It’s certainly not the same track as its predecessor; and arguably not even as much of a challenge as Hockenheim. But the ‘new’ spec Nurburgring is back on the calendar for 2013 and eager to match up to last week’s British Grand Prix for thrills and spills.
It is, however, hard to believe we were in the heart of rural England just that short time ago, with speculation and accusation rife in the travelling paddock after ‘those’ tyre failures at Silverstone that were branded ‘dangerous’ by several of the drivers. Lewis Hamilton may have lost victory at home because of a faulty Pirelli tyre batch, or because of a dodgy Northamptonshire kerb – we still don’t know for certain which is to blame.
Whatever the cause, we saw the effect, and Pirelli have done well to ensure strengthened rubber is brought to Germany in time for this weekend’s race in the majestic Eifel Mountains.
“For this race only, we will bring Kevlar-belted rear tyres, following the incidents at the British Grand Prix.” says Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery.
“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.”
With sturdier tyres the order of the day, Mercedes’ are once again favourites to take victory this Sunday. Lewis Hamilton was in control last weekend before his now-infamous Wellington Straight moment, but it was team-mate Nico Rosberg who picked up the fallen baton and steered around Vettel’s ailing Red Bull to victory. The older German will be eager to extend his 3-time World Champion countryman’s run of comparative bad luck that has never seen him win a race during July or equally, on home soil.
With Mercedes qualifying and race pace now unquestionably a cut above main rivals Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus, it’s easy to forget Sebastian Vettel’s 21-point lead over Fernando Alonso in the World Championship table. He has led uninterrupted since Malaysia and looks set to extend his dominance of the sport into a 4th consecutive year for, despite his Silverstone retirement, he is the only man taking the fight to the rampant Mercedes at anything like a consistent level. 2013 has seen the once-unpredictable Anglophile reach yet another level of consistency as he defies the critics who claim he needs F1’s outright fastest car to win.
If ever there was a bogey track for ‘Seb’ though, this is it. His one and only podium finish at the circuit came in 2009 when he was defeated by team-mate Mark Webber, and a similar scenario unfolded in his otherwise-flawless 2011 campaign. While Webber fought for victory, Vettel span and rallied his way to 4th. Nevertheless, he isn’t daunted at the prospect of tackling the challenge of his home race this weekend.
“I’ve always had a lot of fun on this track. In 2009, I made it to the podium for the first time in Formula One, when we got a one-two, and it was a fantastic experience thanks to the German fans.”
With only 2 races of the modern, 2009-onwards era being held here, it’s virtually impossible to say whose machinery will be most at home on what is a notoriously bumpy and contoured circuit. It’s almost certain to hurt McLaren though; the very nature of the ghastly MP4/28 is to avoid bumps at all costs, so don’t expect Jenson Button and Sergio Perez to break the Woking team’s recent points duck this weekend.
Lying 3rd in the Driver’s Championship, Kimi Raikkonen is the very picture of composure. He refuses, as ever, to be drawn on questions over his future (will he be in that vacant Red Bull next year?) or his plan for the season (does he still have designs on the title?). His Lotus team have failed to shine since Kimi’s 2nd place in Spain, but a botched strategy disguised what was otherwise a good performance in Silverstone. The compact E21 should prove well-suited to the rigorous Nurburgring and Raikkonen himself has had 2 wins here snatched from his grasp – in 2003 his engine blew while leading and in 2005 his suspension collapsed with just a handful of laps remaining (after a tyre failure, of all things).
“Last year we made the top three in Hockenheim, so let’s wait and see how it goes at the Nurburgring for the first time with this team.” said Kimi on Thursday.
“It’s [a] pretty good circuit, but probably not as much fun as the old one. It should suit us, but the fact is you need a really good car to be competitive there. Most of all you need good traction out of the corners and a stable car under braking. We’re pretty reasonable in both these areas.”
Ferrari experienced their worst qualifying session since Melbourne 2012 at Silverstone, but Fernando Alonso’s brilliant ‘save’ with 3rd and Felipe Massa’s tyre-failure interrupted drive to 6th netted some important points for the Scuderia, who openly admits to struggling over the last few events.
“At the technical level, managerial level, in the level of our facilities, at all levels we need to improve.” Stefano Domenicali claims.
“I have the responsibility of trying to improve the situation and to give the right people the right delegation to do their job. There is still a bigger difference in qualifying. But the area where I believe we are not really on top of is the exhaust effect. I’m not an engineer, but this is relevant in certain conditions of the track, certain types of corners. I believe that is the area where they [Mercedes and Red Bull] are still better.”