The German Grand Prix Preview 21 Jul 2005
Can anyone crash the Renault-McLaren party?
Hockenheim, and the Hungaroring in a weeks time, give the teams their final chance to run prior to the summer break which precedes the inaugural race in Turkey. Thats one reason why the majority of teams were pounding round Jerez in Spain last week, doing their last big test before the break.
After their performance with an upgraded engine at Silverstone, Renault are very optimistic about the remaining races, though they are still cautious about the final outcome of the World Championship fight with McLaren.
I think it looks very promising for us, says a perennially unlucky Giancarlo Fisichella. We had a new engine spec in Silverstone, that we will be improving through the summer, and there are new developments on the car at every race, with parts coming for Germany as well. McLaren made a good step forward earlier in the season, but I think it is very close between us both now - maybe they are quicker, but not by much. Certainly we have a very good chance to fight for the win at every race we go to.
Team mate Fernando Alonso is a little less upbeat, but added: In the last two years (at Hockenheim) we had some problems with the rear tyres because of high temperatures and the traction demands in the corners, so it is something we need to analyse very carefully with Michelin to get the right balance between performance and durability. But the test team were working in Jerez last week in hot conditions, and they have done a fantastic job so far this year. I am sure we can be very competitive, just like we were earlier in the year in the hot races at Bahrain and Malaysia.
This is one of McLaren Mercedes home races, so fingers will be crossed to avoid a repetition of the practice engine failures that have so hurt Kimi Raikkonens title bid in the last two events. The MP4-20 has a good speed and we need to make the most of it this weekend, Raikkonen says.
The good news for the Finn is that partner Juan Montoya has his eye in now after his great win at Silverstone, so the Colombian should be in a much better position to help him gain ground on Renault and Alonso. The MP4-20 went well in Monaco and Montreal, which have similar characteristics to Hockenheim, so the team are in very determined frame of mind.
Ferrari have had a bruising time lately, since their burst of form in Canada and walkover at Indianapolis, but Michael Schumacher will be in a better position to give his adoring countrymen what they will flock to Hockenheim to see thanks to a revised aerodynamic package on the F2005.
The German Grand Prix is also a home race for Toyota, who are based in Cologne. Ralf Schumacher in particular will be looking for an upturn in fortune, especially after a very encouraging test in Jerez last week.
Williams are yet another team on home ground, at least as far as BMW are concerned, and they come to the race hotfoot from Jerez where Nick Heidfeld was joined by Nico Rosberg and Antonio Pizzonia as they worked through a programme designed to unlock the potential of the MkII bodywork that was run in Magny-Cours and on Mark Webbers car at Silverstone. Red Bull also have some new parts, as do Sauber, who were very quick courtesy of Felipe Massa in Jerez as they honed the new front wing introduced on the Saturday at Silverstone.
Jordan have yet to identify who, if anyone, will run as their Friday driver alongside Narain Karthikeyan and Tiago Monteiro now that Robert Doornbos has switched to make it a double Dutch driver line-up at Minardi with Christijan Albers, after Patrick Friesachers money ran out.
Finally, BAR are hoping for their third consecutive helping of points now that their programme is back on track after all their interruptions this season, and Jenson Button and Takuma Sato will have upgraded BAR 007s for this race following the four-driver test in Jerez.
"The German Grand Prix last year was one of the best races of my career, Button says. To finish in second place having started from 13th was amazing. I have great memories from this race. There are some good overtaking opportunities which created an exciting race last year. I think that we will face the same challenges that we experienced at the British GP, but having completed two days testing in Jerez where the car felt good, I hope to be more competitive and have both cars finish strongly in the points."
It is usually very hot and humid this time of year at Hockenheim, and the weather forecast suggests this will be the case again this time. That will exacerbate the tyre situation. The surface is quite abrasive and this, combined with the high track temperatures, high downforce configurations and the tractive demands placed on the tyres means that choosing them on Friday and Saturday will be crucial. After Indianapolis, it would not be a surprise to see Michelin err on the side of caution here.
It is not easy to find the perfect set-up here, either, because of the need for compromise; you need high downforce for the many low- to medium-speed corners, but low drag down the long back stretch which leads to the hairpin and the best overtaking opportunity. You also need to set the car up so that you preserve the rear tyres, as any overheating will quickly destroy them. Reducing the pressures helps to keep the tyres cool, but everyone will doubtless be bearing in mind the Indianapolis situation in that respect.
All in all, the 67-lap race round the 4.574 km circuit holds great promise, not just for a McLaren v Renault confrontation, but also possible improvement from Ferrari, Toyota and Williams to complicate the plot.