By Tom Keeble, USA
Hockenheim may no longer offer long straights and stressful engine work, but the circuit remains a technical challenge for the teams and drivers. McLaren and Kimi Raikkonen are favourites for the weekend, but their rivals Renault and Fernando Alonso could well disrupt again Woking's plans. Tom Keeble previews the race and rates the teams' chances of success ahead of the twelfth round of the 2005 season
The German Grand Prix is hosted at Hockenheim. Since the revisions of 2002 removed the long straights, it resembles many of its European brethren: a slow and medium corner based circuit, requiring relatively high downforce that rewards traction, good braking and balance. There is a strong chance of showers, which could liven the weekend. Overtaking is possible. Tyre wear will likely be an issue if it is a sunny race.
Although the circuit no longer carries the challenge of seeing cars with minimum downforce settings attacking the stadium section, it retains some of the characteristics that made it stand out over the years: in particular, the crowd can form a voluble presence; they are often credited with pushing their favoured drivers to gain a half second on a lap. Traditional favourite Michael Schumacher will have his work cut out this time, however, as both McLaren and Renault are more favoured to leave with the top honours on this outing.
Track: The pit straight offers drivers a chance to reach 185mph in seventh gear before dabbing the brakes in to the 125mph Nordkurve right-hander, jumping the curbs on the exit to maintain speed along the way to Parabolica - a tight, second gear, 70mph right hander, which leads to the new section of the track.
A slight left hander follows, before a long sweeping left curve: this is taken flat out, seeing speeds over 190mph before the heavy braking zone into the right-handed hairpin. Accelerating out of this 45mph corner, drivers will get back up to around 190mph again before braking for the Spitzkehre complex: a 60mph right hander, with a short squirt in the power before a second, tighter left hand corner. A kink to the left followed by a sweeping right hand corner leads back on to the original circuit, seeing drivers build up speed again ahead of the Stadium complex.
The Stadium begins with the 110mph Mobil 1 Kurve right hander in to the long left turning 65mph hairpin, Sachs. A left-right kink leads on to the double apex right hander Sudkurve, taken at 100mph and leading back to the start-finish straight.
Tyres: Although the speeds are relatively low and traction excellent, which leads teams to bring soft compounds to the event, the track surface takes on heat very fast, so surface temperatures in excess of fifty degrees are common in the sun. This means the teams have to be concerned about wear - especially to rear tyres from constant acceleration. Nevertheless, this should be far from the most challenging venue for tyres this year, so neither manufacturer is expected to be off its game.
Weather: The weather forecast is predicting a progressively wet weekend - with some chance of interrupting qualifying and a high probability of rain during the race. If rain interferes with qualifying, a very mixed grid should ensue.
Strategy: A simple two-stop strategy looks like the quickest way around this circuit, although the threat of rain on race day should see some teams fill up to the brim in attempt to run a single stop, so the grid could have some surprises.
Surprises: Watch out for Jenson Button all weekend - he has an affinity for this track. Likewise, if Michael Schumacher is going to pull an unexpected win out of the hat, this is one of the best chances he will see. Keep an eye on Sauber in the midfield as well.
Conclusions: McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen is clearly a hot favourite to win - provided his Mercedes engine doesn't let him down again - while his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya has not only been boosted by winning the British Grand Prix, but he has a solid record at this circuit. Renault will be disappointed not to challenge all the way, however, and should certainly get at least one car on the podium.
Team by Team
Prospects for Ferrari this weekend are not good. Their pace at Silverstone will have their fans concerned, as the marque is not only losing ground to Renault and McLaren, but is now apparently unable to even contain BAR. Tough qualifying sessions, insufficient race pace and trouble dealing with traffic saw Raikkonen working his way past both Ferrari cars en route to a podium they never threatened to be on.
In Germany, the outfit will be looking to improve their qualifying performance and ensure the race pace doesn't fall off. Excellent race day performance from well managed tyre usage that was so obvious early in the season appears to have been compromised in the search for improved qualifying pace.
Drivers: Michael Schumacher has excellent support from fans, and a tremendous record at Hockenheim - he tends to win, or struggle to make any mark on the weekend: odds for this race are strongly against a podium, let alone a win.... Rubens Barrichello is not really expected to outperform his teammate, so it looks like a tough weekend is in store for Ferrari.
Objectives: solid qualifying and race - aiming to beat BAR. A podium would be unexpected.
BAR have to be optimistic about their improved performance, which appears to make them 'best of the rest' behind Renault and McLaren. It does not bode well for their odds on winning a race this year, but podiums could be attainable whenever the front teams tangle or otherwise drop the ball.
Silverstone saw Jenson Button deliver on early promise with an excellent qualifying lap. On race day, a poor start saw Montoya run past the Briton, while he himself could not fend off Fisichella or Raikkonen - but was never challenged by Ferrari for his fifth place. Considering the performance gap to the front two teams, repeating the Silverstone performance is all that can realistically be expected in Germany.
Drivers: Both Button and Takuma Sato should run well in Germany; a strong weekend will see them pushing any Renault or McLaren driver who fails to keep up the pace, though beating them on merit will take some doing. Staying ahead of Ferrari would be a good result.
Objectives: qualify strongly and finish with both cars in the points; aiming to beat Ferrari - a podium finish would be tough.
With Fernando Alonso able to extend his Championship lead at Silverstone, despite losing to Montoya, the team is clearly looking to compete with the Woking outfit in Germany: they will be fighting for the win.
Silverstone was supposed to be a tough outing for Renault, so seeing Alonso on pole came as something of a surprise. While Alonso was not quite on Montoya's pace in the race, both cars could have finished on the podium, had there not been a stall for Giancarlo Fisichella that allowed Raikkonen past.
New developments coming on line for Germany - including the new spec engine that Fisichella ran in Silverstone - should help the Renault close the gap to McLaren for the forthcoming weekend.
Drivers: Considering Alonso's lead in the World Championship, finishing ahead of Raikkonen is his most important goal in Germany. Accordingly, he can be expected to yield relatively easily in the event of an aggressive overtaking attempt from other rivals - potentially leaving the door open for someone of Montoya's calibre to make passes that would be denied of the Finn.
Fisichella, meanwhile, continues to struggle with poor luck, but there is little wrong with his race pace. Qualifying has not seen him match Alonso, but a good session should put him right alongside his teammate - and in any event, he is well capable of finishing on the podium.
Objectives: aiming for the race win, with both cars on the podium.
Despite a significant update to their aero package, the Williams team have struggled to deliver so far this season - and they have looked increasingly off the pace at the last couple of events. Qualifying outside the top ten and finishing outside the points at Silverstone underlines the price of failing to deliver in-season performance improvements.
While there was a similar story last season - the car was off the pace after aero updates in France failed to deliver - this year is not showing any expectation of the same results. In 2004, Williams worked out how to unlock the new package in the test ahead of the German Grand Prix, resulting in a front row qualifying performance from Montoya. Admittedly, his appalling start undid all that, but they were back in business. However, this year's ending doesn't look so rosy, as the team still appears unable to extract all the gains shown by the wind tunnel.
Underlining this lack of performance, both off the line and in the race, the team would have to consider it a solid step forward if they were to score a point at this race - which is not good news for BMW at their home event!
Drivers: Mark Webber's excellent qualifying performances from the start of the season are no longer making their regular appearances; a week of testing may have helped to improve matters, but qualifying in the top ten will still be tough - let alone finishing in the points. Nick Heidfeld should benefit from crowd support this weekend, as this is his home event. Nevertheless, his expectations are basically the same as Webber's: he'd do well to qualify in the top ten, and have to be pleased with a point.
Objectives: show progress with the aero package and finish in the points.
Hot favourites in Britain, the McLaren team arguably retain the distinction in Germany, though in practice, Renault should prove to be tough competition. Silverstone saw Kimi Raikkonen's engine expire before qualifying for the second race weekend on the trot. But while he was lucky to finish on the podium, Montoya was in an excellent position to capitalise, bringing the team a well deserved win.
Hockenheim will see both drivers using their engines for the second half of their cycles, so despite running at the home race for Mercedes, neither will be on the receiving end of a 'special' unit from their supplier. On the other hand, with the form the car has shown in the last couple of races, a double podium finish and race win are a fair target.
There is a good chance that Renault will qualify very strongly, so race day strategy will have to incorporate plans not only to cover for the weather, but to allow their drivers to pass their rivals in the pits, as doing so on track would be a big task.
Drivers: Montoya has won in Germany before, and coming off a moral boosting win at the British Grand Prix will do no harm to his confidence. The Columbian will be aiming to prove a handful for his teammate as he looks for a second win.
Raikkonen on the other hand was unflappable in the last couple of events, making the most of his pace to undo the worst of the damage from being dropped ten places in the last couple of qualifying sessions. Posting fastest lap on the final lap of Silverstone was a clear warning - he is still focussed on winning.
Objectives: aiming for the race win - with both cars on the podium.
The warmer weather predicted for Germany will please Sauber, who have been struggling to get enough grip from their tyres in cool weather. The coming weekend is expected to offer the team a chance to make a small step up in their game - although quite what difference that makes relative to their competition remains to be seen.
Silverstone was a tough weekend for Sauber, who battled Red Bull for honours all race and ultimately paid for a couple of mistakes at the start and in the pits with positions on the track - though no points were at stake.
The recent improvements to the car's aero package gives the team hope not only of beating Red Bull this weekend, but also being ahead of Williams.
Drivers: Jacques Villeneuve continues to make it difficult for himself - a lapse of concentration at Silverstone saw him run over a mechanic's foot in the pitstop, which will inevitably see the pit-crew give him more respect in Germany, at the cost of time. Felipe Massa continues to show the 1997 World Champion the way, though either would do well to score a point this weekend.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten; score a point - beat Williams!
Despite their excellent start to the season, there is little doubt that the Red Bull team are starting to suffer from a lack of in-season development relative to their rivals. A tight budget and limited resources have resulted in progressively tougher races, to the point where scoring any points is now a big bonus.
Silverstone saw the team struggle with grip throughout the weekend, and while the cars seemed balanced for qualifying, they were chasing the setup with adjustments during pitstops through the race.
Improving the situation in Germany is going to be a tough task, unless weather interferes, as the team needs to spend more time getting to grips with the modifications they introduced in France, just to maintain pace with their rivals.
Drivers: David Coulthard has often had a good weekend in Germany, putting together solid races that bring home points - but he doesn't really shine in Hockenheim. Race pace is not too far off, so the team are looking for an excellent (or rain interrupted) qualifying session - then solid should be enough to score another point.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten, score a point. Beat Sauber!
This is something close to a home Grand Prix for Toyota, but without time to test and establish why they are going backwards during races, it is hard to see a positive outcome for the team this weekend - even if they have some new parts for the cars. At Silverstone, despite qualifying in the top six, a poor start followed by progressively worse race pace led to a frustrating race: the team took home a single point.
Hockenheim should at least play relatively well towards the strength of the car, so a decent qualifying session should still be possible, even if race day offers little chance of a podium.
Drivers: Jarno Trulli will be looking for another strong qualifying performance - this time backed up with a decent race start. Although overtaking is possible at Hockenheim, a tough defensive drive would then offer a realistic chance of scoring a couple of points, though the team has to be wondering what they have to do in order to give him longevity from his tyres for this race.
Ralf Schumacher has not had a season to write home about, but Hockenheim is a place that has often seen him break out of a poor spell in the past. His race pace is not falling off as dramatically as Trulli (possibly implying the latter is setting up his car too aggressively) but poor qualifying pace in particular is preventing him from doing better.
Objectives: two points finishes, podium difficult. Aim to beat Williams!
Plans that Jordan would debut their revised EJ15B in a race at Hockenheim have been delayed, after they experienced continued problems with the cooling systems: the likelihood of a hot German Grand Prix being enough to ensure reliability would be a problem. Nevertheless, the team will continue to anticipate being able to maintain an advantage over their only real rival for the season, Minardi.
Drivers: Tiago Monteiro will clearly be expecting another pointless finish, which Narain Karthikeyan has to be hoping that this time, he will neither suffer a mechanical failure, nor an off resulting from a lapse in control...
Objectives: make a showing, beat Minardi.
A change of driver notwithstanding, the odds of Minardi showing anything other than their usual form are somewhere between slim and none. They are clearly racing in the hopes of adverse weather conditions causing mayhem with the competition, but despite that, and the continued politicking of their principle, they remain a favoured team with fans of the underdog.
Assisting in the chase to finish anywhere other than last - specifically, to beat a Jordan this year - Dutchman Robert Doornbos, the Jordan test driver, is to take the seat of Patrick Friesacher, who is experiencing financial issues.
Objectives: complete race distance - beat a Jordan!
As Formula One headed to Germany, it was widely anticipated that Michael Schumacher would continue to dominate, adding to his nine wins from the ten previous races - and thereby matching the record for the most wins in a season for any driver. Ferrari dominated in the Constructors' Championship, while BAR were starting to look likely to close down Renault for second overall.
Despite failing to shine in practice - and concentrating on race strategy - Michael Schumacher placed his car firmly in pole position for the race, comfortably leading Juan Montoya's Williams. Montoya's performance was boosted by Williams getting to grips with their French Grand Prix aero package, but it was not quite enough to take pole.
Kimi Raikkonen's third place was clean, with David Coulthard's fourth a solid confirmation of the improving form of McLaren; Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli meanwhile filled the third row for Renault - despite confirmation of the rumours that the latter was being dropped by the team in 2005.
Rubens Barrichello had a disappointing weekend, qualifying a full second off his team leader in seventh, whilst Takuma Sato's eighth was a good recovery from writing off his chassis in practice.
Antonio Pizzonia, standing in for the injured Ralf Schumacher at Williams was unable to deliver in final qualifying, resulting in tenth place, whilst Jenson Button's thirteenth place was due to a ten place penalty for an engine change.
Race day saw Toyota's Olivier Panis with car problems, eventually leading to him starting from the pitlane. Schumacher on the other hand had a straightforward opening to his race, leading cleanly off the line as Montoya struggled - the then-Williams driver dropping to eighth. Alonso on the other hand got off the line perfectly, cleanly moving past three cars to take second into the first corner. Raikkonen was third, while Trulli moved up to fourth ahead of Coulthard, Barrichello, Webber and Montoya.
Barrichello's start was hampered when he misjudged his entry in to the first corner, running in to the back of Coulthard's McLaren. Replacing his now missing front wing dropped him to the back of the field. On the second lap, Raikkonen passed Alonso for second, immediately looking quicker, while Montoya moved ahead of Webber with a similar move.
The first round of stops began on lap nine with Alonso, followed by Schumacher, Raikkonen and the remainder of the top five the following lap. Webber led a lap before pitting on lap twelve, leaving Button in the lead. He stopped a lap later, returning in ninth place.
At the front, Raikkonen had enjoyed a faster stop and was closing on Schumacher; but seconds after crossing the line on lap thirteen, his rear wing collapsed, spinning him out and into the tyre wall. This left Coulthard in third place, with Button pressing Montoya for fourth. The Columbian held off the Briton well until increasing rear-tyre wear saw him run off-track on lap 21.
Trulli and Webber fought a tough battle for sixth place with Sato soon joining the fray: the Japanese eventually passed Trulli with a brave manoeuvre on lap 26 at the hairpin.
Montoya and Sato started the next round of stops, followed by Schumacher, who held a fifteen second lead on Alonso. This round saw Button pass Coulthard, leaving him running fast, close on Alonso. A hard battle saw Button get inside Alonso at the hairpin, but the Spaniard would not yield - running instead round the outside to take second back on his way in to the stadium section.
The final round of stops saw Alonso again quick enough to stay ahead of Button, but this time the Renault driver was struggling with his tyres and the BAR driver made an easy pass.
Schumacher ran to a comfortable win, despite Button closing down on the German, while Alonso worked his way around the tyre problems to fend off Coulthard for third.
Points paying positions
Pos Driver Team-Engine Time 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1h23:54.848 2. Button BAR-Honda (M) + 8.329 3. Alonso Renault (M) + 16.351 4. Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 19.231 5. Montoya Williams-BMW (M) + 23.055 6. Webber Jaguar-Cosworth (M) + 41.108 7. Pizzonia Williams-BMW (M) + 41.956 8. Sato BAR-Honda (M) + 46.842 Fastest Lap: Raikkonen, 1:13.780, lap 10 Classified : 17 from 20 starters