Since 2007, the annual German Grand Prix has been held at Nürburgring and Hockenheimring on an alternating basis. The latter circuit, which will host this years competition, is 2.79 miles long and features 14 turns and a tire-blistering layout. Fernando Alonso has won here three times; Lewis Hamilton has won here twice. But, this season, experience takes a back seat to raw speed and reliability. With a busload of formidable young drivers, including Daniel Ricciardo, Valteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen, headed to Sunday’s race, a Santander Trophy is up for grabs.
Or is it? After all, Mercedes have such a dominant machine this year that Renault have essentially thrown in the towel. The French were too quick to thrown in the shammy. There are precisely three reasons why we expect drama in Baden-Württemberg.
1. The Arms Race Is Underway...
Most likely, four letters will define the 2014 German Grand Prix: F-R-I-C. This is the abbreviation for so-called ‘Front-Rear Interconnected’ suspension systems, which help to maintain static ride height under heavy cornering G-loads. Less pitch-and-roll equals quicker lap times. Simple. But FIA technical boss Charlie Whiting informed owners last week that these systems may, in fact, be illegal. He left the teams two options: Outlaw FRIC beginning in 2015, or outlaw it immediately. The catch? A pact to delay the ban required unanimous support. The paddock’s smaller outfits, seizing an opportunity to upset Mercedes, dissented
Now, any team continuing to use FRIC at Hockenheim risks being reported to race stewards and, potentially, disqualified. Red Bull, McLaren, Williams, Mercedes and TorroRosso all say their cars will arrive in Germany sans FRIC, but the status of Ferrari, Lotus, Force India, and others remains unclear. Should Caterham or a similarly marginalized minnows protest the results of Sunday’s race, we could see a major post-race results shake-up.
Photo: Christopher Lee / Getty Images
2. Mercedes Could Stumble...
Though initially introduced by Lotus/Renault in 2008, FRIC is generally thought to be a Mercedes AMG innovation. Sure, the W04 is indisputably this year’s quickest car, but it certainly isn’t the most reliable. NicoRosberg’s gearbox failure at Silvestone makes three Silver Arrow DNFs in 2014. That’s actually more retirement due to mechanical failure than than Ferrari, Williams, or Force India.
Merc’s F1 director Toto Wolff claims the team’s transmission woes are behind them and says his Silver Arrows will run without FRIC on Sunday. Nobody is quite sure the extent to which the car will be affected, but lap times ebb by as much as half a second. Is that enough to slow Hamilton and Rosberg to the pace of, say, Lotus? No. But consider the new suspension settings, the possibility of underlying mechanical gremlins, and the inherent randomness of F1: If someone is going to step up and steal Mercedes’ lunch money, now's the time.
Photo: Sutton Motorsport Images / Corbis
3. Auf Weidersein Iceman?
Kimi Räikkönen spoke out this week, verbalizing what’s been easily glossed from his demeanor during a season where he’s yet to claim a top-five finish: “It cannot go much longer like this, it's not fun."
So, midway through the 2014, we find Räikkönen frustrated, losing interest, outshined by his teammate and hobbled by injury. As Yogi Berra said, "It’s déjà vu all over again." Will Kimi make it to the end of 2015 or are we watching his last season in F1? How the Iceman handles himself on Sunday following that dramatic shunt at Silverstone will give us some insight.
OUR PREDICTION: Rosberg takes the win at his home Grand Prix, followed by Daniel Ricciardo; Lewis Hamilton grabs the final podium spot.
POTENTIAL SPOILER: NicoHulkenberg of Force India, who is yet to finish outside the top-ten this season and, like Rosberg, will be racing in front of his hometown fans.
Photos by Jens Buettner / dpa / Corbis