E Finally a relaxed Grand Prix. Andreas Haupt and I don't arrive until Thursday morning. The job with the photo show on Wednesday is done by colleague Grüner. It's only an hour's drive from the editorial office to Hockenheim. Granted, only after midnight. During the day it can take twice as long. We are almost through on Thursday morning when another traffic jam announces itself at Bruchsal, which makes you wonder which idiot has triggered it again. We cover the rest of the route on the country road. Hockenheim has us again. For the first time in two years. And for the last time as many believe. Everything turns out very differently.
There is rumbling in the transfer market
On Thursday we found out that Niki Lauda is not coming to Hockenheim. There, where he won in 1977 and showed the long nose to the Lauda haters. You already know: Lauda was considered the Nürburgring murderer. The end of the Nordschleife was sealed even without his accident. Lauda has the flu, they say at Mercedes. We don't yet suspect that it will be a matter of life and death. On Thursday I find out that Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne has been missing for four weeks. Not even his closest confidants had contact with him. The story sounds like a bad Mafia movie until it slowly transpires that the 66-year-old Italian is seriously ill. On Sunday Ferrari decided to send out a press release before the rumors got too bad.
Not much has happened since the GP England. The transfer market is raging at first, but without any contracts. McLaren is on Ocon, they say. From itlet's conclude: Fernando Alonso will not be available for McLaren in 2019. Why else would Zak Brown want to stock up on Ocon? One day later, Renault sports director Cyril Abiteboul ran into the Mercedes motor home several times. There he negotiates an option on Ocon with Toto Wolff in order to secure himself in case Red Bull wants Carlos Sainz back. McLaren informs Stoffel Vandoorne that he can look for a new cockpit in 2019. I didn't find out about that until two weeks later from Zak Brown on the phone.
For us, Hockenheim is a race of short distances, not just because of its proximity to Stuttgart. The hotel is only 10 minutes from the race track in Walldorf. Since there are many pubs and restaurants in the town center, there is still a little time for the supporting program.
On Friday we meet with the former Bridgestone race director Kees van de Grint. We talk a little bit about the current Formula 1 and quite a bit about the past. Kees is an absolute expert in racing history and a huge fan too. His great passion is the story of Matra. He even owned a Formula 1 car for the French team before it was destroyed by fire. He goes in and out of the Matra-Meseum in Romarontin. Kees is also a fan of Jim Clark. That's why he booked a room at the Luxhof in Speyer. Clark spent his last night there in Hockenheim before his death on April 7, 1968.
Vettel's crash in the Sachskurve
Back to reality. Sebastian Vettel is the favorite after the win at Silverstone. The Heppenheimer finally wants to win his home game. After the pole position for him and the 14th place on the grid for Lewis Hamilton no one doubts it. Hamilton kneels next to his Mercedes like a pile of misery when the hydraulics in Q2 let him down. It is a defect similar to that on the Red Bull Ring. Again a hydraulic line breaks in the steering column.
Much more alarming for Mercedes, however, is that the Ferrari are four tenths away from the Silver Arrows on the straights. It used to be the other way around. Mercedes has recognized since the Austrian GP that at Ferrari in a certain segment of the straight, where only power counts, the power increases by almost 40 hp. At first one suspects bad game in the camp of the defending champion, warms up the old battery story, but slowly it dawns on the engineers in Brackley and Brixworth that there is obviously a clever trick behind it. FIA race director Charlie Whiting assures me: “We know what Ferrari is doing and it's legal.”
Hockenheim is happy over a full house. The training days are already much better attended than in 2016. In the background, Liberty’s initial talks with Hockenheim are beginning, perhaps to continue the Grand Prix. Hockenheim managing director Georg Seiler says tellingly: “We are open to everything.” Six weeks later in Monza we get the confirmation. There is also a German Grand Prix in Hockenheim in 2018. This gives Vettel a seventh chance to win his home game. Actually, he already has victory this time.
But then the onset of rain intervenes. His lead over the pursuers is shrinking. Especially on Hamilton, whose ultra-soft tires are 17 laps fresher. Nevertheless, there were still 12.1 seconds between the World Cup candidates when the unbelievable happened in the 52nd lap in the Sachskurve. Vettel brakes too late on a wet track. First the wheels block at the front, then the rear. The Ferrari slips through the gravel bed into the pile of tires. Vettel can not believe it and beats the steering wheel with his fists. The race management sends the SafetyCar out onto the track. Now Bottas is in the lead.
A torrent of biblical proportions
The Finn immediately turns to the boxes. But the wrong tires are ready. Team manager Ron Meadows orders intermediates, strategist James Vowles orders ultrasoft rubbers. It takes 17 seconds for the right tires to be on the car. Hamilton is also called to the pits, but in the middle of the driveway, he turns left across the grass back onto the home straight.
He sees that Raikkonen is also falling by the wayside. 'Kimi stays out', Hamilton radioed the pits. Race engineer Pete Bonington doesn't understand him and asks: “Stays out?” The driver interprets this as an order. Team boss Toto Wolff sees the good in the chaos: 'With the split strategy, we have secured ourselves on all sides.' The scene has one more aftermath. Hamilton trembles for two hours. Then the stewards leave it at a warning.
We are stuck for half an hour after crossing the finish line. A downpour of biblical proportions sweeps over Hockenheim. When Hamilton, Bottas and Raikkonen receive their trophies, it flashes and thunders. Everyone gets wet to the bone. The paddock isflooded. Mercedes is building a temporary bridge so that you can even reach the motorhome. If you want to leave quickly, you're unlucky. The paddock access tunnel is also flooded. Nothing works for an hour. We stay calm. We don't take down our tents until just before midnight. Fortunately, the drive home is short. At one o'clock in the morning we hit Stuttgart.