We’ve reached round 10 and the halfway point of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship and this week takes us to the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim.
With a complex mix of long straights and slow corners, Hockenheim is a firm favourite with teams and drivers.
The last time the Championship visited Hockenheim in 2010, all hell broke loose as this was the race in when Ferrari received the biggest fine in F1 history, $100,000, for telling number 2 driver Felipe Massa to get out of the way for number 1 driver Fernando Alonso.
The result stood and Alonso went on to finish second in the drivers' championship. If Ferrari can get Alonso over the line again this weekend, he might just be celebrating at the end of this season.
Setanta Sports 1 is the place to watch all the action from Hockenheim with the channel showing all three practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself from Germany.
Alonso finds himself 13 points clear of Mark Webber at the top of the drivers' standings and with Hockenheim likely to suit the F2012, Ferrari race engineer Andreas Stella believes the Spaniard can challenge for the race win in Germany.
"The car was good in Valencia; it was also good in Silverstone. And as Hockenheim is a mix of the slow speed of Valencia and high speed of Silverstone, I would expect Ferrari to be competitive in Germany," Stella told the Ferrari website.
This weekend will be the first time that Pirelli will have supplied the F1 rubber for this circuit and Stella acknowledges that the tyres could be a problem this weekend.
“In the past in Hockenheim, managing the tyres was difficult, especially the front left and sometimes we also saw blistering on the rear tyres. So it could be an interesting weekend from the tyre point of view.”
Alonso may be top of the drivers championship but its third place Sebastian Vettel who is the favourite for his home Grand Prix.
Hockenheim isn’t quite as fast a track as Silverstone and with slower speed corners, the cars will need a lot of good traction at slow speeds and this will favour Red Bull. They have found good down force in the last two races and Vettel has all the attributes needed to take the chequered flag.
Hockenheim is only half an hour from Vettel’s hometown and he is expected to have the support of a partisan German crowd this weekend and it is something he is relishing.
“It's always a special crowd to race in front of. I've driven on that circuit in different series and it's always been great. The campsites near the new circuit are fun and it's special to meet the fans there," said Vettel.
Another driver going into his home race in a confident mood is four time German GP winner Michael Schumacher. Mercedes are confident that the power circuit of Hockenheim will suit the W03 and Schumacher is more upbeat than ever as he heads into his home race.
Schumacher ended his six year wait for a podium with a third place finish in the European Grand Prix and he is hoping to give the German fans something to celebrate on what is the 111th anniversary of Mercedes first win at the race.
"This year is the first time that our Mercedes works team has been capable of racing right at the front and, because of that, we're hoping for lots of support from the fans and to reward them with our performance.
"Hopefully we will see a lot of Mercedes colleagues in the grandstands and we want to do particularly well for them. We have set ourselves the clear target of giving everybody a reason to celebrate next weekend," said Schumacher.
And Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn is hopeful the Hockenheim track will suit the car better than Silverstone did, “The Hockenheim layout should be more suited to the F1 W03 than the high speed Silverstone layout, and we are bringing some further improvements to the car which should help our performance.
“It would be very special to achieve a good result in Germany, so we will be working hard to achieve just that,” said Brawn.
McLaren had a dire time of it in Silverstone, severely lacking grip and struggling, but with an expected upgrade in place for this weekend Lewis Hamilton will be feeling more confident.
Facing into his 100th Grand Prix, Hamilton knows and likes the Hockenheim track and he will be hoping to gain on his Championship rivals. And if, like the weather forecast suggests, the track remains dry McLaren will hope the updates they applied at Silverstone will reap rewards.
“I very much enjoy the updated track- it’s a place that’s built for racing: the hairpin at the end of the back straight is a classic overtaking spot, and the whole layout seems to make it more inviting for a following car to attempt an overtake.
This is the first time we’ve been to Hockenheim since introducing DRS so it should make for an even more exciting race,” said Hamilton.
Hockenheim is an extremely fast track with two distinct sections - the stadium complex with the track twisting in front of the grandstands and pit/paddock area, and then the flowing section through the forest. Chicanes have been added but this is a very fast and exciting circuit, demanding also in terms of car set-up.
The most feasible overtaking opportunity is the turn six hairpin, the entrance to which is the fastest point of the track. Drivers that lose out here have, however, been known to fight back all the way to the tighter left-handed turn eight, with some spectacular results.
With the Nurburgring hosting last year's event, the positioning of the DRS zone at Hockenheim is likely to be on the approach to the hairpin - however given the fast left hand kink of Parabolika on the run to the corner, reducing rear down force may not prove to be a wise idea.
The stadium section was a particularly raucous place in Michael Schumacher's heyday and produced something of an air horn-blaring frenzy every time the German hero drove through. Although two-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel doesn't appear to have captured quite the same following yet, a German winner this weekend could see a return to the old fashioned frenzied Hockenheim Grand Prix.
Hockenheim Grand Prix schedule (Irish Time):
Friday July 20th
Practice 1 09:00 - 10:30
Practice 2 13:00 – 14:30
Saturday July 21st
Practice 3 10:00 – 11:00
Sunday July 22nd