2009 German GP Start Nurburgring Mark Webber won the last Nurburgring race

There’s plenty to talk about ahead of the ninth round of the Formula 1 championship, which gets underway this weekend with the German Grand Prix on the emasculated Nurburgring circuit.

German interest in F1 faded after Michael Schumacher’s retirement at the end of 2006, but with fans now having a new local hero in the form of Sebastian Vettel to cheer for, the Eifel circuit will be packed with cheering fans once again.

So let’s have a look at all of the action that lays ahead for this weekend’s German Grand Prix…

 

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The Circuit

FORMULA 1 GROSSER PREIS SANTANDER VON DEUTSCHLAND 2011 
Nurburgring Circuit Map
Date: 24 July 2011 No. Laps 60
Lap Length: 5.148km Race Distance: 308.863km
Lap Record: 1:29.468, Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) – 2004

The autodrome – better described as a ‘Tilkedrome’ – version of the Nurburgring offers nothing like the challenge of the original Nordschleife, a 14-mile monster that was finally taken off the F1 calendar after 1977, when the sport moved to Hockenheim.

The high-speed blast through the forests at the Hockenheimring was already well-known as the place where Jim Clark lost his life in 1968, and it would face further tragedy when the popular Patrick Depailler did in a testing crash in 1980.

A new Nurburgring was created alongside the original Nordschleife, and it staged a couple of races in 1984-5, although it wasn’t on-par with the well-attended race at the Hockenheim.

But when Schumacher started his winning ways and picked up his first title in 1994, the circus returned to the Nurburgring in 1995 – under the auspices of a ‘European Grand Prix’ – and Schumacher delighted his home fans with a great win.

Recent years have seen the German Grand Prix alternate between the two circuits, and in 2002 the track featured a new Hermann Tilke-designed infield loop to add more corners in the opening sequence of the lap, kicked off with a handbrake-turn right-hander that sees plenty of damage at the start of every race.

 

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Memorable Moments

There are plenty of memorable moments At the Nurburgring from over the years. These are some of our five favourite moments…

  • 1957: Considered by many as Juan Manuel Fangio’s greatest ever drive, the legend found himself rejoining a minute adrift on the old Norschleife with eleven laps to go when he made his stop for fuel and tyres. With an unbelievable amount of courage, he lapped the daunting circuit some 8-9 seconds a lap faster than leaders Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins. On the penultimate lap, his time – 9m17.4s, six seconds faster than his previous lap record, eight seconds quicker than his pole time! – saw the gap now down to 13 seconds. Incredibly, he roared past Collins and Hawthorn to win on the final lap. It would be his 24th and final victory, clinching his fifth World Championship.
  • 1968: Jackie Stewart’s drive in appalling conditions is widely regarded as the Scot’s greatest of his 27 victories. Driving with a broken wrist, he scythed his way into the lead (from sixth on the grid) on the opening lap, by the end of which he was eight seconds in front. On the second lap, he gained a further 25 seconds! By the end of the fifth lap, he was a minute in front. By the end of a daunting race, Stewart finished four minutes in front of second-placed Hill, giving him enough time to clamber out of the car and accept everyone’s congratulations before the others crossed the line.
  • 1999: A race that no one seemed to want to win! A Turn 1 electrical glitch saw Damon Hill trigger a huge barrel-roll crash for Pedro Diniz. Heinz-Harald Frentzen looked set to keep his championship charge on track with a possible win until the same glitch hit his Jordan. The rain came down, and Irvine and Hakkinen buggered up their strategies with poor tyre calls and dodgy pit stops. Couthard, Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher all slid out of the lead, and a disbelieving Johnny Herbert came through to take Stewart’s only win, all from 14th on the grid!
  • 2005: Kimi Räikkönen had done everything right at the 2005 European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. He lead from a front-row start and looked set to take a small bite out of Fernando Alonso’s championship lead. But he flat-spotted a front tyre trying to lap Jacques Villeneuve, and it started a slow and steady process that would see his hopes of victory gradually unravel. A mid-race lead of 15 seconds was trimmed to just seven seconds after the final round of fuel stops, and Alonso was steadily chipping away at Räikkönen’s lead as the McLaren driver was clearly struggling. At the start of the final lap, Kimi led by one second and looked set to hang on for a great victory. But as he braked for Turn 1, the vibration on his flat-spotted tyre proved too much and his front suspension shattered, sending him into the gravel trap at high speed. Alonso could hardly believe his luck, while Räikkönen and McLaren were left to rue the risk of going for outright victory.
  • 2007: Another dose of the Eifel region’s infamous rainfall his the circuit before the start, creating a river at the downhill Turn 1 which saw several drivers skate off into the gravel trap. Lewis Hamilton was one to do so, but cleverly kept his engine running and got going again when he was craned back onto the track. Meanwhile, Markus Winkelhock – making his only F1 start – briefly led, having pitted on the parade lap to switch tyres. At the end of another madcap race, Felipe Massa looked set to win, until some last-minute wheel-banging from Fernando Alonso saw the Spaniard take an excellent win in his McLaren.

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Nurburgring Talking Points

What are the three big talking points of the German Grand Prix?

  • Can the teams compete with Red Bull now that exhaust-blowing is back on? The entire fiasco during the British Grand Prix over the (now-lifted) ban on off-throttle exhaust-blowing was an unnecessary distraction from what was an exciting race weekend. The FIA has again demonstrated a lack of clear direction when it comes to making the rules work in 2011, and its backflip will only return the advantage to Red Bull Racing, which was clearly superior in taking advantage of this loophole in the rules.
  • What about rain? The Nurburgring has often seen wet weather play a part in proceedings, and if the forecasts prove correct, then the Pirelli treaded tyres will get another workout. Hopefully this will close the performance gap across the field and allow for a few surprise results to keep fans and pundits second guessing…
  • Hopes for the German contingent? How times have changed: twenty years ago, the grid was chock-a-block full of Italian and French drivers, and there was scarcely a German to be seen until Schumacher came along. This year’s grid features six Germans, two Italians and no Frenchmen! A home ground advantage always seems to give local drivers a lift, and the likes of Schumacher, Rosberg, Heidfeld, Sutil and Glock will all be competing for the affections of local fans. But will they only have eyes for a certain Mr Vettel?

So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?

Matt
Matt, Richard’s F1 IndyCar Correspondent

“Still failing to finish worse than 2nd in a race in 2011, Sebastian Vettel may not publicly be saying that the championship is as good as won, but secretly he may think he has done all but what it takes to wrap things up in the next month or so and has the car with the consistency to do so sooner rather than later.

“After a couple of years without a dominant national hero to cheer for, the German fans once again have a Formula 1 powerhouse back in force, so whether the rest of the field can do anything about that is really yet to be seen.

“Fernando Alonso will want to build on his Silverstone win a fortnight ago, while Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button will want to build on strong performances also, as both saw bad luck rob them of potential podium finishes. My prediction though is for a return to the top step for the Vettel-machine.”

Joseph
Joseph, Richard’s F1 Technical Correspondent

“Being a massive fan of the infamous "Green Hell", its always a little bit disappointing that the GPs are no longer held on the Nordschleife, rather on the purpose built, new, and albeit safer, Nurburgring GP track. Despite it’s more infamous big brother, the GP track never really excited me as much as, say, Hockenheim. 

“In spite of this, the F1 circus should still cook up a heck of a race this coming weekend. The kerfuffle around the exhaust still blows on (pun intended), we are now hearing more and more rumors about driver lineups for next year, and with the season effectively half over, the question on everyone’s mind is; who can make up the points gap to the German Juggernaut Vettel?

“Alonso and Ferrari are riding their wave of confidence after a breakthrough win last round, and given just two rounds between Germany and their home race at Monza, the Scuderia is going to everything possible to maximize their chances this weekend. After a disappointing home round, McLaren need to find their race pace again. Mercedes is looking to do well here given it is their home race, but with their current form, it seems as if it would be better for Brawn’s squad to look forward to developing their 2012 challenger instead. Just to tide myself over this mid season slump, I’m looking forward to Spa in a month’s time!”

 

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The Form Guide

It’s the Nurburgring’s turn in 2011, and circuit authorities – who are struggling to raise the finances to keep the event here – will be hoping that fans will see another thrilling race to match Alonso’s 2007 win or Mark Webber’s long-awaited maiden win he picked up here in 2009.

The weather forecasts indicate we’re set for another weekend of changeable weather, and this could help throw up a few surprises to challenge the Vettel juggernaut.

Ferrari will be hoping its Silverstone form wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and the Scuderia will be hoping it can mount a second-half-season tilt at the championship on the basis of its improved pace at the last race.

Both McLaren and Mercedes will be hoping to perform strongly here – especially the latter, given this is their home race – and a good dose of precipitation will help swing the balance in their favour.

But once again, the suspicion is that this could well land up being another Red Bull blitz. The FIA has overturned its ban on off-throttle exhaust-blowing, and with the RB7 proving so strong in this area, their mid-corner speed advantage should see their rivals struggling to keep pace.

This is one of the few tracks where Mark Webber holds an advantage over team-mate Vettel (having won here in 2009), and he’ll be keen to prove he’s no pushover after his outburst at the British Grand Prix when he claimed he ignored team instructions not to attack Vettel’s second place in the closing laps.

But many are already beginning to suspect that the cards are already stacked in Vettel’s corner, and that they have been for some time…

[Images via Hannah Corbett, LAT, Sutton Images, XPB]

Richard Bailey

Editor at RichardsF1.com

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