• German Grand Prix preview

Red Bull on a run

Laurence Edmondson July 19, 2012
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The last two races have seen a shift in power at the front of the grid. For the first seven races there was no obvious favourite ahead of each race weekend, with the likes of Williams and Sauber capable of springing a surprise. Arguably McLaren should have enjoyed more success, but they were never a safe bet on the Thursday before a grand prix. But Red Bull's upgrade at the European Grand Prix changed all that .The RB8, complete with a newly sculpted rear end, pushed the performance ceiling that bit higher, with Ferrari just about hanging on thanks to a constant stream of effective updates and a bit of luck. Now the onus is on McLaren, Lotus and Mercedes to react with upgrade packages of their own to join Red Bull and Ferrari on their upper strata of performance. With the summer break and its mandatory two-week factory shutdown looming, the next two races will be crucial for this year's development race.

On form

Mark Webber's victory at the British Grand Prix was one of the most significant of his career. Off the back of it, although not entirely because of it, he secured a further year on his rolling contract with Red Bull and now enters the second half of the season ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel. He has a genuine opportunity to ride his current wave all the way to title success but it will require more of the same at the remaining 10 races as poor weekends will be punished.

Out of form

McLaren's struggles at its home grand prix have not been taken lightly at its base in Woking, but it's worth remembering that three races ago the team was toasting an impressive victory in Canada. However, the 2012 title chase is all about consistency and both drivers need to get on top of the problems they are having with front tyre warm-up. The team is well aware of the issue and has been able to combat it with set-up tweaks on Lewis Hamilton's car at some races this year, while Jenson Button has taken a little longer to get his head around it. Right now the team needs a hot and sunny race weekend to get plenty of Friday running and work through various solutions and updates.

Pastor Maldonado is coming under pressure after three collisions at the last four races © Press Association
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One to watch

Since his victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, Pastor Maldonado has failed to score a point. Contact with other cars has accounted for three DNFs at the last four races and he has become a familiar face in the stewards' office. The big question now is how will he react? He clearly has the pace to score consistent points for Williams, but has stressed that he will not change his aggressive approach to racing. At Silverstone Sergio Perez said "everybody has concerns about him" and the pressure is mounting from within his team to score get back in the points. Will he crack under the pressure or will he respond with points and podiums? It will be fascinating to watch.

Talking points

The driver market
Last week's announcement that Mark Webber has signed up for another year at Red Bull Racing is big news for the wider driver market. Up until that point there was still a possibility that Lewis Hamilton might leave McLaren, but suddenly his options look limited. Ferrari is still likely to replace Felipe Massa in 2013 but the chances of Hamilton teaming up with Fernando Alonso are slim to nil, and if anything Ferrari has its sights set on Vettel a year or two down the line. Mercedes might be an option for Hamilton if Michael Schumacher decides to retire again at the end of the year, and that could prove an exciting prospect with Bob Bell, Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis all working under Ross Brawn. But it would be a big risk to shift from McLaren, which has consistently delivered results in the last two years, to Mercedes, which has underperformed. The remaining parts of the puzzle should start to fall in to place over the next couple of months, but it's looking increasingly likely that there will be no big changes at the top - at least for 2013.

Lotus win looming
Lotus is currently third in the constructors' championship - ahead of McLaren - but it has yet to win a race. The car is quite clearly capable of winning in the right circumstances, but both Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen have struggled to put a trouble-free race weekend together at recent grands prix. The E20 has followed a steady trajectory of development since the start of the season and with the latest developments for Germany being described as both "interesting" and "exciting" by the team it might finally break its duck.

The future of the Nurburgring
News that the Nurburgring's holding company is facing administration has sparked suggestions that the German Grand Prix could return to Hockenheim full time. Nurburgring GMbH owes the Rhineland Palatinate state bank over €300m following its redevelopment of the circuit - which included the building of an unsuccessful theme park. Should the company go into administration then the administrators would become responsible for all existing contracts - including the German Grand Prix which it hosts year-in-year-out with Hockenheim. Managing director of Hockenheim Georg Seiler said this week that his circuit could consider a full-time race if the right conditions are met. "At present there is no request," he said. "But if there is one, I do see a possibility that F1 comes back every year at Hockenheim. But then everything would have to agree: the cost side, the contract, the policy and much more. I do not know if this is all so easy to fulfil. Still, we would be happy if we would continue the alternation."

Ferrari used team orders at the German Grand Prix two years ago © Sutton Images
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Felipe Massa
This weekend Massa will return to the venue where he last looked likely to win a race. Two years ago he was leading the German Grand Prix but his team advised him that Fernando Alonso was faster than him and he subsequently let his team-mate into the lead. From that point onwards Massa has never looked like the driver that came so close to title glory in 2008 and he has not graced the podium since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix. However, a fourth-placed finish at the British Grand Prix last time out filled him with optimism and he is aiming to move from his current 13th place in the drivers' standings to fifth by the end of the year. But even if he manages that ambitious target there is no telling whether it will be enough to secure an extension of his current Ferrari contract. On the surface the Ferrari bosses are making positive comments about the Brazilian, but Mark Webber's revelation that he was in talks with the Italian team earlier this year tells a different story.

Trivia

  • Hockenheim was built in the 1930s as a test track for Mercedes Benz but didn't see its first F1 grand prix until the 1970s. It's first race was a motorbike event held on an unsurfaced triangular track
  • Legendary F1 driver Jim Clark died at the circuit in 1968 when his Lotus veered off the circuit and crashed into the woods. He was driving in a Formula 2 race largely to satisfy a contractual agreement with tyre company Firestone as he was also supposed to be appearing at Brands Hatch for a sports car event. The cause of the accident was never properly identified but was believed to be due to a deflating tyre
  • Two of the old layout's three chicanes were added as a result of Clark's crash. However, now the old circuit has been dug up, the location of his accident is almost lost in a wooded area
  • Hockenheim became a permanent addition to the Formula One calendar in 1977 after Niki Lauda's fiery crash at the Nurburgring brought an end to racing on the legendary 14-mile Nordschleife

Hockenheim first held a round of the Formula One world championship in 1970 © Sutton Images
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Fast Facts

  • The first German Grand Prix was held in 1926 at the Avus circuit in central Berlin
  • Ferrari holds the record number of wins by a constructor at the German Grand Prix, with a total of 20. It is also the highest number of wins by a constructor at any grand prix
  • The lap record of 1:13.780 is held by Kimi Raikkonen, set in 2004 in a McLaren
  • Drivers make 49 gear changes per lap

Circuit

Hockenheim used to be one of F1's fastest circuits, with two four-mile-long straights cutting through dense forests, separated originally by the mighty Ostkurve, and later by a chicane. The cars would reach speeds in excess of 220mph along the narrow track and then attempt to pass under hard braking into the chicanes. In the early 2000s questions were raised about the lack of spectator viewing and the inherent dangers of the circuit, which showed how times had changed as F1 had originally moved there from the Nurburgring in the 1970s for similar reasons. The new layout was opened in 2002 and, although it lacks the idiosyncrasies of the old version, it does provide good racing. The atmospheric stadium section at the end of the lap remains intact and is still a favourite among the drivers. Overtaking is most likely to occur at the Spitzkehre hairpin.

FIA driver steward

Derek Warwick will make his fifth appearance as an FIA driver steward in Germany this weekend. He previously fulfilled this role at the Spanish and Hungarian Grands Prix in 2010 and at last year's rounds in Turkey and Abu Dhabi.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

The forecast suggests it could well rain on Friday and Saturday, although the conditions are not likely to see a repeat of the rain-delayed practice and qualifying sessions at the British Grand Prix. If slick tyre running is possible on Friday it will be particularly important for teams such as McLaren and Lotus that have important upgrades to test. Temperatures look likely to hover around 20C, suiting cars that find it easy to generate surface temperature in the soft and medium compound tyres.

Betting

Sebastian Vettel is the favourite to win his home grand prix with odds of 9/4, ahead of the in-form Fernando Alonso at odds of 9/2. Despite his recent struggles, Lewis Hamilton is 11/2 and has much shorter odds than McLaren team-mate Jenson Button at 18/1. Mark Webber is very tempting at 6/1 to make it back-to-back victories while Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean are also worth a punt at 11/1 and 18/1 respectively.

ESPN prediction

Valencia and Silverstone suggested that Red Bull has the fastest car at the moment in most conditions and Sebastian Vettel is due his second win of the season some time soon. Past form is stacked against him however, as he has never been victorious on home soil in F1 and July is the only month on the F1 calendar in which he has failed to win a race. But Vettel has never shied away from breaking records and he should have a car capable of doing just that this weekend.

Laurence Edmondson is the deputy editor on ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010