Friday, 22 July 2011

Friday at the Nurburgring

This years German Grand Prix is the middle race of the season. Now that the hot blown diffuser rule changes have been settled the racing can begin again in earnest. The cars took to the track on a grey and overcast day to find their way around the Nurburgring circuit and try out the new settings.

Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus
Free practice 1 began as usual a little slowly. It took a while to get some competitive times on the board. Hamilton started the early running but was quickly outpaced by Sebastien Vettel. He was overshadowed a while later by Alonso. It seemed that their Silverstone pace was not to be just a one off.

Jenson Button was trying out a new rear wing on his McLaren, which apparently gives a little less rear grip but a bigger boost with the DRS open. It didn't seem to suit him though, as his times were not as good as his team mate. Schumacher was trying nice and hard and locked up few times. He slid off at turn 7 and managed to drive around the gravel trap, finding time for a wave at the fans before he rejoined the track. It was Buemi who got the award for biggest of though. He launched his car into the air sideways as he ran off the track, and slid to a halt with no damage, except to his pride.

Practice 2 began without any major improvement to the weather, but it was no worse either. Towards the end of the session the times started to get faster as the drivers switched to the option tyres. It was Webber who was setting the pace with Alonso right behind but unable to beat him. Vettel was keeping close in third with Massa just behind him. The McLaren's bad form seemed to be continuing, Hamilton could only get himself into 7th place with Button languishing in 11th. There were a few moments, notably Alonso locking up and nearly colliding with Schumacher. No damage for either car but it definitely looked like a slightly panicky moment for the Spaniard.

Photo Courtesy of Force India
The DRS detection zone for this race has been positioned just before turn 10 with the activation point at the  end of turn 11. This leads onto the long back straight through turn 12, a flat-out right kink, and into the braking zone for the tight chicane behind the pits. Hopefully the long straight and tight chicane will allow the system to work well. The fairly high speed turns at the activation point could spoil the effect a bit though. Its expected to be fairly tricky to keep close to the leading car in that section. There isn't a suitable section for using a double DRS zone at this track so this will be the best chance the drivers have. The turn 1 hairpin does present another chance for overtaking but its not going to be easy in there.

The pace of the Ferrari cars is as solid as it was surprising at the British Grand Prix. Whatever it is that they have found is clearly not just for the one track. They may well be giving Red Bull a run for the lead right through until Sunday. McLaren's lack of pace is more surprising though. It had been thought that their poor showing at their home race was down to the uncertain rules situation. It seems clear now though that something a bit more fundamental is going wrong. Whether or not its something that can be fixed remains to be seen. There isn't much of the weekend left to get it sorted though and the new parts they were testing today seemed to make a bad situation worse. It looks like the remainder of the season could be a two team challenge, just not the two we were expecting from the first part of the year.

Prediction time again. Its very hard to think that McLaren will be able to do anything with the speed they showed today but we can always hope. I'm going for Vettel to score another pole, he's at home and its hard to bet against him anywhere, never mind there! The race may be another matter, Ferrari are coming on strong and I think Alonso is going to have the determination to do the job on Sunday. I'm thinking it will be Vettel second and Webber third again. Massa just doesn't seem to have the pace to get himself on the podium without some mechanical problems for Red Bull helping him out. Will it be a Mercedes following them home? From today's practice sessions you would have to say yes but Hamilton on a mission can produce something special. He really is going to have to be on a major mission though and I'm just not sure he can do it with the car he has this weekend.

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