The story of Stefan Bellof, whose record remained unbroken for more than 3 decades
The Green Hell, the Graveyard Track, the Cemetery of Eifel - these were some of the names given to the infamous old Nurburgring circuit where death was most likely if you had a major crash. In the early 70s and 80s, this track saw a death in almost every race.
35 years ago, on May 28 1983, the 27-year-old Stefan Bellof absolutely shattered the track record at Nurburgring with a time of 6:11:13. That record remained unbroken for 35 years, until 29 February 2018 when another LMP1 Porsche broke it.
Like any other motorsport great, Bellof started his racing career with karting. His first taste of victory came at the International Karting Championship; after multiple failures, he became German Karting Champion in 1980.
Bellof then moved to Formula Ford, winning it in 1980. After an average Formula 3 season, Bellof stepped into Formula 2 as a test driver for Maurer motorsports.
In 1982, Bellof qualified 9th on the grid and won a sensational race over Satoru Nakajima by a margin of 21 seconds. But he ran out of luck after winning his home race at Hockenheim, finishing the season 4th with 33 points.
Bellof was making a strong impact in the motorsport world, especially with his incredible speed and maneuvering capabilities. In 1983 he joined Rothmans Porsche Team and entered the record books with a time of 6:11:13 around Nordschleife, which stood unbroken for 35 years. He also won the World Endurance in 1984 for Rothmans Porsche.
Recognizing his talent, McLaren gave Bellof his first F1 test at Silverstone, where he tested the car along with Martin Brundle and Ayrton Senna. Bellof then drove for Tyrell Racing Organisation in 1984. That season didn't start well for the German, but at the Monaco GP held amidst heavy rain - one of the most contentious races in Formula One history - Bellof managed to finish third despite qualifying 20th and was the only non-turbo car to qualify.
After the Monaco GP, Tyrell was disqualified from the championship because of an infringement issue which led to the team being stripped of the championship points.
Bellof started making his mark in 1985 and was believed to have the potential of becoming world champion owing to his excellent car control, speed and his fearless attitude. But he never got the chance to do that.
The motorsport world lost one of its brightest jewels in a tragic accident at Spa 1985 while Bellof was overtaking Jacky Ickx at Eau Rouge.
Bellof had reportedly signed a Ferrari deal for the 1986 season and it was believed that he would soon become the first German world champion.
Martin Brundle, a teammate of Bellof, called him "the fastest driver since Gilles Villeneuve". Bellof was an inspiration for many aspiring German drivers, including Michael Schumacher, the first German world champion in Formula 1.
The 4-time world champion Sebastian Vettel said, "Every German race driver knows who Stefan Bellof was. Back then there was a race each year at his [Bellof's] home kart track, in Oppenrod, which was dedicated to him; it was a great honor to take part, and especially to win it."
The famous motorsport magazine Autosport classified Bellof as the 35th greatest Formula One driver. Following Bellof's death, teams got strict with allowing their drivers to race in other championship events. Safety rules were amended and revised.
All of that shows just how hurt the motorsport fraternity was when it lost an upcoming superstar.