German Grand Prix 2011: Preview


Apart from Sebastian Vettel, none of the front-running Formula 1 drivers are having a particularly great season: Lewis Hamilton has had frequent trips to the stewards office, but only one win to his name; Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso can also count their 2011 victories on one finger; Felipe Massa and the two Mercedes drivers have barely been on the podium, let alone challenging for the big prize.

Arguably though, one driver is having a much worse season. Mark Webber may have been the only driver to knock Vettel off pole position, but he has not taken a single win. Unlike his fellow strugglers, he cannot even blame a lacklustre car – it is the same model that has taken Vettel to six wins and a championship lead of 80 points. If being hopelessly out-shone by his team-mate is not bad enough, intra-team relations are a little strained for Webber after he chose to ignore radio instructions in the closing stages of the British Grand Prix.

The season is not a complete disaster though. He is second in the driver standings and, if anybody is going to overhaul Vettel's giant lead, Webber is the best placed man to do it.

And where better to start the fight back than at the track where Webber scored his first Formula 1 victory: the Nürburgring ring, venue of this weekend's German Grand Prix. Back in 2009, the last time F1 visited this venue (the German Grand Prix alternates between here and Hockenheim), Webber took (his first) pole position and headed a Red Bull one-two.

Mark Webber celebrates his first Formula 1 win at the 2009 German Grand Prix

There is a decent chance of another perfect result for Red Bull this weekend. The blown-diffuser row, which engulfed the British Grand Prix, has been resolved, and teams will be able to revert back to their Valencia configuration. Ferrari, thought to be a beneficiary of the ban at Silverstone, may struggle to be quite as competitive this weekend when Red Bull can run the optimum engine map. However, with McLaren struggling at this mid-point of the season, Ferrari will again probably be the most likely of anyone to challenge Red Bull for the victory.

The Nürburgring track, situated in the Eifel Mountains, has a mixture of low speed and high speed sections, with mostly low to medium speed corners, and a couple of fast straights. It is a track with plenty of changes in elevation: the highest point is a full 62 metres higher than the lowest point. It is difficult to characterise, and so it is hard to say if one car is inherently better suited to the track than others. A good set-up, as always, is very important.

Of course, the current Formula 1 track is not to be confused with the legendary Nordschleife – the 20.8 kilometre pet-hate of Top Gear's James May – a track with 154 corners and an elevation difference of 300 metres. It is deemed far too unsafe for full-speed F1 racing these days but, of course, does host the 24 Hours of Nürburgring each year.

The race this weekend will be attended by a large number of German fans, turning out to support one, some, or all of the six German drivers on the grid. Many will be there to cheer on world champion Sebastian Vettel, and Michael Schumacher is still a big favourite amongst his home fans. In fact, Schumacher will be in the slightly bizarre situation of driving through corners names after him. The 'Schumacher S' – Turns 8 and 9 – was formally named in 2007, a year after the seven-time world champion retired for the first time.

“It will be the first time that I race through the corner which is named after me, and obviously I would like to believe that this is not only making me proud, but also even faster,” said Schumacher, speaking a few days ago.

Lap 30 of Sunday's race will mark the halfway point a strange season where the same person wins but still (most of) the races are action-packed and exciting. Viewers will see if Ferrari's success at Silverstone was just a result of the blown-diffuser regulations or a genuine step forward, if McLaren can get their season back on track, and if Mercedes can draw on the enthusiasm of the German crowd to finally make a significant breakthrough.

Most importantly though, can Mark Webber, at the venue of his first F1 victory, begin the most incredible fight back in the history of the sport, and convince us that someone other than Vettel still has a chance to take the title in 2011?

 

  • Qualifying for the German Grand Prix begins on Saturday at 13:00 BST and the race begins at the same time on Sunday. Coverage in the UK is available on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 Live
  • There will be reports and reaction to events at the Nürburgring throughout the weekend here on thecheckeredflag.co.uk