Paddock Cat told you yesterday about the prevailing sense of déjà vu that enveloped the Hockenheim paddock thanks to the unseasonal Silverstone-like weather. Well, the theme continued on Saturday with qualifying blighted by torrential downpours for the second race in a row and, once again, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso emerged as the regenmeister to score his first ever pole position at a German Grand Prix.
The only downside for Fernando this weekend is that all the on-track action, media and press events have prevented him from keeping an eye of the Tour de France. The Spaniard is a keen cyclist and had been following Le Tour in the days before he left for Hockenheim. Today he revealed that were he not a racing driver, he’d have liked to have been a cyclist, albeit a track cyclist rather than a Tour rider. “I like the pursuit event where the cyclists start on opposite sides of the velodrome,” said Fernando. “I love the idea of chasing an opponent down.”
As pole-sitter, it’s more likely that Fernando will be the man being pursued in the race, and you can expect local heroes Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher to be the men hot on his heels. This race is the first time Fernando and Sebastian have started on the front row of the grid together and Vettel has admitted that it would “mean the world” to him to win at a circuit only a few miles from his home town of Heppenheim.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa will achieve a personally significant milestone on Sunday as he surpasses his hero Ayrton Senna’s number of race starts. But Massa will have to win another 30 races to match the Brazilian legend’s tally of victories. What better time to start than now?
Every evening in Hockenheim, the track stays open so that a few lucky sponsors’ guests and members of the public can enjoy a hair-raising hot lap from an F1 driver in a sporty road car. On Saturday, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was behind the wheel of a gorgeous Ferrari 458 Italia and although he owns one of his own, he revealed today that his everyday vehicle is the considerably tamer Fiat 500. And as for his team-mate Felipe Massa, he does not drive anything sportier. Ever the family man, the Brazilian’s regular vehicle is a roomy Fiat Multipla. So it seems even F1 megastars drive sensible cars from time to time!
There was a definite sense of déjà vu in the paddock today. Two weeks ago at Silverstone everyone was sheltering in motorhomes and pit garages from torrential rain, and today in Hockenheim everyone did the same as the heavens opened once more. The ‘English weather’ was particularly frustrating for F1 tyre supplier Pirelli, who have been itching to test their new hard compound tyres in practice for the last couple of races. Now they say that the new tyres probably won’t make an appearance again until the Japanese Grand Prix in October – what are the chances of it raining at Suzuka too?
Germany is a country with a proud racing history and passionate race fans, but it’s not just F1 that they get excited about. DTM touring car races bring 100,000 fans to Hockenheim twice a year and today Williams F1’s development driver Susie Wolff showed Pastor Maldonado what all the fuss is about. Wolff, who is married Toto Wolff, a non-executive director of Williams F1, races in the DTM and was keen to give Maldonado a spin in her Mercedes at the local Mercedes Experience Centre test track. It was the first time the Venezuelan has ever been a passenger in a racecar and although he found it a little scary at first, he later confessed to finding the experience “good fun” and said he was “impressed” by Susie.
The paddock has been graced with numerous world champions this season and another familiar face was in Hockenheim today. Mika Hakkinen, world champion in 1998 and ’99, is an ambassador for Mercedes and as it is the Three-Pointed star’s local race, he had plenty of appearances to make. The ‘Flying Finn’ retired from F1 at the end of the 2001 season but he doesn’t look to have aged a day. There must be something in the water in Scandinavia…
Ferrari opened their motorhome on Friday evening for a special dinner with the media. The event has become a regular fixture on the F1 calendar and has in the past been the scene of much merriment and story-telling. The most legendary story from years past involved a journalist – who shall remain nameless – being caught red-handed when he tried to steal one of the Scuderia’s stylish metal ashtrays. Unfortunately for him, as he went to leave the motorhome the ashtray dropped out of his coat pocket and smashed onto the floor in front of everyone, including the team’s PR Luca Colajanni.
Suffice to say the journalist has never lived the story down and in typical F1-style, the whole affair was dubbed ‘ashtray-gate.’ Let’s hope the guests were on their best behaviour this year while enjoying their five courses!
Whether it’s held at the Nurburgring, or here in Hockenheim, the German Grand Prix is always a special and significant event, particularly for Mercedes. The motor manufacturer built the circuit as a test track in 1929, but the German GP didn’t come to this part of the Rhine basin until 1970.
The old layout was a fabulous, flat-out blast through the forest, but the track was remodelled in 2002 and the only noise coming from the woods these days is from the fans who camp out under the trees, listening to loud music, drinking beer and eating barbecued food.
But it’s not just the fans that get to enjoy a traditional sausage and stein of beer at this race. With Mercedes’ Stuttgart base just down the road, it has become a German GP tradition that, on Thursday night, the Three Pointed Star lays on a celebratory barbecue. Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and a whole host of other drivers and team principals attend the bash, which is open to everyone in the paddock.
There’s no doubt that MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS would desperately love to win their home race. Michael Schumacher – a victor here on four previous occasions – said today that he buzzes off the energy of the crowd, which here at Hockenheim is usually enormous, particularly in the atmospheric stadium section that ends the lap.
Unfortunately for Michael, the statistics tell us that a Ferrari victory is more likely than a MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS one. Of the 58 editions of the German GP, the Prancing Horse has won 20 races, an all-time F1 record for any constructor at any one event. World championship leader Fernando Alonso is also on a bit of a roll at the moment. Not only is the Spaniard the only man to score points in every race this year, but with 21 consecutive points-scoring finishes he’s also closing in on Schumacher’s record of 24.
Alonso and Schumacher will both be hoping to pick up trophies on Sunday, but one man who has already been awarded a gong is Sky TV cameraman Dave Stanford. At the Spanish GP in May, Stanford selflessly dropped his camera to help Williams mechanic Martin Betts out of the garage following the team’s devastating post-race pitlane fire. To praise him for his efforts, Williams Chief Operations Engineer Mark Gillan and Sky commentator Martin Brundle presented him with a richly deserved Guild of Cameramen award. It just goes to show that there are heroes throughout the F1 paddock, not just on the racetrack.