Michael Schumacher is putting on a championship charge but he’s running out of time – there’s only seven races to go. He needs to do more than just beat Fernando Alonso to first place – he needs his Renault rival to drop some serious points.
But fortune is on his side – Bridgestone have a distinct advantage in hot races, which is what we will surely get in Baden-Wurttemberg in the height of summer. Can Renault respond? We preview the German Grand Prix.
Seven races to go, seventeen points is the difference. If Michael Schumacher knew his Formula One history – which he freely admits he doesn’t care for – he would know that drivers have recovered from greater deficits to claim the championship title.
But none of them had to contend with the current points system, where second place is worth so much winning a race is scarcely worth the effort.
I exaggerate of course, and Schumacher will be especially keen to win in front of a home crowd that have, in relative terms, not seen that many wins from their hero. Compared to Magny-Cours, which just witnessed a record eighth Schumacher win, he has ‘only’ won three times – 1995, 2002 and 2004.
Schumacher needs to get his dogbody team mate Felipe Massa between himself and Alonso to maximise his championship chances – but he faces two obstacles to that at Hockenheim.
First, the track. Since it was remixed by Hermann Tilke in time for the 2002 Grand Prix overtaking has become much easier, especially into the Spitzkehre hairpin. Massa tucked up Alonso no problem at Magny-Cours, but here there are wide, tight corners and acres of tarmac run-off to overtake on.
Second, Renault are bringing major car revisions to the Hockenheimring, and although Alonso will not be able to benefit from the uprated engine, it could well be enough to bring them right back on the tails of the flying Ferraris.
What about the rest of the field? Toyota have been the surprise package in recent races, buyoed by Bridgestone rubber they can finally work with. In France they gave McLaren a major headache until customary mechanical failure took care of Jarno Trulli.
Dropping Juan Pablo Montoya didn’t seem to do McLaren any favours at Magny-Cours. And Raikkonen has some hideous Hockenheim luck to avenge – rear wing failure wiped him out in 2004, and last year an engine failure while leading harpooned his title hopes.
Pedro de la Rosa is not secure in Montoya’s old seat for the rest of the year, and will have to keep the strong drives up. But you can’t help but think they must miss Montoya – he was second here last year from last on the grid, and won by a minute in 2003 for Williams.
Let’s ignore the rest of the midfield and jump straight to the back of the grid. Or perhaps not, as Super Aguri finally have their all-new SA06 chassis that was originally scheduled to appear at Imola back in April.
This is bad news for MidlandF1, because Super Aguri were making pests of themselves even with the SA05, based on a four year-old Arrows chassis. The Russian team are on the hunt for an engine deal for next year, and being beaten by their Japanese rivals would be massively unhelpful.
MidlandF1 are not the only team who Super Aguri risk embarassing. The works Honda team who supplies their engines have dropped woefully off the pace and if the Super Aguri’s are within a country mile of their pace it can only put pressure on Honda chief Nick Fry.
In the GP2 feature race here last year Nico Rosberg won dominantly from pole, setting fastest lap. He will be desperate for a similarly strong performance for Williams this year – simply getting into the points would be enough.
He out-qualified Mark Webber in France but was scuppered by an engine change penalty – although the media fuss around him has died down the massive latent potential is still there.
At Toro Rosso there has been an interesting shift in the balance of power. Vitantonio Liuzzi firmly held the upper hand over Scott Speed early in the season. But Speed has got stronger and stronger, partly aided by some misfortune for Liuzzi, but he seems to have made a major step forward at recent weeks.
As ever, the battle at the front of the pack may not be quite as close as we’d hope for, but there’s a myriad of stories and competitions throughout the rest of the pack. With high temperatures and a racing-friendly circuit, we might just get a decent race at the Hockenheimring.