Thursday’s Hot Topic: Why cold weather could be the defining factor at the Eifel GP
“Cold to my bones.” Those were the words of a wrapped-up George Russell as the Williams driver spoke to the media at a soggy Nurburgring on Thursday – and he wasn’t alone…
Woolly hats, thick scarves and winter coats – more frequently associated with winter testing in Barcelona – were the order of the day as the anticipated cold snap bit hard ahead of the Eifel Grand Prix.
Temperatures lingered around 7 degrees Celsius throughout the day, but a chilly breeze that morphed into a piercing wind as the gloomy day drew on made it feel significantly colder.
And the forecast suggests things aren’t likely to improve, with Saturday set to be the chilliest with lows of 2C and rain – of varying degrees of intensity – expected throughout.
That’s a lot of weather chat to start a Formula 1 feature, but the conditions will play such a huge part in how this weekend, which could be one of the coldest in F1 history, will turn out.
Sunday’s race could see temperatures of just 9C, which is only 4C warmer than the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix, when there was sleet and snow blowing around during the podium ceremony.
Hit those temperatures and it’ll certainly be the coldest in the last decade, with Canada 2016 holding the current record in that period with 12C.
“We haven't really raced in these conditions recently,” said AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat, who took a podium in a wet 2019 German GP. “We've had extremely hot races, but extremely cold, I can't remember the last time – even last year in Germany it was raining but it wasn’t extremely cold, it was just wet, but now it's both.
“It's going to be interesting to understand on Friday what's going to make the car work the best in these kinds of conditions, that’s going to be the challenge, and lately we've been doing our job very solid, very good, so I'm quite confident we will try to understand these conditions well also.”
With no recent F1 experience of the Nurburgring, tyre supplier Pirelli have opted to bring three tyre compounds in the middle of their range, which they believe are well-suited to the varied demands of the German track. If it remains dry, getting the tyres into the right window in cold conditions will be a huge challenge.
“The tyres will have a risk of graining because you are going to be going really hard on the tyres when they are too cold,” said Russell. “The people on the hard tyres are going to really struggle, but it looks like it might be wet during the weekend so that’ll make some interesting activity, let’s hope.”
Cold tyres and restarts midway through the race are going to be challenging for drivers, as they battle to get temperatures into their rubber. “It's going to make it quite challenging I think,” said Haas driver Kevin Magnussen. “Safety Cars in the race could be a big one.
“If we have one of those restarts mid-race, that's going to be a big challenge, and I think even getting the tyres up to temperature for the first lap, for qualifying, could be a fairly big challenge so we'll see how it goes. It's going to be the same for everyone so we'll take it as it comes.”
Formula 1 teams are creatures of habit, so they like heading back to circuits they know as they have plenty of data to work with. Heading to a new track, in unusually cold conditions, makes things tricky for them – and means Friday practice becomes even more important.
“Obviously this is our first super-cold race of the year so far,” said championship leader Lewis Hamilton. “If it was a dry race, normally that puts a lot of weight on the front tyres – getting the tyres to switch on – so it’s going to be a bit different to what we’ve experienced so far.
“That definitely will mean we have to navigate with the set-up a little bit differently than in the past races. It’s supposed to be wet this weekend, so if indeed it is wet all weekend, do you focus on a full wet set-up, which we very rarely ever do? That will be interesting.”
It's a chance for some teams to be heroes – but equally there will be those who get it wrong. “Considering the conditions, I expect the weekend not to be an easy one, basically for anyone,” reckoned AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
“But in these kinds of situations, it also brings some good opportunities. I think it's going to be very important for us to make sure we're executing everything perfectly because there could be some big opportunities on Sunday.
“But it's going to be a challenge for us, we need to rely on our feeling straight away, what we think is the right thing to do on the car. And the same on the engineering side; I think it's going to be very important to take the right direction straight away, not to be late, or not to lose any track time in making sure we get the maximum out of our package.”
Those who are able to get to grips with the new conditions quickly, and react accordingly with a change of direction, will be those to take the spoils. Naturally, that puts the big teams – with big resources – in a good position, but equally, it also allows for a smaller, efficient operation to spring a surprise.
So while it may be cold and wet here at the Nurburgring, dealing with these conditions will be worth it if we’re treated to an exciting race weekend.