Clip The Apex
31 World Drivers Champions have tasted the nectar of the winner's champagne at a race that crowned them but some are mentioned as near deities in our pantheon while some only continue to receive the plaudits of their dyed-in-the-wool acolytes.
Others, I have an inkling, are footnotes in the sport's travelogue and it's these latter two types that really intrigue me.
You may like to be the first to note why I've indicated 31 Champions but my interest is this, which Champion or Champions do you consider NOT to be Great and why?
Here are my thoughts:
Jenson Button (lovely boy, and my favourite of the last 10 years). Innovative car, teammate without the skills to exploit it.
Mike Hawthorn. Benefited from the largesse of others in his championship season, retired before defending his title.
Keke Rosberg. Unreliability of competition, rivals' misfortune.
Jacques Villeneuve. Dominant car, personality.
So onward to Germany, which is a pleasant surprise to me as I didn't think we were going to get a German Grand Prix for a while. Between dwindling fan attendance, dwindling TV audiences, a lack of funds for circuits and a certain Mr Ecclestone having various legal issues, it looked like Germany would be out in the wilderness for a while. But its not and we've come to race through the trees and forests of the legendary Hockenheimring........only we're not because they cut all the trees and forest section out back in 2002 (boo!). Hockenheim is currently a bit like the Worlds Strongest Man competition in that its all about the grunt. Its also as flat as a female Russian gymnast with the least elevation of any circuit on the calendar. What does all of this mean for the race? Well it will mean that Red Bull and Mclaren will take a step back from where they were in Hungary whilst Force India and Williams will take a step forward. It should suit the Mercedes team down to the ground meaning they should dominate from the front, unless of course Ferrari suddenly find the car potential we know they have but that seems a dim hope as the season goes on.
Ferrari are in a strange situation at the moment. Their engine is improved to pretty much match the Merc, its agreed that their car is better than last year and both their drivers are on form, but for whatever reason they are just not getting results. Hockenheim should be an ideal place to prove all of the former just as Baku was, however I wouldn't be surprised to see Vettel get another grid penalty and spend the race having to come back through the field already. As for the all conquering Mercedes its situation back to normal with Hamilton taking back the lead of the championship in the last round. Its very hard for anyone to argue he doesn't deserve to be there after a return to proper form from his dip (complacency?) at the beginning of the year. Rosberg made hay whilst the sun shone but you get the feeling now that his race may be run. I think Nico is fully aware that he is not as quick as Lewis and the only way he can beat Lewis is to get Lewis to beat himself. The more in the ascendancy he got the more Hamilton got frustrated and made errors, which of course meant Nico played a little dirty sometimes. Thats not worked and Lewis is back on top and showing a different side to his character. Rather than driving like Senna in Hungary he drove like Prost by taking a win in the slowest possible time he had too. Its saving engines which he lacks and is exceptionally smart, it also annoys the hell out of Nico and thus the tables are turned. I expect to see the same again in Germany if Lewis is out front with him backing Nico into the Ferrari's. The only way round this for Rosberg? Attempt a balls out move on Lewis, unfortunately though after the two collisions earlier this year I doubt very much he is brave enough to do that. Its very unfortunate for us because I think it means we're going to see some dull dull grand prixs just like the last two.
Back in 1986, when the Iron Curtain still divided East and West, the visionary that is Bernie Ecclestone decided to have a Grand Prix in a Communist country. Some say this was the beginning of the end of Communism and Bernie should be mentioned in the same breath as Reagan and Gorbachev, Thatcher and Yeltsin. Personally I think this is a load of old cobblers. Bernie knew he could turn a buck or two and with Hungarians starved of top line sport, apart from football, he knew they would turn up in their droves; which they duly did.
Fast forward 30 years and we are still making our annual pilgrimage to the Hungaroring. Communism, in Hungary at least, is a system of the past. Any trip to Budapest will present you with the usual range of crap fast food stores you now find everywhere else in the World but, at least, the city fathers in the 60's and 70's chose to build their brutalist structures outside the city so much of the original architecture is still preserved.
So what has happened at this circuit over the last 30 races? Nelson Piquet won the first for Williams. Many think of this as a Williams circuit, and they have won 7 races there. However, McLaren have won 11. I suspect Ron Dennis would give his right arm to win this year, although perhaps not as this would spoil the symmetry of his body and put him into OCD overload.
Back in the early years the Hungaroring was often referred to as the "Monaco of the East" as the the races often were very processional and featured little overtaking. That said, Piquet's overtaking maneuver on Senna in '86 and Mansell's on Senna again in '89 are both worth tracking down on YouTube. Damon Hill very nearly won for Arrows in 1997, after being dumped by Williams, and Jenson Button took his first win at the wheel of a Honda in 2006.
Lewis Hamilton has the best record of any driver currently on the grid, in Hungary, with 3 wins. But it's worth remembering that Danny Ric won in 2014 and Seb Vettel in 2015 and, I seem to recall, it has resulted in this race being voted close to the top of CTA's "Race of the Season". I'm not sure if this was a reaction to somebody other than Mercedes winning but the races have been anything other than a procession in the last few years.
Here's a bizarre fact (courtesy of Wiki), for the first 20 years there wasn't a wet race in Hungary. I think the last 10 years have made up for that.
So, Happy 30th Birthday to the Hungarian Grand Prix. Please serve us up a few surprises. Something more than a Mercedes 1-2 on the grid and 1-2 in the race would be nice. Red Bull believe they might have a chance here, with all it's tight twists and turns. I'm sure Ferrari would like to break their 2016 duck but I'm not that hopeful.
Behind these three teams I suspect we will be looking at the also rans. Williams will continue to be a bit crap and be behind Force India and Toro Rosso here as their car doesn't really like corners all that much. You would think the engineers as Williams would have considered that the car needed to go round corners when they first designed it.
McLaren might be able to mix it with the midfield runners a little more here, with only one long straight for their GP2 engine to have to worry about. At the back Haas and Renault will struggle for pace and reliability. Manor and Sauber will just struggle. What might be interesting is the rumour that Sauber will have a new investor. If they bring in some serious money I would suggest they give both drivers and Monisha Kaltenborn the boot but then I'm not investing so they aren't going to take any notice of me.
Hungary - menj, menj, menj as the Hungarian Murray Walker might say.