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Germany preview - can Rosberg hit back on home soil?

28 Jul 2016

Hockenheim makes a welcome return to the F1 calendar this weekend, marking the end of a flurry of six races in eight weeks ahead of the August break. In that time, Lewis Hamilton has turned the championship on its head and wrested the lead from Nico Rosberg - but what better opportunity for the German to strike back than on home turf, and at a circuit on which he dominated last time out in 2014?
Rosberg needs to rediscover his edge

"It was disappointing to lose the race at the first corner in Hungary," Rosberg admitted in the aftermath of last weekend's Grand Prix. "But I was really happy with my pace all weekend, so that gives me good confidence moving forwards..."

Rosberg will need that confidence in Germany. He also needs a victory, if only for the major psychological boost of going into the summer break as championship leader. The recent form book, after all, doesn't make for great reading for the German - one win in the last seven has led to a 43-point lead becoming a six-point deficit.

"I'm happy to have the chance to get back in the car again so soon - and especially happy that it's at my second home race," Rosberg says ahead of this crunch weekend. "I had a fantastic day at Hockenheim a few weeks ago driving Mika Häkkinen's Championship-winning car. That really gave me a massive buzz to be back racing in Germany.

"Driving in through the circuit gates brought back so many great memories - from my childhood days at the DTM with my dad right through to winning the grand prix for myself in 2014. Hopefully I can repeat that this year."

As for Hamilton, momentum may be on his side - but the threat of grid penalties still looms large given his and Mercedes' concerns that he has used up his annual allocation of certain engine components.

"Getting that win in Hungary after a less than straightforward weekend was a great feeling," the champion says. "If I can come out on top when things aren't quite perfect, that can only be a good thing.

"Now it's off to Germany and another one of the team's home races after Silverstone. It's great to be going back there. My last win in Hockenheim came way back in 2008, which seems like a lifetime ago, but I've got some great memories from the circuit and the country itself. The last few races have been good for me, so if I can continue that form into this weekend I'll be in good shape..."

Red Bull scent Ferrari weakness...

Red Bull arrive in Germany just one point behind Ferrari in the constructors' championship, having captured third and fifth through Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen respectively in Hungary. While both teams have scored three podiums each over the last five races, momentum has been with the charging bulls, which have racked up almost double the points of the prancing horses since Austria.

The intra-team dynamics seem to be pushing Red Bull to new heights too - with team boss Christian Horner believing Ricciardo will be on a roll after finally eclipsing Verstappen last time out.

"It was an important race for Daniel just to re-establish his confidence," Horner says. "He was on it all weekend and I'm very happy with that."

Though sources suggest that the Renault power unit is nearly 50 bhp down on the Mercedes, Horner believes that with his strong driving line-up Red Bull can beat Ferrari to second place in the constructors' world championship.

"Both Daniel and Max are pushing each other hard and that's what you want from your team mates. They're both pushing each other to other levels now and from a team perspective that's extremely healthy."

...while changes ring at the Scuderia

Hot on the heels of their Hungarian disappointment, Ferrari announced a significant change in their technical team, with technical director James Allison leaving with immediate effect following prolonged speculation about his future.

Mattia Binotto will therefore step up to take the title of chief technical officer, moving over from his role running Ferrari's engine department, from this weekend.

After joining Ferrari in 1995 engine test engineer, Binotto worked on the race team looking after engines from 1997 to 2003. He was promoted to chief engineer and supervised the design of the team's KERS system. He was appointed chief operating officer of power units five years later. 

It is as yet unknown what forces ultimately led to the split, although it is believed Allison's contract extension last year tied him to Ferrari until the end of 2018. 

The news has been met with some surprise, given the way in which he helped to turn the team's fortunes around in 2015 after an uninspiring campaign in 2014, and the regard in which he is held in many quarters. Allison has already been connected with a return to Enstone, and with a possible role at McLaren. 

WATCH: Your guide to Hockenheim

Buoyed by the significant step forward they took in Hungary, where Jolyon Palmer was a contender for points ahead of the Force Indias before an unexplained spin dropped him back, Renault plan to be aggressive again at Hockenheim.

Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul says: "We now go to the final race of the first part of the year with our plan back on track. We knew that the first races would be about recovery and setting the foundations, but we had a tougher ride than expected. However, in Budapest we demonstrated that we had taken a tangible step forward, not just in our own performance but in relative performance to our rivals. In the race we were able to out-race Haas, Sauber and even Force India and Jolyon was just a sniff away from his first points..."

With the team pointing to developments from Silverstone testing as the chief cause of their surge, there is a belief they can keep their form up in coming races - good news for Palmer, who is still waiting to score his first points in F1 following that costly off.

"It's painful to look back on," the Briton says of the incident. "I was well-placed in P10, I had the pace on those around me and I was driving really within myself. I wasn't exactly hanging anything out and hadn't had any big moments, everything was under control but then I lost the car in Turn 4. It's difficult for me to understand why. I hadn't experienced oversteer the whole race in that corner and then I turned in and lost the car completely. 

"The good news is that we didn't luck into our performance, which shows we have the pace and can do it again. We've made a big breakthrough so I think it will carry on for another couple of races. My first F1 points were there for the taking in Hungary and I didn't take them. I'm very eager to redress that situation in Germany."

Leclerc and Ocon in action once more

Monegasque racer Charles Leclerc will take part in his third FP1 session in as many races this weekend, once again deputising for Esteban Gutierrez at Haas. The winner of 11 karting championships between 2005 and 2013 - and now a racewinner in Formula Renault 2.0, the FIA Formula 3 EuroSeries and GP3 - Leclerc has impressed on both previous outings, finishing a solid 16th overall last week in Hungary.

Ocon meanwhile is set for his fourth FP1 outing for Renault, this time in place of Palmer. The 19-year-old Frenchman - who beat Max Verstappen and Tom Blomqvist to the 2014 FIA Formula 3 EuroSeries crown - is widely rated as one of the best young talents in the world.

And like Verstappen, this year could mark the start of something big for both men - so keep an eye on their form on Friday morning at Hockenheim.

More storms on the horizon?

The heavens could open for the second time in as many weeks according to early forecasts, which predict a chance of storms striking on both Friday and Sunday in Germany.

As was the case in Hungary, high ambient temperatures are expected throughout - around 27 degrees Celsius - but this time the skies are set to be clear for qualifying, with the threat of rain instead coming on the first and final days of the weekend.

The race itself begins at 1400 local time (1200 GMT), and will be run over 67 laps or 306.458 kms (190.433 miles).