Rain At The Nürburgring Sets A Dramatic Mood For Vintage Formula 1 Cars, Even On The Short Track
Photography by Armando Musotto
I remember special weekends of my childhood spent on the living room sofa soaking up Formula 1 coverage. I was a big Ferrari fan back then, to the extent that if I had to watch them do something like chase Hamilton around it would be enough to ruin the rest of my Sunday.
I enjoyed growing up watching (and more importantly, listening) to the V10 cars of the late ‘90s and 2000s, but I doubt there is anything that could stack up to what most agree were the wildest years of the sport, the 1970s and ‘80s. To summarize what it was like is impossible because I was not there to see it, but even if I was I would likely be at a loss for words anyway. The media content and retold stories that colored the picture for me painted a scene of madmen drivers and businessmen, genius engineers, and all other manner of talented people giving their best efforts towards fast cars and a few toward a very fast lifestyle.
The sport is very different today. Anything that is exciting—a personality, a corner, what have you—receives a smoothing over in the form of a PR spiel, a wider margin, or else hidden behind a maze of temporary fencing. The output on track is undoubtedly impressive, but you feel as if you’re robbed of glimpsing any of the blood, sweat, and tears that produce it. It’s not as if I’d turn down a pass that got me through that maze of temporary fencing to watch the modern cars race, but I think I’d still prefer catching the old ones in action at a vintage event for a fraction of the cost.
These cars represent more than just the peeks into a different era. They are monuments to the bravery of the men who raced them, to the minds that understood how to fit all the pieces together and to the ones that thought up what those pieces should be in the first place. Maybe that’s just a more elaborate description of that peek backwards in time, but for me the Formula 1 cars just get the drama and imagination going like nothing else in the paddock. I like a Porsche 917 like anyone else who’s seen one does, but their’s just more gravitas involved with the limit-pushing variety of cars that hardly look like cars.
I count myself lucky every time I’m even in the proximity of an old F1 motor at idle, and this year I got to add some extra F1 to my calendar while making a long overdue return to the Nürburgring. The circuit and the sport are linked together with a history that’s more tragic than most, and even if the cars I was there to see were only lapping the Nürburgring’s comparatively tiny Grand Prix layout during the AvD Oldtimer GP weekend, there was still some unshakable unease to be felt watching raindrops bouncing off of bare tires on the starting grid.
For me, it was a dream come true, or at least as close as I’d ever get to watching 1970s and 1980s F1 in the rain in person. It was a beautiful moment, something like Zen maybe. All I know is that I felt incredibly alive and emotionally connected to the world, and that my world had shrunken down to a soggy corner of a race track in the Eifel mountains. Watching the Tyrrells, Ligiers, Williams, and the rest of the pack that made up the FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship was 25 wonderful minutes of exceeded expectations. The value of the cars, the weather they were being subjected to, it didn’t seem to matter to the helmets and gloves in control, and for all I could tell these guys were racing as period-correctly as they could muster.
The sports car racing was also entertaining—as it can’t help to be when 935s and CSLs and RS Capris are involved—as were the F1 sessions run during drier slices of the weekend, but from my perspective nothing matched the F1 cars when they were dancing in the rain.