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Our culinary expert finds herself at the epicenter of the most glamorous motorsport on earth

By Lydia Itoi

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher

Hockenheim's long racing pedigree goes back to the 1930s, when Mercedes-Benz turned a motorcycle track and backwoods roads into a test circuit. Within a few years, the original triangular raceway became a long oval that blazed a famously high-speed loop through the Black Forest before sweeping back into town. War, new highway construction, safety issues, and the demands of modern spectator sports have brought several modifications, and the latest Herman Tilke-designed incarnation was opened in 2002. This new track design reflects F1's current preoccupation with slowing the cars down-if they were any faster, they'd take flight. Traditionalists mourned the passing of the days when men were men and thought nothing about hurtling through silent forests in attempts to warp the space-time continuum. (Two drivers have lost their lives on the old track in the process.) Today's shorter, 4.574km/2.842 mile Hockenheimring may no longer have those atmospheric tree-lined straightaways or turns through the village graveyard, but it still lets cars get over 200 mind-rattling miles per hour and has capacity for 120,000 rabid Schumacher fans.

It feels like twice that number have shown up for the weekend, and the roads into town are completely jammed. Many don't have tickets, but they stay for the party anyway. Hockenheim's cornfields have temporarily sprouted Winnebagos, souvenir stands, and impromptu beer gardens in the shadow of a vast encampment of racing team trucks and trailers. Schumi's popularity and performance have turned Hockenheim into Germany's biggest tailgate for the past 10 years. As it turns out, 2006 could be the last Schumacher homecoming. In July, F1's regulating body announced that from now on the German Grand Prix would alternate between Nürburgring and Hockenheim, and the 2007 race will take place at Nürburgring. Later Schumacher himself, seven-time world champion and the most successful F1 driver in history, would announce that he's retiring after this season.