Jackie Stewart called it the ‘Green Hell’, which perfectly describes the original 22 kilometre Nordschleife still used for endurance racing.
I didn’t ever drive the long circuit, but came here to race in Formula 3 just after the current grand prix circuit was built in the mid-eighties. We arrived at night, and when we woke up the circuit was under two metres of snow! That was in late May or even June, so it goes to show how variable the weather can be in these parts.
In fact, I often say that the Nürburgring and Silverstone vie for the worst weather each year. In 1999 Jordan Grand Prix almost won the race with Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who then crashed in the closing stages while in the lead during a torrential downpour.
So it is strange to learn that in the last ten years only one grand prix here has been hit by rain, and that was in 2007. However, it invariable pours at some stage during race weekends, and this year’s event is unlikely to be an exception, particularly after Thursday’s storms.
I am astounded at the manner in which PUMA’s partner team Ferrari turned their season around after some early aerodynamic problems. During pre-season testing both the Scuderia and McLaren experienced disappointments, and the difference in their approaches is highly illuminating.
The former chose to work at producing new parts and improving the car overall, while the British team dropped its complicated exhaust system to concentrate on developing a diffuser similar to that used by Red Bull Racing. When the FIA tightened up the regulations, Ferrari was least hurt - and that was evident in Silverstone.
Although the Red Bulls suffered minor issues there, particularly during one of Sebastian Vettel’s pit stops, the fact is that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari were the faster combination overall while McLaren has really battled during the last two grands prix. This suggests to me that McLaren’s car inherently lacks downforce, while the Ferrari was fundamentally a good car merely in need of a good tweaking.
However, it took the two teams an awfully long time by Formula 1 standards to sort their issues, and that has given Red Bull Racing and Sebastian a big advantage. I fear they have both championships sewn up even if they regularly finish behind both Ferraris in the remaining 10 races.
Calling Sunday’s winner is not easy. On the one hand Fernando has to have a good chance, particularly after setting the fastest time this morning. However, Red Bull’s Mark Webber set the pace after lunch, suggesting the winner of the last grand prix held here in 2009 has the car and the speed.
On the other side Sebastian has ticked every box in his remarkable career to date – except winning his home grand prix. He has a habit of correcting any such omissions, and that makes him my favourite.
I can’t end off without a word about Michael Schumacher, whom I brought into Formula 1 20 years ago and who grew up in the area. Can he make the podium in his home grand prix? I fear he just doesn’t have the car to do so, but there is certainly nothing lacking in the skill department – as his drive in Canada proved.
I think on Sunday two of the podium places will be filled by Red Bull drivers, with the other taken up by red overalls, probably Fernando’s. Sadly that leaves no space for Michael at home.