Cup of skill, pound of determination, a pinch of luck and sprinkle of miracle

Hattrick

This really has happened, hasn’t it? It wasn’t all a dream, was it? Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber won the 24h of Le Mans. They won this crazy ruthless race. If it were fiction, one would say the scriptwriter overdid it. The reality of it will take a while to set in.

Apparently there is nothing that tastes better than Veltins Pils. Maybe the cold water offered by the Porsche staff to the fans gathered around their garages after the podium ceremony. Singing along to “We are the champions” and “Auf uns”, getting to actually touch the constructor’s trophy – it’s surreal.

It was such a privilege to see the team celebrate, to celebrate with them. It was an absolute honour to congratulate Timo in person – all soaked in champagne and wrapped in the wreath, exhausted but so incredibly happy. He is the hero. Knowing it was him in the car for that crucial last stint, was somehow calming. You can rely on Timo to do things like that, to keep cool in the boiling cockpit at 330 kmh, fighting for the win, that seemed impossible after every other LMP1 car has broken down. Timo is the hero – not the least because when he heard that, first thing he said was “Brendon and Earl are.”

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Schönes Zuhause

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“Schönes Zuhause” (“nice home”) in a crisp Swiss accent greeted us on Friday. Another memory into the incredible collection of things that we will never forget. Another insider joke. Another piece of the puzzle that makes Spa-Francorchamps feel like a home in the racing Wonderland.

They say home is where Wi-Fi connects automatically. When we arrived at our place for the weekend, my phone did just that.

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is her usual incredible self: with unpredictable temper and irresistible curves. The red, yellow, anthracite, and deep green – the palette of the most amazing painter.

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Back to the Wonderland

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Everyone has their own wonderland. Mine involves tarmac laid in strange patterns and cars going in circles. I really needed this visit to my personal wonderland. I missed it over the winter.

The sound of the Gibsons – and as you may imagine we are not talking guitars here – is the best thing to clear your head: loud, high pitch, powerful. The by now familiar symphony of WEC classes on track is something I have been missing so much. It’s my dear soundtrack of the happy unreality I longed for so badly.

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A very personal “Thank you”

Yesterday at work, when I was writing a post in an internal community and started to type the last name of the addressed person, the system made a suggestion with a very famous name of of an ex-racing driver. For a second I caught myself thinking that one day Mark Webber will probably have a corporate email address and a department code, PAG for Porsche and ELR for their racing department (if I’m not mistaken).

Today Porsche announced that Mark will retire from racing at the end of the season. Crying smileys were quite literal, and I can now make a good use of the half full (or half empty) bottle of good German white wine. It’s an end of an era in racing, yes, but it makes me incredibly sad on a very personal level.

Actually, in a weird way I have Mark to thank for my current job. Back in 2014 I sent an application for an internship to a car company. I had finance as major in my business studies, and a car company was never going to be a natural addressee for me. I gave it a go an a couple of weeks later I found myself at an interview with their Strategy department. It went okay-ish, but the fact that I had no clue about the automotive industry was quite apparent, which the manager sort of highlighted and said that they needed someone with passion for the industry. I said something like “Well I won’t claim that I know every single model of your company, but congratulations on the podium in Saõ-Paulo this weekend, it was great to see A. on the podium in his last race.” Then the manager asked me, whether I believed it would make strategically sense for the brand to enter F1, and this question more or less saved my arse, since I knew the facts about the workings of FIA- FOM and the teams, some figures about Mercedes investments in the whole topic, and could build a nice argument, why it would be a rubbish idea. A week later they called me and said I had the placement. Half a year later they recommended me to another department. On October, 1st I celebrated my first year at the company, a week later I was at my first meeting with two members of the board.

The thing is, that race I mentioned was a pure horror. That first Porsche win in WEC has cost me more nerve cells than all the racing altogether. I remember crying till morning, and feeling terrified out of my mind. The 6h of Saõ-Paulo 2014 was one of the worst and the best races I have ever watched. Thank you, Mark for that wave from the stretcher, it got my heart going again.

I still remember Spa 2014, Mark’s second race for Porsche. I was so bloody happy to get Mark’s autograph. It was a black an white picture of Mark leaving, with his yellow-blue-Aussie-flag coloured helmet in his hand, now one of my best friends has the original and I have four more autographs on the pictures and a flag spread around my room.

I have seen Mark win, twice. I have spent hours watching his 919 Porsche in the garage with issues. I got a high-five from him after his win at the Nürburgring in 2016 and an air-kiss at Le Mans when it was raining like crazy and me and my friend were waving – well attempting to wave – 1×1,5 m flags at the scrutineering at Place de la Republique in Le Mans. Thank you, Mark, for that. It meant a lot.

Mark is an incredible character – inspiring, honest, strong. The racing world will miss him. I personally will miss him in racing, and will stay infinitely grateful for what he did – unknowingly – for me personally.

Thank you, Mark. Thank you so much.

The bottle of sweet wine from Rhein-Hessen is almost empty, and I am really in need of something to fill the emptiness in my heart left with Mark’s retirement from racing.

Eifelsucht.

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“Are you waiting for Mark?” asks Brendon. “He’s flown away already.”

Trees look like black lace on the smoky sky, sun has sat already, the grandstands are empty. The teams dissemble their equipment. Dunlop and Michelin have packed before the end of the race, the trucks start moving, and in a matter of minutes you almost get lost.

“I hope you had a good weekend,” says Brendon with a tired smile and heads towards their hospitality.

Did we have a good weekend? “Mega!” as Mark said, giving me a high five after the race.

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24h.

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Le Mans 24 Hours. I doubt there is anything in this world that comes close to it. It’s mythic, it’s unique, it’s a whirlwind of emotions, it’s on the limit and beyond. It’s on every racing fan’s bucket list, and having crossed it off the list once, I have instantly put it back on it, because there is not much that comes close to the atmosphere of this magnificent event. The racing melts into the town, floods into the narrow streets, with the prototypes rolling down the Avenue Général de Gaulle into the Place de la République on Sunday afternoon for the scrutineering, plaques with the handprints of the drivers who have written their names into the history books set between the cobbled stones at the Place Saint-Nicolas.

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Spa. Simply Perfect Atmosphere.

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Porsche 919 Hybrid passing by the LMP2 of G-Drive racing during the Free Practice on Thursday 05.05.2016

You close your eyes and listen: the birds singing, the wind rustling through the lacy tops of the old pines, the tiny river with an infamous name flowing along the stones overgrown with moss… this peace and quiet makes you forget about time. But once the lights go green and the sound of the engines enweaves neatly into the calm timelessness of the Ardenne countryside every thousandth of a second counts. It was my third time at the WEC 6h of Spa-Francorchamps, and it was magic.

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Live the passion

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When you stand under the podium in Monza the world ceases to exist, in some weird way you cease to exist, you become part of that energy, you breath with it, you scream with it, and you cannot quite believe that this can be real.

Monza wasn’t really planned for me three weeks before the race, but it suddenly came on the radar, when stuff got sorted out in the real life. I have always wanted to go to Monza, and it was not really about the event, it was more about the circuit. God she is beautiful! For a while before I started going to races, I didn’t quite get all the old-school-circuit kind of talk. I think after being to Spa twice and now having visited Monza, I begin to understand what people mean. There’s something about it, that I personally cannot put into words. Sheer realisation of the history of the place is enough for it to be breathtaking, but what comes on top, is the incredible energy the fans bring to the circuit. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if you are a bit of a Ferrari fan.

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6h of Nürburgring or three days of pure happiness

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This weekend couldn’t  be more perfect. I think I will need a while to comprehend that this everything was real, that I didn’t dream it.

WEC is an amazing race to go to, after two years in a row in Spa, I knew that much for sure. Tickets are very affordable, the access is amazing, organisation is mostly impeccable. WEC is an amazing kind of racing to watch live.

Nürburgring has proven to be a great venue, too. The area is unbelievably beautiful. High up the Eifel mountains with the tiny villages around and that mideavel castle on top of the hill, it is a great destination to get away from the hassle of the real life.

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My take on the Pirelli vs. Seb

On lap 42 of the Belgian grand Prix today Sebastian’s tyre has disintegrated “out of the blue”, and after the race Sebastian was furious, I guess I have never seen him so furious before. Ever. He spoke to RTL, saying that he wasn’t concerned about the result, he was concerned about safety, and had the tyre given up 200m earlier he would head into the wall at 300 km/h. Moreover he mentioned that Pirelli said the tyre was good for 40 laps. And those 40 laps, in my opinion is the crucial problem.

The statement was confirmed by Paul Hembery. He of course said that it was just a guideline, and that they didn’t expect anyone doing a race on one stop. At this point I ask myself isn’t 12 laps too much of a deviation on 40 lap guideline? And if they were not sure, and expected the teams to do at least a two stopper, why would they have the 40 laps guideline? What are they having from overstating the useful life of the tyres, while their job is to make tyres that don’t last too long?

Sebastian also mentioned that concerns were raised after the incident with Nico Rosberg, who also escaped what could have been a very nasty accident. He is one of the people who has often voiced concerns that others didn’t: remember Suzuka 2014? Seb was the one who said that it was a shame they didn’t reschedule the race, and as far as I remember he said it before Jule’s accident.

I am sure Sir Jacky Steward wasn’t too popular when he fought for safety improvements. None of the people who contributed enormously to the safety in Formula One was. But their legacy is why after a crash the drivers get out of the car and carry on with their business.

Ihe risky strategy adopted by Ferrari is not really an excuse. It was a gamble, yes. But the tyres were 28 laps old (12 laps less that the guideline!), and at worst you should expect dramatic drop in performance, not the tyre disintegrating at 300 km/h. Ferrari gambled, the gamble didn’t pay off (though the worst case scenario would be fourth) – this happens this is racing, and it wasn’t what Sebastian was talking about. He spoke about safety, not the results.

What kills me is the hypocrisy. People complain about swearing? Really? Firstly, he speaks a foreign language, and it is likely to be a prejudice from my side, but I wonder how many of people who criticize him for it are able to form coherent sentences in a foreign language. Another point is, how so many forget he is actually a human being. I wonder how many of us would be able to keep calm and politically correct if someone shoved a microphone in front of your nose just five minutes after you had an accident that under slightly different circumstances could have cost you your life? Especially if you spoke about the situation a day before. Really I would look at you.

Seb is harsh, and I guess Britta will not be too happy about what he said, and the way he said it. But aren’t the same people who now criticize Seb say that the drivers have become too perfect and to corporate and no one expresses their opinions. You have an opinion and someone who has the balls to express it, so I am not sure there is a reason for complaints.

Formula one is a dangerous sports, and I guess from time to time all of us want to be fans of chess of snooker, it will always remain dangerous, but it doesn’t mean there is no point in trying to improve safety. If everyone would stick with “it’s dangerous, deal with it” philosophy, there wouldn’t be helmets or seatbelts yet.

I really hope that they will figure out something to improve the tyres, to make the drivers trust their equipment again. And I think that one day if we are unlucky, people will thank Sebastian for voicing, what no one did, and for being politically incorrect.

Ultimately, I don’t think that the important question is whether Ferrari or Pirelli are to blame, but what can be done to improve, and avoid something like that ever happening again.