If just one month ago we attended the Red Bull GP, this weekend we arrive to what we could name as the Mercedes GP. Even if it’s called Hockenheimring and not Mercedes Ring, the German GP is partially sponsored by Mercedes with the Stuttgart based company paying for new grandstands. We can bet this time that the home team will perform better than we saw at the Austrian GP but will Nico Rosberg claim a victory in the country which he was born in or will his team-mate Lewis Hamilton win this particular war? Or, by the contrary, will Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, also driving at home soil, win the Grand Prix and take revenge for what happened a few weeks ago?
From 1977 to 1995, with an exception in 1985, Hockenheimring hosted the German GP. From 1995 to 2007 Germany was hosting two GP, one at Hockenheim, and the other at Nürburgring with the latter officially being called the European Grand Prix. After this, F1 has been alternating circuits on the German GP between Hockenheim and Nürburgring.
The Hockenheim ring was originally almost 8 km long. It was built in the early 1930 but became forbidden as a racing circuit so it was used as a test track by Mercedes-Benz. In 1965, it was rebuilt and the “Motodrom” part was added. Three years later, Jim Clark had a horrible crash and he died, thus instating a few modifications to the circuit. It was still a very long race with two completely opposite sections: a very long and fast part followed by a sequence of chicanes. This made races very difficult because teams and drivers had to choose whether to use more downforce so they could perform a good curved sector or vice versa.
In the eighties, when the turbo era came to F1, the length of the circuit was a problem for many drivers. The fuel use was restricted and drivers like Alain Prost couldn’t finish the race because they ran out of fuel.
Later, already in the beginning of the new millennium, the length issue became again a problem so the FIA decided to rebuild Hockenheim to improve the safety and the spectator viewing. They hired Hermann Tilke, who redesigned the track and shortened it until 4’5km as we know it nowadays. The long straights were cut in favour of more corner sections. These changes weren't received well with many arguing that the German circuit has lost its character.
Current version of Hockenheim
With a total of 306’5km, drivers will race for 67 laps. The current lap record was set by Kimi Räikkönen in 2004.
The track has 17 corners, almost all right ones. This year, the FIA has confirmed that there will be two DRS zones, one more than in 2012. The first activation point will be just after corner number 1 and the DRS zone will cover all the straight between corners one and two. The other one, as in previous GP, will be between corners number 4 and number 6, in the parabolika area.
Paul Hembery has claimed that it’s a challenge for Pirelli to choose the tyre compounds for alternating circuits since they don’t have data from last year, so the decision to bring supersoft and soft tyres has not been a straightforward one. Pirelli’s director said: “It's a pleasure to go back to Hockenheim after two years away, but this increases the workload for ourselves and the teams as the only concrete F1 data we currently have is two years old – when the cars and the tyres were very different,” “So we expect the Friday free practice sessions to be extremely important, as the teams use the time to assimilate as much relevant information as they can.”
The new Hockenheimring, as every track designed by Hermann Tilke, is thought with overtaking in mind. The necessary downforce is high but it has to be balanced with a good top-speed and, of course, a good grip. The ideal combination is a medium downforce set-up to allow a reasonable speed trap in the fast areas.
The German track is one of the most demanding tracks regarding the brakes; the tyres are subjected to deceleration forces up to 5G. It is easy to lock wheels on the hairpin at turn number 6, so this will be one of the hardest things for the drivers.
Best points of overtaking, as Jenson Button said, are turns seven and eight. “The re-designed circuit could never be as mighty as the old Hockenheim, but it's a fun little track, and it's been purposely designed to encourage racing. The long, curved straight up to Turn Six is tailor-made for slipstreaming – you force the car ahead to be defensive, so it's actually on the run to Turn Seven that you usually try to overtake, because you're capitalising on the other car's slower exit. Turn Eight is another place where you can try to make a move – because it's possible to get into the corner side-by-side with another driver, and then make the position stick.”
Button believes the layout of the current Hockenheim circuit will favour McLaren more than other races.
“There are a couple of high-speed corners, but the circuit is largely made up of low-speed turns, so our car shouldn't be too disadvantaged. It's a race that often throws up a surprise or two, so I'm looking forward to the weekend.”