The German Grand Prix Preview 27 Jul 2006
The battle for the world championship is gaining momentum, and Renault and Michelin go into this weekends German Grand Prix at Hockenheim under pressure to give Fernando Alonso the tools to strike back at Michael Schumacher on his home ground.
The Germans two consecutive victories in America and France in his Bridgestone-shod Ferrari demonstrated that the Japanese tyre manufacturer have made good progress recently, while Ferrari, of course, never stop developing their 248 F1.
Fernando Alonso says he is feeling very optimistic that Renault can finish the season the way they started it: We are in the middle of a good fight between the tyre manufacturers at the moment. Michelin and Bridgestone are pushing each other hard at every race. We have fantastic tyres on the car and Michelin are giving us the extra performance, that's why we are leading the championship. I think we are developing the car in a good way at the moment. We began the season with a fantastic car so maybe that left us a little less room to improve than the other teams. It's important to beat Michael at every race - not just Hockenheim! We know that at this stage of the season, we have to be finishing in front of the Ferraris. But I think that a win in Germany could be worth more than 10 points because of the psychological aspect. I try to win all the races - but it would mean a lot to take the victory here.
Schumacher, however, is very optimistic that Ferrari will continue their form, while at McLaren Kimi Raikkonen was buoyed by the teams fastest Michelin laps in Jerez testing last week. "Our car has definitely been improving over the last few races, and we had another productive test in Jerez as development of the MP4-21 continues, says the Finn. Hopefully when we get to Germany we will be able to make the most of this on track.
Toyota is the other team on form at present, and just like McLaren (with their Mercedes-Benz partnership) this will be a critical home race for the Cologne-based team who bring a further upgraded aero pack for the TF106B.
The fact that this will be Hondas 300th Grand Prix, since the company entered Formula One racing back in 1964 with the American driver Ronnie Bucknum, increases the pressure on the team to regain their early-season performance. Their Spanish testing focused on chassis and engine development, and further honing of the aerodynamics package first used in France.
The other team with major news is Super Aguri. The long-awaited SA06 will be making its debut, as will Takuma Satos fellow countryman Sakon Yamamoto, who steps up into Franck Montagnys race seat. The new car is on average 20 kg lighter than its predecessor and boasts a lower centre of gravity, a completely new aerodynamics package, an aluminium gearbox and a striking new livery.
I am very happy that we were able to go ahead with the long-awaited shakedown of the SA06, said team principal Aguri Suzuki after initial testing in the UK last week. Although it was later than originally planned, I felt that it went very well. As we have yet to run the car in a race it is difficult to say this, but I believe that this is the true start to our 2006 campaign. Our weekend in Hockenheim is going to be like a new beginning for us.
The truncated Hockenheim track is usually one of the hottest on the calendar, and demands medium-low downforce levels, because of the long, curving back straight; good mechanical grip, because the slow corners are always slippery; good stability under heavy braking, particularly in Turn 6 where out-braking opportunities present themselves; and strong engines, as almost three-quarters of the lap is now at full throttle.
Higher ambient temperatures mean that engines experience a phenomenon known as acoustic offset', which means that peak power is developed at higher revs. Effectively that shifts the power band upwards. This year, however, the threat of storms on Friday and Saturday and the possibility of scattered showers on race day may throw a spanner into the works and cool things down a touch.