German Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

It was a hot and dry qualifying session, with the Mercedes powered engines exerting dominance on the rest of the grid. Nico Rosberg secured pole position with 1:16.540s for an all Finnish front row*, ahead of the Williams of Bottas and Massa. The field headed out on the soft compound tyres in the early session, before swapping the the supersofts. Q1 was split into two sittings following a visit to the barriers for Lewis Hamilton. The remaining sessions unfolded in a much smoother fashion.

Though securing pole position, Nico Rosberg had a scrappy qualifying, making several mistakes in the first session. The Mercedes team are running without FRIC this weekend. Though the change in set up hasn’t significantly affected the F1 W05’s pace, the Mercedes is definitely looking less tame for both drivers. Rosberg settled down as the sessions progressed, answering the Williams’ challenge for pole. Q1 was Red Flagged at 7:21 following Hamilton’s venture into the barriers at turn 13. The Mercedes driver lost his front right brakes, and locking up coming into turn 13 dragging the F1 W05 into the barrier at around 265km/h. Hamilton’s initial lap time in Q1 of 1:18.683 on the soft compound tyres was more than enough to see him qualify for the second session, even if he could not run in it. Mercedes later confirmed that the crash was due to a brake disc failure. The Briton will therefore start from P16**, though don’t expect to see him there for long.

Williams took a while to get on the pace, fiddling with the setup through the practice sessions, though clearly got it right for qualifying. Both Bottas and Massa kept Rosberg on his toes. Bottas’ qualifying performance was skilfully controlled, not to mention quick, qualifying just 0.219s behind the pole sitter for P2. Massa was, too on form during qualifying though unfortunately was 0.319s off of his team mates pace for P3.

Perhaps McLaren heeded my advice from last race to stick to their wet weather set up, because Magnussen looked magnificent all qualifying. The Dane rounds out the second row on the grid in P4 with a 1:17.214 on the supersofts. Button however couldn’t match his qualifying pace from last round, going out in Q2. Unable to get comfortable with the balance or grip of the MP4-29, Button complained of oversteer throughout the sessions. The veteran was out qualified by his rookie team mate by a solid 0.979s, starting P11.

Red Bull were the quickest non-Mercedes-engine in qualifying, with Ricciardo out qualifying Vettel for the seventh time this season. Ricciardo continues to look completely at home at Red Bull, guiding the RB10 smoothly through the Hockenheimring. Though the Renault powered Red Bull cannot match the pace of the Mercedes engine, the RB10’s high downforce set up played advantage for Ricciardo. The only time in the session where he looked off the pace, was towards the end of Q3, when he set a 1:18.234s on scrubbed supersoft tyres. Ricciardo quickly rectified this with 1:17.273s for P5. Vettel complained of understeer in the RB10, making him wait to get back on the power out of the corners. Even some purple sector three times weren’t enough to see Vettel higher up the order. The reigning world champion’s final lap in Q3 was scrappy, landing him P6 on the timesheets with 1:17.577s on fresh supersofts.

Alonso and Raikkonen continue to look like they’re driving two completely different teams, with 4 grid positions grid positions and 0.624s separating the F14 Ts. Alonso wrestled his Ferrari through the circuit, throwing the car to the track limits. The Spaniard’s best effort put him P7 with 1:17.649. Kimi meanwhile guided his way around the circuit in a much smoother (albiet slower) fashion. Raikkonen’s 1:18.273 failed to get himself through to Q3, starting from P12.

Kvyat continues the theme of the young drivers out-qualifying their matured team mates, as the Russian rookie secured P8 ahead of Vergne’s P13. Kvyat had a few wide moments at turn 1 throughout the day, but kept on the pace to just make it through to Q3 on a very late run. In the final session, the STR9 on fresh supersoft tyres placed in front of both Force Indias with 1:17.965s. Vergne suffered from similar control issues, locking up and running wide at turn 8 on Q1. Unlike Kvyat, Vergne’s pace was affected with his 1:18.285s on the supersofts saw the Toro Rosso eliminated in Q2.

Both the Force India drivers ran out of steam (or grip) at the end of qualifying. Hulkenberg and Perez had been quick throughout the day, setting the pace of Q2 and Q3 both on the supersofts. Hulkenberg’s pace was no surprise. Perez was the last to run in Q2, giving him one attempt to make the final session. The pressure paid off however, with the Mexican easily making it through. However, in the top ten shoot out Hulkenberg and Perez set their times on considerably scrubbed supersofts. Hulkenberg’s 1:18.014 and Perez’s 1:18.035 quickly fell down the order for P9 and P10 respectively.

Sauber have performed well over the weekend, with the C33 agreeing with the circuit to look more competitive over the weekend. Though during qualifying, the C33s pace somewhat fizzled out. Gutierrez qualified for the second session, but couldn’t improve from his Q1 time of 1:18.739, setting a slower 1:18.787 for P14. Adrian Sutil missed out on Q2, by 0.749s for P18. It was strange to see the Sauber’s pace go backwards so early on in the session. Adding to the unfortunate session, Gutierrez holds his three-place grid penalty from his payback to Maldonado from Silverstone.

Lotus had a bipolar qualifying with only Grosjean making it passed the first session. Maldonado struggled to keep the E22 on the black bits, running wide on several occasions. Grosjean had better control on his E22, leapfrogging his way out of Q1 on his final lap. Like the Sauber however, the Lotus’ pace disappeared in Q2 as Grosjean failed to improve his time. Grosjean’s 1:18.983 saw him qualify P15, ahead of Maldonado’s 1:20.195 for P19.

Rounding out the back of the grid are the usual suspects of Marussia and Caterham. Bianchi’s qualifying performance does distinguish himself from the back end of the field. The rookie driver broke into the 1:19s with his MR03 for P18. Chilton’s performance, not so distinguishing, once again qualifying last in P21. Caterham have had a difficult week, and weekend suffering from mild overheating of Ericsson’s CT05 in practice, to severe overheating when Kobayashi’s CT05 just plain caught fire. Kobayashi qualified P20, with Ericsson racing at the stewards discretion.

It’s a roll of the dice as conditions could be different for tomorrow, with the suggestion of rain in the forecast. If it is a dry race, incredibly high temperatures play havoc for the degradation of the tyres. It’s even possible to see blowouts like Silverstone 2013. However, if it is a wet race, tyre management is less of an issue, and downforce comes into play. A wet track is a good track in my eyes, so I’ll have my fingers crossed for that.

– Alex

* How many nationalities does this guy have? (Half German, half Finnish, raised in Monaco – you sir, are a TCK)

** Overnight the team changed Hamilton’s gearbox, incurring a 5-place grid penalty.

 

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