Analysis of an emotional Eifel Grand Prix, brought to you by Bahrain International Circuit
Who is the greatest F1 driver of all time? It’s a question that will guarantee disagreement in probably any elite sport and certainly no less so in F1. A few months ago, F1 and AWS did an interesting study using machine learning to try and work out the fastest driver of all time. Some will argue that this not the same as the greatest driver. Or is it? Anyway, F1 opened a can of worms with that debate which ranked Senna as first, followed by Schumacher and then Hamilton. Or should we look at most wins? That became significant this weekend at Hamilton needed just one win to match the great Michael Schumacher with 91 victories. So, it was to the chilly German countryside where F1 came to see if that feat could be achieved.
The return to the backdrop of the Eifel mountains (hence the race name) was for the first time in seven years, as the Nurburgring hosted the latest F1 race on a circuit not familiar to many drivers on the grid. The wet, cold and misty weather didn’t help drivers gain much more knowledge of the track either, as the first two practice sessions were cancelled, leaving only Saturday morning for drivers to gain some familiarity before qualifying.
The lack of track experience and data, combined with a few surprises in qualifying, set the race up for a great spectacle. Bottas qualified ahead of his teammate for the first time in six races. Verstappen was expected to be at Mercedes pace, qualifying just 0.03 seconds further back in third, in a car which tends to gain around 0.3 seconds in race trim against its rivals. Leclerc, perhaps most surprising of the lot, was on the second row on the grid, benefiting from the fact that the Nurburgring tends to be less punishing on cars with weaker pure engine power.
The race start was fairly unremarkable as drivers sought to get tyres up to temperature with outside temperatures of just 10 degrees. Bottas seemed in control of the race early on. However, on lap 18 disaster struck with what appeared to be an engine issue and he was out. He was not the only car with engine issues as Norris would later suffer a similar fate on lap 44, as did Albon and Ocon with mechanical problems. Minor issues were suffered elsewhere in the field, with a number of pit stop strategies ruined by flat spots on tyres requiring an early than planned change. At the front, Hamilton looked in complete control following his teammate’s retirement, with Verstappen a solid second, leaving the rest of the field fighting far behind, with Norris, Perez and Ricciardo all eyeing up the third podium spot. However, following Norris’ engine failure the safety car came out, bunching up the field ensuring a close conclusion to the race.
Despite worries of cold tyres once the safety car period ended, Hamilton looked in complete control, with his masterful race craft keeping Verstappen at bay. The battle for the last podium spot was won by Ricciardo, giving him his first podium since 2018 and Renault’s first since 2011. Further back, Perez (who still doesn’t have an F1 seat confirmed for next year) was an impressive fourth, with Sainz fifth.
Rightly so, it was Hamilton’s win which drew the attention as he equalled Michael Schumacher’s record number of 91 wins. To mark the occasion, Mick Schumacher, Michael’s son, presented Hamilton with one of Michael’s race helmets, in what was a poignant and fitting gesture to mark the occasion. It also reminded the watching world of the great Michael, who has a corner named after him here at the BIC. So, whilst many will continue to chatter on who really is the greatest F1 driver, on occasions such as this, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the recognition of two individuals who have given so much to the sport and inspired so many. Both have contributed meaningfully to racing in Bahrain too, with Schumacher winning the first ever Bahrain GP, and Hamilton the most recent. Statistics will only tell part of the story, as it’s the art, skill and determination of both these great drivers which will shape their legacies and numbers simply can’t measure that.
* Laurence Jones is head of Marketing and Communications, Bahrain International Circuit