Start, Hockenheimring, 2018

Paddock Diary: German Grand Prix day four

Paddock Diary: German Grand Prix day four

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Does the Hockenheimring have an F1 future? When will teams start testing their 2019 front wings? And which F1 team did Mercedes almost choose instead of McLaren for its 1995 return? @DieterRencken reveals all in the final instalment of his German Grand Prix Paddock Diary.

7am

I get packed and enjoy a typical German breakfast in time to depart before 8:30am. Weather clear but muggy, which ties in with forecasts of humidity and 60% chance of rain during the day. Is it going to rain on the last German Grand Prix for the foreseeable future, I wonder? Both will become clearer later in the day.

9am

Arrive at circuit – the drive in was a breeze, certainly in comparison to previous years and despite a larger crowd. Given that there is no discernible increase in traffic direction or signage this can only be as a result of the later race start – 9am is a full six hours ahead, rather than five as it was previously. The parking area is also virtually empty, and plenty of shuttles about – another advantage of my early(ish) start to the day.

10am

My promised interview with Georg Seiler, Hockenheim CEO. He confirms an attendance of 71,000 on race day, around 10,000 more than at the previous edition in 2016. This is attributed to the championship battle at the sharp end – which, of course, features a German in the championship lead, followed by a Briton racing for a German brand – and, of course, the Max Verstappen tribe – 13,000 orange T-shirts brighten up the stands.

Take these drivers out of the equation, and the promoter faces a rout; on such fickleness does the fortune of a grand prix circuit rely.

Asked what chance a German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in future, possibly as soon as next year, Seiler in unequivocal: a no-risk contract going forward, or no dice. The circuit is 94% owned by the local council, with the remaining 6% held by the local motorsport association, and both refuse to carry losses in future. Tellingly, during odd years, when Hockenheim does not host F1, black ink flows…

11:30am

Chat with Force India technical director Andrew Green about regulations for the 2019 F1 season. He believes they are a step in the right direction if F1 is serious about facilitating overtaking, but don’t (yet) go far enough.

He makes interesting observations, more of which we’ll be publish soon. A taster: Andrew confirms Force India will run its 2019 wing during the final in-season test in Hungary next week.

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12:30pm

Lunch: cold meats and salads at Mercedes, during which I catch up with the team’s former motorsport director Norbert Haug. We discuss the situations at McLaren – a team he knew intimately from its 20-year Mercedes partnership – and Williams, both legendary British team that have hit troubled times.

Norbert drops a surprising revelation: Back in 1995 Mercedes almost threw its lot in with Williams rather than McLaren. “It was that close,” as says, clicking finger and thumb. How different would have been the fortunes of both teams had that come to pass: Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in Mercedes-powered Williams versus Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard in McLaren-Peugeots…

Across fruit salad dessert I chat with Pascal Wehrlein, currently back in DTM but desperate to work his way back into F1. There is no doubt he belongs here, but time is passing him by, what with George Russell now the favoured Mercedes son and just 20 cars on the current grid. F1 needs to ramp up to at least two dozen entries, or a number of mega talents such as Pascal will go to waste.

2:30pm

Grid walk time, and I’m struck by the packed stands – a wonderful sight at Hockenheim after many years of lacklustre attendance. Attendance levels are nowhere near those of the Michael Schumacher era, when Germany annually filled two grands prix, but the improvement is heartening. A total weekend attendance of 160,000 was reported, which seems rather massaged; still the numbers are well up on 2016’s 100,000-odd.

5pm

A massive thunderstorm hits the area, and I’m reminded that storms have caused chaos on at least four occasions since my first visit to the venue in 1997. Hockenheim has a single underpass to the inner circuit area, where, of course, F1 personnel and kit are based, and the minute the heavens open the tunnel invariably becomes impassable.

This year is no exception – the underpass is waterlogged for two hours despite the best efforts of the local fire brigade, causing massive delays and missed flights for hundreds of F1 folk. Thus two aspects require urgent attention should Hockenheim’s contract be extended: A media centre that is fit for purpose – specifically a permanent structure that does not leak – and all-weather centre circuit access.

To glibly blame freak storms, as the national press officer did, is unacceptable: The area is known for its tempestuous summer weather, as grand prix records prove.

8pm

Depart circuit on first shuttle to be permitted access to the parking area, then wonder whether F1 will visit Hockenheim again as I pass under a “Goodbye” banner. The four-hour trip back home passes largely unremarkably, save for the number of Dutch-registered coaches, motorhome and caravans.

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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17 comments on “Paddock Diary: German Grand Prix day four”

  1. Ted in one of the images, though.

    1. Peppermint-Lemon (@)
      23rd July 2018, 13:06

      Yeah spoils it a bit doesn’t it.

      1. And Jennie Gow from the BBC…

  2. To glibly blame freak storms, as the national press officer did, is unacceptable: The area is known for its tempestuous summer weather, as grand prix records prove.

    I’d never been on site before, so I have no idea if the tunnel is flooded regularly. But it has to be said that the post-race downpour was indeed a freak storm. I was one of the very first cars to leave the track, so the conditions weren’t too unusual yet. In fact, I think it only started raining after I went through that tunnel. But as I approached the neighbouring town of Oftersheim, my car was almost swept off the road not by aquaplaning in the traditional sense, but by a wave, as in, a fast-moving bulge of water set in motion by the climatic conditions.
    Needless to say, I’d never seen anything like that before. Thunderstorms can get pretty violent over here, but this one was something else.

    1. I take it from your nick name and post that you’re from the German region – if you insert ‘Summer storms central Germany’ into Google as I just did, you’ll find numerous references to ‘violent thunder storms’ during May-August, for various years. In 20 years I’ve experienced the subway to be flooded four times, and don’t forget that amounts to around 12 races due to the rotational calendar. And I only visit visited 4 days each time during the period. I can’t believe all others days were full-on blue skies…

      1. Hi Dieter,
        Indeed, I live in the (relative) vicinity of the track, so I don’t need google to tell me that when it rains, it pours – a quick look out of the window is just as informative. ;-)

        My point was not to bring your observation into disrepute, I just wanted to add some perspective to it. Maybe give that press officer the benefit of doubt as well. As a local, I can confirm that this was a freak storm, even in the context of a season that is known for producing the occasional violent convective storm. Additionally, there had been next to no precipitation for the past 6 weeks or so, apart from the brief shower that disrupted FP3 running, and that trend is likely to continue in the next weeks. I think the following diagrams capture the contrast between Sunday’s thunderstorm and the rest of this summer pretty well:
        last 30 days
        16-day forecast
        Additionally, I looked at the ‘historical’ records and found out that last Sunday had the third-largest daily amount of precipitation in over 4 years (in the past 1510 days, there were just 17 days with more than 15 l/m² and only 4 days with more than 30 l/m², last Sunday being one of them). And virtually all of that (the rain that fell during the race was hardly more than a drizzle) was crammed into a single downpour of no more than 30, maybe 40 minutes. That’s why I was caught off-guard by a flash flood on a country road.

        Now, does all that mean that the tunnel in Hockenheim isn’t an avoidable weak spot in the local infrastructure? To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. The fact that you’ve experienced four floodings in 12 visits means that this is rather unlikely to be a mere coincidence. But then again, the facts prove that last Sunday was indeed a formidable exception. How many exceptions does it take to establish a rule? That’s a question for the statisticians to answer.

        Therefore, I’m wondering whether the track operator should come up with a backup solution for the future (reaching the exit by crossing the track above ground looked like a possibility, but safety standards regarding crowd control may be an issue, as the gap between the grandstands could be too small for the police to allow vehicles to pass between them while there are still spectators on the site). Or whether it is indeed a sensible reaction to shrug their shoulders, blaming force majeure. That’s not for me to decide, I just wanted to point out that this issue isn’t very clear-cut.

        1. Let us consider a doomsday scenario – that amount of rain during the race as opposed to afterwards and a massive accident requiring evacuation of a driver, as happened in the case of Jules Bianchi. A helicopter certainly could not fly, and no ambulance could pass through the tunnel for 90 mins

          I don’t need a statistician to tell me the circuit needs an alternate exit route…and I’ll be drawing this to the attention of the FIA when I see them next.

          1. @dieterrencken

            I don’t need a statistician to tell me the circuit needs an alternate exit route…and I’ll be drawing this to the attention of the FIA when I see them next.

            First of all, I think this is a good idea. If there is a feasible solution to infrastructural problems of this sort, the FIA should put its weight into the balance and convince the track operators to take them.

            However, I think the scenario you’ve mentioned already has a solution. There are a few alternative escape routes around the track. There’s the escape route that runs parallel to the Parabolica-Spitzkehre section and rejoins the road we all took, but on the other side of the tunnel. And there’s the escape route on the outside of the track between turn 1 and turn 2, which feeds into the road that leaves the track right next to the Nordkurve. If there is a way to get the ambulance onto the track, the injured driver can be safely driven off to the hospital without using any of the three tunnels around the circuit.

            As far as I can see, the only problematic scenario would be an accident or serious health issue that happens in the infield, as that would require to cross the track. Now, the question is: Is there a scenario in which the tunnel is flooded and the helicopters can’t fly, but the track cannot be crossed without interrupting the race?
            Again, I think that’s not the case. If the conditions become too dangerous for the helicopters, the session has to be red-flagged anyway, so that an ambulance could cross the track with the marshalls’ permission. Additionally, if there is enough rain to flood the tunnels (speaking of which, I have no idea if the other tunnels were affected as well), that’d also cause a red flag.
            In essence, what this track needs is a contingency plan for situations that aren’t an emergency yet, but a severe annoyance for the visitors who want to leave the infield.

  3. Tellingly, during odd years, when Hockenheim does not host F1, black ink flows…

    What does that mean?

    1. its profitable when f1 doesn’t come.

  4. In accounting terms black ink is used to record profits and red ink denotes losses

    1. @dieterrencken what an obscure reference…

      1. @fer-no65 hardly obscure; as @dieterrencken points out, it’s in the dictionary.

        Certainly more interesting to read than a blunt: “…they turn a profit”.

        1. @justrhysism I’d not say “more interesting” but it’s good to know. I didn’t know what it was, I’m not a native speaker. Thanks @dieterrencken for teaching english too!

          1. @fer-no65 I meant “more interesting” from a creative perspective – reading is more interesting when it’s written creatively. Otherwise the diary might as well just be a list of factual timestamped dot-points (not very interesting to read).

  5. It is very normal, very common, reference to any one who has ever been in business or worked for a company or for themselves.
    The FI hosting fee is the most damaging thing that the circuit has to face. At many circuits the fee puts the circuit heavily in debt and they spend the rest of the year gradually recovering. Other series do not demand such a high fee and are therefore profitable for the circuit.

    In particular Silverstone has had many financial disasters, mostly caused by the F1 fees. The circuit has tried several different forms of ownership with the land being sold and leased back, bought back, a management buyout etc. all types of financial structure in order to get the loans necessary to carry on. Now they have invoked the break clause in the contract and unless Liberty can accept a much reduced fee or other method of financing then next year will be the last at Silverstone.
    F1 is all about money, without it there are no teams no cars no races. The team finances have been dramatically changed as Bernie’s policy of grabbing the biggest possible tv fee from the pay tv companies has caused the major sponsors to disappear, (because the tv audiences are only about 20% of the previous FTA tv) and those that are now still involved are investing at a fraction of the previous level. Thus the teams are now heavily dependant upon the prize money. (which I suspect was Bernie’s plan all along)

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