Recent visitors, and residents alike, have all commented on the cable-laying equipment currently working hard alongside the Döttinger Höhe straight. Today the Nürburgring management revealed the purpose; a 2.7km stretch of the Nordschleife will be upgraded with the infrastructure necessary for a digital marshalling and safety system.
In 2021, the Nürburgring will now test different systems here. Numerous cameras will bring the image directly to the new race control system. New software with artificial intelligence will help to recognise dangers more quickly. In addition, the so-called “digital marshalling” is to be further expanded. With digital display panels, which also show flag signals, the officials can control what is happening on the track. In addition, the signals and important information are shown directly to the driver on the display in the cockpit.”
And not a moment too soon, in my opinion. The concept of providing hard-to-miss, flashing signs, activated from the race control room is hardly fresh. Top Tier F1 circuits have been using these for the best part of a decade. Even though the Nürburgring have only just got around to adding this infrastructure, many track users have already been working around it for a few years.
In the NLS championship, we’ve been running into GPS-regulated yellow and double-yellow “flagged” zones for the best part of half-a-decade. The control room monitoring a €995 GPS and 4G system installed in each race car, and automatically monitoring adherence, and applying penalties.
The idea of moving the flag system inside the car is slightly newer, and there was talk of an optional yellow light to be fitted inside your N24 and VLN car that lets the driver see the same zone that the stewards are monitoring.
This is a safety feature that TF visitors can already enjoy through crowd-sourced data in the TrackSecure app. The mobile phone app relies on users with a phone, and even an optional bluetooth flashing-light-push-button-thingy to supply the information and interact with it.
The official news story on the Nürburgring’s website also references the use of “AI” to monitor track safety. Last year’s (edit: 2019’s) installation of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras at the entrance and exit to the Nordschleife touristenfahrten carparks may or may not be integrated into this:
The late-great Meyrick Cox, who led one of the competing bids to run the Nordschleife seven years ago, also had plans for a similar system. As an N24 racer and frequent TF driver, he had already worked with experts to come up with an image-recognition system that could spot a stopped/crashed car and raise a warning on the race-control screen. Part of the first-year’s plan was to install the cabling necessary all the way around the Nordschleife and F1 track.
Hopefully, the new system can help keep the Nordschleife safe for all of us. In recent years we’ve enjoyed the addition of radio-controlled yellow lights and even yellow-flag-marshalls (they only carry one flag for TF, really). But there are massive gaps between the radio-controlled yellow lights, and no form of mandatory safety instructions for the thousands of drivers who arrive each weekend.
(Many visitors don’t even know what they should do if they see a yellow light, or believe that these signals are simply ‘voluntary’ warnings.)
As it stands, this ‘upgrade’ will only be applied on a 2.7km stretch of the infamous Nordschleife, and it’s even the straightest part. Around 500mtrs of which is closed, or open at only 30km/h, most weekends. Hopefully the systems are good enough to warrant an expansion to the most dangerous locations, such as Fuchsröhre and Kesselchen. These are the high-speed sections where many fatal accidents have occurred, and where poor visibility was surely a contributing factor.
Some might say it’s too little, too late. That the third-party developers have already picked up the ball that the Nürburgring dropped. But where safety is concerned, I’d say every little helps.
If you’ve never been to the Nürburgring before, I’d recommend reading one of my Nürburgring guides here, or watching my 2020 Noob’s Guide to The Ring YouTube video.