Tag Archives: nurburgring

Hollywood’s rush to the racetrack

Niki Lauda at Watkins Glen 1976

Can Ron Howard's Rush do the 1976 Grand Prix year justice? (Steve1828)

So motorsport is the current topic du jour in cinematic circles. Three documentaries are currently stoking tinsel town’s interest; Senna has been a global hit, TT Closer to the Edge was a stunning insight into the mortally dangerous side of racing and the Moto GP movie sequel Fastest is opening tonight in London. Meanwhile both Ron Howard and Michael Mann are dipping into the history of the sport for their latest projects. Good times.

Of course we with petrol in our veins have long known of the allure and inherent drama of racing. I distinctly remember sitting with my parents as Ayrton Senna delivered his monologue after the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix and declaring that it was as if we were watching a movie. Little did I know that it would become a part of one. Hollywood hasn’t always done the sport justice; Grand Prix looked and sounded the business but lacked the script it deserved while Sylvester Stallone’s Driven was pure drivel. The recent spate of racing documentaries, including a quartet on the small screen courtesy of the BBC, has quenched the thirst for racing stories but now it is time for the auteurs to fictionalise some of the greatest battles from the annuls of motorsport.

First up will be Rush, Ron Howard’s movie based on the 1976 Grand Prix season. As a topic I could barely imagine a better one. The set up? The first of many edgy championships contested between Mclaren and Ferrari, the battle was as much a clash of ideologies as it was a sporting contest. James Hunt the playboy taking on Niki Lauda the savvy professional, the earnest Brits taking on the passionate Italians. The confrontation? A championship that appeared to be going the way of the red team was shattered by Niki Lauda’s horror crash that signaled the end of Grand Prix around the Nordschleife. The resolution? Lauda’s heroic comeback, Hunt’s memorable championship. Sorry for the spoiler, but there is your three acts – and what a movie it will make.

Rush is due to be an independent film, albeit one with a healthy budget and a heavyweight director. Nonetheless it may mean that Ron Howard and company will be mooching around looking for distribution as the cameras roll which is not something he is used to. Howard has made the odd trip to a modern Formula One race for research which is about as useful as a fact-finding mission to a modern day Afghanistan when attempting to write a war movie set 50 years ago. It is more likely that this was a courtesy call on Bernie Ecclestone who is clearly backing the movie as the first in-depth interview with Ron Howard about Rush was a feature on the Formula One website. His stash of historic Grand Prix machines will come in handy too. This endorsement shouldn’t be taken lightly – Ecclestone not only rebuffed Stallone in the 1990s, he also rejected David Cronenberg’s Grand Prix movie that was due to film in the late 1980s after the director was inspired by the brilliant 1986 season.

Last week the first shots were filmed on Rush, although these were merely tests for the shoot proper. This involved the Nurburgring and some historic cars which will have been a fun day out for all, including British Touring Car’s rising star Rob Austin who tweeted that he was a part of the crew. Let’s hope Plato and Neal aren’t the other drivers, I don’t remember Hunt and Lauda giving each other the finger or moaning about turbos, although Hunt the Shunt was known to throw a punch in his early days…

On writing duty is Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan while the driving seats will be occupied by Thor star Chris Hemsworth and promising German actor Daniel Bruhl. Both exhibit a reasonable likeness for their characters, so that is reassuring. Ron Howard is adept at masculine emotion and has proven his salt by tackling real-life tales with no more embellishment than is needed.

I’m hoping that they look closely into James Hunt’s story, he fascinates me more than most racers. You often picture the hairy, lairy 1970s Formula One driver as being fearless but Hunt was not. While being the arch-party animal he was a man who would throw-up immediately before every race and quit the sport abruptly in the middle of the 1979 Monaco Grand Prix. Unlike the Mclaren drivers of today, Hunt was permitted to meet the great and the good in t-shirt, jeans and not-uncommonly barefoot. We are all unique, some of us just break out of the mould a little more than others. A movie about James Hunt was touted by Dreamworks earlier this year, but Rush has beaten them to the punch so it is doubtful we’ll ever see the English world champ’s very full life told in its entirety on celluloid.

Meanwhile there is Michael Mann’s Go Like Hell which was originally rumoured to be a movie for 20th Century Fox but could now appear as a drama series for TV. Sharing its name with AJ Baime’s book about Ford and Ferrari’s high-stakes duel at Le Mans in 1966, Go Like Hell could be quite a treat if and when it appears. Mann has long looked at filming a motorsport movie, his name has been linked with an Enzo Ferrari picture for years now. Let us hope that it gets the green light soon.

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A chink in the armour

Sebastian Vettel

Still something to prove - Seb can't quite match Lewis' racecraft. (Infiniti)

After starring in qualifying Lewis Hamilton put in a spectacular drive to win a fine race this afternoon at the Nurburgring. The Mclaren star had to go wheel-to-wheel with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber, while Sebastian Vettel took until the last lap to grab fourth from Felipe Massa in the pitlane and Adrian Sutil picked up a superb sixth for Force India in his home Grand Prix. Hamilton has rarely looked happier and rightly so. He had the pace all race and put in two very different but equally brave moves on Alonso and Webber, using his ability to strike hard when his rivals are vulnerable.

Despite a spot of wheelspin off the startline Lewis seized the top spot from polesitter Mark Webber, although at least the Australian finally led some laps in 2011. Mark fought back briefly as he passed Lewis for all of one corner but it wasn’t until the leader’s pitstops were completed on lap 17 when the Red Bull man assumed control, before dropping to third the next time he stopped for tyres on lap 30 on a day when the lead three cars were tightly matched. This time it was Alonso who emerged ahead of Hamilton out of the pits, though it was short-lived as the Mclaren driver powered his way around the outside of the Ferrari in turn two as the Spaniard emerged on colder rubber. Webber then lost touch on a rare day where the Red Bull looked like it was only the third quickest car on circuit leaving Lewis Hamilton to take his 16th Grand Prix victory.

Vettel was way out of sorts with a spin on lap 10 during a very difficult first half of the race for the world champion which left the homeboy locked into a battle with Massa for a distant fourth place. A last lap switch to the prime tyre for both of them came out in Sebastian’s favour but it took the pitcrew to make the pass for him. Sebastian is arguably the outright fastest driver but he still hasn’t quelled the doubts over his ability in traffic. There remains something to prove for the youngest ever champion of the world when it comes to racecraft.

Suffering far more than any other title contender was Jenson Button who not for the first time made a bad getaway before eventually succumbing to a hydraulic failure just after fighting his way past Rosberg into sixth place. Button was left down in the dumps while Hamilton was up in the clouds.

Within a week we will go from one ring to the other as the teams pack up their kit at the Nurburgring and drive to the Hungaroring where the heat will literally be on Mclaren and Ferrari to keep up their current run of form. The higher temperatures in Hungary should help Red Bull regain ground once more. For either Lewis or Fernando to overcome Sebastian’s 77 point lead in the championship it isn’t enough to just beat him into second, they need a day like today where both their teams are able to take points away from Red Bull. That is a tough ask but the German Grand Prix will give both squads real hope.

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An afternoon of perfect laps

Mark Webber takes pole

Webber wasn't alone in smiling after qualifying at the 'Ring. (pic Infiniti)

So Lewis Hamilton delivered a “wicked” lap that was “as good as it gets” to split the Red Bulls in qualifying for tomorrows German Grand Prix. Mark Webber sits on the pole with a lap that he said he could barely of driven any better, stoking his hopes to finally lead some laps and win in 2011. Finally banished from the front row is his teammate Sebastian Vettel who lines up third ahead of the two Ferraris, Nico Rosberg was a competitive sixth with Button, Sutil, Petrov and Schumacher completing the top 10.

According to the top two drivers they both drove the perfect lap – fast, committed, yet seemingly undramatic. But the perfect lap means different things to different people. Nico Rosberg out-pacing his illustrious partner is nothing new, but 1.2 seconds ahead of Schumacher at their home race will seem like perfection where he is sitting. You don’t even need to finish ahead of your teammate to feel you have done the perfect job, if not the perfect lap. Karun Chandhok finished just eight tenths behind Heikki Kovalainen for Team Lotus, the Indian driver lines up 21st having only been announced as replacing the troubled Jarno Trulli a few days ago. Given the circumstances faced by Karun it is fair to say that this was the closest to the ideal lap that he could have delivered and he is now in the frame to achieve his dream of driving in the first Indian Grand Prix and beyond.

Even at the tail of the field the HRTs were fighting hard with the other new(ish) teams and Daniel Ricciardo in only his second Formula One qualifying session was within thousandths of Tonio Liuzzi, a guy who has been in F1 since 2005. Again, for the rookie this must have felt like the perfect lap, even last place can feel special when you are in F1.

Red Bull-backed Australians bookended the time sheets in a qualifying hour that promises much for tomorrow, especially with Vettel finally out of the top two. Sebastian obviously will not be chuffed with this at his home race, even if the Grand Prix circus is itching to knock him off his pedestal everywhere he goes. Surprisingly the Mclaren looks competitive on the harder compounds as well as the softs, at least in Lewis’ hands during qualifying, though Mark Webber produced a special drive on F1’s last visit to the Nurburgring to overcome a penalty and score his debut win so he has still installed himself as the favourite even if all eyes were on Hamilton. The weather could be the curveball that wipes the smile off a few faces on race day, though you suspect that Hamilton could find himself with an even bigger grin if the rain comes. He’ll need to do an awful lot more “wicked” laps to keep this competitive top five in check either way.

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Can the ‘Ring be saved?

Save the Nurburgring

Old meets new at the world's automotive playground. (pic Lexus)

There is nothing more mournful to the devoted petrolhead than a once glorious racing venue that has fallen silent. The world’s first purpose-built motorsport arena at Brooklands was bombed into submission barely 30 years after it ushered in the modern format of circuit racing. Its abandoned banking is a ghostly reminder that no circuit is immune to the hand of time or, it seems, the hand of Herman Tilke. On the eve of the German Grand Prix it is worth remembering that although the Nurburgring has admirably survived a brush with Tilke, now this most fearsome of tracks is under threat from its own custodians.

In a bye-gone age when true road racing over mammoth stretches of tarmac still existed the confines of the Nordschleife still managed  to conjure up fear in even the most daring drivers. Nobody conquered the 14 miles as convincingly as Juan Manuel Fangio in 1957 or Jackie Stewart in 1968, both of whom later confessed to the fear that taming the Green Hell struck into them. That a circuit as daunting and idiosyncratic as this still hosts racing, let alone members of the public hurtling round in their own cars and bikes, is a rare triumph for the thrill-seeking spirit in an ever more homogenised world. That this Mecca for motorists is struggling under the weight of its debt is a more than a shame, it is a threat to a great symbol of the freedom of motoring.

The organisers of the Nurburgring 24 Hours have spoken of ditching the venue at the end of its current contract while Formula One is now an irregular and expensive visitor to the reasonable Tilke-drome that was tacked onto the old track in 1984. It seems that the pilgrims in their track-ready and not so track-ready machines along with the manufacturers that pride themselves on their intensive ‘Ring testing are the ones keeping races happening here at all. It certainly isn’t the track-side roller coaster that is paying the bills, nor is it the costly honour of holding the German Grand Prix. The Save The Ring campaign outlines the massive mis-managements behind the Nurburgring’s current woes. As the Grand Prix circus roll through the Eifel mountains there is no better time to connect with Save The Ring and show your support for the last bastion of a heroic era.

There is a demonstration planned for Sunday which the campaigners hope will show the world what is going on beyond the weekend’s big race. The world’s automotive playground is sinking in debt after questionable investments based on over-optimistic targets. Now those running the show want us to ‘Love the Ring’; they clearly don’t realise that millions of motor-mad individuals already do adore this place. They also don’t appreciate the art of the double entendre…

Save the Ring wants to see new management and the separation of the circuit from the exhibition halls and roller coasters springing up around the hallowed roads. I’m not nearly well informed enough to know if they stand a chance of success, but I wish them well. Plenty of tracks have fallen victim to mis-management over time, indeed Donington Park was so nearly lost recently, but surely a national treasure that has survived so much with its spirit intact can’t be left to flounder in a sea of debt?

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Markus Winkelhock – a life in a day

Markus Winkelhock Audi DTM

Markus failed to make the sparks fly in DTM (pic smudge9000)

Audi were on the back-foot in the DTM this year, so they are looking to make changes to get ahead of arch-and-only rivals Mercedes. With the specs frozen solid there is little for them to do to their cars so it’s the drivers who are being chopped and changed. To make way for double Macau F3 winner Edoardo Mortara, Race of Champions’ shock winner Filipe Albuquerque and Swiss lady racer Rahel Frey Audi have ousted Markus Winkelhock, Katherine Legge and the unfortunate Alex Premat – who was booted while he was still nursing the headache from his massive Adria accident last year. I suspect those three former young guns will be phoning up BMW this morning to ask if they need somebody who knows what makes a decent DTM machine tick.

It’s a shame Katherine Legge has been put out to pasture, but hopefully she’ll find a way back to single-seaters where she showed real promise by winning in Atlantics and surviving mega-shunts in Champ Car. Kicking Premat when he was down seemed a touch harsh, but after Audi’s pathetic pull-out from the Spanish DTM round in 2007 it is hardly shocking to see them getting their knickers in a twist over some cracked carbon-fibre. But I feel most sorry for Markus Winkelhock, son of Manfred, nephew of Smokin’ Jo. Why? Because he had one of the craziest and coolest F1 careers possible – one race, two starts, 16 laps completed, six of them in the lead. If you are only going to do one race you may as well make it a good ‘un.

For many the name Markus Winkelhock conjures up only one image – his orange Spyker shining through the rain as he led his first and only grand prix. Although he’s never exhibited the flair of his Dad or uncle, his sole Grand Prix was quite an an adventure.

Making his debut in his home race after fellow DTM driver Christijan Albers got the boot, Markus started the race from 22nd and last on the Nurburgring grid. Piloting perhaps the slowest car of the day, he opted to start on intermediates while the rest of the grid set off sporting dry rubber. Cue a downpour and within no time he was watching as six cars spun into the same gravel trap and our intrepid rookie calmly carved his way through Ferraris and Mclarens to open up a lead of near-as-damn-it two whole minutes!

Inevitably the red flags waved so Markus then got a rather different view of the grid as he lined up on pole position for a rare sight in F1 – a full restart. This meant he became the only driver to have started both last and first in his debut race! He led more laps than eventual winner Alonso, before succumbing to mechanical woes and leaving the race after 16 laps. It was like watching a career in fast forward – start at the bottom, make it to the top, race in every weather except snow, then onto an ignominious retirement before touring cars beckon.

After his entertaining race at the ‘Ring Sakon Yamamoto showed up with a sack of cash and Markus was sent back to Germany to crash DTM cars. He certainly performed better than Ms Legge and his shunts were at least a little softer than Premat’s, but their fellow young gun Mike Rockenfeller outshone them all and has deservedly got a shot with a new machine for 2011.

Let’s hope that the DTM’s ambitious expansion plans for the next few years allow us to see a little more of Markus – the man who lived a life in a day.

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