Rencken: Halfway... but far to go
LAST TIME OUT: Ferrari's Fernando Alonso (centre), team mate Felipe Massa (left) and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel on the Hockenheimring podium on July 25 2010. Alonso won from Massa and Vettel. Image: AFP
Author: DIETER RENCKEN
HOCKENHEIMRING, Germany - Formula 1 2012-style has reached halfway through the season with Round 10 of the World championship, the German GP, at the classic Hockenheimring near Heidelberg in the south of the country.
Although the event will provide a pointer of what can be expected in the second half of the season, which has only three European rounds - next week’s event in Hungary, and the Belgian and Italian GPs in early September – the race is equally wide open, not least as tyre supplier Pirelli has zero current F1 experience of the circuit, having not raced there since its previous campaign in the early 1990’s.
Hockenheim alternates hosting rights to the race on even years, with the Nurburgring in central Germany, which faces liquidation proceedings due to a mountain of debt built up over the past five years, hosting the Grosse Preiss on alternate years. Thus the most recent GP at Hockenheim was in 2010, won by Fernando Alonso after Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa was infamously ordered aside: “Felipe, Fernando is faster you.”
The Hockenheim of old was a monster track, running to more than six kilometres and characterised by foot-flat blasts along two tree-lined straights on which cars reached 360km/h – despite chicanes being in each direction for safety.
A sinuous stadium section, packed with legions of horn-blowing Red Riding Hoods cheering Michael Schumacher, provided atmosphere in abundance. He rewarded their worship by winning here four times to become the circuit’s most successful driver. Conversely, Hockenheim is one of only three circuits at which reigning double champion and local boy Sebastian Vettel (first enthused by the sport after Vettel Snr. took him to see Schumacher race here), has yet to win…
MORE FAKE GRASS
In 2002 the layout was remodelled, with the stadium section remaining intact despite Turn 1 being tightened. The straights – one of which claimed the life of Jim Clark in 1968 - were emasculated, replaced by a long arcing section and squiggly return bit split by a tight hairpin.
The resulting 17-turn (10R/7L) circuit measures 4.574km with a good spread of corners, the slowest of which is taken at 60km/h and the quickest at around 310. G-forces are moderate by F1 standards, with drivers experiencing a peak of 3.4g for two seconds in Turn 2. No substantial changes have been made since 2010, save for more artificial grass and the insertion of extra tyre barriers.
During qualifying DRS may be used for 59% of the lap – one of the highest values on the trail – but the circuit offers a host of overtaking possibilities, the most popular being under braking for the hairpin (Turn 6) after drifting the car ahead along the 1000m arc section. At the time of writing the FIA had yet to publish the DRS zone but it is fair to assume activation will be ahead of Turn 2, encouraging overtaking all the way to T6.
Straights make up 60% of the circuit, with full throttle used for 65% of each lap. Gears are changed relatively seldom –49 times a lap – with brake and tyre wear classed as “moderate”. However, braking for T6 is extremely vicious, with cars shedding 260km/h (from 325 to 60km/h) in only 2.5 seconds, all while turning sharp right.
RAIN? A POSSIBILITY...
However, Hockenheim’s surface is smooth, enabling Pirelli to specify its Medium (white sidewalls) and Soft (yellow) compounds, the most popular combination of 2012 and used in Australia, China, Bahrain and Valencia – each of which delivered a thrilling finish as degradation bit.
The choice was made on the basis that Germany can be scorching in July but this weekend is likely to be an exception, with cloudy 20-22°C skies on all three days; similar, in fact, to race day weather over Silverstone, won by Mark Webber from Alonso, a fortnight ago.
That said, rain had been forecast for Hockenheim, so it could still change. Weather aside, the circuit is not known for delivering incident-packed races, with a pace car deployed only twice in seven races over the past 10 years.
Although the 2012 season has feted seven winners to date – Alonso (Ferrari), Webber and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing), McLaren’s British twins Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg at Mercedes and Pastor Maldonado in the resurgent Williams - only the two first-named managed the feat twice.
So, there is plenty of motivation for the rest; Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen (he holds the lap record here set in 2004 at 223km/h average) and Romain Grosjean have been knocking rather hard on victory’s door of late, so either could make it eight winners in 10 races.
So could local hero Michael Schumacher, for whom the race could be his last at Hockenheim, as the seven-times champion is likely to retire (again) before F1 returns here in 2014. However, ahead of the weekend, he has stayed silent on his plans, smiling enigmatically when asked on Wednesday evening at a fan forum in Stuttgart which I attended.
After nine rounds (of a record 20) Spaniard Alonso leads the Drivers’ championship by 129 points to the 116 of Webber, with reigning double champion Vettel, surely out to fill that glaring gap on his c.v., third on 100. Hamilton (92) is fourth, followed by Raikkonen on 83.
On the Constructors’ board, Red Bull Racing has so far walked the title chase, having 216 points to the 152 of Ferrari, with Lotus third on 144 and McLaren fourth, a further two points behind.
Sunday’s 67-lap race will start at 2pm SA time. Qualifying will start at 2pm on Saturday.
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