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Six key questions ahead of the race in Germany

31 Jul 2016

Nico Rosberg has been here before at Hockenheim - so can he repeat his 2014 heroics and convert pole into a popular home victory? And can compatriot Sebastian Vettel end his hoodoo at his home circuit? We consider the big issues ahead of Sunday's Formula 1 Grosser Preis von Deutschland 2016...
Can Rosberg convert for a second straight home win?

So far this weekend, Nico Rosberg has looked unflappable: supremely fast, smooth and unruffled, his form has been reminiscent of the run that carried him to seven straight wins at the end of 2015 and the start of this season. 

The German's crunch moment came in Q3, when an electronics glitch scuppered his first run, leaving him with an all-or-nothing single run at the end of the session. 

"It was frustrating at the time because it was a good lap and then to lose it two corners from the end in a way that I've never experienced before was definitely tough in that moment," he admitted. 

"And then also to know that I had to put in extra fuel for the last run, to be able to do three laps just to have a little bit of a contingency plan in case lap one doesn't work out... But, yeah, I'm just very happy with that first lap. That was awesome, it really came together well. It was quite challenging to do that last run."

Mercedes start the race as clear favourites - which means that we could see a repeat of the Rosberg/Hamilton fight from last weekend in Hungary. Only this time, Rosberg's body language and confident swagger speaks volumes.

Chasing a second straight win on home soil, following a crushing victory in 2014, Rosberg smiles: "Definitely it will be an exciting race - against Lewis and the Red Bulls."

Ricciardo or Verstappen? And can either challenge the Silver Arrows?

Like Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo had confidence writ large all over his face yesterday. Beating team mate Max Verstappen to third was the primary cause, but there was an added boost - while Mercedes had a clear advantage on low fuel, race simulations suggest things will be much closer today.

"That gives us a bit of optimism coming into Sunday," Ricciardo admits. "We were a bit closer [on Saturday], so let's see - hopefully it translates into something. Even to put a little bit of pressure on them at some point in the race would be nice. But yeah, we'll see. 

"You never know what can happen, and race tracks change day to day with the temperature and whatever, but obviously we're looking pretty good. A lock-out with the second row and hopefully we can do something with it."

Red Bull meanwhile that strategy could yet shape the outcome of the race, with Ricciardo adding: "From what I understand, we've got different tyres available for the race, so there could be some different strategies amongst the first few cars. Hopefully it works out. If it does, the fans might have a race on their hands.”

Verstappen has had the edge on Ricciardo on Sundays recently, but the Australian turned the tables in Hungary. Can the Dutchman fight back - or is Ricciardo's confidence well placed?

"I'm feeling really good," Verstappen says of his own prospects. "Q3 was strong, it was just a bit of a shame about my last sector where I washed out and lost a few tenths. The main target is to be in front of the Ferraris and that is what we have done, but we know they will be quick in the race as we saw last week. Mercedes look pretty strong but we are not that far away so I think we can be very happy with that. 

"Race pace is looking very good, and we definitely want to be challenging for a podium tomorrow. I think a win might be difficult though..."

Can Ferrari jump Red Bull - or will the Scuderia be looking over its shoulder instead?

Sebastian Vettel went home Friday night hopeful that Ferrari would find the SF16-H's sweet spot in time for FP3 and qualifying. He left the track admitting ruefully that they fell short.

"I wasn't comfortable in the car, we just didn't get the set-up the way that we wanted it. We had a decent result, sure, but we aren't here to qualify fifth or sixth, we're here to fight for pole position, and then the win.

"We weren't as good today as we usually are. Somehow we lost a bit and now we need to understand what happened this afternoon. 

"We know the car can be quicker, but we didn't manage to get it in the right window, that's our job and we didn't succeed. I'm sure we'll be competitive on Sunday, but again we start a little bit from the back foot, so it will be tough because here it's not easy to overtake. I think we don't have to hide, in terms of race pace we are fast, then it should be an interesting race."

Kimi Raikkonen, in contrast, has appeared more at ease than his team mate so far this weekend, saying his car "behaved nicely" in qualifying, even if he too admits it is "lacking speed overall".

Ferrari's potential therefore remains a big question mark. There is no doubt they are quick in race trim, but on a weekend where they have so far struggled, will they be able to carry the fight to Red Bull? 

Can Williams continue their revival in the race?

After apparently falling back slightly in the last three races, Williams were back on form in qualifying at Hockenheim, with both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa making Q3, and both finishing within 1.3s of pole.

Ostensibly the team can point to their latest front wings, and getting the best out of their tyres, as the reason things have started to come together.

If that was encouraging, so too was the gap to the likes of Ferrari, with Sebastian Vettel just two tenths of a second up the road from Bottas despite the Finn hitting traffic at a crucial point.

"The lap times are really tight and even Ferrari didn't have much of a margin on us," head of performance Rob Smedley said. "We worked hard this morning to ensure that we could get a good qualifying balance, which I think we achieved. Both drivers made little mistakes, otherwise they would have been seventh and eighth, but as a team we haven't done a bad job. 

"We made great strides on our qualifying pace yesterday and understanding where that pace had to come from, which will transfer into good race pace."

It has now been four races since Williams managed to collect double-digit points from a race weekend. All signs suggest they may put that run to rest here in Germany.

Is leading the championship going into the summer break really important?

Much gets made of the psychological advantage of leaving here for the summer break in the lead of the world championship, but neither Nico Rosberg nor Lewis Hamilton seem particularly bothered about that.

"I think the importance is not particularly relevant," was Hamilton's verdict. "We've had, what, five out of six races wins, so it's been a good mid-stint of the season, and hopefully tomorrow we get the first or second and that'll still be great.

"We'll still be in a good position for the rest of the season, the other nine races. Of course, every race you approach to win, but it will still be all right if we aren't leading after this one. We'll be close enough to fight through to the end of the season."

Will the race be more adrenaline-filled than Hungary?

The layout of the Hungaroring makes it a notoriously difficult track on which to overtake, but the truncated Hockenheimring is a different matter. Lewis Hamilton is sure that you can pass here.

"It's a much easier track to overtake [on]," he explained. "That doesn't mean you can, but it is much easier, it's one of the easier ones. You can push it hard here."

As if to underline the point, GP2 staged a spectacular feature race on Saturday afternoon, with plenty of passing into the hairpin but also action all over the circuit, with cars often running two abreast through Turns 3 and 4 as well.

Rosberg is the man who has most to lose, given he starts from the front, but he too seems to be relishing the prospect of going to battle in front of his home crowd.

"It's a different world here," he says, "because you can overtake on this track if you get a significant speed difference. It's going to be a good battle for sure."