Mercedes lead the pack away in Russia

Ben's Eifel GP preview

By Ben Edwards
C4F1 commentator

Formula One returns to the Nurburgring for the first time in seven years this weekend, to a track that was created next to the daunting Nordschleife circuit, one of the sport’s most infamous venues.

Niki Lauda suffered his horrific fiery accident there in 1976, the last time that a Grand Prix was held on the 14-mile ‘Green Hell’ layout.

The current F1 track has seen 18 events held since 1984, and often under different names.

Sebastian Vettel was the last to win the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in 2013, while Fernando Alonso won the last edition of the European GP to be held there in 2007 and Mika Hakkinen won the final Luxembourg version in 1998.

This weekend it has yet another title; the Eifel Grand Prix named after the region it inhabits, a low mountain range that crosses from western Germany into Belgium and Luxembourg. >

A little lower than the peaks of the Pennines, the area still takes the F1 circus a couple of thousand feet above sea level at a time of year when the weather can be notoriously tricky.

Up, Up and Away

Without Mexico and Brazil on this year’s calendar, this is one of the few occasions when the cars will be run at any kind of altitude which could be a positive for the two Honda-powered teams Red Bull and AlphaTauri.

Their power units have more potential to take advantage of lower atmospheric pressure than other manufacturers, and as we know Max Verstappen always loves driving in the rain. 

The last F1 race held in Germany was, in fact, his superb victory in the wet at Hockenheim last year.

The sad news that Honda will be pulling out of the sport at the end of 2021, announced last week, will hopefully spur those involved to push even harder and make the most of the remaining 15 months at the front line.

Meanwhile at Mercedes there will be a strong desire to win for the first time on the modern version of the track. Juan Manuel Fangio won in the Mercedes W196 on the old circuit in 1954 and, as we know, this year’s W11 has proven to be a dominant force.

Winner’s Circle

The car has led the first lap of all ten races held so far this year and gone on to win eight of them.

It seems to have very few weak areas and both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are clearly enjoying the performance it delivers.

Hamilton is a previous winner at this venue. Back in 2011, he made the most of a damp surface at the start of to beat fellow front row man Mark Webber into the first corner and, despite running wide a few laps later, he still fought back to take victory ahead of Alonso in a Ferrari.

Ferrari has enjoyed the most success at the Nurburgring over the years on both layouts but the last victory came in 2006 courtesy of Michael Schumacher. 

The German superstar won five times at the grand prix venue closest to his hometown of Kerpen but the chances of one of his greatest fans, Sebastian Vettel, adding to that Ferrari tally is pretty remote based on recent performance.

Schumacher's son Mick, who leads the F2 Championship and is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, will, however, provide a bit of poignant history as he makes his F1 debut on home turf in practice for Alfa Romeo.

Out of the Blue

There have been surprises at the Nurburgring in the past, none more so than when Johnny Herbert won the 1999 European Grand Prix for the first, and only, victory for the Stewart Grand Prix team. 

Going into the 14th round of the championship, Herbert was in a lowly 13th place in the championship with just two points scored. Clearly unfazed by superstition, he delivered an error-free and perfectly judged race, switching to wet tyres as the rain began to fall. 

All around him there was chaos, including some created by our own David Coulthard who looked set for victory until sliding off from the lead on Lap 37.

Sir Jackie Stewart was able to celebrate a double podium with his other driver Rubens Barrichello finishing third in what would be the last season the team would run under Jackie’s name. 

A year later it was Jaguar, and a few years after that it became Red Bull…

There are plenty of unpredictable elements around as we return to an area that has hosted Grands Prix since 1926 and which has only returned because of the Covid amended calendar.

It’s good to be back; coronavirus does have some positives after all.

Join the C4F1 team for highlights of qualifying for the Eiffel Grand Prix at 5:30pm on Saturday 29th August with race highlights and analysis from 6:30pm on Sunday.