German Grand Prix Preview: Can McLaren reel in Ferrari and Red Bull? 19 July, 2012 Flashback: Red Bull‘s Formula Una girls add spark to the Hockenheim pitlane during the 2008 German GP weekend Jul.18 (GP247) This weekend the Formula 1 world descends on Hockenheim for the tenth round of the 2012 F1 World Championship and the halfway mark of the 20 race contest and with five local heroes on the grid a full house is on the cards. Hockenheim is no longer an awe inspiring top speed blast through the woods, but a rather less daunting modern-era race track which tends to be popular with drivers. Fortunately, it is likely to provide yet another intriguing grand prix. This will be the first visit to the circuit since the return of Pirelli as tyre supplier to F1. For Hockenheim the Italian rubber company is providing the Soft and Medium combinations for teams to use, harking back to the tyres on offer in the early races this season. Thus the scene is set for what will hopefully be another tight and unpredictable battle with Ferrari and Red Bull wanting to continue their hot streak, and McLaren keen to reverse the trend which has seen them drop out of contention despite both their drivers having won races so far this season. Lotus too will be aiming for that elusive victory; they have a very useful car and very capable drivers but have yet to come up with the right stuff to claim the top step of the podium. Also on form, the Sauber and Williams teams between them have some good cars, but whether their erratic drivers are able to deliver when it matters remains to be seen. Ferrari, and Fernando Alonso in particular, have managed to take a mediocre car, and dramatically improve it – though the F2012 is still by no means the best car out there, the tenacious Spaniard has managed to make it count when it matters. The fact that he leads the championship by 13 points is purely down to his sheer brilliance this season, many believing that the two time world champion is at the very peak of his abilities. He won last time out in Hockenheim, in 2010 – his first year as a Ferrari driver. That victory came at the expense of Felipe Massa, who was famously told by engineer Rob Smedley that Alonso “is faster than you” upon which the Brazilian dutifully let the sister Ferrari through into the lead and on to victory. At the time it caused a huge furore, but since then the ‘no team orders’ rule has been dropped as it is virtually impossible to police. Team orders are part and parcel of the sport. After all, many years ago, number two drivers were sometimes summoned into the pits to relinquish their cars to the team’s lead driver. The truth is that Massa has no option, not then not now, as Alonso is the team leader at Ferrari and Massa needs to raise his game to be assured a seat with the Maranello squad next year. In fairness, he has raised his game considerably in the past couple of races, and should he sustain the momentum and provide chunks of points for the Scuderia’s ambitions in the constructors’ championship he may well be the man to back Alonso beyond this season. Second in the championship standings going to Hockenheim is Mark Webber who will be fired up by his win at the recent British Grand Prix, which, coupled to his Monaco triumph, makes him the only driver other than Alonso to have won twice this year. The Red Bull RB8, despite a mediocre start to the year, is emerging as the benchmark piece of kit once again and Webber will no doubt be targeting victory at Hockenheim to compliment his German GP win at the Nurburgring in 2009, his maiden F1 victory. Much has been made of Sebastian Vettel’s lack of grand prix victories in July, but he will be heading to his home race confident that he has a very fast car at his disposal and he probably edges all his rivals as the favourite for top spot on the podium come Sunday. First and foremost he will have to contend with his teammate’s hot form and then conquer the inevitable pressure and even the distractions that come with being a world champion in action on home ground. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button arrive in Germany wondering if the McLaren MP4-27 can return to its winning ways after a couple of wayward races. In Formula One, three races can make a huge difference and for Hamilton he will want to replicate the form he showed on his way to victory in Canada, while Button needs to establish why he has only been able to bring home seven points in the last six races despite winning the season opener in Melbourne. Hamilton will be targeting victory in his 100th grand prix start on Sunday. Both drivers are pointing at the car and insinuating that the Woking outfit are losing the development battle, which this year is as ferocious as anything we see on track. As a result the MP4-27 is looking like a very ordinary, albeit pretty, car. On the other side of the coin the Lotus E20 is probably one of the best in the pitlane but the team have not managed to engineer a victory, although they have come close. Consistency is their forte at the moment and they will be buoyed by the fact that they have overtaken McLaren in the constructors’ points standings. Kimi Raikkonen has had well publicised comfort problems in the black and gold car, but appears to have found a comfort zone to his liking. He has come close to the big prize but keeps on suggesting after just about each race, in his dead boring manner, that he could have won. He started the season with occasional smiles but of late these have disappeared and miserable Iceman is what we are getting at the moment. If he hates F1 so much why does he bother? Quite the opposite is his teammate Romain Grosjean who is always fast to crack a smile and have a laugh. His sunny outlook is probably helped by the fact that he is out performing highly rated and vastly more experienced Raikkonen in terms of outright speed, and only playing second fiddle to the Finn in race mode. One gets the impression that when the chips are down Grosjean will nab a win before Raikkonen, providing that the young Frenchman can stay out of trouble. It is also worthwhile keeping in mind that Grosjean has a mere 16 grand prix starts to his name, while Raikkonen will be lining up on an F1 grid for the 166th time. Michael Schumacher has won his home race no fewer than four times and will no doubt be heading home with the single minded aim of making it five, and what a story that would be to win the German GP driving for Mercedes. Not too farfetched a prospect as the seven time world champion has shown some very strong form of late and is fresh from his best finish, since his ‘real’ comeback, in Valencia. He has also gained the upper hand in the battle with his teammate Nico Rosberg who is struggling to find the winning form he had when he claimed his maiden grand prix win in China back in April. Both Silver Arrows drivers will fancy their chances, Germany no doubt expects one of their drivers on the top step of the podium; they have three very capable candidates – Vettel, Rosberg and Schumacher – each quite capable of doing the business on race day, so why not on home soil? All season Sauber have been flirting at the sharp end of proceedings, their best result being second place for Sergio Perez in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Hardly the reward the team deserves after producing the best car since their return to the status of private constructors. Kamui Kobayashi has not developed in the past couple of seasons, and the cardinal sin of running over his mechanics in the pit lane will have seen his shares take a significant dip. With the team announcing they are in no rush to confirm their 2013 driver line-up (last year they were the first to do so) means that Kobayashi is driving for his career. The message loud and clear: shape up or ship out. With big backing from Telmex, Perez is pretty secure in his seat and in probability the most likely to bring glory to the team, but he is also incident prone and will need to up his game considerably in the remaining races. Williams is another team who have produced a very fast and efficient car – the FW34, but they are currently plagued with erratic performances from drivers who are not delivering the deserved rewards for the team. Pastor Maldonado has been either brilliant or dreadful, alas more of the latter. He is accident prone and as a result has cost himself, and his team, a huge haul of points. He is capable of great performances such as his remarkable win at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, but since then has only scored a single point in four races despite having a pace setting car at his disposal. Arguably the biggest disappointment of the season is the realisation that Bruno Senna simply does not have the right stuff to be in Formula One. He has been comprehensively outshone by Maldonado and has been unable to hook up the Williams in any manner whatsoever. Starting in Germany, he has eleven races to prove his critics wrong. Performing well below expectations are both Force India and Toro Rosso, the former showing some signs of revival of late but the latter, the sister team to world champions Red Bull are struggling to stay ahead of the Caterhams. At the back of the grid HRT are starting to get the upper hand in the battle of the two worst teams in F1. The battle at the front is super intense and remains unpredictable. In nutshell, expect Ferrari and Red Bull to slug it out. Also likely to be in the ring are the Lotus boys, while McLaren might just get their act together. Throw in a Williams and a Sauber and Hockenheim becomes a war-zone! Subbed by AJN. Facts and figures ahead of the German Grand Prix 2010 pole (2011 was at Nuerburgring): Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull 1:13.791. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull’s Mark Webber are the only drivers to win twice this season after an unprecedented run of seven different winners in the first seven races (Jenson Button/Alonso/Nico Rosberg/Vettel/Pastor Maldonado/Webber/Lewis Hamilton). Ferrari have won 218 races since the championship started in 1950, McLaren 177, Williams 114 and Red Bull 30. Seven-times champion Michael Schumacher holds the record for driver victories with 91. Alonso has 29, Vettel 22, Kimi Raikkonen 18, Lewis Hamilton 18. Raikkonen’s last win was in Belgium with Ferrari in 2009. Schumacher’s last win was in China with Ferrari in 2006. Alonso’s pole at Silverstone was Ferrari’s first since Singapore in September 2010. Ferrari last had two poles in a row in 2010. McLaren can take their 150th pole in Hockenheim. It would have come in Barcelona after Hamilton qualified fastest but he was stripped of pole for a fuel miscalculation. Vettel took 15 pole positions in 2011, the most anyone has achieved in a single season. He has been on pole three times this year. Red Bull took 18 poles last year, a record for a team. Vettel has 33 poles to his credit, the same number that Jim Clark and Alain Prost took in their entire F1 careers. Only Schumacher (68) and the late Ayrton Senna (65) managed more. Alonso has 21. Both Red Bull drivers were on the podium in Silverstone for the first time this year. Schumacher’s third place in Valencia was the first podium of his comeback with Mercedes and the first since he was at Ferrari in 2006. At 43, he is the oldest driver to stand on the podium since Australian Jack Brabham aged 44 in 1970. Vettel’s third place in Britain ended a run of four races without being on the podium, his worst drought since a six race podium-less streak at the end of 2008/early 2009. Alonso has finished his last 21 races in the points. Schumacher holds the record of 24 scoring finishes in a row. Caterham (formerly Team Lotus and Lotus Racing), Marussia (Previously Virgin Racing) and HRT have yet to score a point in more than two seasons of competing. Schumacher was the last German driver to win in Germany, with Ferrari in 2006. He also won at the Nuerburgring that season. Germany has five F1 active drivers – Vettel, Schumacher, Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg and Timo Glock – more than any other nation. The first three have all won races. Vettel has never won in Germany or in July. Formula One drivers have not yet raced at Hockenheim with the Pirelli tyres, due to the circuit alternation with Nuerburgring. The race will be the 33rd held at Hockenheim. It is also the 10th anniversary of the circuit re-design. The safety car has been deployed twice in seven races over the past 10 years at Hockenheim. Hamilton, last year’s winner in Germany (Nuerburgring), will be celebrating his 100th Grand Prix. Related NewsMagnussen not interested in talking to MassaMercedes backtrack on Brembo blame for Hamilton shuntRicciardo: It’s nice to get respect from FernandoHamilton targets high five in HungaryTech Talk: Hockenheim AnalysisGermany could host two grands prix per yearMassa: Rookies just take it easy!Vettel negativity blamed for turning off German fansPhotos: Best of German Grand Prix race dayAlonso hints that Raikkonen must improve george Come on the Iceman!!! tharris19 Not going to happen. They can’t build a car that is competative that will suit both Button and Hamilton. Whitmarsh can’t focus on a championship because he is so focused on Jenson.