The German Grand Prix returns as Round 10 of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship, after a one-year absence, in what is likely to be its final appearance on the calendar for the foreseeable future.
The Hockenheimring, not nearly as challenging as the old route through the forest, features a mix of cornering speeds, albeit slightly biased to the lower – medium end of the spectrum, together with multiple full throttle sections.
Downforce vs Drag
The part of the lap to Turn 8 favours a medium or even low downforce set-up, with Turns 3, 4, 5 and 7 all being flat-out. However, the remainder of the lap features very little in the way of straights, with a series of corners challenging the drivers, including the Stadium section. It is likely that Red Bull will aim to run lower downforce rear wings than both Mercedes and Ferrari in order to overcome its straightline speed deficit and improve its competitiveness in the first part of the lap.
Car Strengths Needed
A car with good traction and Aerodynamic efficiency will perform well here, as the majority of the lap is made up of low speed corners and straights. Those teams with a Mercedes or Ferrari power unit will benefit on the long flat-out run up to Turn 6.
Turn 2 is critical in setting up an opportunity to overtake heading down towards the Turn 6 hairpin. In addition, Turns 1 and 12, being the only high-speed corners on the track, will test the grid’s Aerodynamic downforce.
Tyres and Strategy
Given the absence of data from the current generation of cars and tyres at the Hockenheimring, an assessment of potential strategy options is difficult. Back in 2016, when Pirelli’s tyres were still fragile and subject to overheating, the race required a three-stop strategy to be competitive, using the SuperSoft and Soft compounds. The current tyres are more durable than in that period, with this year’s tyres a little softer than the equivalent 2017 tyres.
Given that the 2016 SuperSoft was capable of stints of up to 20 laps in the 2016 race, the UltraSoft should be able to run a similar distance, at least over the weekend, when temperatures are forecast to be lower than on Friday. The question then centres around which tyre can result in a one-stop strategy, the Soft or the Medium?
Both tyres have shown consistent performance through the year, and the selection of two or more sets of the Medium for at least one driver in every team suggests that the answer is not clear as yet. Of course, the front runners may choose to avoid the UltraSoft in the race completely, using the Soft to set their fastest time in Q2 and begin the race, before switching to the Medium.
Renault’s selection of ten sets of the UltraSoft tyre stands out as particularly aggressive, while its Soft/Medium combination guarantees that one driver will not run the preferred race tyre during practice.
The mix of slow corners and reasonable number of straights usually makes for good racing in Germany. For 2018, this will be assisted by the introduction of a third DRS zone along the pit straight which, like the additional zone in Silverstone, will be designed to move cars closer together in a bid to overtake into Turns 2 or 6, rather than providing a passing opportunity into Turn 1 itself.
Friday is expected to be extremely hot, but dry, with temperatures over thirty degrees Celsius, before cooler conditions set in for the weekend. This will make judging the long run data from FP2 particularly tricky for the teams, while the preparation for a flying lap may well need to be altered due to the temperature drop. Note that on Saturday particularly, but also on Sunday, there is the possibility of some rain showers.
In France and Austria certainly, and arguably in Silverstone as well, Mercedes had the outright fastest car over the weekend. However, all three of these circuits featured multiple medium-high-speed corners, and long-radius turns in the case of the first two, which seemed to suit the W09 better than the Ferrari SF71H.
Hockenheim has a very different circuit layout that could play more to the strengths of the Ferrari and Red Bull cars. In the midfield, Force India and Renault should perform more strongly than in recent races, thanks to the greater bias towards low-speed corners, while Haas should become relatively less competitive, with the VF-18’s high-speed corner performance hidden on this circuit.