Barely a week after the explosive British Grand Prix, Formula 1 heads to the Nurburgring with shiny new tires and revised guidelines for their use. The Kevlar-belted rubber for Germany is just a stopgap; for Hungary onwards, Pirelli will use a combination of the 2012 construction and the 2013 compounds. Apart from announcing more stringent requirements for tire pressures and camber settings, the Italian tiremaker and the FIA have also decreed that the "front and rear tires must be used on the side of the car for which they were originally designated (no swapping from side to side)."
1. No rain and no safety car for the race. This is both a prediction and a wish--we want to see what the rough pecking order is on these tires. During second Friday practice, Red Bull was marginally ahead of Mercedes in one-lap pace, and it also has an apparent advantage in the long runs. As is always the case for Friday sessions, however, we don't know how representative of the cars' true capabilities these figures are.
Lotus and Ferrari, meanwhile, aren't far behind. They were two of the three teams that had initially blocked Pirelli's proposed tire changes, and we will be watching closely to see if they will lose out on the revised rubber. We think their race pace won't be affected, really; it was only a matter of time before Red Bull and Mercedes sorted out their long-run woes, anyway, so Lotus and Ferrari have got to make headway with their qualifying trims.
2. Fernando Alonso will qualify outside the top five, but he will finish within it. The Spaniard recovered well in the Friday afternoon session after car trouble prevented him from setting shakedown times in the morning. He is cautiously optimistic about the improvements on his Ferrari's pace after expressing disappointment on its lack of Saturday speed just last weekend. At this point, it looks like either or both of the Lotus drivers will be ahead of him in qualifying, although Alonso can almost always be expected to make up places at the start and finish higher than his grid spot.
3. The Aussies will prevail over their teammates on Sunday. We're lucky to get the Sky Sports commentary for the GPs this year, because the punditry style of David Croft and the incomparable Martin Brundle is as funny as it is informative. Last week, the pair couldn't stop chuckling at the Toro Rosso drivers, who were obviously trying to trump each other now that an opening at the senior drinks team has materialized. It was Daniel Ricciardo who won the battle at Silverstone, and our money is on him again for the Nurburgring round.
Speaking of intra-team bullfights, Mark Webber claimed a few days ago that he didn't know which venue they're racing at this weekend, but he would love to win the race regardless. Nice dig, Mark. Too bad for Sebastian, who has just turned 26 and has never won his home event. At least he can drown his sorrows in birthday cake if things do go badly for him.
4. Nico Hulkenberg won't finish in the top 10, while his three other compatriots will score points. Had the current Sauber man stayed at Force India, he would've been driving a much better car this year. Instead, the German who is reaping the benefits there is Adrian Sutil, who we think will add to his points tally on home tarmac. Vettel and Nico Rosberg, barring extraordinary events, should have no problems bagging points.
5. A German team on pole and for the win. What a result it will be for the home crowd if Rosberg takes victory in his Merc on Sunday, but count on Lewis Hamilton--winless so far this season--to do everything in his power to stop that. The good thing is they have the cars with which to lock out the front row of the grid, and while the Red Bulls' long-run simulations appear better, the advantage of having clean air while running at the front should play a big part in helping the polesitter see off any challenges.
Now it's time for us to sit back and enjoy the rest of the weekend. The race airs tonight at 8pm, Philippine time.
|GER||Free Practice One||Free Practice Two|
|Pos||Driver (Team)||Time, +Gap (Tire)||Driver (Team)||Time, +Gap (Tire)|
|1||L. Hamilton (Mercedes)||1:31.754 (M)||S. Vettel (Red Bull)||1:30.416 (S)|
|2||N. Rosberg (Mercedes)||1:31.973, +0.219 (M)||N. Rosberg (Mercedes)||1:30.651, +0.235 (S)|
|3||M. Webber (Red Bull)||1:32.789, +1.035 (M)||M. Webber (Red Bull)||1:30.683, +0.267 (S)|
|4||A. Sutil (Force India)||1:32.822, +1.068 (M)||R. Grosjean (Lotus)||1:30.843, +0.427 (S)|
|5||K. Raikkonen (Lotus)||1:32.956, +1.202 (M)||K. Raikkonen (Lotus)||1:30.848, +0.432 (S)|
|6||F. Massa (Ferrari)||1:33.065, +1.311 (M)||F. Alonso (Ferrari)||1:31.056, +0.640 (S)|
|7||J. Button (McLaren)||1:33.139, +1.385 (M)||F. Massa (Ferrari)||1:31.059, +0.643 (S)|
|8||S. Vettel (Red Bull)||1:33.213, +1.459 (M)||L. Hamilton (Mercedes)||1:31.304, +0.888 (S)|
|9||R. Grosjean (Lotus)||1:33.260, +1.506 (M)||J. Button (McLaren)||1:31.568, +1.152 (S)|
|10||S. Perez (McLaren)||1:33.456, +1.702 (M)||P. di Resta (Force India)||1:31.797, +1.381 (S)|
|11||P. di Resta (Force India)||1:33.493, +1.739 (M)||A. Sutil (Force India)||1:31.824, +1.408 (S)|
|12||N. Hulkenberg (Sauber)||1:33.810, +2.056 (M)||D. Ricciardo (Force India)||1:31.855, +1.439 (S)|
|13||D. Ricciardo (Force India)||1:33.901, +2.147 (M)||J. Vergne (Toro Rosso)||1:32.055, +1.639 (S)|
|14||J. Vergne (Toro Rosso)||1:33.976, +2.222 (M)||S. Perez (McLaren)||1:32.086, +1.670 (S)|
|15||P. Maldonado (Williams)||1:34.025, +2.271 (M)||N. Hulkenberg (Sauber)||1:32.495, +2.079 (S)|
|16||V. Bottas (Williams)||1:34.200, +2.446 (M)||E. Gutierrez (Sauber)||1:32.762, +2.346 (S)|
|17||E. Gutierrez (Sauber)||1:34.437, +2.683 (M)||V. Bottas (Williams)||1:32.879, +2.463 (S)|
|18||C. Pic (Caterham)||1:35.674, +3.920 (M)||P. Maldonado (Williams)||1:32.880, +2.464 (S)|
|19||M. Chilton (Marussia)||1:35.987, +4.233 (M)||C. Pic (Caterham)||1:33.695, +3.279 (S)|
|20||G. van der Garde (Caterham)||1:36.078, +4.324 (M)||G. van der Garde (Caterham)||1:33.804, +3.388 (S)|
|21||R. Gonzalez (Marussia)||1:37.459, +5.705 (M)||J. Bianchi (Marussia)||1:34.017, +3.601 (S)|
|22||F. Alonso (Ferrari)||no time set||M. Chilton (Marussia)||1:34.667, +4.251 (S)|
Legend: M—medium compound; S—soft compound.
Photo from Mercedes AMG Petronas