1995, the German Grand Prix at the old Hockenheimring. Damon Hill leads at the end of lap one ahead of Schumacher but loses the car at the first corner, much to the delight of the German crowd that witnesses their homeboy’s triumph. 2014, at the new Hockenheimring. Another Briton falls at the braking hurdle, making way for the local hero’s success.
History has a funny way of repeating itself, as the last two races bare resemblance to the events that occurred some 20 years ago, the last time when an Englishman and a German were in contention for the world crown.
Home advantage is often mentioned in football matches, but there are drivers in Formula 1 that know a thing or two about its importance. You just have to go and ask Nigel Mansell what’s the spirit of Silverstone and how the fans carried him to victory… and beyond. Great Britain had a relative continuity at the top, as several generations of drivers succeeded in the spotlight of F1. You can’t say the same about the German people, looking for someone to replicate Caracciola’s bravery for more than 50 years. Von Trips and Bellof had their lives cut short before they fulfilled their true potential and Fortuna smiled at the dawn of the 90s, bringing joy to the Germans through Michael Schumacher.
The 1995 season was a new chapter of the same duel between Britain and Germany that turned so sour at the end of ’94. Damon Hill spearheaded the Williams challenge, fuelled by a strong desire to retaliate after the unfair conclusion in Adelaide. Schumacher had the crown and the mantle, and both rivals were being aided by Brits: Coulthard (a Scot, for extra accuracy) and Herbert.
Silverstone and Hockenheim were scheduled one after the other back then as well. Both nations had the pleasure of hearing their national anthem at home, after dramatic proceedings. The headcount favored the English contingent, as they were 3 against just one German. When Hill made a risky move on Schumacher at Priory Bend, they both went out on the spot, promoting their lieutenants to the top steps. Coulthard was still a bit green and lost the win when he sped in the pit lane, triggering a penalty. Johnny Herbert grabbed his chance with both hands and went for a highly popular first win.
The British fans booed the German that had been ignored on the podium by Lady Di one year before. At the Hockenheim, it was time for Damon to hear the wrath of the German audience, when he spun into retirement right below a packed grandstand. Schumacher went on to defeat Coulthard, due to well-thought strategy. Deutschland uber alles after 56 years. The next time we had a German winning his home race was also the last show on the old track layout, with Ralf Schumacher on top, due to the massive power of the BMW engine, unrivalled on the long straights. Michael struck back by winning the first GP on the new layout in 2002, adding two more home wins in 2004 and 2006. The new kid on the block, Sebastian Vettel had to wait until 2013 to finally win his home race. This year, there was another German driver with favorable odds for a local triumph: Nico Rosberg.
The similarities between 1995 and 2014 keep on going, as the consecutive races at Silvestone and Hockenheim brought home glory and trouble for the main rival. Hamilton benefited from Rosberg’s technical DNF in the UK and yesterday Nico was in a safe place, winning with ease. Lewis gave the Germans many reasons to cheer, as he hit the barriers after a brake failure. As opposed to ’95, both were in the same car this year, so the crowd had to wait for confirmation that it was not their favorite down there in the tire wall. Once it was confirmed that it was Lewis, they let their unsporting behavior loose, just as they did some 20 years ago.
The same rivalry between Britain and Germany took place in the lower categories, albeit under various forms. The GP3 rounds were dominated by a German (Kirchhofer) and a Briton (Mardenborough). The festive 200th GP2 race was under Mitch Evans’ magic wand, guided by the wily old fox Paul Jackson. The iSport manager took over the Russian Time squad from the Motopark Oschersleben managers that brought the team championship last year. Jackson aims for new heights: more wins and the driver’s crown, but that’s a bit out of reach. Another Brit with good racing pedigree, Jolyon Palmer, stands firmly in control at the top of the standings.
For the Formula 1 field and its supporting series, there will be a neutral arena next time around, at the Hungaroring. It’s a good opportunity to balance the battle between Britain and Germany, after both had their fair share of success and luck on home ground.