German Grand Prix - prologue


No amount of cheap air travel would ever deflect my routine. There are several sizeable airports within easy reach of the Nürburgring, but the open road is always more tempting. It’s a mini-tour of classic circuits, too, passing Brands Hatch at 4.50am, Spa in mid-morning and pulling up at the Nürburgring shortly after noon. Between times, I paused to collect the keys to weekend HQ – a self-catering campsite chalet that costs €118 for four nights. The local Lidl will provide sustenance – a DIY approach that makes Germany my cheapest race of the year.

As a complement to that, my companion for the trip is the new Mercedes A200 CDi AMG Sport. I was never a fan of the original A-class, a stubby urbanite that combined high price with low appeal, but the species has matured nicely. It now has a rock-solid road presence and is as capable a long-distance tourer as any limousine-length Mercedes. It might be a squeeze for a family of four plus luggage, but for one man with his camera bag it’s ideal. When I left Kent the trip computer projected a range of 306 miles, yet by the time I reached Brussels this had increased to 318. And no, I hadn’t stopped at any point. The reverse fuel tank’s invention seems to have passed largely unmentioned in the motoring press.

Despite the venue’s heritage, there is something mildly depressing about the Nürburgring’s modern facade, with a white-elephant shopping complex tacked on to the main administrative structure. Within that edifice, the Ring Racer F1-themed rollercoaster remains dormant, although locals maintain that it will open soon (so far, it’s four years late). Wander away from such aberrations, however, and you can enter the circuit via the original paddock. The present might have been badly handled, but the past is thoughtfully preserved.

My international reporting career began in 1984 – one season too late to catch anything of significance on the Nordschleife (it would be another 28 years before I witnessed a race there, in the form of the 24 Hours). I caught a round of the European Touring Car Championship on the sawn-off circuit in 1984, however, and was back the following season for what should have been the fourth round of the new FIA Formula 3000 series. It began to snow heavily during qualifying, however, and by the following morning the circuit was smothered so the race had to be canned. Ironically, downhill skiing legend Franz Klammer was due to make his motor racing debut in a saloon car event on the support programme.

Before the weather deteriorated, F3000 champion-to-be Christian Danner asked whether I fancied a lap of the Nordschleife, on which several of his rivals had already damaged rental cars. He disappeared to find something suitable and returned a few minutes later with a set of BMW keys. “They’re Gerhard Berger’s,” he said. “He won’t notice – and I’d rather use his car than mine…”

The first part of the lap was entertaining enough, Danner hurling the nimble 3-series around while pointing out what he’d crashed in the past, and where, but then he noticed we were running on fumes and his pace slackened to minimise the risk of a long walk back. “Bloody Berger…”

Such insouciance is likely to be in shorter supply this weekend, but there will be discourse about tyres.

That, plus some engaging historic touchstones.

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history  I was there when... 2007 European GP

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