Hockenheim is a challenge for FIA Formula 1 drivers and teams under the best conditions, but today’s ever-changing weather patterns made the Friday practices for the German Grand Prix as much an exercise in patience as it was in engineering.
The first practice session opened in the dry, but conditions quickly deteriorated, meaning that the fastest laps went to the drivers that were on pace from the drop of the green flag. The heavily upgraded McLaren MP4-27s of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton showed the way early as Button set an early time of 1m 16.595s, and deteriorating conditions wouldn't allow any driver to match it. However, in the final stages of the session the conditions bettered and more than a handful of drivers were able to lap in the 1m 17s. Hamilton was second with a 1m 17.093s and Alonso was third with a 1m 17.370s.
“I think we should be happy with most of the parts we’ve put on today – most of them worked correctly – so it’s nice to see the improvement,” Button allowed. “I want to say a big ‘well done’ to the guys at the factory, they’ve done a great job. Hopefully we’ll be able to see the improvement in performance throughout the rest of the weekend.”
Unfortunately, more rain plagued the second session, meaning that the first-session times were going to be the fastest of the day. Things appeared to be drying with about 20 minutes left in the session as the more daring teams began to make their moves to dry tires. But as soon as the track appeared dry and FIA officials enabled the DRS (Drag Reduction System) for teams, harder rains came again and ended changes for full-dry runs. The DRS was enabled for just five minutes.
I think we should be happy with most of the parts we’ve put on today – most of them worked correctly – so it’s nice to see the improvement.
Pastor Maldonado and Williams eventually took the top spot in the second practice with a perfectly timed, DRS enabled lap as the much-maligned Venezuelan turned a lap of 1m 27.476s, compared to Nico Rosberg’s 1m 27.564s in the Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel’s 1m 27.902s in the Red Bull.
“It was a challenging practice session for everyone because the track conditions were changing a lot and I was trying to adapt my driving style and the car to best suit those conditions,” Maldonado said. “We have a good balance in the car in wet conditions, even with a damp track, and the time I set in the second session shows that if it rains tomorrow we will be competitive.”
Numerous drivers went off track with little consequence. Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen dazzled spectators with a full 720 degree spin exiting turn one, but he was able to recover and continue without issue. However, the heavy rain at the end of the second session caused a rare sight as seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher spun on a wet curb and hit the wall on the right side of the track. The car impacted the wall with both the front and rear of the car, ending the day for the Mercedes driver.
"The way I ended the second session was obviously not part of the plan and I'm sorry that my mistake has given my guys even more work to do this evening,” Schumacher said. “I simply slid off track because I lost a little concentration: we were talking on the radio and I was altering some settings at the same time. But that's all part of the game.”
Hockenheim is primed to be a tight fight. Numerous teams arrived at Hockenheim with upgrade packages. McLaren and Lotus have heavily reworked packages. McLaren reworked its side pods, rear body work and suspension to emulate what Red Bull is doing, and their early pace is a sign that it is working.
Lotus' upgrade is more technical and highly secretive as team mechanics created a human curtain around Raikkonen's Lotus before it left the garage. They were hiding the team's highly-complicated, Mercedes-esque Double DRS (DDRS) intake and rear wing assembly. At first glance it looks as if the two snorkels on either side of the engine intake feed air to at least two areas if not three, including the main element of the rear wing, the beam wing and the diffuser.
However, it is unknown if the system is effective. Grosjean, who is without the DDRS, was able to lap two-tenths of a second faster than his teammate with the system.
Ferrari also arrived with new parts on the car and quickly showed their pace and confidence. The team from Maranello held out of FP1 for quite some time, but Massa quickly went to the top five on the time sheet after just one lap.