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Atlas F1   The German GP Preview

Hockenheim, Heidelberg, Germany by Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.

Leaving the A-1 Ring in Southern Austria, Formula One circles the Alps to the current home of the German Grand Prix: Hockenheim. At 6.822 Km, Hockenheim is the second longest and the second fastest of the mighty Grand Prix circuits.

The Hockenheimring was originally built in the Odenwald forest as a test track for Mercedes-Benz in 1932. In the mid-sixties, the "short" Stadium circuit was built. Now, the current Grand Prix circuit uses both the pre-war oval and the Stadium section.

For better or worse, the days of Formula One visits to Hockenheim may be numbered. Hockenheim's contract for hosting the German Grand Prix expires in 2002 and it's plausible that the Grand Prix may move to the new Lausitzring circuit near Berlin. To their benefit, Lausitzring obtained interest and recognition by securing a contract to host a CART race on its oval in September 2001.

In an effort to extend the Hockenheim contract, local Mayor and president of the shareholders Gustav Schrank proposed shortening the circuit by linking the Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna chicanes. The subtraction of 2.8 km of track to 4.023 km would cost a estimated $25.4 million. Race promoter, Andreas Meyer explained, "This would give us another 30-35,000 seats and we could bring spectators in via the OstKurve and park on the old circuit. This, however, was rejected as it would mean cutting down too many trees. Already, for the same reason, there are no spectators on the inside or outside of the circuit from the OstKurve to the current motodrom." Meyer added, "The town is too small, they can't afford a Grand Prix. You don't see politicians at Hockenheim as you did at Nurburgring."

Nonetheless, the Formula One fans who attend Hockenheim provide the most enthusiastic and vocal crowds outside Italy. Ferrari's Michael Schumacher explains, "The atmosphere at Hockenheim is really something special. With the stands around the outside of the stadium, you can see everyone cheering for you and sometimes even hear it!" Jordan's Jarno Trulli added, "I would say that together with Monza, Hockenheim has one of the best atmospheres of any Grand Prix." From the spectators standpoint, the television broadcasts from Hockenheim are consistently considered some of the best for camera work and direction.

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher explained the technical challenges posed by the circuit, "Hockenheim is always a bit of a compromise between straight line speed and the handling in the stadium. It's also very tough on the engine, which is running longer at high revs than any other circuit we visit. This track is also tough on the brakes which have to be used from very high speeds as hard as possible four times a lap. It is essential to have good braking throughout the race as it is almost impossible to keep your place if the next car can brake any later." Schumacher's teammate Rubens Barrichello countered, "It's not a particularly challenging or interesting track from a driving point of view, nor is it physically very demanding. If the car and the race tactics are right, all you need is reliability and a good start."

Jordan's Heinz-Harald Frentzen described the 'Hockenheim dilemma' facing the engineers, "Hockenheim is a distinguished track in comparison to other F1 circuits on the calendar. In my opinion, there is no comparison to the other tracks, (theoretically you have two race circuits). The infield a stadium section of the track is so different that in theory you are almost racing on two different circuits. In terms of distance, the infield section is very short but on the other hand it is very effective compared to the longer part of the track, which makes Hockenheim so challenging for setting up the car. A good comparison needs to be found for the infield and our target is to find the best compromise and to qualify at the front of the grid. Overtaking is very difficult and is usually only possible after the first corner and on the long straight so a good qualifying performance is vital."

Jaguar's Johnny Herbert added, "Concentration is the key to a good performance at Hockenheim because you are travelling in a straight line at full throttle for long periods and you have to guard against your mind wandering off. The Stadium can make or break your lap. It's important to have good traction in the Stadium because with so little wing you can't rely on aerodynamic grip to get you in and out of the slow corners quickly."

The three chicanes of Hockenheim do not lend themselves to elegant driving, especially during qualifying, when the cars are jarred as they bounce over the kerbs. BAR's Ricardo Zonta remarked, "On a fast lap, you touch the curbs, but you don't use them as much as at, say, Monza."

Pitstop and Tyre Strategies

All of the Grands Prix held at Hockenheim over the past six years were, thankfully, held under dry, sunny conditions. Sir Frank Williams commented, "Hopefully, it won't rain because even with the world's greatest drivers, a wet Hockenheim circuit provides dangerously low visibility because of the proximity of the trees to the circuit's main straights."

Attrition is a bit unpredictable at Hockenheim. Sixteen cars finished in 1998, thirteen were classified in 1996, eleven in 1999 and 1997. Only eight cars were running at the end of the 1995 and 1994 races. In last year's race, most teams went for a one-stop strategy, stopping between laps 20 and 24, while Prost's Olivier Panis and Sauber's Jean Alesi opted for a two-stop strategy.

Bridgestone has not revealed which tyres will be available to the teams. Last year, the motorsport division of the tyre manufacturer offered the teams a choice of soft or medium compound tyres. Yoshihiko Ichikawa, the Technical Manager of Bridgestone Motorsport, stated, "Hockenheim is unique because of the sustained high speeds which can be reached on the long straights. This does not present us with any concerns, although there is the possibility of some tyre degradation taking place in the tight infield section. Again, the teams will make the choice of tyre based on whatever they discover during practice." Ichikawa would eat these words after catastrophic rear tyre failures on the McLarens of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen during qualifying and the race respectively.

The Teams

Ferrari still lead the constructors' championship by 4 points, after the FIA's ruling today on the Austrian Grand Prix. Ferrari have won twice, in 1994 and 1999, scoring a total of 51 points at Hockenheim in the nineties. Former Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine stated, "Last year the crowd was cheering for me and Mika Salo in the absence of their hero and we got a great reception on the podium, but all the support will be for Michael Schumacher again this time round."

The World Championship leader Michael Schumacher reflected, "I have lost 16 points of my 22-point lead in the last two races, so obviously I will be eager to keep the six points lead I have at the moment or better still to improve upon it Hockenheim." Schumacher won the German Grand Prix in 1995 and finished 2nd in 1993 and 3rd in 1992 for Benetton. With Ferrari, he finished 2nd in 1997, 4th in 1996, and 5th in 1998. Schumacher set fastest lap in 1995 and 1993 and his highest grid position was 2nd in 1995. Rubens Barrichello is still 4th in the drivers' championship. Barrichello revealed, "I tried a new low downforce aerodynamic package in Mugello and Michael verified it in Fiorano. We also worked on engine and brake testing and we hope to be in good shape for the race." Barrichello finish 6th in 1996 for Jordan and his highest grid position was 5th in 1995.

McLaren remain 2nd in the constructors' championship and continue to be the most reliable team of this season. Their aerodynamic advantage is very important at this circuit. McLaren have been consistently successful at Hockenheim in the nineties, winning in 1990 and 1998 and scoring a total of 49 points

David Coulthard closed his gap to championship leader Michael Schumacher to six points after the Austrian Grand Prix. Coulthard has been a fairly consistent points scorer at Hockenheim, finishing 2nd in 1998 and 5th in 1996 and 1999 for McLaren and 2nd in 1995 for Williams. Coulthard holds the race lap record (1m 45.270s) at Hockenheim which he set in 1999 along with fastest laps in 1998 and 1994. Coulthard's highest grid position was 2nd in 1998.

Mika Hakkinen has consolidated his 3rd position in the drivers' championship after his easy win in Austria. Hakkinen had his greatest highs and lows at Hockenheim. Hakkinen won the 1998 race from pole position, crashed out of the lead of the 1999 race after a frightening tyre failure, and was, somewhat harshly, given a one-race ban following a multi-car first-lap accident in the 1994 race that started with a collision with David Coulthard's Williams. Hakkinen also set pole position in 1999 but his only other points finish was a third in 1997.

Williams have climbed back to 3rd in the constructors' championship. BMW Motorsport Director, Dr. Mario Theissen stated, "Although the BMW V10 engine has never run so far on the high speed track of Hockenheim, we are obviously aware that this circuit is one of the toughest for a Formula One engine. With regard to reliability, we are pleased with the progress we have made over the past few weeks. We have not had a broken engine during the last three Grand Prix weekends. The team's home Grand Prix has special significance for BMW, but our aim has not changed - we are looking for finishing in the points." Williams are the most successful team at Hockenheim in the nineties, winning the German Grand Prix in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1996 scoring a total of 66 points. The outright qualifying (1m 37.087s) and race (1m 41.591s) lap records for Hockenheim were set in Williams cars by Nigel Mansell in 1991 and Ricardo Patrese in 1992 respectively.

Huerth's Ralf Schumacher is still 6th in the drivers' championship. Regarding the upcoming weekend, the younger Schumacher explained, "After a hard weekend in Zeltweg, I'm looking forward to racing at Hockenheim, one of my favourite tracks. For set up at this circuit, it is important to find a good compromise between low aerodynamic downforce for the high speeds on the long straights and enough mechanical grip for the Stadium section. It's very important to accelerate well out of the chicanes, particularly as the only overtaking chances come at the end of the long straights." Ralf finished 4th in 1999 for Williams, 5th in 1997 and 6th in 1998 for Jordan. His highest grid position was 4th in 1998.

Jenson Button climbed to equal 9th in the drivers' championship. Jenson Button revealed, "My only experience of Hockenheim is during my Formula Ford days. I distinctly remember the race in question and I hope it doesn't rain as much this weekend as it did then. I won the race, but learned quickly how hard Hockenheim can be in those conditions. I remember the circuit quite well, but will obviously have to re-familiarise myself again for this weekend's race. Things didn't go our way at the last race weekend in Austria, but I am obviously delighted to have come away with some points. I'm hopeful for similar rewards this weekend, albeit at BMW's home race." Button could learn a lot from BMW's Director of Motorsport, Gerhard Berger, who won twice on this circuit and holds the qualifying (1m 41.873s) lap record for the current track which he set in 1997.

Benetton have slipped to 4th in the constructors' championship. However, the team have been quite successful at Hockenheim in the nineties, winning the German Grand Prix in 1995 and 1997 and scoring a total of 51 points.

Giancarlo Fisichella is still 5th in the drivers' championship. Fisichella and his teammate Alexander Wurtz have yet to score a point at Hockenheim. The best finishes by Fisichella and Wurtz were 7th in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Their highest grid positions were 2nd in 1997 for Fisichella and 7th in 1998 for Wurz.

BAR have climbed to 5th in the constructors' championship. Race Engineer David Lloyd revealed, "Ricardo (Zonta) ran on the last day of this week's Silverstone test with a low-downforce version of the new aero kit we had at the A1 Ring, and was positive about the results. That, plus this week's encouraging Silverstone test results, gives us optimism for the German Grand Prix. The aim is to continue the team's recent run of competitive form."

Jacques Villeneuve has consolidated his 7th position in the drivers' championship and has signed a three year contract with BAR which will bring more stability to the team. Villeneuve finished third in 1996 and 1998 for Williams and his highest grid position was 3rd in 1998. Ricardo Zonta is still 14th equal in the drivers' championship. Zonta commented, "Our car is strong on fast, low downforce tracks, so I'm expecting to go well in Germany and hopefully make up for the disappointment of the Austrian Grand Prix." Zonta did not finish in last year's race after qualifying 18th but he won the 1997 Formula 3000 event and finished second in the 1998 FIA GT1 race for Mercedes-Benz.

Jordan have slipped to 6th in the constructors' championship. However, the long-awaited Jordan EJ10-B Chassis will debut at Hockenheim. Managing director, Trevor Foster explains, "The purpose of testing this week was to prepare the EJ10-B for Hockenheim. We had previously not taken this chassis to Austria as tests on the new aerodynamics were not conclusive, however now all parts and spares are available and we will be using the specification at Hockenheim. The new chassis has shown to perform better than the standard EJ10 and we will be looking for a better performance this time round." Jordan's chief race engineer, Tim Holloway. has been promoted to chief engineer and will supervise the design of next year's EJ11 chassis. Jordan have scored 14 points at Hockenheim, finishing 3rd in 1999, 4th in 1998, 5th in 1991 and 1997 and 6th in 1991, 1996 and 1998.

Jarno Trulli is still 8th in the drivers' championship. Trulli stated, "I hope to be consistently in the top six over the weekend. I raced at Hockenheim six times in Formula 3 and won six times, and it is also the track where I scored my first Formula One points, so all this adds up to make me feel very confident for our weekend there. The German crowds still recognise me from the days I drove in the German F3 Championship and I still receive a good reception." Trulli had the best finish of his career in 1997 when he finished 4th for Prost. Trulli's highest grid position was 9th in 1999.

Monchengladbach's Heinz-Harald Frentzen is now 9th equal in the drivers' championship after the Austrian Grand Prix. In last year's race, Frentzen finished 3rd after qualifying 2nd, "I was really happy to finish on the podium and win points for the first time at Hockenheim. I have always wanted to do well on my home turf and it was great to finish on the podium especially in front of my home crowd."

Sauber are now 7th in the constructors' championship. Sauber may finally get the chance to cash in on the potential of the Petronas engine at Hockenheim. The team's previously best finish was 5th in 1995. Mika Salo is now 11th in the drivers' championship. After leading last year's race, Salo finished 2nd after qualifying 4th for Ferrari. Pedro Diniz has yet to score a point at Hockenheim while his highest grid position was 11th for Ligier in 1996.

Jaguar have slipped to equal 8th in the constructors' championship. The team have been the talk of the pitlane with Eddie Irvine's abdominal pains in Austria, Luciano Burti Formula One debut, and CART Driver Dario Franchitti testing for the team at Silverstone. Perhaps Franchitti will be driving a car painted a darker shade of green in 2001. Technical Director Gary Anderson stated, "We will be running the new-spec Cosworth engine and together with the positive results of the aerodynamic development work at the test, we're hoping for a good weekend. Eddie should be feeling refreshed after his break and if we can carry the work we did at the test through to Hockenheim then we can expect a solid performance." The Stewart team never scored a point in the German Grand Prix.

Eddie Irvine has slipped to 12th in the drivers' championship. Irvine commented, "Having sorted out the medical problem that forced me to miss Austria, I am raring to go again in Germany. Believe me, having to watch qualifying and the race on television was not a pleasant experience! We've got a bit more grunt coming for this race and we will certainly need it down those long, fast straights. The noise from the crowd in the Stadium section comes as a complete contrast to the quiet down the straights where all you can hear is your engine straining at maximum revs." Irvine won last year's German Grand Prix with help from team mate Mika Salo. Irvine gave the victor's trophy to Salo for yielding him a team-orders victory. Irvine's highest grid position was 5th, also in 1999.

Johnny Herbert finished 4th after qualifying 9th for Benetton in 1995. Herbert's thoughts on Hockenheim, "Finishing seventh in Austria is better than what we have achieved in the last few races but it still means nil points. My mission now is to carry the momentum from Austria and to start scoring points for the team."

Arrows have also slid to 8th with Jaguar in the constructors' championship and are now up to 15 DNFs in 10 races. Arrows did not test at Silverstone last week. Arrows, racing as the Footwork-Ford team, scored 5 points at Hockenheim, finishing 4th and 5th in the 1994 German Grand Prix.

Pedro de la Rosa is still 14th equal in the drivers' championship. De la Rosa stated, "I believe we can perform well at Hockenheim. It's a very fast circuit, I think it will suit our car and there's a lot of hard braking, which is an area where the A21 is strong. I like the place and I expect to go quite well there." De la Rosa did not finish in last year's race after qualifying 20th.

Jos Verstappen remains 13th in the drivers' championship. Verstappen commented, "I know Hockenheim very well as I drove in Formula 3 there. It's a low downforce circuit so I think we can do a good job there. Hopefully, the car will be as good there as it was in Austria as we would have a good chance but we'll see." Verstappen literally had a baptism by fire during his German Grand Prix debut when his Benetton was engulfed in flames during a pit-stop in 1994. He finished 10th for Tyrrell in 1997 and his highest grid position was in for Footwork 17th in 1996.

Prost's problems continue. Peugeot will withdraw from Formula One at the end of the season, selling their interest in Formula One to the Asia Motor Technologies (AMT) group. AMT will exclusively supply engines to Arrows in 2001. Team principal Alain Prost won twice at Hockenheim and his team has scored 4 points at this circuit, finishing 4th in 1997 and 6th in 1999.

Jean Alesi is the most experienced driver at Hockenheim as this will be his 12th German Grand Prix. The veteran has been a regular points scorer at Hockenheim, finishing 2nd in 1996 and 6th in 1997 for Benetton and 3rd in 1991 and 5th in 1992 for Ferrari. His highest grid position was 2nd in 1994.

Monchengladbach's Nick Heidfeld pulled off a hat-trick at the 1998 F3000 race at Hockenheim; winning after setting fastest lap and pole position. After the Austrian Grand Prix, BAR's Jacques Villeneuve said that Heidfeld "was driving like he was still in F3000." At first, I thought this was quite a compliment from the Canadian.... An unimpressed Hiedfeld replied, "The truth is even though he was quicker, he was unable to pass. I think because he is called Villeneuve, he believes I should allow him to pass at all times."

Minardi have never scored a point at Hockenheim but both Minardi's finished last year's race. Marc Gene finished 9th in last year's race after qualifying 15th. Gaston Mazzacane finished a respectable 10th in the 1997 F3000 race and was eliminated from the 1996 and 1998 F3000 races after first lap accidents.

My Predictions

If it is dry, I will pick McLaren and Ferrari as the top two teams for qualifying with Williams, Jordan and Benetton making up the top five.

Starting grid:

  1. Mika Hakkinen
  2. David Coulthard
  3. Michael Schumacher
  4. Rubens Barrichello
  5. Ralf Schumacher
  6. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
  7. Jarno Trulli
  8. Giancarlo Fisichella
  9. Eddie Irvine
  10. Alexander Wurz
  11. Jacques Villeneuve
  12. Jenson Button

The German Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • A lot is at stake for Ferrari and McLaren in Sunday's race. The event could be very exciting or it could be a procession with the main contenders taking few risks.

  • Hockenheim is a low downforce track. To win at Hockenheim requires a fast and reliable engine coupled with a well-balanced, aerodynamically superior chassis. Expect to see pit boards reading "Revs, Shift"

  • McLaren should have the advantage at Mercedes' home track. Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard are again closely matched at this circuit. Hakkinen may try to repeat his Austrian strategy of leaving the opposition in his wake. At Hockenheim, this strategy could end in a shower of transmission fluid instead of a shower of champagne. A win for Coulthard could make him the championship leader.

  • What will Ferrari do at Hockenheim? A tortoise and hare strategy? Since Michael Schumacher has everything to lose, will Ferrari send Rubens Barrichello out as the hare to take points away from McLaren?

  • Williams are the best of the rest. Most of the midfield teams are distracted with "Silly Season" issues. Can Benetton, BAR or Jordan maintain their focus and keep up the challenge.

  • Dark Horses: Mika Salo and Pedro de la Rosa.

  • Kissing Cousins - there has been an epidemic of collisions between teammates from Prost, Sauber and Jordan. Will this trend continue?

  • Always in the points at Hockenheim in the 1990s: Ferrari and Ralf Schumacher.

  •       Related Articles:

    A Lap of Hockenheim

    The Atlas F1 1999 German GP Preview Issue
    (Jul-28, 1999)

    The Atlas F1 1999 German GP Review Issue
    (Aug-4, 1999)

    Ewan Tytler© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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