German Grand Prix: Mercedes preview Hockenheim

Nico Rosberg leads Lewis Hamilton

Nico Rosberg leads Lewis Hamilton

Round 10 of the 2014 Formula One World Championship brings us to Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix, held at the Hockenheimring.

Lewis Hamilton: “Winning at Silverstone was just an incredible feeling – for myself, the team and the fans, I couldn’t have asked for more. I feel like I’ve been on the back foot all year, only briefly leading the Championship despite taking the wins I’ve had, so to have got myself just about level was exactly what I needed. It’s almost a fresh start heading into the second half of the season and it’s going to be a really close battle between us. Of course, you never want to see your team-mate fall away, but hopefully we can now strike a line under the retirements and push each other all the way on track. You can’t have everything – the best car, the best pace, the best speed at the end of the straight and perfect reliability – because things are on the limit. But I know how hard the team are working to get as close to that benchmark as we can possibly be. There were lots of positives to take from Silverstone. Knowing that I’m going into the next race with the best car, having shown that I’ve got good pace, and knowing that if I do a good job I can be ahead is a good place to be. This is the home grand prix for Mercedes-Benz, so it’s important for the team and important for me. I’ve won twice before in Germany, but not at Hockenheim since way back in 2008. The aim is to change that this weekend.”

Nico Rosberg: “Although it wasn’t the result I wanted in the end, my weekend in Silverstone was really encouraging in a lot of ways. As a team we made all the right calls in a difficult Qualifying session and the balance of the car felt very strong until unfortunately I was forced to retire. It was a real shame, but with the new regulations we are always going to be pushing the boundaries and I know how hard the team is pushing to give us the best car out there every weekend. I lost a lot of points, and the Championship battle is very close, but I’m feeling good. From the test last week we’re straight into the next race and another chance to regain the momentum, which is of course my target. Hockenheim is a crucial race for all of us. It’s the home grand prix for Mercedes-Benz and a second home race for me after Monaco, so I’m really focused on getting a top result this weekend. It’s actually the circuit I’ve won the most races at during my career through all the junior categories, so I know it suits my driving style. Of course, I would love to add Formula One to that list sometime soon! I’ve always had good support from the German spectators. They’re really enthusiastic and it’s almost like a tradition to take the family on a camping weekend for the grand prix so I’m looking forward to gunning for a good result in front of the crowds.”

Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: “We left Silverstone with mixed emotions after something of a rollercoaster weekend. Lewis produced a fantastic performance on Sunday – proving his strength by recovering from the disappointment of Qualifying to take a brilliant and highly popular home win. For Nico, a strong weekend unfortunately did not yield the result he deserved and we have been working flat out since the race to find and resolve the problem. We can see the performance in the car, but bulletproof reliability is equally important if we are to maintain our advantage in the Championship through to the end of the season. Overall, however, Silverstone provided a memorable weekend for the team – and produced another strong advertisement for this new era of Formula One. Now we head to Germany and the home race of Mercedes-Benz with the Championship battle as close as it has been between our two drivers. This is an important weekend for them and equally so for the team, so we will be pushing harder than ever to make sure both cars take the best results. The next chapter in this fascinating contest awaits us and we are determined to put on a strong show.

Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical): Silverstone saw a fantastic win for Lewis on the occasion not only of the 50th British Grand Prix, but also the 60th anniversary of the first Formula One victory for Mercedes-Benz. While this brought cause for celebration, the main priority of the days since has been to understand the gearbox problem we saw with Nico’s car and to make sure there is no recurrence moving forwards. As with any such scenario, a lot of work has been put into rectifying the issue and we head to Hockenheim with a remedy in place. We will also be bringing a number of other upgrades evaluated during the Silverstone test last week, so we look forward to the next race in the hopes of both improved performance and a more robust package from a reliability perspective. Germany is the home race for Mercedes-Benz and we aim to put on a good show for all of our colleagues who will be attending. It’s a good circuit and one at which we expect our car to be strong, but as always performance will be dependent on getting the car set up correctly from the outset and understanding the tyres – which are unusually soft for this race in terms of compound selection. The Championship battle is very close between Nico and Lewis, with an exciting contest between the two very much on the cards, so we can expect an entertaining weekend ahead.”

Hockenheimring; The Inside Line:

Lewis: “Hockenheim is quite a technical track, with a range of different challenges to the driver. You have to really attack the apex into Turn One, which is actually a lot tighter than it looks. It’s easy to run wide over the kerbs on exit which can hurt you down the short straight that follows. Then you’re braking really deep into Turn Two – taking an early apex and running quite wide on exit, carrying good speed through Turns Three and Four. It’s important to get good drive out of this section, as it leads you down the long DRS straight into Turn Six – the best overtaking spot around the circuit. You have to hug the kerb all the way through the kink of Turn Five, drift out to about the middle of the track and finally move back to the left to brake hard for the low-speed hairpin. It’s a long, high-speed stretch before that corner, so I’m hoping our Mercedes-Benz power will launch us ahead!
It’s then fast through the kink at Turn Seven before braking into the left-handed Turn Eight, where you can carry a lot of speed on entry. You can drift a little wide on exit too, but you then have to get back across to take a short line, flat-out through the right-hander of Turn Nine. From there you’re back into the complex – the older part of the circuit – where the track gets a lot tighter and the grip level also changes. After running deep into Turn 13 you cut right across the edges of the chicane through Turns 14 and 15 before easing it through the final two corners. You have to be very careful not to lose the rear here as you get hard on the power and across the line.”

Nico: “I’ve always enjoyed racing at Hockenheim. Even since the section through the forest was removed, it’s still been a really great track layout and has produced some great racing. There’s always a lot of action and also a few incidents – especially down at the hairpin after the long straight, which is ideal for overtaking – so it’s exciting for the fans. If you look back to Austria, which is quite a similar layout, our car was strong through the high-speed first sector there, so hopefully it will be the same again here.
Then, of course, there’s the legendary stadium section – the old part of the circuit – where you come flying in at high speed over the kerb at Turn 12, run wide over the artificial grass and you’re hard into a really tight, twisty sequence of corners. The Sachs Kurve (Turn 13) in particular is really unusual in that it’s steeply banked. It’s so easy to lock up a front wheel trough there but also really nice to drive as you can really carry the speed through the corner. The great thing about this section is that the crowds are right on top of you. It’s so enclosed and you can really feel the atmosphere all around you.”

On the Pit Wall:

Venue Familiarity:
Having alternated with the Nürburgring as the venue for the German Grand Prix in recent seasons, Hockenheim has not been visited by the teams for two years by the time we reach the race weekend. Unlike in Austria, which was a circuit that had not been visited for over a decade, data from 2012 will still be relevant to the teams in terms of providing a useable baseline. However, there are still elements which will provide more of a challenge than at those circuits which featured on the 2013 calendar. These include anything from tyre behaviour to procedural elements such as pit lane speed limits, with additional work necessary to cover off any areas in which historical data is lacking.

Continuing the theme of venue familiarity, tyres will be a focal area during the early sessions of the weekend. While the tyres used here in 2012 may have been similar in behaviour to the current crop, they operate quite differently with different temperature ranges. 2012 also represents the only previous visit Pirelli have made to Hockenheim thus far as a Formula One tyre supplier. Given that both P2 and Qualifying were wet at times, the information available to them will be relatively sparse compared to other circuits. Correlation with data from the current season is also a difficult task, as information must effectively be interpreted twice – inevitably adding a margin for error. Furthermore, where 2012 saw the medium and soft compounds nominated for Hockenheim, this year Pirelli have gone one step softer with the softest allocation available – the Soft and Super-soft. This is significant in that, while most teams employed a reasonably straightforward two stop strategy in 2012, the Prime was widely seen as the better race tyre. This would imply that the 2014 allocation could prove somewhat on the soft side, with bias traditionally towards the harder compound at this circuit. Of course, Austria provided a similar scenario without any major concerns, but those teams that are marginal on tyre usage may struggle more here than they would elsewhere.

Circuit Layout:
The Hockenheim circuit layout can be seen as similar to that of Austria in many ways. While the surface is more abrasive and the lap longer in terms of distance, times have traditionally only differed by a matter of a few seconds. Similarities between the two become apparent when analysing the corner content, with medium to high-speed turns prevalent. Sector one is all about engine power, sector three lower speed performance and traction, sector two a combination of both. These contrasts make for an interesting and challenging circuit, both to driver and team, as compromises must be made. Finding the perfect setup for all three sectors is simply not possible, forcing teams to balance the demands of each. Straight line speed will be crucial down the long DRS zone into Turn Six – a heavy braking hairpin with a variety of potential lines, which lends itself to overtaking.

Safety Cars:
With very little gravel run-off area in its modern configuration, Safety Cars are few and far between at Hockenheim. It is relatively easy to recover from a spin at most corners around the circuit and return to the track without issue. Retirement rates are low – usually between three and five per race – which is indicative of a low probability of contact or mistakes.

The German climate, particularly in the Hockenheim region, almost inevitably produces wet sessions – historically around three per race weekend on average. The last time Formula One came to this circuit in 2012, both P2 and Qualifying were rain-affected to a greater or lesser extent, while the race itself remained dry – making it very much like Silverstone from a climatic perspective. Significant swings in temperature are also common, with track temperatures varying by as much as twelve degrees day-to-day. Similar to Austria once again – which saw the widest ambient temperature range experienced in the last three years – weather fronts can move in overnight, forcing teams to set their cars up with a margin of error with which to tackle any conditions that may arise.