The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Germany: Will Nico’s Honeymoon Ever End?

25-07-2014

by Alan Brown

In 2014 the honour of staging the German Grand Prix alternated back to Hockenheim after Herr Vettel won his first home race last year at the Nurburgring. The Hockenheim circuit is just 16 miles south west of Heidleberg and historically very fast with our Nige for example averaging 156 mph to take pole position in 1991. Eleven years on and the old circuit was consigned to another era when the current shortened 4.218 mile version replaced it. This is a good overtaking track and happily we were in store for plenty of that.

On a technical note a decision was taken at the start of the meeting to remove from all cars the Front- and-Rear Inter Connected Suspension aid or FRIC’s on the basis its interpretation by the various teams may now be breaching current technical regulations. FRIC’s has been around in various guises for some years of course and has the advantage of using increased load in the front suspension under heavy braking to lower rear ride height. In turn this achieves better grip and stability.

Fernando clearly likes Hockenheim with a 100% winning record here since moving to Maranello from Renault. Early indicators soon suggested this run of form for the Spaniard was about to abate however on this occasion. The Mercedes cars dominated Friday free practice with the newly married Nico outpacing his team mate by 0.6 second. Third was some consolation for Alonso up to this point, even after a spin at Turn 8, as he grappled, like many drivers, with the absence of the FRIC’s suspension. Kimi also encountered problems with the Ferrari’s fuel system and had his session cut short as attempts were made to iron out the gremlin before the serious business of qualifying commenced the following day.

Saturday qualifying kicked off in very hot sunny weather and Nico was soon revelling in the conditions on super soft tyres, cracking in a 1.17.6 minute lap. However just as one of the Merc boys makes good, the other always seems destined to hit snags. True to form, and just before half time in Q1, Lewis suffered a catastrophic right front brake failure under approach to the very tight Sachskurve leaving the nearby barriers the considerable task of retardation. After medical checks and some acupuncture Lewis was pronounced fit but would start the race from 20th after a 5 place grid penalty as well for a gearbox change. Sadly all the Brits failed to make it into the top 10 with Jenson maxing out in 11th and Chilton 21st. Subsequent investigation revealed that Lewis’s preferred Brembo carbon fibre brake disc had a manufacturing fault. Nico seemingly uses Carbone Industrie discs and so was unlikely to experience a similar problem. As if the German’s weekend couldn’t get any better, having also had his Mercedes Contract extended, Nico finished on pole with the Williams boys hard on his heels. Fernando and Kimi languished in 7th and 12th respectively. Magnussen also put in a great qualy show to oust both the Red Bulls as well as the prancing horses to start from the second row.

Weather conditions changed overnight and on race day track temperatures were down by 20 degs with more wind and a chance of rain. All the front runners lined up on the grid shod on super softs. Lewis and Kimi played a different card with the harder compounds, being well down the grid.

The little man waving the green flag hardly seemed to be given chance to retreat to the safety of the barriers before the red lights up front were extinguished and the pack scrambled to get to the Nordkurve first. Nico made it, but just behind him the hapless Massa was again turfed head over heels into retirement after contact with a hard charging Magnussen. The Dane survived the incident which also left Ricciardo running very wide and losing most of the advantage from his 5th place grid position. Unusually for Hockenheim the safety car was deployed to allow the transfer of another badly damaged Williams out of harm’s way. Racing soon resumed and in the absence of any investigation this was deemed a racing incident. Felipe had a rather different take on that, but thankfully again was uninjured .Who said F1 isn’t a contact sport ? Expensive aero parts could then be seen raining down over the track as cars three abreast jostled for position into the hairpin. Lewis’s race might have been seriously comprised after one of these comings together with Jensen that rendered his left front wing end plate in tatters. Such is the pace advantage of the Mercedes though, even this damage didn’t halt the Brit’s relentless progress up through the field to finish in third place.

Fernando was having a solid race having made his way up to 4th place briefly from 7th on the grid as the race approached the half way stage. Little did he know he would soon be calling on every ounce of his race craft as jousting with the two Red Bulls was about to commence.

At the second pit stop on Lap 35 Vettel emerged marginally ahead of Alonso but was soon demoted to 7th as the Ferrari had the edge on the run into the hairpin. The Spaniard’s day was beginning to look quite promising as he moved into a potential podium position but it was too much to expect his tyres to last until the end of the race even on the harder compound. Sure enough Fernando had to make a late stop with only 11 laps remaining. Re-emerging on supersofts, we were soon treated to unquestionably the dice of the day over the last 7 laps, with Fernando now pitched against the other Red Bull of Ricciardo. The two were joined at the hip for these last few mesmerising laps and Fernando finally just managed to keep ahead of the Australian at the chequered flag to collect 10 points for 5th. Brilliant stuff. Kimi was just out of the points in 11th which was a shame as it means the Williams Team have now leap frogged Ferrari in the Constructors Championship.

A comfortable win again then for Nico, a brilliant second for Bottas, and despite another moody press conference from Lewis, a result he should be duly proud of, even if the championship gap to his team mate widened.

In wrapping up then, apart from the earlier Massa/Manussen incident, given the amount of other side to side car contact that went on during the race it was amazing none attracted the attentions of the stewards and no penalties were issued. A race to be savoured and only seven days to await the next one at the Hungaroring.