Yesterday was a rainy drive home from Germany with a silly “umleitung” (diversion) in the Pfalz forest which resulted in nearly an hour of rally stages either behind chugging trucks or (more dangerously) swerving around on wildly twisting roads amid trees, cliffs and ravines. We climbed so high that we were in the clouds which added to the feeling that I had turned right and arrived in Wales. Once across the French border it was cruise control all the way to avoid speeding fines – while people from Slovakia/Slovenia hurtle past you, knowing that no French fonctionnaire will ever bother to follow up on a speeding offence. It is enough to make you buy cars in Slovakia/Slovenia! The only excitement was in a rainstorm when a bird that had ventured out without its sou’wester tried to use the same airspace as my automobile and I fear came off worst.
As it was not touring weather I skipped a lunch stop and used the phone (hands-free) to catch up on some of the news that never made it into the paddock, while dodging puddles in the spray. Watch out for changes at Marussia and more at Caterham. Keep an eye too on F1 and Russia as sponsors are beginning to grumble that going to have tea with Vladimir Putin would not be the smartest thing for F1 to do. Maybe the celebrated Strategy Group will finally do something sensible and involve itself in real strategic thinking, rather than doing daft things that don’t help anyone.
The big talking point at Hockenheim was the size of the crowd, with a number of angst-ridden German reporters trying to understand why der Mann auf der Strasse is no longer coming to the German GP, preferring to stay home with flat screen TV, his beer and his wurst rather than dealing with the hassles and costs of “being there”. The conclusions were confused. Some blamed the sport (usually those with an agenda), some blamed Mercedes, some blamed the weather, some blamed the World Cup. The most likely explanation I heard (admittedly a little bit more sociological than others) was that when Germany discovered F1 it was around the same era as Reunification. This was an unsettling time for everybody and the working classes found security, pride and unity in a successful simple lad called Michael. The fans had mullets and few skills with cutlery, but they loved their Schumi with a passion and battalions of camper vans would surge across the border to nearby races, while Hockenheim was a wild festival of beer and nationalism. The new generation of German drivers don’t do it for the retired mullet-wearers. The current F1 crop are all middle class, they are half-this and half-that when it comes to nationality, and as the working class fans have faded away they have not been replaced by der bourgeoisie. No-one engages with Sebastian Vettel because he “vants to be alone” with his anonymous family at the end of a farm track at a secret location in Switzerland and refuses to talk about life away from the race track. He is an interesting guy, but his PR bodyguards won’t let him out. For the Rembrandts in the F1 media, this is like being given a white canvas and some pale yellow paint.
Nico tries hard to engage but he’s almost too perfect, speaks too many languages, looks like a Monaco beach bum and does not excite the average machine operator in Dortmund. They now idolize soccer players. The Hulk is never in the right car and Adrian Sutil is half-Uruguayan, plays the piano and does strange things with champagne glasses.
The key point is that other races are still getting big crowds so F1 should leave the angst to the Germans.