, the school was closed down and gradually the castle fell into disrepair and was abandoned.

Early in the Twentieth Century, with the arrival of the automobile, Schloss Solitude became the finishing point for a hillclimb course, which climbed up from Stuttgart.  This continued until 1925 when it was decided to lay out a proper circuit 13.8-miles long to the south of the castle. The roads were narrow with no run-off at all and for much of its history Solitude was run only for motorcycles. Later this would shortened to become a very fast seven miles.

The track hosted the German Motorcycle Grand Prix on seven occasions between 1952 and 1964, sharing the race with Hockenheim every other year. It was upgraded in 1957 and in 1960 it hosted a Formula 2 race, which was won by Wolfgang Von Trips in a Ferrari. It was by then a huge event with crowds estimated to be in the region of 290,000. The circuit was also used by NSU, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche as a test track. It had the reputation of being a sort of mini-Nurburgring and was popular with the drivers.

The first Solitude F1 Grand Prix took place in 1961, with the race being won by Innes Ireland in a Lotus after a thrilling battle with Jo Bonnier's Porsche. A year later Dan Gurney led Bonnier in a Porsche 1-2, while Jack Brabham and Jim Clark rounded off the track's F1 history in 1963 and 1964. The circuit switched back to Formula 2 in 1965, with victory going to Chris Amon in a Lola but then the track fell victim to concerns about safety not only for the drivers but for spectators as well. One can still drive around the old track, as the roads still exist but there is little evidence of the old circuit, except the old scoring tower…

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