Survival of the fittest

Paddock, European GP 2001

Paddock, European GP 2001 

 © The Cahier Archive

Dinosaurs are very frightening when you are five years old. They are big and they have huge great teeth and thanks to modern technology they look pretty real on television. But seeing is no longer believing and so a couple of years ago I had to explain to my son that dinosaurs are not real. They are all dead. Dinosaurs and men were never together no matter what Steven Spielberg would have you believe. Ever since then the history of the world has been dinosaurs and then knights in shining armor, living in castles.

"What happened after the dinosaurs, Daddy," he asked the other day. "Where did people come from?"

The concept of a million generations is not one that is grasped easily by a seven year old and trying to explain Charles Darwin's theories from The Origin of Species is not easy. Men are like monkeys, I said. We just developed differently.

There are some who dispute the theory but I am a great believer in Darwinian logic. I have seen "the missing link". He has a silly moustache, a red hat and a can of beer in his hand. And he hangs out at the Nurburgring.

The man from the Reuters newsagency had similar ideas when he wrote that "if your idea of heaven is a melange of grilled sausages, beer and watching the Schumacher brothers, then the Nurburgring is definitely the place to be this weekend."

He went on to explain that to be part of this sub-species all that you need is "a barbecue, enough of your favorite lager to sip from breakfast onwards, a portable CD player loaded with syrupy German pop music and plenty of patience."

Schumacher fans are a rowdy boisterous lot and one might (perhaps) suggest that they do not really embrace the finer elements of human culture. One does not see many of them sitting in the grandstands reading Goethe or discussing the finer points of Hegel. They are much more into belching.

And before you start writing in to complain about racist remarks, I would add that it seems to me that every nation has a set of these people but they only emerge when a country has a successful Formula 1 driver. There were more than a few British troglodytes about in the days of Nigel Mansell.

While scientists may find all this very interesting, normal folk struggle to accept the finer points of these charming folk and, as the area around the Nurburgring is so underpopulated, every bar and restaurant is full of them the only way to survive a Grand Prix weekend with them is to hit the bottle.

This means that of a morning one can find one or two wreck heads within the confines of the Nurburgring paddock.

"Why is alcohol legal? groaned a colleague on Saturday morning after a night of wine followed by some shots of vodka (strictly for medicinal purposes, you understand).

And for some reason it took me back 17 years to my first visit to the Nurburgring. I was (of course) sober for the race but on the Monday afternoon I found myself sitting at a bus stop in Adenau village, bound for Cologne. The bus never came and after an hour or so an old gentleman who had been sitting on a bench on the other side of the road wandered across and said: "Ach so, you're an American?"

"No," I replied. "I am English."

"I like ze English," he said with a smile. "I shot one down once."

After that we got on fine. His name was Helmut and he explained that the buses never showed up and suggested that we should have a few "chin and tonics" at his house. It seemed an eminently sensible idea and by mid-afternoon I was decidedly fuzzy about life. I remember that Helmut has a daughter. She was living in Dusseldorf and from what I could gather was a member of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Helmut felt that she needed a nice man to turn her into a socially-acceptable housefrau. I got the feeling that he wanted me to take on the job and realized that it was time to depart. I promised to return on my next visit and, I must admit shamefully that I never did.

The race that weekend was the first international event at the new Nurburgring. A round of the European Formula 3 Championship. There must have been four or five journalists in the cavernous press office (which is now too small for the F1 press corps) and what I remember most was this huge empty race track with no fans. All weekend everyone went on and on and on about how it wasn't the old Nurburgring and how things would never be the same again.

After a trip around the old circuit that was self-evident but what no-one seemed to understand is that things are never what they used to be. There is an element in all human beings that want things never to change and the past is tinted with a warm, rosy glow. People will tell you great stories but when you actually see the old Nurburging, you wonder how anyone knew what had actually happened. Today Grand Prix reporters have the action covered from every angle by TV cameras. In those days the cars would disappear off into the hills and eight minutes later they come back. What happened between these visits to the stadium area was largely mythical. The work of great wordsmiths.

The old Nurburgring had to die because it could not adapt. They tried but the mighty old Ring was just too big. It still is these and every now and then they use the old circuit for a race, usually for German amateurs. The annual Nurburgring 24 Hours is one of the great race meetings of the year. The machinery is varied and bizarre. The drivers are largely amateurs but the enthusiasm is magnificent. There are still dangers - a driver was killed this year - but the spirit of the Ring survives. Just as the spirit of Le Mans lives on despite the many changes to that race track. Silverstone has announced changes it is going to make in order to survive as an F1 circuit. In Grand Prix racing you have to adapt if you wish to survive. On the way to the Nurburgring this year I passed by Reims - a great F1 track of the 1950s. The buildings are still there. There are trees growing through the grandstands. It could not adapt fast enough. It died. Silverstone is a great survivor, so is Monza, so too is Indianapolis. They have all been chopped and changed. It is a case of survival of the fittest.

If there had been motor racing in Darwin's day he could have made a theory out of it...

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