The first time I went to the Hockenheimring I was only 12 years old, and it wasn't even to watch a race. My mum was driving me to my grandmother's house in Cologne and, being a kid who loved motorsport, I got her to pull off and visit the circuit as we were basically going right past it anyway.
It was empty at the time and nothing was going on at all but I took a seat in the grandstand. It sounds a bit crazy but I remember saying to myself "one day you'll be driving here". That day, I was certain that being a racing driver was what I wanted to do. I remember sitting there and looking at the long straight heading into the forest in the distance and I thought "this is the best place in the world".
I didn't then go back there for many, many years. I never saw any Formula One races there - only the ones on the television, of course. The next time I went back was in 2002 for Swiss Formula Ford - it was one of my first ever single-seater races. I won that time, but I very nearly didn't make it there at all. The year before, I was due to try out for a driver programme but, just before that, I was trampolining at home when I slipped, fell badly and broke some ligaments in my leg. It was so painful, seriously I thought I was going to die.
I still had to prove myself with this drive not long afterwards and got into a kart in front of this potential manager and I think I did OK. After I'd done it, he saw me really struggling to get out of the car holding my leg and I told him what had happened. I think he was really impressed I'd done what I'd done with the injury and so he signed me. So if it hadn't been for that, I might never have made it to Hockenheim as a racing driver. Who knows?
Since 2002, I've raced there a few more times in Formula Three and also Formula BMW, and I had a few different tests there as well. I've won there twice in F3 and actually it's generally been one of my strongest circuits ever. It's one I always look forward to. The first time I raced there in F1, though, it was difficult. I'd never felt any pressure at Hockenheim before but there was definitely pressure for this first time at home in F1. I had family and friends to please as well as sponsors and I'd say I probably tried to overdrive the car there, which is not a good idea.
It's not a very magical thing to say but, four years on in F1, there's no great nerves going there. However, one thing I do when I first go onto the circuit is to look at that seat I first sat in in the grandstand as a 12-year-old all those years ago. OK, the grandstand's now changed a bit but I like to think back to that time. Of course, I dream as a German driver of winning my home race, but that's not realistic this season. Realistically, to get on the podium, we have to hope that others slip up to give us any sort of chance. That's OK, as we're still one of the smallest teams in Formula One and we just don't have the budget and manpower to match the big manufacturers.
The circuit itself is very, very flat and also very flat-out. The first half of the lap is all straights, really. You have the main straight before the Nordkurve, then another straight which ends with a hard right then a long left curve which is basically a straight or at least turns into one at the end of the curve. After that it's slow, slow, slow for the hairpin and two more straights broken up by a brief right turn. Then comes a left which is a bit of a mini-hairpin before a left right and another two more shorter straights.
The lap ends with a series of slow corners and only tiny straights before coming back out on the main straight. firstname.lastname@example.org