Hockenheimring 2014

I don’t expect too much too often, and it clearly applies for Formula 1. I also tend to understate a bit, but it was a mind blowing weekend, despite the fact that Germans turned out to be fairly lame in organizing events.

Since I study in Mannheim, a city about 15 miles to the north from Hockenheim, going to the German Grand Prix was a no brainer, especially after my friends decided to join. We spent ages choosing the seats and at the end decided to get the North Grandstand B, which at the level of the apex of the first corner, it was a great place to watch the start, but Mercedes grandstand and the South seem to be better in general, but obviously more expensive. At the end we paid 250 Euros for the weekend tickets. 

Apparently sales at Hockenheim were really bad, there were only about 50.000 people, and the promoters made all sorts of discounts (e.g. 11 Euro per goal the German National Team scores in the latest match. Remember the demolition of Brazil?), which was extremely annoying since we’ve bought our tickets in October.

On Thursday we went to Hockenheim for the Pit Walk. It is generally one of my favourite parts of the weekend. I love seeing the teams work, seeing the cars close up, and generally the feeling of being a little bit closer to the backstage. Firstly, people were let to the grandstand. We have spent about an hour watching people painting the lines, Kevin Magnussen doing an interview, Nico Rosberg doing the interview for Spanish broadcasters. Nico Rosberg makes you want to address him with “Your Royal Highness”, I actually recognized him by the way he walks: chin up, thinking about every move, making sure the hair is okay. He had a football and did a couple of tricks for the camera, we cheered. There were a couple of GP2 teams doing the track walk, someone ran the track, Max Chilton, for example. The crowd cheered, and was becoming increasingly bored, since it was time. Sebastian came to take pictures with the cheerleaders, at some point Britta asked him to wave, which he did. The cheering was really loud. 

In general I have to say I am actually surprised by the Germans, I expected them to cheer for Rosberg al lot more, but Sebastian is the people’s favourite, and even the Mercedes fans aren’t all about Nico, so many support Lewis. Sebastian said in an interview that he’s happy that the driver the crowd was cheering for won, well it’s not really true, the crowd was cheering for him. And in general the level of respect from the audience was fairly decent.

The entry from the grandstand to the Pit Lane was very badly organized, instead of letting people it sector by sector they ended up forming a huge crowd on the steps. It was potentially very dangerous, and unsurprisingly, bad organization encourages all sorts of anti-social behaviour.

All the disappointment with bad organization vanished when we landed next to the RedBull garage. Dom was fiddling with something on the pit wall. We asked him to pass on a note we wrote to the team. We did this last year, just thanking the guys for the hard work and for putting the racing together and we decided to repeat it. We ended up watching Dom give the note to Stuart and Stuart run around the garage looking for sticky tape and put the note on the wall in the garage. He came to chat for a bit, thanked for the support and signed my friend’s flag. I would say it made up for lame organization. 
On Friday was the moment of truth. We heard the new engine sound for the first time. And I have to say it was a shock. After watching a WEC race in Spa I started to hope that the new sound is not that bad. LMP1 cars aren’t madly loud, but the sound is amazing, unlike the GTE Ferraris which are loud and terribly annoying. I hopped that not loud didn’t mean bad. Well it means exactly that in F1. Apart from resembling a vacuum cleaner or a hair drier, the sound is so quiet that you can see the cars before you can hear them. The sound was disappointing. Only after a while when you listen to the engines for a long time and lose a reference point, it sounds okay, not a bit impressive, but okay. 

On Friday one could go to any grandstand apart from the cool ones, so we ended up watching the second free practice from the Mercedes grandstand. And I have to say that it is probably one of the best places to watch the race. You can see a big part of the circuit, and some slow corners, except that you can’t hear the cars on the back straight. And I couldn’t help but feel that from there the cars look like toys. 

The best thing about Mercedes grandstand was the live band they had there. We joked that it was Lewis who chose the band, which is probably not the case, because they were singing Adam Lambert a lot better than Adam Lambert, and Lewis would have chosen hip-hop. 

They also did an interview it Bernd Maylander, which was not really informative, but still nice, and he obviously spoke German, which didn’t help my friends too much.

Another part of the entertainment at the Mercedes area was changing wheels on a DTM car, which was pretty cool, the sound of the wheel gun is nice, wheels are heavy, and it’s a hell of a team work: one screws up, everything is lost (by the way, I wasn’t the one who screwed up).

We watched the GP2 Qualifying with the thought “F1, GP2 sounds better than you, confirm you understand the message”. Slightly disappointed with Mitch’s qualifying we headed back home. 

On Saturday we lived through the frustration of hearing the cars once again, and went to take a look at the GP2 autograph session to try to understand how the F1 autograph session was organized. We were dreading the moment after the disaster of Thursday. We were underestimating the extent to which the organizers could fail. 

Luckily Maria doesn’t watch qualifying sessions, so she stayed in the queue which was starting to form an hour before the qualifying and 3 hours before the scheduled autograph session. We went to the grand stands. 

When Lewis ended up in the was I almost had tears on my eyes, because I wanted him to have a good chance to win so badly, since I like him so much more than Rosberg. On the other hand I knew that he was going to race, really race, not just start from pole and drive away, what essentially Rosberg did. 

After the qualifying we headed to my friend in the queue, missing the GP2 race, which Mitch has won from 15th on the grid. The queue was already about 100-150 meters long, so we felt very thankful to our friend. The only problem was the queue wasn’t really working, because there were people coming from all the sides, and not exactly someone who was joining their friends. By the time the autograph session was about to start there was just a crowd. 

From Hungary last year I had a photo with Newey, Horner and Vettel, signed by Newey and Horner, and I really wanted Sebastian’s autograph on it. A friend of mine was closer, so I gave an envelope to her. Back then Sebastian was the only one on stage (with the adorable Britta at his side), Ksenia got me the autograph while I was squeezed somewhere in the crowd. Trying to get out was not an option, especially when Daniel came to the stage. I don’t remember what Sebastian was saying in his interview, but Daniel was adorable, when he was the Aussies somewhere in the crowd he started to sing the national anthem, he smiled brighter than the sun, se said he liked German beer and after a while ended up with some, which he obviously didn’t drink. When it was my turn he was sat next to Sebastian.

Since Ksenia has managed to pass me back the rest of the pictures, I asked Sebastian for another autograph, wishedhim a lots of luck. He is adorable, but very tired, hiding his eyes behind sunglasses, he was clean shaven and it makes him look so much younger, he seemed somehow vulnerable but with such a positive energy around him. After the official on stage autograph session he spent about 45 minutes signing autographs for people standing next to the railing. 

Daniel is all smiles, and it was very kind of him to sign pictures for me and Ksenia, even with the pen I gave him. And when I was standing next to him and the crowd started to sing something, he asked Sebastian “What’s the chanting, Seb” in a tone which you would use talking to a good mate. 

For the autographs I have chosen Vladimir Rys’ photos, they are beautiful, and when I posted the pictures on twitter, he replied saying he’s seen them at the autograph session. Such a shame I wasn’t thinking he would be there, otherwise I would love to thank him in person, his pictures are stunning, they are soaked in emotions. 

Afterwards I was just hoping that Maria will get her Rosberg autograph. I had one picture of Nico and since I didn’t know when the Mercedes drivers were coming, I parked in the proximity of the railing to try to get her his signature, in case she wouldn’t make it. I ended up with Kvyat’s and Grosjean’s autographs on my ticket. 

I got Rosberg’s autograph for Maria, congratulated Nico on his marriage. He is perfect, as if made of plastic, or just stored safely in air conditioned room while everyone around has been waiting for hours in +30°C. 

Deep inside I was hoping to get Lewis’ autograph as well, and I got it. Lewis was the one who impressed me the most, he has incredibly positive, very kind energy around him, with that small smile hiding the frustration of the day, with a drop of sweat running down his temple. I couldn’t help but tell this “you age going to fight back” he smiled a little wider and a little sadder and replied “I hope so”. Well, he did fight back. 

Physically and emotionally drained we gathered up at the Biergarten. Apparently due to the brilliant organization (and experience in Moscow tube in rush hour) Maria managed to get 11 autographs. 

On Sunday I managed to persuade Ksenia to join me for the GP2. When we went through the F1 Village we could take a close look at the cars which the drivers used for the drivers’ parade. Sebastian had the coolest one.

The GP2 race was amazing, probably less spectacular than the one on Saturday, but it still had a lot of fighting and obviously a strategy element with the rain. We hoped it would rain for the F1. Not the undrivable kind of rain, but something to spice up the inevitable cruising of Rosberg.

At the drivers’ parade the Germans were rushed through to do the interviews in the last corner, while the rest were going fairly slowly. We waived Dan with the Aussie flag we had, and after his driver drew his attention he gave us thumbs up. Lewis pointed at every single Britishflag, waving and giving people thumbs up. 

While Martin Brundle and David Coulthard were molesting drivers on the grid, the north grandstand was busy doing the wave. Unfortunately it died out somewhere towards the south where the VIPs were sat and it never reached the end of the south grandstand, which caused a lot of booing from our side of the circuit.

The only thing that the organizers didn’t screw up was the choreography for the national anthem. The north grandstand looked stunning, with the German flag. Last time I felt something similar was at Anfield road, when the stadium was singing You’ll never walk alone. It was amazing. But making the flag during the warm up lap was rather suboptimal. 

The closer to the start the more nervous I was getting. I am generally very nervous at the start of the race, but live and in the first corner is a completely different level.

We all know what happened at the start, and I will probably never forget these dreadful seconds when Felipe wasn’t moving. Seeing it with your own eyes gives a different perspective, it rips your heart apart and the harder you cheer when the marshal gives the thumbs up and when Felipe gets out of the car on his own and you understand that he is fine. 

I was happy to see Sebastian have a good start, especially considering what happened between Massa and Magnussen and obviously very disappointed that Ricciardo got caught in it. It could be worse though. 

I can’t write about the race, because everyone has seen it, but I have to say that it was one of the most impressive races I have seen. Vettel vs. Alonso vs. Raikkonen, Alonso vs. Ricciardo, and Lewis, Lewis, Lewis. I knew he would fight back, and he made a hell of a show. 

After the chequered flag we ran towards the podium like crazy I have probably never ran a 300 meters stint that fast, it was so much fun, and seeing the podium so close was amazing. Lewis looked not really happy though, and he went on spraying the models, which is rarely a good sign. 

We went towards the last corner, to gather some rubber, and at some point were asked to go back, we went to the first corner, then along the DRS zone to the second corner, somewhere in the middle of Parabolika I packed out my phone and switched on We are the Champions, the song I associate mostly with Sebastian. We took a couple of pictures in the Hairpin, enjoyed the wind on the back straight, unfortunately we weren’t allowed to the Sachs-corner, but it still was a surreal feeling, walking the track than just an hour ago was a arena of such a spectacle. 

When we were back there were trucks already parked in the main straight and the teams were packing up the equipment.

This weekend left me with an incredible sense of gratitude to all the people who made it happen: teams, drivers and all the amazing people I could share this weekend with.

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