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Rencken: Tough call at 'Ring

2013-07-04 08:25

SILVERSTONE SUCCESS: Mark Webber (Red Bull), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) at Silverstone in June 2013 after the British F1 GP. Can Merc do it again in Germany? Image: AFP

DIETER RENCKEN

NURBURGRING, Germany - This weekend’s German Formula 1 GP on the sprint version of the Nurburgring as opposed to ‘Big Daddy’ Nordschleife which so nearly claimed the life of Niki Lauda in 1976 – the subject of a full-length feature film to be released in September - is without doubt the most difficult to call of all the opening nine rounds (of 19) for crucial reasons:

• The rotating nature (with Hockenheim) of Germany’s “Grosse Preis” round means the “Newburgring” was last visited by Formula 1 in 2011, thus:

• Tyre supplier Pirelli, in the final season of a three-year contract, has but a single GP at the 5.148km circuit in the unpredictable Eifel region of central Germany under its belt.

• Following the shocking events at Silverstone the tyremaker has been forced into an urgent change of specification, with Kevlar (composite) belts replacing the steel structures which exploded so spectacularly in Britain.

• The usual ebb and flow of mid-season development, coupled with the switch in tyre specifications, has rearranged the competitive order, teams such as Ferrari and Lotus losing out and Red Bull Racing and Mercedes making spectacular gains – the last-named more so than even the triple reigning champion.

Although Pirelli has stuck to its original choice of Soft (yellow sidewalls) and Medium (white) compounds – a combination most recently specified in China – the change in belt construction means the tyres will on average run 10 degrees cooler, which is likely to shift the balance of power all the way down the grid.

A wacky race cannot be excluded!

The rather more undulating than flat, featureless Silverstone, 15-turn (6L/9R) Eifel circuit is nonetheless similar in nature to the classic British venue, having shortish straights – the longest full-throttle burst only 10 seconds - and a fair spread of sweeping, medium-speed turns.

EYEBALL-STRETCHING STUFF

Although four are negotiated at less than 100km/h, these are countered by three taken at more than 250 to deliver a (qualifying) average speed of more than 200km/h.

Turn 1, taken in first gear at marginally less than 100km/h, is by far the most demanding with cars shedding 200km/h in 100m (2.2 seconds) as they reach deceleration levels of 5.5g. Eyeball-stretching stuff and that's but the introduction to a highly technical infield that forces five high-speed changes of direction within 500m.

This darting right-left-left-right-left complex increases lateral energy going through the tyres so heat build-up (and hence the need for Kevlar) and contrasts sharply with the high speeds reached in the following two sectors. The circuit's chicanes, however, demand a soft suspension to allow drivers to attack the kerbs... similar to those which bit sidewalls at Silverstone.

The Nurburgring’s layout magnifies technical shortcomings so is a good indicator of car and driver performance.

Two DRS zones will operate (in keeping with 2013’s trend). The first detection point is 45m before Turn 10, with activation possible between turns 11 and 13; the second will operate on the start/finish straight with detection 40m before Turn 15.

ONLY ONE PACE CAR

The region is infamous for its capricious weather but no rain is forecast for the three days and the mercury is expected to peak at 25 on race day but in the Eifel region nothing can be taken at face value, not even that its classic circuit will ever again stage a GP; officially, the entire complex is in liquidation after some myopic meddling by local politicians.

An auction is scheduled for August…

In the eight GP's held here since the turn of the millennium a pace car has disrupted proceedings but once – and then in streaming rain - while historically the winner is unlikely to start from pole and could come from as far back as sixth on the grid as Fernando Alonso did in 2005.

Then again, there are lies, damned lies and statistics, particularly where the current order is concerned...

Triple World champion (and current leader on 132 points) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), runaway leader at Silverstone before a broken transmission intervened, has a rare blind spot when it comes to his home race. He has yet to win at home so will be going all-out for victory, as he did in Canada a month earlier - another of his elusive tracks. (Should he take the flag on Sunday, only Hungary will remain to be conquered.)

WILL FERRARI SUIT TRACK?

Team mate Mark Webber came oh so close at Silverstone and, having announced his switch to Porsche sports cars for 2014, would love to sign off on the brand's hunting ground with a win.

Can he? Don’t bet against it.

Alonso (111 points), having closed the gap to the leader at Silverstone with a fine third, can but hope that his Ferrari is suited to the tyres and track; a week earlier it was a dire steed with only the Spaniard’s dogged determination (and others’ tyre failures) delivering a podium place.

Felipe Massa, in the second Ferrari, went some way towards redeeming himself with a fine Silverstone drive, but needs more – and he knows it.

Kimi Raikkonen is another with a chance conditional on his Lotus not finding itself hampered by the tyre situation and general lagging in development but one fears the Finn has lost momentum through various factors after starting the season strongly. Once his head sags, that’s it for the year…

Mercedes, after its test in Barcelona and subsequent victories in Monaco and England, has leap-frogged Ferrari into second behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ championship so is very much the danger team, being on a roll as it heads for home soil and a circuit whose skyline is dominated by an enormous Three-Pointed Star above the Turn 1 grandstand.

MID-POINT RACE

Both Silverstone winner Nico Rosberg and pole starter Lewis Hamilton are at the top of their respective game and a front-row lock-out is possible. How their Sunday unfolds from there is down as much to tyres as to fate.

All in all, Sunday promises to serve up a totally unpredictable GP - precisely what F1 needs as it squares up against Wimbledon’s simultaneous Men’s Singles final. Given the implications of Pirelli’s greater freedom to introduce changes from here on the outcome of the year’s mid-point race is likely to set the scene for the second half of this intriguing season.

Qualifying on Saturday and the 60-lap race on Sunday will each start at 2pm (CET and CAT).

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2013 German F1 GP – fresh reports every day.

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