By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
The German Nurburgring will host round ten of the 2011 FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One World Championship. The track is famous for its Nordschleife, the 23 km long circuit that runs through the German Eiffel, baptized in the 1970s by Sir Jackie Stewart as the Green Hell, referring to the 170 bends drivers had to negotiate, and the lack of safety barriers which claimed many lives in the past. After Niki Lauda’s near fatal accident in 1976 the Nordscheife was banned by Formula One, and today the races are held on the southern part of the circuit which was opened in 1984.
For six German drivers it will be their home Grand Prix: Michael Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld, Adrian Sutil, Timo Glock, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. Heidfeld is actually the only current Formula One driver who has run a lap in a modern Formula One car on the old Nordschleife. He did this in 2007 in a BMW-Sauber F1.06 during a by BMW organized promotional event, he lapped the circuit three times, reached a top speed of 275km and recorded a fastest time of 8min34s.
The blown diffuser, business as usual?
After the ban on the off-throttle blown diffuser was overturned two weeks ago after the British Grand Prix, teams can this weekend once again rely on the extra downforce it generates ‘off-throttle’ under braking. During the race at Silverstone it seemed McLaren and Lotus Renault had suffered the most by the ban, Lewis Hamilton finished fourth almost 30 seconds behind winner Fernando Alonso, and although Heidfeld did a great job thanks to a good pit stop strategy and finished eighth, he was a stunning 75 seconds or almost three-quarters of a lap slower than the leader, while earlier this season the pace of the Lotus Renault was good enough for two podium finishes.
One thing hadn’t changed at Silverstone: Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and 2010 champion Vettel dominated qualifying and took first and second place respectively. McLaren had a rough time during qualifying, but Ferrari was right behind the Red Bulls. The question now is whether the excellent performance of Ferrari had anything to do with the ban, or was it the brand-new aerodynamic package they had introduced that led to Alonso’s victory?
Ferrari wants to continue good form
Although it will be difficult if not impossible to beat Vettel and Red Bull, Ferrari is hoping to maintain their Silverstone form, and have traveled to Germany with yet another important car update. “We have a few more updates coming for this weekend at the Nurburgring and then one further update for Hungary the following week,” Ferrari’s Pat Fry said this week. And he added, “We are keeping the pressure on to develop as much as we can before the summer break.” This time Ferrari is happy with Pirelli’s tyre choice, and are hopeful the soft and medium compounds will suit their car even better.
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali wants to focus on racing and winning races, rather than on concentrating on the mathematics of the championship. “We don’t have to look at the classification, but instead make sure that our performance is always at the highest standard race by race,” the Italian said.
Alonso agrees with Domenicali, “We have to be realistic because we are 92 points behind in the classification, and that is a very big gap.” And he added, “We will tackle the races one at a time, trying to win as many as possible.” The Spaniard also knows this is a risky strategy, “This will also involve taking a few more risks, and maybe it will happen we pay a high price for that, but there is no alternative.” Does this mean he has given up on the title? “We are definitely not giving up, but we must not think about the championship,” said Alonso.
McLaren looking forward to historic Nurburgring
Despite their troublesome race at Silverstone, McLaren is still optimistic ahead of this weekend. Like Ferrari, the all-British team’s strongest point is to quickly develop new parts to keep up with the competition. After a slow start of the season, the Woking-based team pushed hard and used all their resources to up their performance, which ultimately led to two wins, and together with Ferrari they are the only team that has broken Red Bull’s dominance.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh, “We missed an opportunity for a podium finish at Silverstone, and that race was a reminder that while we are always pushing to make our car even more competitive, our rivals are doing likewise with their own machinery.” About McLaren’s strength he commented, “The possibility of adverse weather, and constantly changing track conditions, makes teamwork vitally important. Our most recent victory, at Montreal, demonstrated how superb reactive driving, inspired and clear-minded strategic calls, and efficient pit work can unite to deliver the perfect result.”
We are always pushing to make our car even more competitive, our rivals are doing likewise
Both drivers are equally optimistic, although Hamilton has mixed feelings about the Eiffel circuit. “Both my previous races at this circuit have been eventful ones. The last time we were here, in 2009, it was such a mixed weekend.” Mixed indeed, as the 2008 champion qualified in fifth position but finished the race in 18th and last position after he had picked up a puncture after he was hit from behind at the first lap. In 2007 the race was hampered by heavy rain, Hamilton lost control and ended up in the gravel trap, but he kept his engine running and marshals lifted Hamilton, still in his car with the engine running, out of the gravel with a crane, and he could continue his race, ultimately finishing the race in tenth place.
Button is looking forward to race on the historic circuit, “To be able to say you’ve won at the Nürburgring is a major achievement because it’s such a historic and challenging location. People don’t drive around with Nordschliefe stickers on their boot lids for nothing!” But he is also aware it is a challenging and demanding circuit, “There are a lot of heavy braking areas and if conditions are tricky, which they often are, you really have to get it right at every corner. The weather can change from moment to moment so you’re always on your toes.”
About McLaren’s recent mishaps he was rather philosophical, “Perhaps we’ve lost a bit of the momentum we’d built up in previous races, but not much. Although Silverstone was disappointing, our pace has been good this year. Sometimes we’ve been quickest, sometimes we haven’t.”
Red Bull has nothing to fear
Vettel and Red Bull have nothing to fear this weekend, as the German driver leads the Drivers’s Championship with 204 points, 80 points ahead of his nearest rival and team colleague Webber, which means Red Bull is also in control of the Constructor’s Championship with 328 points, 110 points ahead of McLaren, and 164 points ahead of Ferrari.
Whatever happens, Vettel and Red Bull will head home after the German Grand Prix still leading both championships. The truly gargantuan task McLaren and Ferrari now face has been compared with the 1976 season, when James Hunt won the title for McLaren one point ahead of Niki Lauda, who wasn’t able to defend his title aspirations for a few races after his dreadful accident at the very same Nurburgring.
In- and outsiders agree about one thing: Vettel and Red Bull will have to do some pretty stupid things to not win this year’s title, but the 24-year old German doesn’t want to talk about his domination, neither does he want to talk about his points advantage or statistics. Asked whether he enjoys his domination he answered: “No, I only enjoy success when I have it. Ask me again after the last race in Brazil.”
Of course Vettel’s main goal this weekend is to win his home Grand Prix. “Of course, you always give 100%, but at a home race you’re always more motivated, simply because you feel at home,” he explained. He also likes the Nurburgring from a driver’s point of view and thinks the circuit provides plenty of challenges, “This year we’re back at the Nürburgring, which is one of the better and more modern tracks; I particularly like the stretch from the Ford corner to the 180° long right corner in the valley. The Warsteiner corner is tricky, as is the sharp left before that.“
And what is the best place to overtake? “The best place to overtake is before the NGK chicane – which is a challenging left-right bend. It’s possible to overtake on the brakes there, because you come out of the previous corner and have to brake down to 100kph.”
Australian Webber was not happy ‘maintaining the gap’ with Vettel at Silverstone, but it seems he has put all that behind him and commented ahead of the race, “Of course the German and next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix are the closest Red Bull has to a home Grand Prix so the support is going to be pretty amazing for the team, and for Sebastian in particular on his home soil, as well as all the other German drivers on the grid.”
For Webber it will be important to maintain the gap so to speak, but this time he has to maintain the gap with Alonso, who is just 12 points behind him in the championship. If he wants to keep his championship chances alive, he will have to keep Alonso behind him, unfortunately the same can be said of Alonso, if he doesn’t close the gap with Webber this weekend, his chances to win the title will vanish as quickly as snow in the sun.
Karun Chandhok replaces Jarno Trulli
Without a doubt the most interesting news that emerged ahead of the German Grand Prix is that Indian test and reserve driver of the Team Lotus outfit, will replace Trulli this weekend. What the real reason for this sudden switch was is hard to tell, but Chandhok has of course been eagerly waiting to make his race debut for Team Lotus.
I am determined to do my best to repay their faith in me and help the team progress
”Ever since I first joined the team I have been looking forward to this opportunity and I am determined to do my best to repay their faith in me and help the team progress, this season and for many years to come,” Chandhok said in a statement on Thursday. The amiable and ever cheerful driver made his Formula One debut for HRT last year, but was replaced by Sakon Yamamoto before the end of the season.
What can we expect from him this weekend? “I will be doing my best to push and to make sure I learn as much as possible all weekend, take each session as it comes and work as closely as I can with the engineers and the whole team to do the best job I can,” Chandhok said.
Team owner Tony Fernandes denied Trulli would leave the team, ““I am delighted to confirm that we are in the process of negotiating an extension to his contract with us and we are all looking forward to unveiling the details of that very soon.” It is expected the Italian will be behind the wheel again at next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix, and Chandhok’s drive should be a ‘once off’.
Nurburgring - Germany
|Circuit length||5.148 km|
|Corners||15 turns (9 right and 6 left)|
|Longest straight||830 m|
|Total number of race laps||60|
|Total race distance||308.641 km|
|Estimated top speed||303 km/h|
|Average lap speed||205 km/h|
|Tyre wear||Medium to high|
|Tyre compounds||Soft [Option] Yellow and Medium [Prime] White|
|Brake wear||Medium to high|
|Downforce level||Medium to high|
|Lap record||Michael Schumacher - Ferrari - 1:29.468 (2004)|
|2009 Pole Position||Lewis Hamilton - McLaren - 1m39.498|
|2009 Race Winner||Rubens Barrichello - Brawn GP - 1h35m51.289|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions, 100 km/h during qualifying and the race|
|FIA Stewards||Tom Kristensen (DK), Gary Connelly (AUS), Farhan Vohra (IND)|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions; 100 km/h during qualifying and race|
Nurburg, Germany - three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday||Cloudy, with light rain showers||8C||18C|
|Saturday||Cloudy, with light rain showers, relatively cold||9C||17C|
|Sunday||Cloudy, light rain expected, relatively cold||9C||16C|
Pirelli tyre report
Pirelli will bring the Soft (Option) and Medium (Prime) tyre compounds to Germany for the 5.128km long circuit, which poses several challenges. It is a circuit with many different corners, some with heavy braking areas, and some can be taken flat out, and many drivers ride the kerbs to guide their car through the turns, which is also demanding for the tyres. Teams will on Friday get an extra set of new spec yellow soft tyres for evaluation purposes, and as usual, the extra set has to be returned after the second free practice session on Friday afternoon.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery about the challenges of the German circuit, “The Nurburgring is one of the most technical circuits we face all year, with a lot of lateral energy going through the tyres, and this makes strategy very important.” He also expects there will be considerable time difference between the two compounds, “Although they sit next to each other in our range, there is still a significant difference between the P Zero Yellow soft and the P Zero White medium tyre, as we saw on the last occasion that this combination was used at the Grand Prix of Europe in Valencia.” And, if it doesn’t rain, Hembery expects teams will make two pit stops.
The FIA has opted for a more traditional DRS setup at the Nurburgring, with only one detection zone, and one overtaking zone. The detection zone for the Drag Reduction System, the zone where a drivers has to within one second of the car he is targeting, is situated between of Turns 10 and 11, and the activation zone, where the driver can deploy the DRS wing, starts immediately after Turn 11 and ends when the driver applies the brakes just before the chicane, numbered Turn 13 and 14.
FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting is adamant the setup will be good for overtaking, “The DRS zone has been set for the straight before the tight chicane, so we should see some good overtaking.” He also reckons the Nurburgring provides ample overtaking opportunities, “There's always good action at the first corner: it’s nice and wide, with a variety of lines, which gives drivers an opportunity to pass."
More team Notes and Quotes
First the teams who will be heading for their home Grand Prix, for the Mercedes GP Silver Arrows team with two German drivers, the race is an important event. “The story of the Silver Arrows began 77 years ago at the Nürburgring in 1934, and this year's German Grand Prix will mark the first time that the modern Silver Arrows will be racing at this historic circuit,” Norbert Haug, team principal and Mercedes Motorsport Director said.
Schumacher, although a seven times world champion, had plenty of problems this season, and has been under fire after his crashes during the last few races, but the German waved the criticism away and declared they were the result of a more risky approach in his attempts to keep up with the top tree teams. According to Schumacher Mercedes will have an extra performance boost due to the German fans, “I can predict one thing for sure: the extra boost we are receiving will be transformed into extra motivation.”
Despite his recent poor performances, the 42-year old champion remains optimistic, “We saw some improvements over the Silverstone weekend with our new exhaust system, along with improvements to how we work with the tyres, so we go to the next race weekend with a good feeling added to our fighting spirit.”
Rosberg has also something to look forward to, as he will be driving the Mercedes W1896 1955 car on the old Nordschleife, but is also looking forward to race in front of the German fans. “Of course I am also looking forward to the Grand Prix itself. I hope that we can take another step forward with our new package and close the gap to the top a little. It will be exciting to drive in front of a big German crowd in the Mercedes-Benz grandstand. Hopefully they see a good performance from both me and our car,” Rosberg commented.
Force India driver Sutil is also hoping for a strong performance this weekend. “I’ve spent a lot of time there and I know the circuit very well. Since I’ve been in Formula One, I’ve raced there twice,” said Sutil. Like other drivers, he thinks it is a challenging circuit, “The track is challenging because there is such a variety of corners: high, medium and low speed. So you really need a car that is well balanced for every kind of corner, which isn’t easy. The first sector is technical, while the second sector has a good flow to it, and the final part has the big straight.”
Lotus Renault driver Heidfeld will have some updates on his car this weekend, “I know that there are some bigger developments coming than we had at the last couple of races. There has been a tremendous amount of work going on in the wind tunnel so I am very hopeful that we will take a significant step forward.” And he added, “Now is the time for us to take that step forward and compete with the top teams again, which is where we belong.”
And sixth and last German on the list is Timo Glock, who just came back from Sochi, Russia, where he gave a demonstration for Marussia Virgin in front of thousands of Russian Formula One fans. “It’s great to be back at the Nurburgring, a track where I’ve enjoyed some very good races and a lot of success in the past,” he said.
Historic circuit, difficult race
A historic circuit, no doubt about it, but the Nurburgring is also from a drivers’ point of view a technical circuit, which ultimately means a good car setup is vital. The circuit offers many challenges, and the unpredictable weather could play an important role. Although it is the middle of the summer in Europe, it is a wet summer, with relatively cold temperatures, which could have an effect on the tyres, and some teams will have problems warming up the tyres.
If it rains, and rain has been forecasted for the weekend, teams will have to abandon their usual dry weather strategy, and adapt to the track conditions. As said, Vettel and Red Bull have nothing to fear as they have a huge points advantage, but this certainly doesn’t mean they will take it easy this weekend, Vettel wants to win, and will in front of his home crowd certainly be more motivated than ever.
For McLaren and Ferrari, now is the time to score points, if not their chances on winning this year’s title will indeed be over, the season is only halfway and Red Bull already has a comfortable lead. Whether Ferrari and McLaren will have succeeded will only be known after the chequered flag is waved after 60 laps have been completed on the Nurburgring on Sunday.