German Grand Prix Preview

Wednesday 3rd July 2013

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In 2013, Lewis might, McLaren won't

In 2013, Lewis might, McLaren won't

The German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in the Eiffel Mountains almost wasn't on the calendar this year. A last-minute deal with the circuit organisers plugged what was in danger of becoming a four-week hole in the F1 season.

But it is good to return to one of F1's traditional circuits, somewhere that's been a happy hunting ground for many of the current drivers. With the exception of Kimi Raikkonen.

If the talk at Silverstone was about the aftermath of tyre testing and Mark Webber's retirement, then this weekend's race will be about the correct use of tyres. Going back to Webbo's announcement, Mark only slipped it onto his website on Thursday morning, and so Christian Horner and the rest of the Red Bull organization found out minutes before the rest of the world.

Mark got his first grand prix win at the Nurburgring in 2009 and with the circuit alternating as German GP hosting track with Hockenheim, we were last here in 2011 when Lewis Hamilton won. Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg have a very good chance of repeating that feat given their qualifying form, and crucially, the switch to Kevlar-belt tyres.

In fact the Silverstone GP might mark a turning point for their efforts, as the old steel-belted tyre looks to have passed into history. Pirelli announced in the week that the multiple blow-outs at Silverstone were a combination of teams running their tyres at too steep a camber, two low a pressure and deliberately running the tyres on the wrong side of the car. This, they said, along with some sharp inside kerbing led to the spate of failures.

Pirelli's Paul Hembery: "For this race only, we will bring Kevlar-belted rear tyres, following the incidents at the British Grand Prix. Even though the 2013 high-performance steel-belted version is completely safe when used correctly, the Kevlar-belted version is easier to manage and as long as there is no system in place which allows us to enforce tyre related specifications, like tyre pressures or camber, the incorrect use of which were contributing factors of the tyre failures in Silverstone, we prefer to bring a less sophisticated tyre.

From the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards there will be a completely new range of tyres, combining the characteristics of our 2012 tyres with the increased performance of the 2013 specification."

This is good news for Mercedes who were having trouble with the overheating steel belt in the old tyres, especially the rears. Unlike the previous tyres, the steel heated up and didn't cool down. What's more, as soon as they did heat up, there was virtually no driver management that could be employed to cool them again. The new tyres won't heat up so much, and if they do, sensible driving can cool them down again.

This not only plays into Mercedes hands, it should hand more of an advantage back to Lewis Hamilton who was struggling to match Rosberg's efficient cornering style. On that same basis, the teams that have been doing well with the steel-belted tyre - Lotus, Force India and Ferrari - may well see performance drop off.

This isn't great news for Kimi Raikkonen who suspects that the German Grand Prix has it in for him. "I've always enjoyed driving in Germany," said Kimi, "but the problem is that luck has never been on my side there and something has always happened to stop me winning. I've got four poles to show my speed, but six retirements at this race haven't been what I wanted. Both circuits - the Nurburgring and Hockenheim - have not been very kind to me."

Although Friday might see some rain, Saturday is predicted dry and we're promised glorious sun and 25C for the race. If Mercedes run away with it on Sunday then that could be very ominous for the rest of the year.

Fernando Alonso said Ferrari were very lucky on Sunday and half the reason was because he too suffered a puncture, but felt the deflation just as he was going around Stowe corner right in front of the pitlane entrance. He was able to go straight into the pits for an early stop and adjust his strategy. Had the puncture come one corner later and he would have had to tour round for an entire lap.

What was worrying is that Ferrari lacked qualifying pace - and that was before they changed the tyre. So in many ways the German GP will have a touch of the Aussie GP about it - there could be a re-shuffling of the teams pecking order. Already Ferrari have dropped to third in the constructors' championship and the gap to second only looks like it might get bigger, not smaller.

McLaren will be hoping for improved performance having won the last race held at the Nurburgring, but with Martin Whitmarsh admitting that they are devoting more attention to the 2014 car, the chances of a win for the team in 2013 look quite remote. Right now they'd kill for a podium. Their main fight is to lever themselves above Force India and the change of tyre might help bring that about.

Last week the silly season hadn't started until Thursday morning when we found out there was going to be a Red Bull vacancy in 2014. It's now in limited swing with the two Toro Rosso drivers in firm contention alongside former Red Bull rally driver Kimi Raikkonen. Daniel Ricciardo put together his best GP weekend at Silverstone and will look to outpace "JEV" again at the Nurburgring. But the more the Lotus falls away from the front of races, the more likely Kimi is going to favour a swap from Lotus.

Pirelli don't expect the track surface to produce too many problems in Germany and have opted to bring the (Kevlar belted) medium and soft compounds with a prediction of three pit stops for most drivers. So it's going to be a busy time whether the tyres are exploding or not. Paul Hembery should be wearing the smile of the vindicated, having told the teams that for safety reasons they should have switched to Kevlar before but was then blocked by three teams.

It was Force India, Lotus and Ferrari who blocked that change and they can expect some awkward questions from the world's media.

FH

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