German GP: Ferrari preview

Ferrari F10 nose cones. Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday 6 May 2010.

Jul. 20 (Ferrari) Although this event will be the thirty second Formula 1 Grand Prix held at Hockenheim, it is the fortieth anniversary of the first ever world championship round staged here in 1970, which produced a thrilling fight between Jacky Ickx, who started from pole in a Ferrari and Jochen Rindt in a Lotus, with victory after 50 laps going to the Austrian by less than a second. In total, the Scuderia has won the German GP nineteen times, which makes it the race Ferrari has won more often than any other event.

The last victory came courtesy of Michael Schumacher in 2006, when Felipe Massa made it a nice one-two for the Prancing Horse. The Brazilian has visited the podium on two other occasions, finishing third in 2008 and again last year, when the race was held at the Nurburgring, which now alternates the hosting of the German GP with Hockenheim. As for Fernando Alonso, he won here in 2005.

Five years earlier, Rubens Barrichello, a Ferrari driver back then, secured his maiden Formula 1 victory in rather unusual circumstances. Having started from eighteenth on the grid, the Brazilian began by staging a great climb through the field, in a race that saw a madman stage a one-man track invasion, which necessitated the appearance of the Safety Car. Then in the final stages, the rain arrived and while Rubens opted to stay on dry tyres, the McLaren duo of Hakkinen and Coulthard pitted for wets: in the final laps, the Brazilian put on a masterly performance in the slower section of the circuit, stirring the enthusiasm of the large number of Ferrari fans packing the Motodrom, who had been left bereft of their idol Schumacher, out of the race after an accident at the start.

Up until 2002, Hockenheim was something of a one-off circuit on the calendar, or at least similar to Monza in that it required a special very low downforce package and set-up to deal with two very fast straights than ran through the spectator-less forests, so that when the drivers returned to the more normal part of the circuit, their main priority was staying on the track with very little wing, because priority was given to being quick on the straights.

Since 2002, the circuit was modified, which meant the straights disappeared, leaving a more conventional circuit. Even without the straights, there are still some genuine overtaking opportunities, predominantly at the hairpin and the corner leading into the stadium section. The circuit characteristics, on paper at least, are more likely than recently visited venues to play to the strengths of the Ferrari F10, although it is fair to say that for a variety of reasons, the fact that the car has improved dramatically in recent races has been masked by a series of unfortunate and unlucky incidents, that have kept it out of the top places.

Nevertheless, on the stop-start track in Montreal and the higher speed street circuit in Valencia, it proved competitive and even if it could not match the Red Bull benchmark at Silverstone, here too at the English circuit with its high downforce, fast corner characteristics, the car was good enough for the second row of the grid. The engineering team at Maranello has not eased up at all and there are further updates on the car this weekend, with changes to the diffuser and therefore everything points to another competitive weekend for Ferrari. No matter how much progress has been made in terms of car development, there are no points awarded for technical excellence and it is clear that, this weekend and at the race in Budapest just seven days later, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro must bring home a big points haul if it intends to be fully in the hunt for the championship title.

For the first time this season, there is a rather unusual tyre choice, in that Bridgestone is bringing the two extremes from its range, the Supersoft and the Hard. Whether or not this choice will produce an exciting race on Sunday is hard to predict, but it will most likely make the usual Friday free practice tyre comparison particularly interesting.

Adding to the workload on the tyre front is the fact that, as always it is likely to be extremely hot and humid over the weekend, not forgetting that there is no recent data on running slick tyres at this track, as last year, when slicks made their come-back, the German GP was staged at the Nurburgring. While the Hockenheim track has lost its long straights, it still retains the famous Motodrom, a stadium section which houses the paddock, pits and a complex of corners, surrounded by giant grandstands.

The Hockenheim crowd has always been very enthusiastic and in the past, red tended to be the dominant colour in the stands, as they cheered on Michael Schumacher. This year, they have no fewer than six “home” drivers to choose from, showing their support with the deafening sound of the famous air horns. And on the subject of deafening sound, as the German Grand Prix is the first major sporting event since the end of the football World Cup, it will be interesting to see if the dreaded Vuvuzela has made the trip from the southern to the northern hemisphere!