Germany preview - decisive doubleheader starts here 19 Jul 2012
Ferraris Fernando Alonso said after finishing second at Silverstone that the three final races before the summer break were not the time when a team and driver could win the world championship, but were one when they could lose it. Thus this weekends Formula 1 Grosser Preis Santander von Deutschland 2012, the second of the trio ahead of Hungary next week, is another crucial event.
Red Bull and Ferrari come strong from the British race, where they were clearly the class of the field, and both expect to be among the pacesetters this weekend, as the German Grand Prix returns to Hockenheim after last years Nurburgring contest.
Obviously this is a very important race for home boy Sebastian Vettel, who says: Im looking forward to the German Grand Prix, hopefully there will be at least as many people supporting the German drivers as there were in Silverstone last weekend. Hockenheim is only half an hour away from my home town, so I have a lot of friends and family there and its always a special crowd to race in front of.
Ive driven on the circuit in different series and its always been great. The campsites near the new circuit are fun and its special to meet the fans there. I havent won the German Grand Prix before and, of course, I would like to!
So would team mate Mark Webber, to close the 13-point gap to Alonso in their title fight. Its always a good atmosphere here, says the Australian. There are plenty of German drivers on the grid and the support for them is always massive. Theres a long, long straight around the back into the hairpin, so we have a high top speed there and its always important to get the last sector together due to the combination of corners in quick succession. The temperatures will be interesting as it can sometimes be a hot race, so Im looking forward to it.
Ferrari have now started to sound bullish after all their caution since the beginning of the season, and expect to fight for victory here. The F2012 has surprised a lot of times, but mainly because Alonso has insisted on playing down expectations. However, Hockenheim might not suit the car as well as they hope since it is known to lack both top speed and to have a traction problem, and these are both significant factors here.
McLaren, meanwhile, need the sort of fillip they got at last years German event at the Nurburgring where Lewis Hamilton won to erase memories of a disastrous British round. The team insist there is nothing fundamentally wrong with their MP4-27, which has been the best car at times this season, but that their poor performance at Silverstone was down to a less than perfect chassis set-up.
In other words, they were another team to suffer from not finding the sweet spot of the Pirellis. Current form suggests that both Red Bull and Ferrari have finally got a handle on that, but McLaren are determined to claw back some points before the summer shutdown.
"The final back-to-back before we head into the summer break will be important for the whole team, Jenson Button says pointedly. Coming off the back of a couple of disappointing weekends, its important that we capitalise on the opportunities available in Germany and Hungary.
"Performance-wise, I still think it's difficult to predict accurately where we stand in the competitive order - Valencia and Silverstone were certainly difficult races for us, but I don't think they were truly representative of our pace. This year you really need a problem-free build-up to the race if you're going to maximise the car's potential - and that's exactly what we'll be hoping for in Germany."
Hamilton, meanwhile, celebrates his 100th Formula One outing this weekend and wants to do it in style.
I was quick to get over our disappointing weekend at Silverstone, running with the Olympic flame on the day after the race and then turning my full attention to Hockenheim. Unbelievably, itll mark my 100th Grand Prix. Thats incredible, because I still remember my first as if it were only yesterday - I guess Formula One has that effect on you!
Its always been a regret of mine that I arrived too late to race on the classic Hockenheim layout, where the track disappeared for miles into the forests and was only broken up by a couple of relatively high-speed chicanes. It must have been incredible battling round that track with minimal downforce, locked in a slipstreaming battle with another car and waiting for just the right moment to pounce and overtake.
Still, I very much enjoy the updated track - its a place thats built for racing: the hairpin at the end of the back straight is a classic overtaking spot, and the whole layout seems to make it more inviting for a following car to attempt an overtake. This is the first time weve been to Hockenheim since introducing DRS, too, so it should make for an even more exciting race.
Mercedes desperately want to do well on their home ground, and where better for Michael Schumacher to achieve a 92nd victory? But could it happen? Certainly hes had the upper hand over Nico Rosberg lately, and hell have an updated F1 W03 to drive.
"People often ask me whether there is any such thing as a home advantage, Schumacher says. My answer is: perhaps not a home advantage, but certainly a home-race feeling. As a German driver, you naturally have a different sense of excitement when you arrive at the German Grand Prix and know that all the spectators in the grandstands are supporting you. That makes you proud, and always boosts your motivation even higher.
This year is the first time that our Mercedes works team has been capable of racing right at the front and because of that, we're hoping for lots of support from the fans and to reward them with our performance. Hopefully we will see a lot of Mercedes colleagues in the grandstands, and we want to do particularly well for them. We have set ourselves the clear target of giving everybody a reason to celebrate."
Lotus are also desperate for the victory that they feel has eluded them since Bahrain, and come with some significant updates aimed at putting either Kimi Raikkonen or Romain Grosjean in the winners circle with the E20. The Finn has the better chance on paper, as the Frenchman receives a five-place grid penalty after requiring a gearbox change since finishing sixth at Silverstone.
Its an important circuit for Sauber with their German connections, and together with Williams they are keen to score well, as Force Indias momentum continues to grow. Further back, Caterham and Marussia hope to optimise the hefty updates they had at Silverstone which they could not optimise because of the weather. That may not be so easy, however, as the forecast is for showers on Saturday and scattered showers in the region on race day, which sounds nicely unpredictable.
Force Indias Paul di Resta is expected to step aside for tester Jules Bianchi in Friday's opening practice session. HRTs Narain Karthikeyan will do the same to give reserve Dani Clos a more time in the F112, and at Williams Valtteri Bottas will get another outing in Bruno Senna's car.
Hockenheim demands good chassis balance and strong traction out of the hairpin, which is a popular overtaking spot. It will be the first time that Pirelli have run their Formula One wares at the circuit but data simulation, together with previous experience of supplying GP3 here, have indicated that the medium and soft compounds will be the best combination to cope with the wide-ranging demands of the numerous fast sections and the slower and more technical complex. Teams will also get the chance to test an experimental hard compound in Friday practice, after poor weather prevented them doing so at Silverstone.
There will be a single DRS zone, down the long back straight, sweeping gently left through Turn 5 before the cars brake heavily into the hairpin Turn 6. The detection point is just after Turn 4 at the start of that straight. Minor changes to the circuit since 2010 include better quality artificial grass on the exit of Turn 1, where it will be three metres wide and extended to ensure drivers have to cross it to get back on the track, and uprated tyre barriers.
Sundays race will be held over 67 laps of the 4.574 kilometre (2.842 mile) circuit, or 306.458 kilometres (190.433 miles). It starts at 1400 hours local time, which is two hours ahead of GMT.
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