F1 travels to the home of the newly-crowned football world champions with its own title battle back down to four points between Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. After seeing his team-mate win on home soil at Silverstone the onus is on Rosberg to claim victory in front of his home crowd at Hockenheim. Another power-hungry circuit means we should expect more of the same out in front but there have been definite strides forward from Williams recently - enough to give Mercedes a few headaches about their leading customer team. Outside of the title battle the furore around FRIC suspension systems adds another element to what promises to be a fascinating weekend in Germany.
Lewis Hamilton arrives at Nico Rosberg's 'home' grand prix after taking a massive 25 points out of his championship lead at Silverstone. Hamilton's two retirements had left him playing catch up but Rosberg's first of the season allowed the Brit to ease home to a remarkable victory just 24 hours after he made a huge blunder in aborting his final run in the dying seconds of qualifying. After admitting he has felt like he has been on "the back foot" for the entire season so far after his retirement in the season opener, Hockenheim represents a perfect opportunity for Hamilton to put himself in control of the drivers' championship.
Valtteri Bottas has back-to-back podiums to his name, with his recent performances showing everyone why Williams rates the Finn so highly, while Daniel Ricciardo is the only man to have outscored both Mercedes drivers over the course of the last three races. McLaren took a welcome fourth and seventh at Silverstone, the best points haul it has managed since the season-opener. Jenson Button's second fourth-place finish in three races was a huge result for a man whose future beyond 2014 still appears to be uncertain.
Out of form
Kimi Raikkonen is still a man in desperately need of a good result and took a 47G bump into the Silverstone barriers for his troubles last time out. The manner of Raikkonen's crash drew criticism from the likes of Niki Lauda, who argued the Finn should not have re-joined the track "balls out", further proof that absolutely nothing is going Kimi's way in 2014. Pastor Maldonado is still yet to score a point in 2014, but for once was at the receiving end of some fairly careless driving at Silverstone as Esteban Gutierrez tried to punt him through Vale. The Mexican will drop three places from wherever he qualifies at Hockenheim as punishment.
Caterham has had plenty of upheaval recently and recent speculation linking the team with Red Bull prospect Carlos Sainz Jr leaves the futures of Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson on shaky ground. With his limited funding, Kobayashi looks especially at risk. Only a turnaround on track will justify the extensive cuts currently taking place at Leafield as Caterham looks to somehow claim that elusive 10th spot in the constructors' standings.
Ones to watch
He may have suffered his first mechanical retirement at Silverstone but Nico Rosberg comes to Hockenheim after what must be a contender for the best week of his life. After tying the knot to long-time girlfriend Vivian Sibold on July 11 Rosberg then watched Germany win the FIFA World Cup three days later. Hamilton's joke in the wake of the British Grand Prix that Rosberg isn't really German caused a stir and, though the championship leader brushed off the remark, it must have given him added motivation to take the chequered flag at Hockenheim.
Though it is hard to know exactly what the proposed removal of FRIC suspension systems will do to the gap out in front, Williams should be expected to be closer to Mercedes as it has done in the last two races. Once again the Mercedes power unit will benefit from the four long straights, with around 65% of the lap spent on full throttle. McLaren's recent upswing in performance has convinced McLaren to abandon its plans for a radical approach to development in the second half of the season. With Mercedes power McLaren could be in a good position to build on recent results in Hockenheim.
What is FRIC?
- Front and Rear Interconnected suspension systems link the front and rear to help control the pitch of the car under braking in order to maintain its ride height and gain an aerodynamic advantage.
F1 fans have become acquainted with another acronym since the British Grand Prix - FRIC, short for Front and Rear Interconnected suspension. In the aftermath of the race at Silverstone Charlie Whiting wrote to the teams saying the FIA is "firmly of the view that the legality of all such systems should be called into question." The threat is that teams will be in breach of Article 3.15 of the F1 Technical Regulations, which outlaws moveable aerodynamic devices. However the proviso to Whiting's letter was that FRIC systems would be permitted until the end of the season if all teams reached a unanimous agreement not to protest their usage, but that has not happened. Therefore any teams arriving at Hockenheim with a FRIC system on their cars run the risk of being reported to the FIA by their rivals. One of the most intriguing elements to this story is that Mercedes is believed to have the most competitive FRIC system, which it ran without at the Silverstone test. Mercedes should still be the team to beat in Hockenheim but the removal of FRIC may well shave its advantage down noticeably.
Daniil Kvyat entered dangerous territory at Silverstone; becoming the first person in 2014 to use his fifth engine and MGU-K. For this season the power unit has been split into six different components, with drivers allowed to use five of each during the year before receiving a penalty. A driver will receive a ten-place grid penalty the first time they use a sixth power unit component, with five-place grid penalties enforced for every other additional component usage from that point on. With the season just past the half-way point we are reaching the stage where a engine failure of some sort could lead directly to a penalty, with Toro Rosso, Marussia, Lotus and Sebastian Vettel all close to penalties on one or more components. No Mercedes-powered car had used its fourth allotted part of any component, something which could be hugely significant in the latter stages of the season.
Racers need to go racing
It was refreshing to see Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso engaged in such a gripping duel at Silverstone, a battle between two great world champions which will surely go down as one of the best of the modern era. Their enthralling fight for fifth came not long after the FIA decided to relax its approach to racing incidents and the governing body must be credited for not bowing to the demands of either driver over the radio to penalise the other for exceeding track limits. Both Vettel and Alonso clearly gained a slight advantage at certain points during their race and one may have been penalised in years gone by, but by being allowed to continue fans were given a tremendous spectacle that will surely be one of the highlights of a season where improving the show has been high on the agenda. The whining on the radio needs to stop but it was a reminder of exactly what these drivers are capable of when left to do what they do best.
Despite no longer having the home advantage he enjoyed at Silverstone Lewis Hamilton remains the bookies favourite to win at Hockenheim with odds of 4/7. Pastor Maldonado and Jean-Eric Vergne are tied at 11/1 to be the first retirement, while you can get 5/2 on Felipe Massa grabbing his first podium of 2014.
Facts and stats
- This will be the 34th time Hockenheim has hosted the German Grand Prix. The circuit is currently part of a shared agreement to alternate hosting with the Nurburgring every other year which started in 2008.
- Michael Schumacher leads the way in the world championship era with four German Grand Prix victories but even that is surpassed by pre-war German legend Rudolf Caracciola, who won the race six times. Of the current grid Fernando Alonso has the most with three, all of which came at Hockenheim (2005, 2010 and 2012).
- The Hockenheim-Ring underwent a major redesign in 2002 as the classic original 6.832km circuit was shortened, losing many of its famous power-hungry straights through the forest. Today the circuit length stands at 4.475km, around two thirds of its original length.
- Since the 2002 redesign five of the eight winners at Hockenheim have started from pole, with Fernando Alonso's 2005 victory from third on the grid the only time anyone has won after starting away from the front row.
- Pirelli has chosen soft and supersoft tyres for this year's race.
Once again the weather could play an interesting part this weekend. Hot and dry conditions are likely on both Friday and Saturday, with temperatures forecast to climb above 30 degrees Celsius on both days. The 40% chance of scattered showers on Sunday leaves the prospect of a race on wets or intermediates, leaving the tantalising prospect of a shake-up in the pecking order as we saw during qualifying at Silverstone.
We are tipping Nico Rosberg to bounce back from his Silverstone disappointment in fine style by winning in front of a German crowd probably still in something of a party mood.