Reflections on the German Grand Prix
28 July 1997Andrew Frankl
TACH European Bureau Chief
Gerhard Berger was not the only person to have shed a tear at Hockenheim on Sunday after his runaway success, even in that most cynical of all places, the international press room there were a few journalists who suddenly felt an urge to blow their noses.
I can understand it. The 38 year old Austrian is probably the most popular driver in Formula One today. Admittedly he has been around a long time but that is no guarantee of universal admiration. Whilst I got on very well with Nigel Mansell, lots of people simply could not stand him and celebrated when he finally retired..
The statistics do not really do Gerhard justice.203 races and only 10 victories may seem modest compared to Michael Schumacher' s record of 25 wins from 93 starts but for long periods Berger either had inferior cars or a team-mate by the name of Ayrton Senna..
Maybe there were times when he was not taking the sport quite as seriously as he should have done,instead he was having fun! Beautiful girls, yachts, parties ,the way Formula One used to be before it became heavily regulated ! How heavily? Let me give you an example.
Michael Schumacher was reprimanded after Sunday's race for giving a lift on the back of his Ferrari to young Giancarlo Fisichella after the young Italian got stuck miles from anywhere as his Jordan-Peugeot gave up the ghost at the other end of the circuit. Pathetic is the only polite word I can use , there is a danger that some organisers have simply lost touch with anything remotely human. Whether Berger will retire remains to be seen. He is certainly leaving Benetton, team boss Flavio Briatore is not exactly his best friend.
Whether he will stay in the sport remains to be Sen. Hockenheim there were rumours galore, some linking the Austrian to McLaren for a year whilst the much coveted Michael Schumacher finishes his stint at Ferrari and becomes available to wear the three pointed star. Mercedes, McLaren's partners is understandably keen to have the national hero driving their car and not one made in Italy.
Can't blame them, after all Michael is squeaky clean. Happily married to a pretty lady, father of a beautiful baby girl, well-mannered, polite if a shade arrogant at times, successful, leading the championship, fluent in English with a bit of Italian and French thrown in as well-a sponsor's dream if ever there was one. The alternatives-well, apart from Jan Ullrich who won the Tour de France cycle race more or less at the same time Berger took the chequered flag - there aren't any. Berger lost at Wimbledon and is retiring, Stich, another former champion as well, Steffi Graf's father is in jail and she has just had an operation, Michael's only rival is the near future is likely to be his brother!
In the meantime the who-goes-where next year saga is continuing unabated , I won't bore you with today's gossip as it is likely to be outdated by tomorrow. Some people reckon that there will be anything from 9-12 driver changes, if and when these happen I will let you know. For sure it would be nice to Hill in a competitive car and equally nice to a Stewart-Ford finish a race. They are very brave to test their new engine in public but as these keep exploding with monotonous regularity I question their wisdom.
Now the circus moves on to Hungary, a very different place. Slow by F1 standards and a place where it is very difficult to pass many people reckon it will the scene of Team Williams' resurgence. Well, after the Hockenheim fiasco it cannot come a minute too soon!