|The Nostalgia Column|
|Looking back at the history of the German GP||by Marcel Schot, The Netherlands;|
images provided by Rainer Nyberg
The German Grand Prix is one of the long-standing races on the FIA World Championship calendar, with this year's race being the 47th. It is an event renowned for great performances and tragic occurrences, holding the sad record of most fatalities in Formula One history. Six Formula One drivers were killed in the German Grand Prix throughout the history, and many more near-fatal accidents happened there. But it is also a place where many a drivers put their best performance and were crowned as world champions.
The first German Grand Prix dates back to 1951, but races were held in Germany as early as 1927, with pre-war hero Rudolf Caracciola in a prominent role, along with legendary drivers such as Manfred von Brauchitsch and Bernd Rosemeyer. The early Grands Prix were held at the old, 22 kilometre long, Nurburgring. Ferrari were always a main force in the 1950's, taking 5 wins in that decade alone. Moreover, in its first year, only the great Juan Manuel Fangio could match the Ferraris: with second position in his Alfa-Romeo, he was the only non-Ferrari in the top six.
In 1954 the German Grand Prix saw the first death of a driver since the start of the World Championship Series. Maserati driver Onofre Marimon lost control of his car at Pflanzgarten during the qualifying session and rolled over several times. As a result of the tragedy, the Maseratis and Gonzales' Ferrari did not start the race. The following year was marked by yet another tragedy: over 80 people were killed, amongst them observers and stewards, in the Le Mans 24 hours, and as a result Germany, like several other countries, cancelled its Grand Prix event for that year.
The 1957 Grand Prix still stands as one of Fangio's most amazing drives, and certainly one of the best performances seen by a Formula One driver. Fangio, in a Maserati, began the race on pole with only half a tank of fuel to compensate for his weak tyres. By half way he had a 30-second lead. However, the planned pit stop took much longer than the expected 30 seconds and Fangio rejoined the field about 50 seconds behind the leading Ferraris of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins. But Fangio managed to close up that gap and overtake them, claiming fastest lap and a win and proving just how deserving he was of the World Championship title which he secured on that very day.
But the 1957 German Grand Prix was the last Fangio participated in - he retired from Formula One in 1958. And of his two Ferrari rivals of the year before, Briton Peter Collins was to be the second driver to be killed on the Nurburgring track. Fittingly, the German Authorities moved the Grand Prix in 1959 away from Nurburgring, to take place in the city of Berlin, and become one of the most special Grands Prix ever to be driven in Germany. The cold war had started and the West German government decided to let East German fans pay in East German money, which was hardly worth anything then. In those days, seeing a crowd mixed of both East and West Germans, cheering together for the 17 drivers that started the race, was a rare and encouraging sight.
However, the participating drivers were not happy at all with the AVUS Berlin track, and soon after the Grand Prix was returned to Nurburgring, only to be moved yet again for the 1970 event, which was held at the Hockenheim track. The reason for the move was another death of a driver, in 1969, added to two other deaths there three and five years earlier. The Nurburgring track was thus deemed too dangerous.
Perhaps the Formula One circus should not have returned to Nurburgring at all. Nevertheless, it did, and by 1976 another near-fatal accident occurred there, perhaps the most famous one - that of Niki Lauda. On the second lap of the 1976 Grand Prix, Lauda lost control of his car at Bergwerk, slid across the track and was hit by Brett Lunger. Lauda's Ferrari caught fire with him stuck in the car. Luckily for him, Arturo Mezario in a Wolf-Williams and Guy Edwards in a Surtees-Ford pulled over and got Lauda out of the burning car. Lauda suffered severe burns and inhaled toxic gasses, which damaged his lungs. For several days he fought for his life but made a miraculous recovery and started the Italian Grand Prix just 6 weeks after his accident.
Lauda's accident made it finally clear that the Nurburgring was too dangerous, something the drivers had been saying for years. In the next year Hockenheim made its return and would remain the German Grand Prix hosting track to this day, with the exception of one season. Furthermore, quite symbolically it was Niki Lauda who won the first German Grand Prix in Hockenheim, a year after he nearly lost his life.
But the toll of tragedies in Germany was not over, as in 1980 Alfa Romeo driver, Patrick Depailler, was killed during testing. His high speed crash in the Ostkurve would be one of the reasons the spectacular aerodynamic improvements were partially banned by the following season, dropping lap times at Hockenheim by almost 8 seconds. The last notable incident to occur there, though one which only luckily saw no serious injuries, was in 1994, when Jos Verstappen's Benetton caught fire while refuelling, catching the driver in an inferno of flames.
But, as mentioned, Germany is also a Grand Prix of special moments. Ayrton Senna won there three times consecutively (in 1988-1990), and Michael Schumacher became the first German ever to win his home Grand Prix, in 1995. That year, a few weeks later, he also won the race held in Nurburgring, now hosting the European Grand Prix. His performance at that race is considered one of his best ever and won him a standing ovation from his title rival, Damon Hill, who spun out of the race and stood by the track, clapping for Schumacher as he took his final lap.
It is also the track, which will mark some of Gerhard Berger's best performances ever. He won there in 1994 and 1997, when he returned to drive after suffering health problems and a personal tragedy. In the press conference after the race, a very emotional Berger, on the brink of retirement, dedicated that win to his father, who was killed only a week before in a plane accident. It would be Berger's final Formula One win, before his retirement.
Last year, McLaren dominated the entire weekend, giving Mercedes value for money at their home Grand Prix, by scoring a one-two. In the end less than a second separated David Coulthard from beating his teammate Mika Hakkinen. During the entire weekend Ferrari was off the pace, qualifying sixth and ninth, with Eddie Irvine outqualifying Michael Schumacher for the first time in the season. Schumacher was able to move up to fifth in the race, but suffered a set back in his title chase nevertheless.
|1998 Race Results|
|1.||Mika Hakkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||1h 20:47.984 s|
|2.||David Coulthard||McLaren-Mercedes||+ 0.426s|
|3.||Jacques Villeneuve||Williams-Mecachrome||+ 2.577s|
|4.||Damon Hill||Jordan-Mugen Honda||+ 7.185s|
|5.||Michael Schumacher||Ferrari||+ 12.613s|
|6.||Ralf Schumacher||Jordan-Mugen Honda||+ 29.738s|
|Pole Position:||Mika Hakkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||1:41.838s|
|Fastest Lap (17):||David Coulthard||McLaren-Mercedes||1:46.116s|
|Marcel Schot||© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.|
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Images are kindly provided by Rainer Nyberg