Issue 23: German Grand Prix Preview

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17 July 2014

Higher than expected tyre wear at the Hockenheimring

The F1 circus arrives in triumphant Germany this weekend for Round 10 of the World Championship. The Hockenheimring plays host to the Grand Prix. The old version of the Hockenheimring featured a spectacular sprint through the nearby Black Forest at 200mph+, punctuated by several slow-speed chicances. It was a magnificent track. The contemporary version of the Hockenheimring, used since 2002, is but a shadow of its former self, akin to a race round the car park of the old circuit.

Nevertheless, the new and improved version of the Hockenheimring does at least feature several overtaking zones. The best spots are after the DRS zones leading into Turn 2 and at the Hairpin (Turn 6), where the cars brake from over 200mph down to around 40mph for the tight 180 degree right-hander. The entry into Turn 13 in the Stadium complex offers a final passing opportunity. A medium aerodynamic setup is required as a trade off between the need for good straight-line speed and high cornering speeds – particularly in Sectors 1 and 2 – and slow turns, especially in Sector 3. The fast Nordkurve (Turn 1) and Mobil 1 Kurve (Turn 12) neccesitate good high-speed balance and aerodynamic grip. Likewise, there’s plenty of time to be won (and lost) in the slow-speed Hairpin and Turns 13-17 in the Stadium. Good low-speed mechanical grip and traction count here. However, a poor entry or exit at the Hairpin will cost a driver time until he brakes for Turn 8. Likewise, A slow exit from the Sudkurve (Turn 17) at the end of the Stadium section will be felt all the way down the start/finish straight until braking for Turn 2. The final corners (Turns 16 and 17) are somewhat unsighted.

The Hockenheimring features four big stops on the entry into Turns 2, 6, 8 and 13 (Sachs Kurve). This means that the brakes take some punishment and will test whether those teams who have previously had brake problems, such as Mercedes, have rectified them. Stability under braking is particularly important for the Hairpin.

Pirelli is bringing the softest tyres in its range – supersoft/soft – to the Hockenheimring. These tyres offer superior grip and traction, however, their durability is limited compared to Pirelli’s medium or hard compounds. Hockenheimring’s high-speed corners as well as the constant pattern of deceleration and acceleration in Sector 3 in particular will stress the tyres and increase the chances of them overheating either due to high lateral loadings in fast turns or wheelspin out of slow corners. The other factor likely to affect tyre performance this weekend will be the FIA’s ban on interconnected front and rear suspension systems (FRIC). Interconnected suspension systems in F1 are now so advanced that they can influence car balance under braking and acceleration, which in turn affects tyre wear. FRIC helps minimise a car diving forward under braking or squatting back under acceleration. The removal of FRIC may cause higher rates of tyre wear than previously experienced by some teams this season. Mercedes are thought to have the most advanced FRIC system along with Lotus and Ferrari, so on paper they have more to lose by removing the system. The short pit stop time (around 17 seconds) at the Hockenheimring in addition to potentially higher tyre wear is likely to encourage some runners to make more tyre stops.

Williams to challenge Mercedes?

The removal of FRIC is the joker in the pack at the German Grand Prix given that it’s impact is likely to slightly alter relative performance among the teams. The practice sessions will offer early clues as to which teams are likely to suffer most from higher than expected tyre wear.

That said, it would be surprising if Mercedes were not once again the team to beat given that their technical advantage over the field is not based solely on a more advanced FRIC system. Yet, their margin of victory in Germany – barring any mechanical failures – is likely to be smaller than it was in Britain. The main reason for this is Pirelli’s decision to bring supersoft tyres to Germany. In previous rounds where the supersoft has been used, notably in Canada and Austria, Mercedes have not had enjoyed the same margin of superiority over the competition. In Austria, Williams secured a front-row lockout and finished within 10 seconds of the Mercedes pair in the race. The W05 Hybrid clearly does not get as much performance out of the supersoft tyre as other cars. Williams, the form team in the chasing pack, are likely to offer strong competition to Mercedes, especially in qualifying, as they are now delivering the car’s potential. However, although Williams appear to have got on top of their high rear tyre wear early season, the banning of FRIC might cause this or similar high tyre wear problems. Red Bull will probably battle Williams for the final podium spot, with the RB10 likely to perform very well in the medium- and high-speed stuff.

McLaren put in a strong showing at Silverstone, not least due to Button and Magnussen qualifying so high up the grid. They have proven that the MP4-29 goes well at circuits with slow-speed corners indicating that McLaren will probably perform strongly in Sector 3 at the Hockenheimring. However, Button was 0.6 seconds slower than Hamilton in Sector 2 at Silverstone, confirming that McLaren lacks downforce. The same could be said of Ferrari given that Alonso was slower than McLaren through Sectors 1 and 2 at Silverstone. I expect McLaren and Ferrari to fight for points at the Hockenheimring, but no more.

Force India is likely to be better placed to take advantage of any teams struggling with unexpectedly high tyre wear due to the ban on FRIC. The Silverstone squad have proved time and again that their car is comparatively kind on its tyres.

Finally, there’s a greater chance that Lotus will break into the top ten places this weekend given the aero upgrade they are bringing to Germany. This update, which includes a new front wing, was tested at Silverstone after the British Grand Prix, and is likely to move the Enstone team forward.

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