Markus Winkelhock enjoyed one of the most extraordinary debuts in F1 history at the Nurburgring, and became one of a very small group of drivers who have led their first race. He's also certainly the first driver to have qualified last,...
Markus Winkelhock enjoyed one of the most extraordinary debuts in F1 history at the Nurburgring, and became one of a very small group of drivers who have led their first race. He's also certainly the first driver to have qualified last, started from the pit lane, and been in the lead by the end of lap two!
The Spyker engineers made the perfect decision when they brought Markus in at the end of the formation lap and put him on wet tyres. He immediately gained ground on the first lap as others slid around, and as most of the field piled into the pits, he was effectively in sixth place across the line at the end of the lap. By the end of the second lap he was in the lead, and even after making another stop on he third lap to go onto extreme wets he was still well in front when the safety car came out.
The race was then suspended, and Markus had the honour of leading the field away behind the safety car for the restart. Expecting more rain, the team opted for extreme wet tyres, but that proved to be a gamble that didn't pay off, and the field quickly swallowed him up. He eventually retired with an electronic problem. After the race the team website asked him for his thoughts on a memorable day.
Q: It probably hasn't sunk in yet, but how do you view the weekend?
Markus Winkelhock: It was a special day, my first F1 race, and in Germany. I was quite lucky that the team made a good decision to bring me in, and we immediately changed to wet tyres. It was a team decision -- I saw some rain drops on my visor on the formation lap, but I really didn't think that it was going to rain that hard! It worked, and I overtook many cars.
Q: When you first went out you were at the back. When did you first start catching people and thinking, this could be good?
MW: Immediately when I went out of the pits I overtook the first cars, and I could see that I was much quicker with the rain tyres. Many cars went off, and it was really difficult conditions. There was so much water, it was not easy to hold the car on the track. I didn't want to take any risks, because for me it was the first time in an F1 in rain conditions. But I was really happy. I saw the pit board with P1 on, and I asked the team am I really in P1? They said yes you are, keep on pushing! Unfortunately the safety car went out, but they would have caught me out anyway.
Q: Can you remember who you passed?
MW: Everybody! I think I overtook four cars between the first corner and the second corner. Then when I overtook Kimi Raikkonen I thought that maybe I am now in P1! When the red flag came I knew I'd lost my lead, but anyway, I led an F1 race.
Q: What advice did the team give you during the break?
MW: Just keep on pushing. No risk, no pressure, just go!
Q: What was it like at the restart?
MW: I didn't want to take any risks, because I knew that the Ferraris and McLarens would be quick, and they would pass me. And at that moment we had the heavy rain tyres on, and the others had intermediates on. The track was already too dry in many parts, so I really lost a lot of grip compared to the others.
Q: How hard was it to keep people behind?
MW: It was not easy. Like I said I never drove in rain conditions, and I didn't want to take any risks, I didn't want to miss the braking point at the first corner and end up in the gravel. That would be the most embarrassing situation for me! So I let them past. I was trying to fight a little bit, but I was losing out of the corners so much, and they overtook me just like that. I couldn't match their speed so we changed back to grooved tyres.
Q: What happened in the end?
MW: It was disappointing for sure, but it was not a mistake of the team. I think it was an electronic problem. Unfortunately the target was to finish the race and see the chequered flag, but anyway I have to say thank you to the whole team. I had a really nice weekend with them, all the guys, the mechanics and engineers, were working really hard. I just enjoyed it, the whole weekend.