The 2000 German Grand Prix
is fondly remembered for Rubens Barrcichello's maiden victory from 18th on the grid in a dry-wet classic around the old Hockenheim. One of the catalysts for this stunning charge through the field was not in the conventional race script though: the bizarre on-track amblings of a disgruntled former Mercedes Benz employee.
The race started inauspiciously for Ferrari, Barrichello a poor 18th on the grid after problems in qualifying and Michael Schumacher punted off the track into retirement at the first corner by Giancarlo Fisichella's Benetton.
The McLarens of Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard
duly charged away at the front of the field, while Barrichello scythed his way through the pack and into podium contention. On lap 25 however, the race was altered dramatically by an unprecedented turn of events.
A lone man was incredibly wandering along and across the track on the run-up to the Clark chicane - with cars flashing past at well over 200 m/ph. His white raincoat flailing around like a spectral cape, the man presented an unknown danger to the field, prompting the instant intervention of the Safety Car.
Murray Walker's memorable commentary described the action with wonderfully relished giddy abandon; “Fantastic development! That lunatic, whoever he is, is changing the complexion of the race!” And so he did, with the safety car closing up the pack and allowing Barrichello to leapfrog the hitherto dominant McLarens and claim a wildly popular victory through treacherous conditions in the second half of the race.
But who was the 'lunatic' intruder? Later identified as Robert Sehli, a 47 year-old Frenchman, his raincoat gave some clue as to his motivations, with the slogan, “Mercedes Benz, who knew about my health problems, offered me a job I could not do and then sacked me for physical ineptitude after 20 years service”, scrawled across the back.
It later emerged that 15 seconds prior to the start of the race Sehli had tried to run on to the grid, but had been apprehended and ejected - only re-gaining the circuit by cutting a perimeter fence. Two races previously, at Magny-Cours, he had attempted something similar but had been restrained by the FIA Photographers' Delegate.
Determination unbound, Sehli finally made his point, with the presumably unintentional but happy (for him) result that the Mercedes-engined McLarens lost a certain victory due to his bizarre protest.
A classic race won by Rubens Barrichello
after a stirring overtake-laden drive interrupted by the intervention of a madman on the circuit? For a bizarre example of life imitating life, look no further than the mirror-image companion piece to Hockenheim 2000: the 2003 British Grand Prix.
Barrichello had fluffed the start from pole position, ceding the advantage to Jarno Trulli
and Kimi Räikkönen, but a wonderful pass around the outside of the Finn into the Abbey chicane set Barrichello fair to attack Trulli for the lead.