The German Grand Prix makes a welcome return to Hockenheim this weekend after missing off the calendar in 2015 due to financial difficulties at the Nurburgring.
And the way the race unfolds this weekend will give some strong indications for the rest of the 2016 season, as after this race the F1 teams will take a well-earned summer break and most will throw their effort behind the 2017 cars when they come back.
That much was clear from the timing of the announcement yesterday that Ferrari is replacing its technical director James Allison with engine chief Mattia Binotto. Coming in now, in late July, Bintotto can make decisions which will have material effect on the 2017 car, when Ferrari has to be competitive and not tread water.
There will be scheduled updates to the cars in the second half of the season, but the bulk of the development work is now going to switch to the radical new design rules for next season. And if the F1 Strategy Group decides this week to go ahead and introduce the halo for next season, then the 2017 work load goes up exponentially.
Incidentally, there is a school of thought that the halo would be for a single season only, with the aeroscreen being developed for long term use from 2018.
Hockenheim is to some degree a power circuit, so it will flatter the more powerful engined cars – so we will likely see McLaren Honda slide back from where they were in Hungary, for example.
It is a good racing circuit, with two overtaking spots and there were 67 overtakes the last time F1 raced there. What is intersting about these hybrid turbo cars is that they have so much punch out of slow corners, we now see overtaking moves starting on corner exits, rather than always the traditional moves under braking along a straight into a corner.
THe hairpin at Hockenheim lends itself wonderfully to this and we should see cars side by side on the exit there and the ones with the more worn tyres will certainly get punished at that point. It should create some good racing.
We have a carry over of Pirelli tyre choices this weekend from Hungary: the supersoft, soft and medium tyres. There are a couple of high energy corners at Hockenheim, but it is not especially stressful on the tyres. The medium was not competitive in Hungary and is likely to be the same here, so we will see a combination of supersoft and soft tyres in the racs. Kimi Raikkonen made a reverse strategy work very well last weekend, starting on the soft tyres, so fast cars out of the top ten may well come through on the same basis.
This weekend’s race at Hockenheim will be the 35th F1 World Championship race to be held at the venue, which is just 28 miles from Sebastian Vettel’s hometown of Heppenheim. But despite its close proximity to where he grew up, the Ferrari driver is yet to win at Hockenheim and has never finished in the top two at the track after a post-race penalty dropped him to fifth from second in the 2012 race. Vettel has also only ever led three laps at this track in his F1 career so far.
The race winner at Hockenheim has only ever come from lower than the front row on three occasions since the 1987 German GP. Eddie Irvine won for Ferrari in 1999 from fifth, while a year later Rubens Barrichello did likewise from 18th, and Fernando Alonso took the win for Renault from 3rd in 2005 – which is the only time any driver has won from below the first two positions since the current layout was introduced in 2002.
Although Ferrari heads to the German Grand Prix without a win so far in 2016, the Italian team has won the race 21 times overall (11 times at Hockenheim, which is the circuit record), an all-time record for an F1 constructor in any one event.
Lewis Hamilton, who won at Hockenheim in 2008, goes to Germany leading the world championship for the first time this season. His Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, who has seen a 43 point lead slip since the Spanish Grand Prix, claimed pole and won the last race at Hockenheim in 2014, which is his only time he has started and finished higher than eighth at the circuit in his F1 career.
After Hungary, Rosberg has qualified first or second for the last 17 straight races (he started sixth after a gearbox penalty in Austria), while no Ferrari driver has qualified on the front row so far in 2016.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo will make his 100th F1 start this weekend, and will become the fourth Australian to reach that milestone after Sir Jack Brabham (126), Alan Jones (116) and Mark Webber (215).
Several drivers are enjoying strong streaks heading into the German Grand Prix. Sauber’s Felipe Nasr has reached Q2 twice in the last four races (at Baku and Hungary), and although Jolyon Palmer hasn’t reached Q2 since Melbourne, in Hungary he out qualified his Renault teammate Kevin Magnussen for the 3rd time this season. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz has scored points in six of the last seven races, and the Spaniard has finished in the top eight on five occasions in 2016.
What are you expecting from the German Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.