There is nothing like a sunny Monday in the summer when one has to drive home from a Formula 1 race, with nothing much to worry about for the whole day. Germany and Belgium are the best because one need not hassle with specific times on the Eurotunnel, or queues to get through Alpine tunnels. If it was a question of speed one might take a train directly from Cologne to Paris and be back in three hours, but that adds the cost of a hire car for the weekend to get from Cologne to the Ring. It is far nicer to drive and do what you feel like doing, meandering home, maybe with a good lunch on the way. We left the Nürburgring rather later than planned and so pottering became less of an issue as we headed south to Ulmen and then picked up the autobahn going south through the Eifel mountains (admittedly small ones) to Trier, where one can glimpse the wonderful cascading vineyards of the circuitous Moselle Valley. We might have passed a few glorious hours in Bernkastel or Piesport, but instead we went on, across the Sauer River and into Luxembourg. Rather than going down through the drab industrial towns around Thionville on the way towards Metz, we headed instead up towards Arlon and Namur, in the southern end of the Ardennes and then turned to the west and descended from the French border post into the valley of the Meuse, close to Sedan, with its giant fortress. From there it was a pleasant cruise across the plains to Reims. The roads of France are slower these days because one must always be aware of sneaky speed traps, but yesterday the gendarmes were obviously off sunning themselves elsewhere. We got to Paris in the late afternoon. The city was in summer mode, with the cafés full of sunshine and lazy afternoon folk. In the evening we picnicked with a nice chilled rosé in the park.
The weekend in Germany had been a pleasant one. There was not too much pushing and shoving in the paddock. In truth, it was rather empty, and the attention was fixed on the racing, which was good. Bernie Ecclestone raised a few eyebrows by turning up but no-one paid much attention to him beyond that. Sunday’s race was a great fight with different strategies coming together to create a grandstand finish with the top four drivers all able to say after the chequered flag that they might have won if this or that had not happened. The crowd was around 65,000, which is not bad for a circuit which has no money to promote its event.
The splendour of the region is always uplifting, particularly when the area is bathed in sunshine. This, of course, is racing country. Michael Schumacher’s home circuit. It is a little known fact that Schumacher grew up in the same town as the country’s most successful F1 driver before him, although their backgrounds were very different. Count Wolfgang Berghe von Trips, spent his adolescence in Schloß Hemmersbach, an impressive country house in Kerpen-Horrem, a couple of miles from the village where Michael lived. Von Trips won two Grands Prix and was fighting for the World Championship when he was killed at Monza, at the wheel of a Ferrari, in 1961. Today only the most dedicated F1 fans have even heard of Von Trips. There is a hideous statue in his memory at the Nürburgring but the average Schumacher fan knew nothing more about F1 than Michael.
It is odd that the fans of Germany do not warm to Sebastian Vettel as they once lauded Michael Schumacher. Michael was the son of a bricklayer, who somehow fitted the moment in the early 1990s for the German working classes. To them he was Everyman, the ordinary man placed in an extraordinary circumstance, who worked hard and made the most of his opportunities like a good German should. As such, he became a symbol of the hopes and aspirations of a generation at a time when there was much uncertainty for German blue-collar workers, with reunification, immigration and globalisation threatening the comfortable way of life that Germans had enjoyed in the 1960s and 1970s. Motor racing became as popular as soccer, reviving memories of German domination in Grand Prix racing in the 1930s. Mercedes-Benz and BMW came back to Formula 1 and today there is much German involvement in F1, but still the sport cannot attract crowds, as it used to do. To give the fans credit they cheered his win on Sunday, which was rather nicer than the folk in Britain and Canada where Sebastian was booed rather a lot. That is the hangover from what happened in Malaysia and it is unlikely that Sebastian will ever be allowed to forget that monumental error of judgement.