Rivals ready to halt the champions' charge
Another one-two finish for Ferrari, with Renault scoring five points or less would wrap up a record sixth consecutive Constructors' World Championship for the legendary Italian marque at Hockenheim this weekend, as the German Grand Prix marks the 12th race of 2004.
And on current form, that could be exactly the scenario, as Michael Schumacher bids to equal his record of 11 wins in a season, and to add a sixth consecutive victory after Europe, Canada, America, France and Britain.
Last year Juan Pablo Montoya scored a totally dominant victory for Williams and Michelin, in Hockenheims heat, but few doubt that Ferrari will set the pace this weekend which, incidentally, marks the third anniversary of Schumachers last mechanical retirement.
Montoya will be hoping for an upturn in fortune as Williams sort out their new aero package which showed such promise in pre-qualifying at Magny-Cours, and the whole team are hoping for really high temperatures. The Colombian will have a new team-mate in the shape of 24 year-old Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia, who has replaced fellow test driver Marc Gene. Williams management took the view that the Spaniard, who had two disappointing races in France and Britain, had had a fair chance, and decided its the Amazonians turn after failing to agree terms with Eddie Jordan to sign Nick Heidfeld for the seat. This will mark Pizzonias first Grand Prix race since he was replaced at Jaguar by Justin Wilson a year ago. While limbering up for this crucial chance, Pizzonia set fastest time at Jerez last week.
There will be much interest in the Toyota pit this weekend with the arrival of the long awaited TF104B, the heavily updated version of this years car that will be an important interim model before technical director Mike Gascoynes new car proper arrives in 2005. The Englishman warns others not to expect too much, since much of the physical architecture of the chassis has already been set and that determines a lot of the aerodynamic shape, but everyone in the Cologne-based team is hopeful of improved performance.
While Renault will be anxious to get back to finishing both cars in the points, to fend off the mounting challenge from BAR (now only 12 points adrift and with a new aerodynamic configuration for Hockenheim), McLaren are raring to give the competitive MP4-19B another outing and expect it to be even more competitive than it was in the British Grand Prix. Jaguar have revised aerodynamics for this race, and achieved positive results in a back-to-back test at Jerez recently. And hot from demonstrating a Sauber Petronas C22 in Shanghai after the British GP, Sauber will have a further honed version of the aero package that helped the C23 to leap forward at Silverstone.
Hockenheim is a very different track since it was shortened for the 2002 race, and is now another venue that demands high downforce. The surface is quite easy on tyres, however, so teams can generally run the softer compounds as the level of degradation is quite low. Without any really quick corners, the long, curving back straight is one of the main focal points as it is followed by a very tight right-hander, the Spitzkehre corner. This is where most of the on-track action takes place, and if a driver is to have a good chance there he needs good straight-line speed and stability under heavy braking.
The race starts at 1400 local time (1200 GMT) on Sunday, and will run over 67 laps.