2013 German Grand Prix preview
It goes without saying the sport cannot afford a repeat of the embarrassing and potentially lethal tyre explosions which marred the British Grand Prix. The crisis has at least temporarily galvanised the FIA, FOM, teams and Pirelli to take action.
Pirelli has proposed a short-term fix which basically amounts to using the Kevlar-belted tyres they wanted to introduce several races earlier. Ferrari, Lotus and Force India previously blocked that move, claiming it would make their cars less competitive. We’ll find out this weekend if their fears had substance.
If, as expected, the change in tyres plays into the hands teams who were having trouble making their tyres last, then Sunday’s winners surely stand to gain the most. Degradation was a major problem for Mercedes in some of the earlier races.
It was clear at Silverstone – the first race since the test where tyres experience very high loadings – Mercedes had made progress with their degradation problems. That served to provoke fresh questions over how much their controversial Pirelli test helped.
Red Bull had lobbied hard for more conservative tyres so they will not be disappointed at the forthcoming change. However the revised tyres for this weekend will only be used on the rear axle, and it was the front tyres which Red Bull were having most difficulty with. They may be in better shape at Hungary, where further changes will be made to the front and rear tyres.
There is an ironic side to the haste with which F1 has had to overhaul its rubber for this weekend’s race, which follows immediately after the British round. The race was originally supposed to happen a week later but was brought forward to make room on the calendar for an extra round that never materialised.
Nurburgring circuit information
|Lap length||5.148km (3.199 miles)|
|Distance||60 laps (308.6km/191.8 miles)|
|Lap record*||1’29.467 (Michael Schumacher, 2004)|
|Fastest lap||1’27.691 (Takuma Sato, 2004)|
|Tyres||Medium and Soft|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
Despite owning the famous Nordscleife, a popular destination for car manufacturers who wish to do testing and enthusiasts eager to tackle one of the world’s greatest racing circuits, the Nurburgring has hit financial trouble which nearly caused the cancellation of this year’s race. Some reports have claimed Bernie Ecclestone has waived FOM’s fee for holding this year’s race.
The financial jeopardy the circuit finds itself in is bad news for Formula One, as the Nurburgring is one of the better venues on the calendar. “I prefer the Nurburgring to Hockenheim,” says Mark Webber, “it’s got a bit of character about it, with some old school camber changes and old kerbs.”
Ecclestone’s presence in the paddock will also be a point of interest as he faces the threat of charges in Germany over an alleged bribery involving banker Gerhard Gribkowsky.
Recent events have served to underline that Germany’s star driver Sebastian Vettel is not the most popular figure among fans. But there is perhaps another German who outstrips him in that respect: Hermann Tilke.
Holding a virtual monopoly on Formula One track design, Tilke’s tracks and circuit modification work is, rightly or wrongly, widely viewed as sapping the challenge and character from Formula One. The slow, awkward section added to the Nurburgring in 2002 is seen as an example of this – though the track got off lightly compared to the other host of the German Grand Prix.
Perhaps the criticism levelled at Tilke is unfair. Formula One cars may not be at their most elegant as they pootle around the slow first sector of the Nurburgring, but it has opened up a new opportunity for them to change positions. And it bears remembering that when the new Nurburgring first appeared on the F1 calender in 1984 many considered it a sanitised and uninteresting alternative to the Nordschleife.
Germany Grand Prix team-by-team preview
But the world championship leader, who turned 26 yesterday, is only making his third visit to the Nurburgring as an F1 driver this year. On both previous visits he was beaten home by his team mate, who tends to thrive on classic-style tracks.
Webber’s impending departure to Porsche gives him even less reason than he had before to keep the peace with his team mate. We could be set for quite a fight between the two this weekend.
Fernando Alonso may have cut Vettel’s title lead to 21 points at Silverstone but Ferrari aren’t kidding themselves. They were concerned by their car’s lack of pace, particularly in qualifying, and know that without Vettel’s gearbox failure Alonso would be almost two wins behind his championship rival.
They had little time to do much about it between the two races. And it’s doubtful the switch to less aggressive rear tyres will make the F138 more competitive.
McLaren have finally bowed to the inevitable and admitted the focus of their season is now on preparing for next year.
Nonetheless Jenson Button believes the team are making gains with the MP4-28: “Our car is now better balanced and more driveable, so we’re hoping for a rain-free practice day in order to further develop the set-up during Friday’s two free practice sessions.”
“At Silverstone, Kimi [Raikkonen] ran with the [Drag Reduction] Device and Romain [Grosjean] rain with the new slimline bodywork package.
“The gains from both were roughly on a par with each other, so once we’ve confirmed everything on the data, combining the two – which have been developed on parallel but separate development paths – could well be the way forward. That won’t be for Germany, where we’ve yet to determine which package we will use. Watch closely when the garage doors open for first practice.”
Are Mercedes bona fide championship contenders after taking their second win in three races? Their scoring rate has more than doubled since their illegal test for Pirelli in May and they have moved up two places in the constructors’ championship in that time.
Toto Wolff expects the Nurburgring to be another strong track for the team. A home win is definitely on the cards.
Sauber ended their point-less streak at Silverstone but their was little for the team to cheer about as they languished in the lower half of the midfield during qualifying.
“We take encouragement from our race pace in Silverstone, but it is clear we still have some work to do in order to qualify stronger,” admitted head of track engineering Tom McCullough.
Just when we thought Paul di Resta had broken his string of Saturday misfortunes at Silverstone with a fine fifth on the grid came the news he was being sent to the back of the field for being underweight.
Team mate Adrian Sutil ran in third for a significant portion of the race before losing out in the six-lap sprint to the flag. The team is clearly capable of scoring more points than it is at the moment and it’s probably only a matter of time until they do.
Williams’ season so far readers three 11ths, two 12ths, one 13th, five 14ths and a 16th – but no points. It’s hard to see that changing at the Nurburgring without some of their rivals suffering misfortune, or perhaps a little of the unpredictable weather the region is renowned for.
It was Daniel Ricciardo’s turn to shine at Silverstone after Jean-Eric Vergne’s excellent drive in Canada. But one of them needs to start consistently beating the other to be deemed worthy of piloting an RB10 next year.
The little-seen contest between Caterham and Marussia was closely-fought as ever at Silverstone, with Charles Pic narrowly prevailing.
“We made some progress in Silverstone,” said Pic. “I put together the best qualifying lap of my season so far and in the race where we had better pace than we’d had for a couple of races, and we added a few new parts to the car, mainly around the floor.”
“We’ll have a couple more small updates for Germany and it’ll be good to continue the positive trend we’ve regained since last week in the UK.”
Marussia still hold the upper hand over the rivals in the championship, though it will all be for naught if they remain without a commercial deal from Ecclestone.
They can’t take either conditions for granted, as team principal John Booth acknowledged: “Last weekend we demonstrated that a particular area of focus for us is qualifying, and we’ve spent the past couple of days taking a good look at all the data collected to see how we can improve.”
2013 driver form
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2013 German Grand Prix
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Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Lotus/LAT, Red Bull/Getty