German Grand Prix: A last blast for F1 at Hockenheim?

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Wave goodbye to Germany? Nico Hulkenberg (sort of) with some young German fans at the Hockenheimring. They’re not wearing his hat though…
Wave goodbye to Germany? Nico Hulkenberg (sort of) with some young German fans at the Hockenheimring. They’re not wearing his hat though…

F1 returns to Germany after its customary year off, and with its future very much in the balance.

A German, in the shape of Sebastian Vettel, may be leading the drivers’ championship and a German brand, in the shape of Mercedes, may have dominated the sport in recent years, but that’s not enough to keep the event on upcoming F1 calendars.

On the plus side, the championship is wide open and there may even be some rain this weekend to spice things up…

Is it Gute Nacht to F1 in Germany?

Centre Court speed merchant: Lewis Hamilton at Wimbledon last week
Centre Court speed merchant: Lewis Hamilton at Wimbledon last week

Money is not scarce in F1 but, as in so many sports, it’s not distributed for the benefit of the many.

Lewis Hamilton has just announced a two-season deal with Mercedes that is worth up to £20million a year, while Silverstone is struggling to pay the almost £18million a year it costs to host the British Grand Prix.

READ MORE: How does Hamilton’s new contract compare to the likes of McGregor, McIlroy and Bale?

Fair play to Hamilton for landing that contract – he could bail out the 2019 British Grand Prix entirely and still have a couple of million in the bank.

But Britain, Germany and plenty of other countries have long since reached the point where the economics of F1 are no longer even vaguely attractive.

Which is why, of late, Germany has had a Grand Prix only every other year. Crowds have been disappointing – 50,000 is fine for a football match but it’s not enough for a European Grand Prix – though Max Verstappen’s huge travelling fanbase is expected to boost numbers big time this weekend.

Hockenheim gets no financial support from the state, unlike many other circuits, and its owners say that even renegotiating the F1 hosting fees will be insufficient to save the German Grand Prix … a complete rethinking of the funding model is needed.

All of which means that, no matter how ‘historic’ the German Grand Prix is, it’s certainly an endangered species. Enjoy this weekend’s race, as it may be historic for the wrong reasons.

Rubber and rain (maybe)

Load it up: Stoffel Vandoorne slides into his McLaren as Friday practice gets under way at Hockenheim
Load it up: Stoffel Vandoorne slides into his McLaren as Friday practice gets under way at Hockenheim

It’s hot throughout Europe and temperatures could be high – with a chance of rain during qualifying.

Teams will be running soft and ultrasofts – with some mediums in the garage – with a one-stop race the default option. But high temperatures might encourage some blistering, particularly if those Mercedes are having an off weekend.

And a hot Friday coupled with a damp Saturday will make it harder for teams to get a handle on tyre performance, so the strategists may need to be on top form.

But the circuit isn’t particularly hard on cars or drivers, and there will be three DRS zones, so anything that mixes things up will be welcome, for the fans at least.

Who’s got new bits?

Winging it: Renault has brought yet more front wing updates to the German Grand Prix
Winging it: Renault has brought yet more front wing updates to the German Grand Prix

Renault have a new front wing – in fact, they’ve been through a lot of wing tweaks in recent months.

F1 front wings are designed to push more air along the bodywork than under the floor – it’s called ‘outwash’ and it’s been a thing since 2009, though it’s going to be reined in by upcoming regulation changes.

The adjustable part of the Renault wing is easy to spot, because it’s yellow while the rest is black. This is what gets moved slightly if you hear that a car is getting ‘a quarter turn more front wing’.

While Renault are fine-tuning their car with wing changes, Williams hope their new wing will help deal with a far more serious handling issue – the fundamental lack of stability that has made their 2018 car such a handfull to drive.

Williams, currently F1’s whipping boys, may have even bigger problems ahead, with the rumours that Lance Stroll may be headed for Force India, taking his father’s sponsorship millions with him.

These are dark days for the Grove team.

Hockenheim … the competent track

Having a ball: Charles Leclerc chilling at Hockenheim, where the expectation is high that he’ll be in a Ferrari next season
Having a ball: Charles Leclerc chilling at Hockenheim, where the expectation is high that he’ll be in a Ferrari next season

Hockenheim, once known for its flat-out blast through a forest, is a shadow of its former self, following a 2002 redesign.

And, to be honest, even the old Hockenheimring wouldn’t have featured in many fans’ top-five tracks.

It’s a medium downforce circuit, that puts a medium amount of stress on the tyres thanks in part to the medium amount of lateral force generated as cars corner on asphalt of medium grippiness… you get the idea.

Cars will top 200mph on the long back straight, before decelerating to a mere 45mph within a few tens of metres in preparation for the hairpin that is Turn Six.

It should favour Ferrari and Mercedes – of course – but watch to see which engine supplier has the upper hand over the weekend, with Mercedes and Ferrari power units involved in midfield fights as well as at the front of the grid.

Watch also to see if Lewis Hamilton’s new contract has had an affect on him, positive or negative.

With Hamilton confirmed at Merc for another two years and Bottas signed up for another 12-month stint too, plus Ferrari swarming over Charles Leclerc to replace Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo has gone from being a man on the move in F1 to a man potentially watching his chance at a championship evaporating.

Alas, he’ll start from the back of the grid thanks to engine penalties – he really has his work cut out but, fingers crossed, it means we’ve a chance of seeing a storming drive from him.

If you’re in Hockenheim for the race, enjoy the beer – just in case F1 does decide to pull the plug on Germany.

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