Hamilton out to keep on rolling at Hockenheim
Published 30/07/2016 | 02:30
Where 15 years ago drivers headed through a forest on terrifyingly long straights, darting through three chicanes, now there are just fledgling trees covering the old Tarmac of a once-legendary circuit.
Coincidence or not, Formula One in Germany has not been the same since the character of this place was traded for homogenisation.
The rationale behind abandoning the former circuit - to give spectators the chance to see more of the track - has proved ironic, given the dwindling numbers of fans here. This is the first German Grand Prix in two years, and who knows if it will make it on to the calendar for 2017?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, during Michael Schumacher's pomp, it took very little to fill this place. In fact, Germany supported two races, with the Nurburgring hosting the European Grand Prix.
Now Germany can seem ambivalent at best about F1. A crowd of around 50,000 is expected tomorrow.
This with Mercedes as the dominant force in the sport, Nico Rosberg challenging for the title for the third year in a row, and Sebastian Vettel, the four-time champion, racing in red.
Rosberg and Vettel cannot hope to match Schumacher's popularity.
Rosberg has always been based in Monaco. Vettel is admired but scarcely seen between races; hardly the poster boy needed to sell a race.
Vettel, an astute analyst of F1, identifies two other causes: the general malaise around the sport and high ticket prices: the cheapest ticket you can buy for the race itself is ¤135.
"They should be a lot cheaper, a lot more affordable," Vettel said. "A lot more people would be tempted to spontaneously say, 'Yes, let's go, we want to be part of it'."
The change to the circuit is symptomatic of the wider loss of spectacle.
It sets a sullen backdrop for a Mercedes homecoming, but a happier Hockenheim anecdote came from Lewis Hamilton. He was here nearly 20 years ago, and Ron Dennis, McLaren chairman, asked if he and Rosberg could be karting team-mates.
"Ron sat down Nico and I about being team-mates. Crazy to think almost 20 years later we are back here again and the same question could be asked, 'Are you guys able to be team-mates?'" Hamilton joked.
Despite three collisions this year, the last in Austria at the start of the month, there have been few flare-ups between the pair other than the rows about yellows flags in recent races.
The explanation for that is much easier to identify than Germany's troubles: Hamilton has been out in front. Five wins in six races have given him a six-point championship lead.
He may have been outpaced by his Mercedes team-mate in practice but Hamilton is on a roll.
Even though he has wiped out Rosberg's lead, Hamilton's mentality is still that of a man on the back foot.
"I am still chasing because I have less engines, so I've got a steep hill up ahead of me," the three-time champion said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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