After skipping a year in 2015, Formula One returns to Germany and to one of its most fabled locations, Hockenhiem. The circuit has seen much change since it first hosted F1 in 1970, the long straights which blasted through the forests are gone, replaced with a shorter but still relatively fast circuit. Sector one is the quickest on the track, featuring the best overtaking spot on the track, the turn five hairpin at the end of the straight which isn’t a straight, it mostly consists of a long left hander, easily taken flat out in the wet or the dry. The standout feature of sector two is the large Mercedes grandstand, always packed with Silver Arrows supporters. The final sector mainly consists of the much tighter stadium section, which is always a spectacular sight on race day.
For a race that has been held so many times, it is unsurprising that Williams have won the race on eight occasions. It was the location of one of the team’s first ever victories in 1979 and their first ever 1-2, Alan Jones took the honors that day from team mate Clay Regazzoni. Nelson Piquet would kick off a run of Brazilians winning the race 5 years in a row, taking the flag in 1896 and a race of attrition in 1987, in which just 6 cars finished. Senna’s McLaren won from 1988-90 but Nigel Mansell would take the trophy back to Grove in 1991, it was another 1-2 for Williams, Ricciardo Patrese backed up the Brit. Mansell took another lights to flag win in 1992, but the drama surrounded his team mate, who spun off on the penultimate lap whilst trying to pass Senna for second. Prost won in 1993 in equally dramatic circumstances, his team mate Damon Hill was odds on to take his first ever win when his tire failed on lap 42 of 45. Being classified fifteenth was of no comfort to the British driver as his team mate won his final race, prost his career on a (then record) of 51 wins. Hill finally got his German Grand prix in 1996, Alesi’s Benetton prevented another Williams 1-2. Williams dominated the last race to be held at the old track in 2001, Juan Pablo Montoya set pole position and fastest lap but a glitch with the refueling rig allowed team mate Ralf Schumacher into the lead, then Montoya’s BMW engine blew, forcing him into retirement. Ralf Schumacher won the race, 46 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello. Williams final win in 2003 was a truly dominant showing for Montoya, he took pole position, fastest lap and the race win by over a minute from Coulthard’s McLaren.
Williams were very impressive at the 2014 event, Bottas and Massa qualified second and third thanks to Hamilton’s brake failure and subsequent crash in qualifying. Massa didn’t make it past turn one, owing to a crash with the McLaren of Magnusson, which culminated with the Williams memorably rolling over. Bottas kept it all together to finish second, ahead of Hamilton’s charge from the back of the grid.
The 2014 event really made the grid stand up and take Williams seriously as podium challengers, they outclassed Red Bull and Ferrari the whole weekend. It is difficult to see a repeat performance in 2016 though, Red Bull and Ferrari are much stronger and Williams weren’t even close to challenging them in Hungary. Hockenheim should suit the car more but a podium still looks unlikely. The aim for this race weekend has to be to quash the rise for Force India with some good, solid points so that the team can go into the summer break on a high and focus on closing the gap to the top three teams.