WHAT TO WATCH FOR: 5 storylines for Sunday’s race in Germany
From a dejected Lewis Hamilton looking to fight back to his Mercedes team mate looking to gatecrash the party at Sebastian Vettel’s home race, and a team facing a sense of deja vu to another eyeing an unexpected result, we break down the key aspects to look out for in the German Grand Prix.
1. Hamilton and Ricciardo on the comeback trail
Having one driver out of position is always an enticing prospect ahead of any race, but having two is bordering on mouthwatering.
A standout moment in qualifying – and perhaps in the season – came when Hamilton crouched next to his car in disappointment after having to stop on track at the end of Q1, having briefly attempted to push it over a mile back to the pits. That incident leaves the defending champion starting from 14th on the grid as it stands – assuming a new gearbox isn’t required – while current championship leader Vettel is on pole.
But Hamilton spoke of moving on quickly after that disappointment, turning his attentions to how he can recover through the field on Sunday. If he needs any inspiration, he only needs to look at the last race at Silverstone where he climbed through from the back of the field at the end of the opening lap to finish second to Vettel. And with Mercedes showing long run pace more than a second quicker than anyone else bar Ferrari and Red Bull, he should have the car to do it again.
Of the top three, it was actually Red Bull who showed the best performance in Friday’s race simulations, and that will be music to the ears of Daniel Ricciardo. Power unit penalties mean he will start from last on the grid, but with possibly the fastest car – and one set-up for the race – he’s got his eyes on chasing Hamilton through to the front.
“I know [Lewis] is not happy but just from a TV and racing point of view, it will be cool,” Ricciardo said. “So hopefully we can have a little battle to see who gets through the field quicker…”
2. Bottas out to turn the tables on Vettel
Two weeks ago, Vettel secured victory at Hamilton’s home race, having started from second on the grid, beating the pole-sitter off the line and managing his pace from there. This weekend, Hamilton could do with his team mate returning the favour in order to limit any losses in the drivers’ championship.
Valtteri Bottas has been impressive this season but not had the results to match, with misfortune often preventing him from capitalising on promising situations. As it stands, the Finn has a good chance to secure victory at Hockenheim, but it will all come down to the start of the race.
The foundation of Vettel’s victory at Silverstone was taking the lead on the opening lap, because Mercedes and Ferrari were so closely matched. The same is true in Germany, where the race pace on Saturday was as good as identical between the top two teams in the constructors’ championship. Whoever leads at the end of lap one be the hot favourite to lead at the end of the final lap.
3. Haas get another chance
It’s not only Bottas who is looking to reverse the fortunes of Silverstone, as Haas will want to do exactly the same. Starting from seventh and eighth in Britain after another best-of-the-rest performance in qualifying, and with superior race pace to their midfield rivals, Haas were well placed to score big points. But then their drivers collided on the opening lap and the return was limited to just four points.
With Hamilton and Ricciardo starting so far back, the grid positions of fifth for Kevin Magnussen and sixth for Romain Grosjean offer another massive opportunity for F1’s newest team to eat into Renault’s advantage in the constructors’ championship. But it’s a point we’ve raised on a number of occasions, and only once this season have Haas scored with both cars.
If they needed refocusing, then Haas have both Renault drivers directly behind them on row four, and are unlikely to be fighting with any of the drivers ahead. The grid creates the tricky situation of the two Haas drivers needing to give each other room at Turn 1 to avoid a repeat of Silverstone, but not be overly cautious and open the door for Nico Hulkenberg or Carlos Sainz to take advantage.
4. Sirotkin chasing his first points
Williams have not had a lot to shout about so far this season, but the team did score in the mayhem that was the Azerbaijan Grand Prix back in April. With Lance Stroll finishing eighth on that occasion, Sergey Sirotkin is now the only driver who has yet to score a point this season.
It’s perhaps unfair to judge the Russian on that statistic, given where the FW41 has been in terms of competitiveness so far this year, but Hockenheim has seen a clear step forward compared to the difficulties of the last race.
A good lap late in Q1 allowed the rookie to advance to the second part of qualifying, where the absence of Hamilton and Ricciardo, plus an error-strewn session from Marcus Ericsson, saw Sirotkin take 12th on the grid. And at less than 0.05s adrift of Fernando Alonso, it could have been even better.
With a free choice of tyres, drivers out of position disrupting races further back and drivers with history starting side-by-side ahead (think Raikkonen and Verstappen, Magnussen and Grosjean), there could be a first set of points on offer for Sirotkin – and he knows it.
“Looking at where we are, I would say for sure we should fight for the points,” Sirotkin says. “Honestly it all depends a lot on the conditions. If we face the conditions like we had yesterday for the FP2 I don’t think our long run pace was good enough to make our way through to the points and obviously we have the quick cars passing through. It can be so various, if it rains or not.
“For sure we will aim for the points, but realistically if we face more normal conditions I don’t think we do really have the pace to gain a few places and stick there yet. For us, in this moment, I think it is very important, even if we are not able to get to the points, we have to make sure that we stay as close as possible behind in case something happens.”
5. Tyres and weather bubbling up
As Sirotkin kindly points out, there are two contrasting weather conditions that could have a major impact on the race. Friday’s long runs in 30 degree heat saw blistering on the rear tyres, a problem that many teams faced during the Austrian Grand Prix. If there’s a repeat, then the top 10 are all starting on the ultrasoft compound and could struggle early on.
Should that happen, a one-stop strategy would become tricky. But even if it remains possible, an early pit stop for softs or mediums could put the frontrunners in traffic.
While the weather forecast predicts high temperatures, it also suggests a significant chance of thunderstorms hitting Hockenheim during the first half of the race. FP3 saw heavy rain, while more fell on Saturday after qualifying, and the warm weather means track conditions can change quickly, with a wet circuit able to dry rapidly.
Both scenarios will give the teams and their strategists a major headache, and could also bring the race back towards the out-of-position cars at the back of the field.
- Chris Medland