Formula 1 returns to one of its most prestigious events this weekend at the 59th championship edition of the German Grand Prix. The famous Hockenheimring hosts the event for the 33rd time since its debut in 1970.
It’s an event steeped in history and has been won repeatedly by some of the greatest names of the World Championship era – from Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s through Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and into the modern era, with Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton all multiple-winners of the event.
The Hockenheimring today may not be the intimidating, super-high speed cross-country oval it was ten years ago, but today the venue is an extremely sophisticated and more technical track. There’s still plenty of space to stretch the cars’ legs though, and the DRS zone, which may well be placed on the long, swooping Parabolika (the left-hand arc leading to the hairpin), will be more a spectators’ thrill than a necessity at a circuit with several good overtaking points.
As usual around Germany’s second most famous racing circuit, I’ll be looking forward to a great race on Sunday. And here’s why…
1) What chance a home winner this weekend at Hockenheim?
Pretty good, in all likelihood.
Aside from Sebastian Vettel, who has yet to win a German GP and will be desperate to cross that box on his racing resumé, there’s Nico Rosberg, who has the added fillip of driving for Mercedes. In the year when the former Brawn GP team are finally returning to competitiveness after falling behind in the development stakes, and with victory in China already secured, Rosberg – who’s been around F1 for some time now – will also be ultra-motivated in front of his home crowd. Nico Hulkenberg and Timo Glock look less likely odds, but one can never count out the German master himself, Michael Schumacher. With four wins in the German GP, Schumacher is the most successful driver in this event in the modern era and one of only two Germans to have won the German GP since it returned in 1951.
The other? Ralf.
2) When will the driver merri-go-round swing into top gear?
It feels like it’s coming soon, with Lewis Hamilton reportedly telling a Russian news agency that his future at McLaren is tied to the team’s performance. Mark Webber may have sealed one seat by extending his stay at Red Bull, but there’s still Felipe Massa’s Ferrari seat and potentially Schumacher’s drive at Mercedes up for grabs, and a number of the midfield teams are potentially ready to switch pilots in the hope of attracting a) more points or b) more sponsorship.
The problem I have with the annual driver/contract bonanza is that it tends to rather overshadow the actual racing. Until Hamilton re-signs with McLaren and someone fills the vacant Ferrari gig (fairly sure it won’t be Massa), we’ll hear at every event about how negotiations are developing, along with the usual bunch of rumours and spurious half-truths.
Someone pass Lewis a pen…?
3) Are Lotus going to deliver on their potential?
After one impressive race performance after another this season, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Lotus aren’t struggling for long-stint pace. Problem is, they’re always racing on the back foot, recovering from mid-grid starts.
If the black-and-gold are to break their win duck this season it’s going to have to come off the back of an improved qualifying performance. Like the Saubers, Lotus are very easy on their tyres, but that improved degradation is counter-balanced by diminished one-lap pace because they are unable to get enough heat into their tyres. And you can’t do two outlaps to warm them up, either – the best, most outer layer of rubber will have just started to break up as you start your hotlap.
Lotus tested a Mercedes-style double DRS system in practise today, but got limited time to work with it (like in races, DRS is disabled in the rain during practise) and don’t think they will run with it on Sunday. Given that even Mercedes’ system is notoriously complex – it got stuck open on Michael Schumacher in Montreal, for instance – it may be some time before the Lotus equipment is properly ready for use.
And until then, the Enstone outfit will have to find another way to improve their qualifying performance.
4) Where will next year’s German GP be held?
For the last four years, the German GP has alternated venue between Hockenheim and Germany’s other, arguably more renowned race circuit – the Nurburgring. Sadly, though, my Pistonheads-mad younger brother alerted me to the ‘Ring’s financial plight last week. Bernie Ecclestone has come forward today with a sensationally out-of-character act of generosity, offering to waive next year’s race fee for one of Europe’s oldest racing venues, but that might not be enough.
The Nurburgring’s problems go far beyond its F1 race fee (neither it nor Hockenheim can afford that annually, hence the alternating arrangement to share the German GP). Its 12.9-mile Nordshleife circuit, probably the world’s most intimidating circuit course, costs astronomical annual insurance costs for the public-access days, and clearly the ‘Ring’s revenue flow is no longer covering these costs. A €13m government bailout was blocked by the European Commission last week and the circuit may not be allowed to further defer payments on the €330m it already owes banks and other creditors.
Whether public support from the stingiest man in motorsport will help has yet to be seen.
**EDIT: Turns out Ecclestone is keeping all the revenue from next year’s German GP if he pays the Nurburgring’s fees. Assuming the circuit usually makes a net profit from the event – why else would they host it? – this means the track will effectively lose money. That’s more like it, Bernie.**
5) Three drivers (apart from Felipe Massa) who need to beat their teammates this weekend
Jenson Button: The 2009 world champion is confident that his race-day performance slump is over. Alternatively, McLaren are fearful of their wet pace this weekend so Button’s poor run of results will likely continue.
Whatever you read, it’s past time that Button gets a strong result – preferably an emphatic one – sometime soon if he is to keep any dwindling hope of a title challenge alive. More than that, McLaren risk drifting away from Red Bull in the constructors’ championship, and only Massa’s low scoring and the Lotus’ poor qualifying are keeping the Woking-based team in that chase right now. Seven points in six races since securing a win and a second-place in the first three rounds of the year aren’t what Button had in mind.
Kamui Kobayashi: A possible surprise selection, and I’m not quite sure I’ve sold myself on this one, but although Kobayashi hasn’t been particularly out-paced this season, he hasn’t delivered results of the same standard as Sergio Perez this season – his highest finish is fifth, while the Mexican has been on the podium twice while simultaneously fending off endless questions about whether he’s joining Ferrari and the repeated assaults of Pastor Maldonado. Kobayashi is just as impressive a talent as his counterpart – he just needs to get a result to show for it.
Either Mercedes driver: I mentioned above the prestige on offer for a German driver winning the German GP for a German team. It should be obvious that neither Schumacher nor Rosberg will want to be upstaged this weekend. The old stager seems to be starting to click off the back of his surprise podium at Valencia, while 2012 race winner Rosberg will be desperate to assert his status as the team’s likely lead driver next season should Schumacher be re-signed by Ross Brawn and Norbert Haug. As Jonathan Legard used to say (over and over again), battle has been joined.
I should change that, he’s probably copyrighted it.
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