A1 Germany: An absolute thriller plays out infront of 34,000.
After the frantic and exciting events at Brands Hatch, the drivers, teams and A1 staff had two weeks before they had to turn up at Lausitz in Germany and be ready to race.
As a fan of the series I hoped to see Germany do well on home soil, Great Britain get a podium or win and if possible, see Brazil mess things up for themselves a little. The A1 event gave me almost everything I wanted, again.
Due to timing failures caused by the electronic system employed by the German host, qualifying was hard to understand for those attending and those watching on television across the world. So we have to cover the event the same way everyone else had to, by concentrating on the races.
Team France were set to dominate qualifying for the German round of A1, in his first run in the car Nicholas Lapierre was on top form.
After the session he said: “I am very happy with what happened today. From the start this morning I knew we had a good car that would go well on new tyres. I felt a lot of pressure in the last session but was able to keep at the top of the time sheets.”
Scott Speed, who had struggled at Brands Hatch to get the A1 car working for him ended up with a second place on the grid for the Sprint Race. Happy with his performance Scott said: “I have been under quite a bit of pressure since Brands Hatch. However, I now seem to be back on the pace and so everyone is very happy.”
Sunday was a bright day with hardly a cloud to be seen in the fresh October sky. The cars and drivers lined up on the grid for the Sprint Race watched by a crowd of 46,000. It was an exciting prospect racing on the Eurospeedway with it’s flat gradient and wide straights from the oval part of the facility.
As the cars came into the final turn and lined up side by side, the crowd began to shout once again and as the green flag flew, the cars shot towards the first turn, six cars wide.
As the field thinned out, those who were six wide got themselves sorted out, but up front Great Britain and USA tangled while battling for second place. Meanwhile Ireland ran wide to avoid the accident and Jos Verstappen’s awful luck continued as Malaysia ran into him, putting him out of the race.
Out infront, France pulled away as Switzerland moved into second place. At the end of lap one they were ahead of Brazil, New Zealand, Malaysia and behind them, Pakistan raced with some damage.
As the second lap began, Adam Khan ran off the track as the German entry clawed it’s way through the field, moving into the top ten. Elsewhere as Ireland moved up to thirteenth, Jos Verstappen limped back to the pits to retire. As he crossed the line to start lap three, Khan’s wing flew off due to the tyre rubbing since the start of the race.
With fifteen laps to go, the top ten was France, Switzerland, Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, Malaysia, Canada, Italy, Mexico and Japan.
The main action so far had come from the German entry. Impressing on home soil he was now all over the back of the black New Zealand car and looking for a way past. As the safety car came out with fifteen laps to go, the order was given for the drivers to race back to the line. The bodywork Adam Khan had spread about in the opening laps were too dangerous to leave.
Out of the race at this stage were USA, Great Britain, Netherlands and Pakistan. The race restarted with twelve laps to go, France getting a superb start and leading by a clear ten car lengths over the line.
Germany again restarted and stuck himself to the rear end of the New Zealand car, he started moving around in an attempt to break his opponents concentration. With the cars working so well in the minimal dirty air the A1 car creates, the closeness of the battle was a lot of fun to watch.
Elsewhere on track, Lebanon made an attempt to pass China, both taking a trip through the gravel, meanwhile Italy, Canada, Mexico and Malaysia battled side by side in an entertaining display. The attending fans could see the battle on the big screens from a rear facing camera and the cheers were evident as they had been at Brands Hatch.
At the half way stage France lead Switzerland, Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, Malaysia, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, Czech Republic, Austria, Indonesia, Australia, India, China, Lebanon and Portugal rounding out the top twenty.
Australia were a shock to be doing so badly, Switzerland were a shock doing so well, the change of track had altered the domination Piquet had at Brands Hatch and it looked at this stage like France were the likely winner, but Brazil had set fastest lap at this time, so could take an extra point.
Things remained static for the next few laps, but the identical cars created packs that were very close together and exciting to watch in any case.
With six laps to go, Team China pulled into the pits for minor repairs, rejoining the track again afterwards, hoping that by doing so they’d get a better start position for the Feature Race. Out on track, Malaysian driver Alex Yoong used his experiences from Formula One to good effect, driving defensively and continuing to keep Canada behind him.
At the front as the laps wound down, France and Brazil in first and third places began to trade fastest laps. Brazil, unable to pass the quick and consistent Swiss car, would hold back, give himself a gap and push for a lap, using the powerboost button, hoping that his laptime would not be beaten in the Feature Race, giving him that one extra point for fastest lap from the two events.
As the cars crossed the line, one of the most pleased drivers looked to be Malaysia who vigorously punched the air in excitement having held off five drivers in the closing laps. Of course they were all in the same car, so staying ahead was perhaps more of a mark of driver skill and pleasing for him.
With all cars back on the grid for the Feature Race, the pressure would be on Scott Speed, Jos Verstappen and Robbie Kerr. Due to their first lap problems in the Sprint, these drivers really would need to pull out something special if they were even going to get points on a tough track like Lausitz.
The pace France had shown in the Sprint meant they really would be hard to beat in a long race. Considering this was the Frechman’s first A1 race he had done a great job, whether Brazil could return to the top step of the podium was still a question many had though.
Before the race started, much of the debate was as to whether teams would do their mandatory pitstops after their first lap, giving themselves clear track afterwards. As the Sheikh stepped behind the microphone as he had at Brands Hatch, thanked the fans and gave the command for the engines to be started, the grid was cleared.
But drama hit early. As the cars were waved off, mechanics were still stood around the Brazilian car and in a dangerous looking situation, the cars slowly pulled away on either side of the stationary car.
Half way around the pace lap, the race was stopped and the grid was to be reformed, this due to the New Zealand car also stalling and unable to get away at all. The race distance was shortened by one lap.
As the flag was waved for the field to pull away on their new formation lap, Italy were still working on their car past the thirty second limit. They did not get the car started in time and Jos Verstappen joined him, stalling his car too. Both cars were pushed into the pitlane and would start from there, Italy late though due to further problems.
The standing start of the Feature Race, when it finally got under way, was incredible. With Malaysia coming through from his sixth place start to take second into the first turn, but the big surprise was that Switzerland were leading and France had dropped to fourth behind Brazil.
A few turns later, France had pushed past Brazil and as the field fanned out down the wide backstraight he was already closing on Malaysia, but again Alex Yoong, as he had in the Sprint, was on top form. It took three turns though and France was past him too. Great first lap.
The entire field were battling two wide through the turns, towards the back both Scott Speed and Robbie Kerr were flying, Great Britain driver Kerr taking nine places on the opening lap.
At the end of lap two, Mexico, Ireland, Great Britain, USA, Netherlands and China came into the pits together as out on track France was crawling all over the back of Switzerland, Great Britain would leave the pits ahead of the group after a great pit stop.
With thirty-three laps to go, the French pit crew were smiling as they took the lead into turn one, using the power boost to make the move. On the backstraight Malaysia slid out of his third place and onto the grass, dropping to sixth place.
Again the rear-view camera of Malaysia was a fans delight as New Zealand closed up behind and weaved back and forth attempting to pass. In the pits with thirty-one laps to go Scott Speed mysteriously came into the pitlane, got out of the car, looked at the rear wheel and walked into the garage to retire.
Thirty laps to go the order was France, Switzerland, Brazil, Germany and Czech Republic in the top five. The Czech driver was given a penalty on this lap also, he had jumped the start.
The rest of the running order was Malaysia, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, Canada, South Africa, Portugal, India, Australia, Austria, Lebanon, Great Britain, Netherlands, Ireland and China. Great Britain was the highest car having made it’s mandatory pitstop.
A lap later, Nelson Piquet began to push hard and try to close up on Switzerland, but his locking wheels and sliding created a chance for the German team to close up, thrilling the fans as he was obviously faster at this stage. At the end of the lap, Piquet came into the pit and had problems with the wheel change.
As France powered away at the head of the field, other teams were busy making their pitstops. With twenty-six to go, it was announced Brazil would be penalised for letting more than one man work on their problematic left-front, they would have to drive through the pitlane as China had already done for a similar rule infringement. The same lap also saw South Africa retire with electrical problems.
With twenty-five laps to go Nelson Piquet did his drive-through penalty. The top ten was now France, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Czech Republic, Australia and, Austria.
As the next lap began, Malaysia and Germany came into the pits, they also had problems with rear tyre changes. This is when most of us realised that the pitstops are the ultimate test for the team and drivers. It’s agonising watching a single man having to change the tyre and sort any potential problem all by himself, but when you see it as the test it is meant to be, it’s for sure a lot more of a test than an F1 pit stop is.
The problems had really mixed up the field. France were still out infront of Switzerland, but behind them were New Zealand, India and the Czech Republic. Despite his drive-through penalty Thomas Enge had managed to claw his way through the field. Great Britain, the leading team to have made their pitstop, were in eighth place now with twenty-two to go.
Thomas Enge was crawling all over the Indian gearbox and unable to pass, so with twenty one to go he came in for his pitstop, they had a small problem but did get the stop done, the mechanics thumping the wheels in frustration and passion in the process. Moments later, the French team came in too, they had a flawless stop and as he came out of the pitlane, Switzerland were leading.
One lap later New Zealand also had a perfect pitstop at the same time as India, India were slow but did not have as many problems as others, he came out of the pitlane infront of Brazil and Czech Republic, who both passed him before the end of the lap.
Eighteen laps remaining and with only Switzerland to make their pitstop, the order was Switzerland, France, Great Britain in the top three. Great Britain driver Robbie Kerr must have been shocked seeing such a low number on his pit board having started from twenty fourth on the grid.
With a thirty second lead, Switzerland would be under pressure to get their driver in and out infront of the chasing pack. That pack was beginning to close up, with Great Britain coming under pressure for third from Canada.
Sixteen laps to go and as Italy and India retired, Switzerland pitted and had heartbreaking problems with the left-rear. When they rejoined the order was France, Great Britain, Canada in the top three. Behind Canada was New Zealand who were delighting fans with superb four-wheel-drifts through the turns as he pushed hard to catch Canada.
One lap later, the safety car was deployed so the parked Indian car could be cleared. Because everyone had made their stops, no positions would be changed, but the gaps would reduce to nil.
Although the Team France car tried to waste as much time as possible catching up to the pace car as slow as he could, the race restarted with ten laps to go. The restart order was France, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Switzerland, Indonesia, Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, Czech Republic, Pakistan, Portugal, Germany, Mexico, Malaysia, Australia, Austria, China and Lebanon in the top twenty positions.
As the race restarted, France took off with an excellent start, but was closely followed by Robbie Kerr, but at the back Nelson Piquet was squashed between Japan and Czech Republic and spun off into retirement. Blame laid with Japan, who moved over, Brazil had nowhere to go.
Germany again provided the crowd with something to cheer for in all the closing laps as Timo Scheider continued to perform above the level of the car alone as he battled for thirteenth place, hoping to get in the top ten for a points and money finish. The Mexico and German drivers weaved through the turns, out foxing each other as they went.
As the race wound down, the main excitement continued to come from Germany, but also New Zealand who ran in fourth. They were closing on Canada who ran third and seemed likely to pass.
Just three laps remaining, Germany was in eleventh place, just one place from scoring a single point for his efforts. A thrilling battle developed between Portugal and Germany, one lap later having swooped back and forth for position, Germany came out on top with tenth place. So well deserved.
The race wound down and those at the front kept their positions, but as a racing fan I already felt excitement about the next event. A1 Grand Prix seems to have given me what I needed to see two races in a row now.
Of course as I said, I wanted Germany to do well, because any nation that performs well on home soil will be good for the series and pull the support in from that nations fans. Although Germany did not win the event, I could feel how much it meant to the fans, the team and the driver to have got a point.
I, for one, hope they do not alter the equipment used in the pitstops, because I enjoy the drama they create for me as a viewer. I do not believe I would be showing an image of Robbie Kerr celebrating his first podium without those pitstop problems for the other teams and I don’t think the come-back by the German driver would have had the impact it did without those pit stop dramas he had.
Let’s face it, in an age where driver aids help those who are meant to be the best drivers, in an age where a tyre is set upon by an army during a pitstop, how refreshing is it to see a single man responsible for the changing of the cars wheels?
Imagine the pressure those pit crew are under. They know that if something happens, whether it’s their fault or not, they have to fix it all on their own and if it is their fault? How hard must that be.
It is also becoming obvious how much doing well means to the drivers and team members in this series now. Seeing Nicholas Lapierre put his hand on the French flag on his chest as the national anthem began brought home to me how personal this all is.
It’s more important than money, it’s more important that sponsors, team owners or anything else ever seen in motorsport before, this is about pride, national pride – the thing most of us will fight for and do our best for.
What do most professional sports people want to do? They want to perform for their country of course, they want to hold their flag up and let the world know that at that moment, their country was the best at their sport.
Best of all, we all know that while they stand there with their flag, they know that the main reason their country is in that position is down to them. How important will that feeling be to these drivers?
The way these A1 cars move, you can read them like body language, when someone is trying real, real hard you can tell. You see them drift in and out of the turns, you see them locking wheels and powersliding out of the bends. Being able to see driver use their car like this is fantastic and that’s what made this race special for me. Timo Scheider pushed so so hard for a single point and I hope he was proud and held his flag up high.