The punishing F1 schedule continues with round 12 at the Hockenheimring. Mercedes will be desperate not to see a repeat of the engine failures that ruined Kimi Raikkonen’s last two races – especially not on home ground.
How times changes. Twelve months ago the Formula One circus arrived at the Hockenheimring outside Heidelberg with the championship battle dead in the water, and the prospect of yet another comfortable Michael Schumacher in the offing.
And, of course, that was exactly what happened. But no so this weekend. Kimi Raikkonen has his sights set squarely on title rival Fernando Alonso’s 26-point lead, and will know that the odds are stacked against him if the Renault’s reliability continues to hold.
But what is especially interesting about the 2005 championship battle is the role played by the team mates of the principal combatants.
Juan Pablo Montoya won in Britain, but it was clear that Renault were happy to cede the advantage to him as long as they could beat Raikkonen. Alonso’s team mate Giancarlo Fisichella was intentionally compromised by the Renault pit wall, who brought him in early so as not to jeopardise Alonso’s race. (Neatly, if rather cynically, avoiding any ‘team orders’ controversy.)
With the Renaults and McLarens all qualifying together at the end of the session, grid position will become ultra-critical. Expect to see the title combatants fuelled slightly lighter than their team mates, to achieve clear running.
All four will want to stay ahead of the likes of Jenson Button, Jarno Trulli, and the Ferraris, who can qualify high on lighter fuel but lack the ultimate race pace. In Hockenheim, at least, overtaking should be possible.
Ferrari will have a major new aerodynamic package, which looks like it could be the last roll of the dice for Michael Schumacher’s 2005 championship hopes. If this doesn’t put him into a position where he might takes points off Raikkonen and Alonso, it’s time for Ferrari to start thinking more about 2006.
German Grand Prix History
The German Grand Prix is one of the longest-standing on the Grand Prix calendar. Since the birth of the modern F1 championship in 1950, on only three occasions has there been no German Grand Prix – on that inaugural year, and 1955 and 1960.
The history of the German Grand Prix is dominated by the legendary circuit that held the race almost exclusively until 1976 – the incomparable Nurburgring Nordschliefe.
Up to 172 corners (depending on how you measure it) winding for over 22km (14m), the Nurburgring was one of the longest ever used for Formula One and offered an addictive cocktail of immense thrills and terrible penalties for the slightest mistake.
Legends were born at the Nurburgring, and no less an man the Juan Manuel Fangio took arguably the greatest win of all time at the ‘Ring in 1957.
The sheer size and incredible speeds of the Nurburgring meant that it became seriously unsafe as Formula One cars sprouted wings and grew ever faster. After Niki Lauda’s near-death crash in 1976, it was taken from the calendar for good.
Only one circuit other than the Nurburgring hosted a World Championship German Grand Prix before 1970 – Avus, in Berlin. The circuit was little more than two parallel stretches of autobahn (motorway) connected by two massive, banked 180-degree turns. Tragically it was on one of these very turns that, during the race meeting, Jean Behra crashed during a support race, was thrown against a post and killed. Avus was not used for Formula One again.
The Hockenheimring hosted the race as one-off in 1970, before becoming the full-time host from 1977.
Intially disliked for lacking the atmosphere of challenge of the Nurburgring, and being the place where Jim Clark died in a Formula Two race in 1968, Hockenheim came of age in the early 1980s when the fearsome 1.5 litre turbo-engined Formula One cars let rip to devastating effect down the massive straights.
But for 2002 the ‘classic’ Hockenheim was no more. In an attempt to improve the quality of racing and allow access to more spectators, the flat-out straights into the forest were chopped and a clumsy internal loop built, shortening the track but adding a hairpin at which overtaking is a definite possibility.
But the new arrangement has cost the circuit what little soul it had in the first place, and if the layout does not prove conducive to good racing this weekend, it will have nothing else to redeem itself with.