German Grand Prix: Can F1 really get rid of Hockenheim?

After 37 Grands Prix since 1970 and some absolute belters in recent years, there is still the almost inexplicable threat that Hockenheim may not be on the Formula One calendar next year.

A spectacular race on Sunday saw Lewis Hamilton crash and finish down in ninth, a podium for Daniil Kvyat in what is turning into a remarkable comeback, Sebastian Vettel finishing second having started from last at the track where it all went wrong for him in the 2018 season, and victory for Max Verstappen.

It was a day that encapsulated what F1 should be about: challenging conditions, hard racing, and drama, which was unrelenting during Sunday’s race.

It was not at all a glistening race for Mercedes, who celebrated their home race, 125 years of involvement in motorsport, and their 200th race last weekend. Hamilton hitting the Mercedes barrier right in front of Charles Leclerc’s stricken Ferrari acted as an agonising metaphor in what was a disastrous race for the German manufacturer. It was a race that they will, of course, come back from even stronger, having learned some invaluable lessons. Lessons of such magnitude must also be learned, to some degree, by Formula One.

2019 German Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Many brilliant circuits in the history of Formula One have seen themselves land on the wrong side of that history, with once prestigious circuits having become derelict, undervalued, and largely inconsequential to motorsport since falling off the equally prestigious F1 calendar. However, as race organisers begin to lose their patience with F1’s high prices and lack of appeal to a mass audience, the calendar begins to lose its appeal to anyone at all.

Tracks like Turkey, the Nurburgring, Malaysia, Imola, and more are left miles away from hosting an F1 race, while circuits like the Circuit de Catalunya, the Sochi Autodrome and Paul Ricard – none of which have succeeded in captivating a global audience on race day – remain, perhaps erroneously in Formula One today.

Hockenheim kept its place on this year’s calendar due to financial backing from Mercedes, who also sponsored this year’s race, but the fear is that this short-term investment provides no real answer to the long-term, and ever-increasingly daunting question: where can the German Grand Prix find a home? Worryingly still, will it have a home at all in years to come?

There is a clause in its contract this year, as there was last year, to keep Hockenheim on the calendar if it receives a certain amount of investment. But, it is uncertain whether Hockenheim can really sustain the financial costs required to keep the race there. That is on top of a potential plea from F1 management to change the asphalt that both Charles Leclerc and Nico Hulkenberg took issue with after their crashes at turn 16.

Whether this clause is activated depends on Mercedes, and also on what F1 can do differently. In fairness to Liberty Media, Formula One is now starting to attract younger and more energetic and enthusiastic viewers, while still retaining the same niche audience that made the sport so popular before.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

However, times are changing, and F1 as a sport needs to change quickly too. Many race organisers have spoken out against the costs of hosting a Formula One race and this, with an ever-growing movement developing, is something F1 itself needs to learn from this weekend.

After all, while demanding high prices from tracks may bring the sport revenue, there is just one thing that money cannot cover: passion. We saw it in abundance in Hockenheim, Silverstone and Austria.

Our passion for motorsport comes not from money or greed, but from watching with a pure and unbridled love for racing, and it is for this exact reason that the drivers and teams work so hard to find every tenth of a second out on track. This passion for racing is far more complex than those with solely business-related interests can comprehend, and we must surely ask that F1 values the love of on-track drama over profit margins that have been killing the sport over recent years.

So can F1 afford to lose Hockenheim?

In a word? No.

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

2019 German Grand Prix: More Hockenheim horror for Vettel?

The eleventh race of 2019 and the penultimate round before the summer break sees F1 arrive in the beautiful town of Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix. Set against the gorgeous setting of the Nekar River Heidelberg Castle and lots and lots of trees, sits the four and a half-kilometre Hockenheimring track which, for the thirty-seventh time, hosts a world championship Grand Prix.

This time 12 months ago, Sebastian Vettel arrived in Hockenheim for his home race keen to extend his impressive run of form and his championship lead. However, while leading the race in slippery conditions, Vettel aquaplaned into the wall, with the rain that day ultimately washing away his, and Ferrari’s, title hopes last year.

This year, Ferrari and Vettel look to Hockenheim as a source of inspiration, as Vettel attempts to bounce back from a disappointing last few race weekends.

As things stand, he is currently fourth in the championship and ahead of young team-mate Charles Leclerc, but this does not change the precarious predicament Ferrari find themselves in.

Ferrari Media

They have barely kept pace with Mercedes so far this season, and have instead found themselves in a battle for second best with Red Bull. Last time out at Silverstone, Vettel made what can only be described as a rookie error, hitting the back of Max Verstappen and subsequently finishing outside the points. It was a mistake that further highlighted Vettel’s discomfort under the increasing pressure he is facing at Ferrari.

Vettel’s home Grand Prix must run smoothly for a team that, ever since the excitement of the pre-season test in Barcelona, has been left stunned by the pace of Red Bull and the flat-out dominance by Mercedes.

Speaking of Mercedes, this is of course also their home race. The team scored a remarkable one-two in Germany last year after Lewis Hamilton came back from fourteenth on the grid to win.

The German manufacturer is celebrating 125 years of motorsport this weekend, an achievement which was also celebrated at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Mercedes, of course, have not only contributed to F1 as a team, but also as an engine manufacturer. They supplied engines for Lewis Hamilton at McLaren and Jenson Button at Brawn during their championship wins in 2008 and 2009 respectively, and also currently provide engines for Racing Point and Williams on the current grid. This will be a momentous occasion for Mercedes, providing extra incentive this weekend.

2019 German Grand Prix, Thursday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

But who’s more likely to win? Power is needed in the first sector, but that need is balanced by tricky turns one and two, which have proven to be technically difficult to perfect.

After the hairpin of turn six comes the flat out right of turn seven, before some more technical corners follow in the extremely difficult and testing final sector.

Ultimately, we should expect Mercedes to have the edge, but never count out the quickly-developing Red Bull, who proved slightly quicker than Ferrari at the British Grand Prix – this is a track that should suit their car better than the Silverstone, so one or both eyes will have to be cast in their direction when talking about contenders for the race win.

Further back, Haas will have another go at reverting one of their cars to the Australia spec to see where they went wrong developmentally and what they can change to improve their race pace. This is an experiment they tried at Silverstone, but Grosjean and Magnussen crashed on the first lap of the race, depriving the team of the chance to score points and to learn anything from the change in spec.

Also at his home race is Nico Hulkenberg, who was left frustrated by his Renault team’s strategy at the British Grand Prix. He and Renault are another team seeking improvements following a hit-and-miss first half of the 2019 season.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault F1 Team.
German Grand Prix, Friday 26th July 2019. Hockenheim, Germany.

This will hopefully not be the last time wee see an F1 race at Hockenheim. Themselves and Formula One have a clause in place which allows the circuit to continue hosting the race, but the extension into 2020 still needs to be improved by Formula One’s management.

This is a momentous weekend for many teams and drivers, and with Lewis Hamilton leading the championship by 39 points, the 2019 German Grand Prix could have major implications for the title. So what drama, if any, awaits us this time?

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

Toto Wolff calls German Grand Prix podium “the perfect scene” after Mercedes’ 1-2

Toto Wolff has hailed Mercedes’ unexpected 1-2 finish at the German Grand Prix as the “perfect scene”.

The German marque’s duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton had started the race in P2 and P14 respectively, after the Brit suffered a hydraulic failure in qualifying. Bottas held position at the start but for the most part could only sit back and watch Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel begin to open up the gap, whilst Hamilton set about carving through the field. Both drivers had longer first stints than those around them – Bottas changed from the ultras to the softs on lap twenty-eight, and Hamilton swapped from softs to ultras on lap forty-two after having broken into the top five.

2018 Großer Preis von Deutschland, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

It was after Hamilton’s pitstop that the rain began to fall. It had been a looming threat hanging over the race, and it was only a matter of when, not if, it would arrive. Despite it turning out to be only a brief shower, many in the midfield made the decision to pit for intermediates.

On lap fifty-two, championship leader Sebastian Vettel crashed in the damp conditions and brought out the safety car, with Bottas and Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen choosing to pit for fresh ultrasoft tyres. Hamilton, though, stayed out and thus inherited the lead.

When the race restarted, Hamilton began to pull away – although he was helped by Mercedes telling Bottas to hold position despite the Finn being on the fresher tyre – and eventually crossed the line to win the German Grand Prix and reclaim the lead of the drivers’ championship. With Bottas in P2, Mercedes also re-took the lead of the constructors’ championship from Ferrari.

2018 Großer Preis von Deutschland, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton’s win was briefly under threat when he was summoned to the stewards post-race to explain why he cut across the pitlane entry line when under the safety car, but he was eventually let off with a reprimand and was not given a penalty.

“What an incredible race – here at Hockenheim, on home turf for Mercedes, and a one-two finish after all the bad luck we have had in recent races,” Toto Wolff said. “Today it felt like that turned into good fortune for us and it was the perfect scene on the podium with our two drivers and Dr Zetsche up there. Like always, the race happens on Sunday not Saturday, and sometimes it’s not the quickest car that wins; that was what happened today.”

Wolff also extended his sympathies to Ferrari regarding the news that Fiat Chrysler’s CEO Sergio Marchionne was replaced due to worsening health after a recent operation. “But even in the joy of victory, our thoughts also remain with Sergio Marchionne and his family; although we are rivals on the track, we are friends off it and we were saddened to hear the news of his illness.

“It’s hard to sum up a Grand Prix like this one in a few sentences but things were unfolding in an interesting way when the rain came.

“After the drama of Silverstone and then qualifying yesterday, this is a dream result and that unpredictability is the beauty of sport. But our focus will turn quickly to Hungary, where we will have to do it all over again next weekend.”

 

 

Featured image – 2018 Großer Preis von Deutschland, Sonntag – Steve Etherington

Fernando Alonso: “We need to improve our qualifying performances” for German Grand Prix

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has said the team is seeking to improve their pace during qualifying ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.

“We know we need to work on our qualifying performances to give ourselves the best chance on Sunday,” he said, “but we’ve also seen that during the race we can push forward and secure points, so the aim is to achieve the same in Germany [this] weekend.”

Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada
Saturday 9 June 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST9206

So far this season, Alonso has only made it into Q3 twice – in Spain and in Monaco – while team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne hasn’t managed to do so at all. For the most part, the duo have been stuck in the midst of the mid-field, with P13 and P14 being their most frequent results in qualifying. There is no doubt that the French Grand Prix provided their worst Saturday of the year so far – though Vandoorne has failed to make it out of Q3 on four occasions, Paul Ricard has been the only track thus far where Alonso has joined him.

Speaking of the Hockenheim track, Alonso was realistic about his chances. “[I] have won there three times so it’s great to be back after a break last year. The track is viewed as one of the classics, it’s fun to drive and there are a couple of overtaking opportunities – and an extra DRS zone this year – so hopefully we can fight with the cars around us.

“The next couple of races before the summer break are on very different tracks. We need to work hard, and do as much as possible to adapt our set-up for each of them to maximise our chances. We know this weekend won’t be an easy track for us but we’ll give it our best as always.”

Last time out at the power-sensitive Silverstone, Alonso unexpectedly made up five places during the race to end up in the points for the 200th time in his career. In apparently typical McLaren style, the eighth place finish was not made easy for him after – unsurprisingly – a lacklustre qualifying the day before, a trend Alonso and the team are hoping they can end sooner rather than later.

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Steven Tee/McLaren

Toto Wolff: Mercedes “hungry” and “ambitious” ahead of German Grand Prix

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has said that the team are “hungry [and] ambitious” ahead of their home event at this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

It has been a strange series of races for the Silver Arrows, something Wolff admits. “We didn’t score as many points in the triple-header as we had hoped for,” he said. “A lot of that was down to our own mistakes. However, there is a silver lining to this – while we didn’t maximise on points, we did bring the quickest car to all three races.

“Hockenheim will mark the halfway point of the 2018 season. We’ve had a decent first half – on the one hand, we’ve left points on the table and had to do damage limitation more often than we would have wanted. On the other hand, we still scored a good amount of points, both drivers have shown strong performances and we have a fast car.

“So, there are many reasons why we’re looking forward to the second half of the 2018 season; we’re hungry, ambitious and want to kick on from there.”

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG

At the French Grand Prix, the first race of the triple-header, Lewis Hamilton romped to victory while Valtteri Bottas was spun at the start by Sebastian Vettel, suffering a left-rear puncture in the process that dropped him way down the order. He eventually recovered to seventh. A week later in Austria, both Bottas and Hamilton retired from the race in what is believed to be Mercedes’ first double mechanical retirement in F1 since the 1950s. Then, another week after that, Silverstone and the British Grand Prix saw an inversion of the Paul Ricard incident. This time, it was the other Mercedes of Hamilton that was pitched into a spin on the first lap by the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. Bottas would finish P4, while Hamilton recovered to finish P2.

Speaking of the looming German Grand Prix, Wolff added, “Going to Hockenheim always feels like coming home. It’s only about a 90-minute drive from the Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart.

“While we had the great opportunity to race in front of many of our colleagues from Brackley and Brixworth in Silverstone, we’re now looking forward to welcoming the German members of the Mercedes family to the circuit and to holding high the three-pointed star on home turf.

“The track itself is quite interesting; it has a variety of corner speeds and will test every aspect of the car.

“We will fight hard to not only put on a good show for our friends and fans in Hockenheim, but also get the result that they will be hoping for.”

Going into the race, Hamilton and Bottas are P2 and P5 in the WDC respectively, with the former eight points behind leader Sebastian Vettel. In the constructors’ championship, Mercedes are twenty points behind Ferrari, with the prospect of their home race making them keener than ever to make up ground.

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG F1.