Germany Preview - all to play for at Hockenheim? 22 Jul 2010
As the FIA Formula One World Championship returns to Hockenheim for the first time in two years, the battle for the drivers and constructors titles could not be more finely balanced. With nine races left, the four leading drivers are separated by only 24 points, while in the team chase McLaren lead Red Bull by 278 points to 249.
Red Bull are the team back in form right now, with McLaren and Ferrari both honing revised aerodynamic packages intended to put them on an equal footing.
Things are calming down a little for Red Bull after the fresh upset at the British Grand Prix, and this is a hugely important race for the Austrian team as in many ways it is the closest thing to a home race for owner Dietrich Mateschitz and really is home for Sebastian Vettel. The German has had a tough time of things since Valencia.
German drivers have won 110 Grands Prix, and he is the next most successful with seven after Michael Schumacher on 91. Its also a key race for Mercedes GP, and their drivers Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, Force India with Adrian Sutil, Williams with Nico Hulkenberg, and Virgin with Timo Glock.
Red Bull will bring a further revised package to the race, while McLaren will again try their blown diffuser after abandoning it from Saturday onwards at Silverstone.
"The fact that the next race is my home Grand Prix doesn't give me any extra pressure," Vettel says. "If anything, it's extra motivation so maybe I can squeeze an extra tenth or two out of myself and the car simply because of that support.
Silverstone winner Mark Webber, the only man to have scored three victories in 2010, will be keeping his head down and aiming to repeat his success at last years German Grand Prix at Nurburgring.
At McLaren, team principal Martin Whitmarsh is adamant that they have not fallen behind in the development race. "I think we've had a car that's been capable of winning races," he says. You need to be reliable and quick enough to win. I think we've had both of those things. I think we're in a reasonable position, but we know that we've got to continue to develop the car if we're going to win the championships this year."
He is sure the team will run the new floor here, but adds: "You can't be entirely confident, but I think we go into Hockenheim with more information. We've made some modifications in the light of that data and we will be running the blown diffuser on Friday. A decision whether to continue with it will be taken in the light of performance in Practice One and Two.
Meanwhile, as the pressure mounts on Ferrari to deliver a victory before the summer break begins after next weeks Hungarian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso insists that the red team can deliver after three disappointing races.
"After these two bad races people are even more motivated than before because they feel we deserve a good race finally," the Spaniard says. "We saw this year if you have two or three bad races or two or three good races, it can change the picture of the championship completely. We arrive after two bad races with not many points. We need to take the maximum from our car, do two or three podiums in a row, and I'm sure with the new points system we can be in the fight for the championship very soon."
He says that he was very encouraged by the way in which Ferraris recent big upgrade worked, even though the results werent forthcoming for various reasons. I think the performance of the car at Silverstone was very, very good - a good surprise for us. The performance of the car in Valencia was also very good, so two different circuits and the performance of the car was good enough to be fighting for a good position on the podium. So I think for the remaining races we are very optimistic.
Mercedes GP, too, hope for good things this weekend.
This will be our first German Grand Prix as the Mercedes-Benz works team, says team principal Ross Brawn. Following two difficult races, we had a stronger weekend at Silverstone where we were able to extract most of the performance from our current package. It was important that we learnt from our experiences and made improvements with Nico's podium finish being a fitting reward. The modifications which we made to our latest upgrades worked well and we will have a further step in Hockenheim which, with careful management, should also prove to be an improvement."
Meanwhile, Schumacher said: "No matter how long you are around, it is always something special to race in front of your home crowd. The German Grand Prix is very special for any German driver. There are very few areas on any race circuit worldwide comparable to the Motodrom, and as a driver you feel that energetic atmosphere when entering.
It will be the first time for me to come to Hockenheim as a Mercedes driver and I am very much looking forward to the experience. Driving in front of our Grandstand and in front of all the employees, members and friends of Mercedes-Benz will be an emotional moment. I will therefore be extra motivated to give them a weekend to remember."
Elsewhere, Robert Kubica is expecting a tough race for Renault because the lack of an F duct will be felt on the long straight, Paul di Resta wont be driving on Friday morning this time as he knows the track from DTM and Force India want to focus their attention on Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi as the threat from an upcoming Williams team has increased in the last two races. Fairuz Fauzy will again run on Friday morning at Lotus, and Sakon Yamamoto this time replaces Karun Chandhok at HRT for the race weekend.
The new Hockenheimring, located 20 kilometres from Heidelberg, features only minor cosmetic and safety changes since Lewis Hamilton won there in 2008 for McLaren, and Bridgestone will again bring a radical tyre choice of their hard and super soft compound tyres will be used. Hirohide Hamashima, their director of motorsport tyre development, says: This will be the first time that we have raced at Hockenheim with slicks since 1997, and the circuit configuration then was very different. The layout features a long left-hander before the hairpin where it is important to have good stability. After the hairpin, there are strong traction demands on the rear tyres. Elsewhere, a good overall balance is required.
We have a unique opportunity with the nature of the circuit allowing us to bring the softest and the hardest tyres from our range. This should provide a challenge for everyone and should be interesting. The weather will play a factor too. If it is hot then the super soft will be a challenge to manage for stability and durability. If it is cold then ensuring the hard is in its temperature operating window will be a tough task.
Right now, it looks as if there could be showers on Saturday, and cloudy but dry conditions for the race.