GERMAN GP PREVIEW – Hockenheim

By Pat Espresso

Round 11 of the F1 world championship and still everything to play for in Germany, which is probably the only country in the series where the majority of fans will be rooting for Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher.

Red Bull’s meltdown continues to fascinate. Despite the team’s protestations that harmony now rules, we will be watching intently for further signs that the split is irreparable between their  favoured driver and the number two, Mark Webber. For the neutral spectator, the Australian is surely the driver most want to see pick up the world championship tropnhy in November. It remains to be seen whether Christian Horner will honour his pledge that the driver leading the points table will get preferential treatment in terms of upgrades. Can you imagine the crowd reaction at Hockenheim if Vettel is disadvantaged in any way?

McLaren are still laughing at their good fortune this year. Producing a clearly slower car than Adrian Newey’s inspired design, they are comfortably leading the driver and team championships thanks to their consistent finishes. While Lewis Hamilton is enjoying being on top of the standings, he must wonder how his teammate Jenson Button manages to collect so many points while doing little more than driving around in circles waiting for other drivers to drop out in front of him. And if further proof of Button’s amazing good luck were needed, he is back with his girlfriend Jessica Michibata. What on earth did he do in a previous life?

For us, the most eagerly-awaited performance of the weekend is that of Ferrari. Poor Fernando Alonso appears to be coming apart at the seams while Felipe Massa looks to have lost interest in the job. Even with his engineer Rob Smedley’s warm words of encouragement, nothing it seems can make Massa go faster. After a year marked by appalling bad luck, ropey stewarding  decisions and very un-Alonso-like rashness, it is time that Ferrari got back on track. Alonso believes that he can still challenge for the championship, now it is up to Domenicali et al to provide him with the tools.

Nico Rosberg is likely to spoil Michael Schumacher’s triumphant return to Hockenheim on Sunday. The youngster has consistenly outperformed the veteran and is a constant reminder just how far off the pace the German is since coming back to F1. I wonder if a poor showing in front of his home fans will force him to re-think his three-year plan to regain F1 supremacy and call it quits. I can find no one, apart from Ross Brawn and Norbert Haug, who thinks Schumacher  was right to return and still supports his decision despite some truly dismal performances unworthy of such a champion. The Mercedes team have a big enough problem making their car competitive. They really don’t need to have an underperforming ex-champion on a giant ego trip slowing their progress.

Sauber too will be hoping to continue their recent strong performances at Hockenheim, as will Force India and the resurgent Rubens Barrichello in the Williams. The midfield runners, led by Robert Kubica in the Renault, are set for some serious battles and provide an extra diversion for the fans.

Among the new arrivals, only Lotus look to be serious contenders for survival in the F1 jungle. We will keep our fingers crossed for Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen that they can get to the finish and hopefully score some much-needed points to cement the team’s successful start. Financial problems at HRT and a difficult debut for Virgin mean that both teams have a mountain to climb just to stay in F1.

What seems certain is that the German GP will be as compelling as the previous 10 races this year. McLaren with the blown diffuser, Red Bull with two drivers desperate to beat one another, and Ferrari who just need to show that they now have a car capable of beating their rivals are the ingredients for the perfect Sunday afternoon cocktail.

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