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Germany preview - Rosberg and Mercedes chasing home glory

17 Jul 2014

Hockenheim will be a major weekend for Mercedes, and in particular Nico Rosberg, as the German looks to stage a home soil fight back after seeing his world championship lead over team mate Lewis Hamilton slashed to just four points following his retirement in Great Britain.

But as the Silver Arrows prepare to take centre stage in front of thousands of partisan fans, Red Bull, Ferrari, Williams and the rest of the field will be looking to derail the Mercedes juggernaut...

Race week has already started brightly for Rosberg who inked a new multi-year contract extension with Mercedes just days after marrying sweetheart Vivian Sibold. But the German, who has never won on home soil, knows that team mate Lewis Hamilton could yet spoil the honeymoon.

The Briton, spurred on by a home victory of his own at Silverstone, has the momentum coming into Hockenheim - a circuit at which he has tasted victory in the past.

“Winning at Silverstone was just an incredible feeling - for myself, the team and the fans, I couldn't have asked for more,” he says. “I feel like I've been on the back foot all year, only briefly leading the championship despite taking the wins I've had, so to have got myself just about level was exactly what I needed - it's almost a fresh start heading into the second half of the season.

“I've won twice before in Germany, but not at Hockenheim since way back in 2008. The aim is to change that this weekend.”

Rosberg too is well aware of the potential significance of this weekend, adding: “Hockenheim is a crucial race for all of us. It's the home Grand Prix for Mercedes-Benz and a second home race for me after Monaco, so I'm really focused on getting a top result this weekend.

“It's actually the circuit I've won the most races at during my career through all the junior categories, so I know it suits my driving style. I'm looking forward to gunning for a good result in front of the crowds.”

For Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, reliability will be paramount to the team’s future hopes.

“We left Silverstone with mixed emotions after something of a rollercoaster weekend,” he admits. “We can see the performance in the car, but bulletproof reliability is equally important if we are to maintain our advantage in the championship through to the end of the season. The next chapter in this fascinating contest awaits us and we are determined to put on a strong show.”

Alongside the Silver Arrows duo, it is also a key race for Sebastian Vettel, who broke his duck and triumphed on home soil last year when the race was held at the Nurburgring. The reigning world champion will be aiming to get on top of Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo - while he also warned this week that he would be foolish to write off his title hopes with 10 races remaining.

“It’s the little things I really enjoy about Hockenheim - we get a lot of encouragement,” Vettel says. “Of course, you want to give as much as possible back to the fans, but sometimes it’s not in your hands. However we will attack at the weekend and give everything.”

Down at Force India and Sauber, Vettel’s compatriots Nico Hulkenberg and Adrian Sutil will have similar sentiments - though the odds favour the former more than the latter.

“I know Hockenheim really well because it was my local circuit when I was growing up,” says Hulkenberg, one of only two men - alongside Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso - to have scored points in every race so far this season.

“Even on tracks where we have been struggling slightly we have managed to score points, [but] I'm feeling more positive about our performance in Germany, especially with the return of the soft and supersoft tyres.”

Alonso meanwhile was victorious on the last two occasions that the F1 paddock visited Hockenheim in 2010 and 2012, and he also triumphed at the track back in 2005. But as he alluded in the run up to this year’s race, repeating the feat this weekend could prove difficult given the fact he has cracked the top four just once in the past five races - while third in China remains his only podium of the 2014 campaign.

The opposite is true at Williams, with Valtteri Bottas having followed up a breakthrough F1 podium in Austria with a sensational second place at Silverstone - the best result of his career so far. The Finn won his first ever single-seater race at Hockenheim back in 2007 and ominously for the rest of the filed expects the German track to play to the strengths of Williams’ Mercedes-powered FW36 - good news for both him and team mate Felipe Massa.

“I think it should be a circuit that suits our car,” he says. “I hope we can continue the good form we have had in the last three races and I am looking forward to a good weekend and some more points."

Alongside their 2014 regulars, Hockenheim will also be an important weekend for Williams’ development driver Susie Wolff, who has put the disappointment of Silverstone behind her and is desperate that all her recent hard work will pay off with better fortune when she has another chance to drive for the team in Friday morning’s practice session.

And as Wolff prepares for only her second Grand Prix weekend appearance, teams up and down the pit lane have been making last-minute preparations of their own in order to navigate uncertainty over the legality - or not - of Front-and-Rear Interconnected (FRIC) suspension systems.

The situation centres around a technical directive sent to the teams after Silverstone by the FIA’s race director Charlie Whiting who said that, following investigations, the governing body are now of the belief that some of the suspension systems on this year’s cars may contravene the rules regarding moveable aerodynamic devices. Therefore any car operating FRIC suspension this weekend risks being reported to the stewards.

As a result of the directive, many of the teams have already run their cars without FRIC at the Silverstone test, in order to familiarise themselves with the different configurations needed - with consensus that the addition to lap times will not be more than a few tenths of a second. Interestingly, Mercedes are believed to have one of the more sophisticated FRIC systems on the grid, so they could suffer more than most by losing the technology.

As for the circuit itself, Hockenheim has had a somewhat split personality circuit ever since its 2002 facelift. Turn 1 and the entry to the end-of-lap ‘stadium section’ require commitment, while good straightline speed and stability under heavy braking are also crucial for run from Turn 4 to the Turn 6 hairpin - the circuit’s best overtaking spot. Aerodynamically, it is still a juggling act between the need for low drag on the relatively long straights, and downforce in the stadium section where traction and braking are the two key aspects.

Two DRS zones will be in operation, the first immediately after Turn 1, with the detection point 110m before the right-hander, while the second is located 260m along the Parabolika back straight, with detection at the exit of Turn 4.

To cope with Hockenheim’s unique demands, tyre suppliers Pirelli have reverted to their yellow-marked soft and red-marked supersoft compounds, which were last used in Austria.

“It’s a pleasure to go back to Hockenheim after two years away,” motorsport director Paul Hembery says, “but this increases the workload for ourselves and the teams as the only concrete F1 data we currently have is two years old - when the cars and the tyres were very different. So we expect the Friday free practice sessions to be extremely important, as the teams use the time to assimilate as much relevant information as they can. By Friday afternoon, we should have a clearer idea of how many pit stops we might expect."

Forecasts for the weekend suggest clear skies and temperatures of between 28 and 31 degrees Celsius across the weekend, although there remains a chance of cloud and light rain on Sunday.

The race will be run 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.