Germany preview - home heroes out to halt Ferrari 21 Jul 2011
A whole slew of intermixing factors will ensure that this weekends German round, the Formula 1 Grosser Preis Santander von Deutschland 2011, will be a gripping affair as the race returns to the Nurburgring.
Its Sebastian Vettels home race. And Michael Schumachers. And Mercedes. And Nico Rosbergs, Nick Heidfelds, Adrian Sutils and Timo Glocks, so 25 per cent of the drivers will be desperate to please their home fans
One of the objectives a Formula One driver sets himself, is to win his home race, Vettel says. Of course, you always give 100 percent, but at a home race youre always more motivated, simply because you feel at home.
The Nurburgring is one of the better and more modern tracks; I particularly like the stretch from the Ford corner to the 180-degree long right corner in the valley. The Warsteiner corner is tricky, as is the sharp left before that. The best place to overtake is before the NGK chicane - which is a challenging left-right bend.
"Its possible to overtake on the brakes there, because you come out of the previous corner and have to brake down to 100 km/h. Hitting the brakes later means you can take the bend first; it sounds easy but its not because you have to keep away from the kerbs or the car lifts off and you get overtaken again. The Eifel hills are special because the weather can change there as quick as lightning.
Nurburgring is also special for Vettels Red Bull team mate Mark Webber, of course. I love racing at the Nurburgring, says the Australian, who has been finding better qualifying form on the Pirellis of late, and of course its where I won my first race in 2009 so it already has a special place in my heart - Im looking forward to getting back there.
Ferrari were stoked by Fernando Alonsos excellent win at Silverstone, for a whole number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant was that aerodynamic changes to the 150° Italia were clearly of benefit, and the performance on Pirellis hard rubber was way better than it had been in Barcelona. Notwithstanding that, however, Pirelli are bringing their medium and soft rubber (plus a new soft compound for evaluation only on Friday), which may please Ferrari even more.
Cynics have suggested that Ferraris British triumph owed much to Red Bulls blown diffuser being temporarily reined in, but with the FIA having now abandoned restrictions on off-throttle blowing, the Nurburgring should reveal the truth of the matter.
Either way, President Luca di Montezemolo has predictably urged the Scuderia to keep their feet on the ground after their first win since Korea, and though team principal Stefano Domenicali agreed, he told the team: "We have got back on our feet thanks to you. Lets continue like this: we are a long way off the leaders, but who knows, if things go in a certain way, the air could begin to get more rarefied..."
Alonso and Felipe Massa are straining at the leash now and there is a spring back in their step. The Brazilian says he feels far more confident, and theyll be gunning for victory again.
"In the last few races our pace in the race was better than in qualifying, while in Silverstone we were quick in both situations. In qualifying, I finished third in Q1 with the hard tyres, and that shows that the car is very competitive. I am sure this improvement will stand us in good stead for the second half of the season."
Over at McLaren, redemption is the name of the game after the disaster of Silverstone.
Both my previous races at this circuit have been eventful ones, Lewis Hamilton notes. The last time we were here, in 2009, it was such a mixed weekend. Wed been struggling with the car in the early races of the season and the guys back at the factory had been working around the clock to find a solution. From my very first lap, I could feel the difference in the car - it had been transformed. I qualified well, got a really good start thanks to KERS, and I was just about in front at the first corner when I was hit from behind and picked up a puncture, which damaged the car.
In 2007 we had that crazy race with a huge downpour after just a few laps. Id pitted for rain tyres after getting a puncture, but even with those it was too slippery. I just hit some standing water and went straight off, along with several other drivers in the same place.
The lesson to draw from all this experience is never to make predictions when you come to the Nurburgring. The weather can turn in a matter of moments - you can have all the seasons in one afternoon.
Team mate Jenson Button has never won here either, and admits: This is a race Id really like to win. In my championship year I finished fifth and my best position before then was third, back in 2004.
There are a lot of heavy braking areas and if conditions are tricky, which they often are, you really have to get it right at every corner. The weather can change from moment to moment so youre always on your toes.
Perhaps weve lost a bit of the momentum wed built up in previous races, but not much. Although Silverstone was disappointing, our pace has been good this year.
Ross Brawn believes that Mercedes took a step forward at Silverstone, and is keen to maintain the momentum here. "Our car showed positive signs of improvement with the new upgrade package and exhaust system in Silverstone, and we have been working hard since then to further enhance our understanding of its performance capabilities," he says.
Schumacher is also optimistic after scoring points despite his travails in England, and says: "We saw some improvements over the Silverstone weekend with our new exhaust system, along with improvements to how we work with the tyres, so we go to the next race weekend with a good feeling added to our fighting spirit."
Rosberg echoes those sentiments: "I hope that we can take another step forward with our new package and close the gap to the top a little. Itll be exciting to drive in front of a big German crowd in the Mercedes-Benz grandstand."
Mercedes need to keep moving forwards, because they are locked in battle with Renault, for whom Nick Heidfeld is feeling equally bullish about new developments, which include rearward-facing exhausts.
"There has been a tremendous amount of work going on in the wind tunnel so I am very hopeful that we will take a significant step forward. I hope that the car is strong, so that we can go back to qualifying in the top 10, which is exactly where we should be, and then get even stronger in the constructors' championship."
Further down the grid there will be a change of line-up at Lotus for the German race, with third driver Karun Chandhok replacing Jarno Trulli for the Grand Prix.
"Ever since I first joined the team I have been looking forward to this opportunity and I am determined to do my best to repay their faith in me and help the team progress, this season and for many years to come," said the Indian. "I am approaching the weekend in a very realistic frame of mind. I will be doing my best to push and to make sure I learn as much as possible all weekend, take each session as it comes and work as closely as I can with the engineers and the whole team to do the best job I can."
The Nurburgring is a tricky circuit with two key characteristics: its relatively slow, with plenty of medium-speed corners, and it demands some of the heaviest braking. Some 60 percent of the track is run under full throttle, placing heavy demands on the engine, and it also requires excellent aerodynamic efficiency. The surface is quite grippy, but promotes understeer so its a struggle to achieve the right aerodynamic balance between the sections where maximum speeds reach 300 km/h and the slow- and medium-speed parts which require high downforce.
There will again be one DRS zone, with the detection point at the entry to Turn 10 and the activation point on the exit of 11.
"The Nurburgring is always a challenge, usually because of the weather, which is often threatening, whatever time year a Grand Prix is held here," says FIA race director Charlie Whiting. "The DRS zone has been set for the straight before the tight chicane, so we should see some good overtaking.
Initial forecasts suggest rain on Friday, with a reduced chance of showers for the remainder of the weekend, with peak temperatures of between 17 and 21 Celsius.
The race will run over 60 laps of the 5.148 kilometre (3.198 mile) circuit, or 308.863 kilometres (191.921 miles). It starts at 1400 hours local time, which is two hours ahead of GMT.
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