The 2013 Formula 1 championship arrives in Germany, eager to recover from a damaging British Grand Prix at Silverstone this past weekend. Italian tyre manufacturers Pirelli have faced severe criticism over the past couple of seasons, with teams and drivers voicing a range of concerns from reliability, favouritism and, most importantly, safety.
The latter concern was well and truly in the spotlight on Sunday, after no fewer than five tyre blowouts left drivers furious about the potential for major accidents and the loss of lives. Pole position driver at Silverstone, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, was among those affected by the Pirelli problem, as was Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
The manufacturers responded with a series of statements and an investigation, which laid the blame squarely at the teams' feet. Nevertheless, as a measure of support for the drivers (and to ensure the threatened strike did not come to pass), Pirelli have confirmed tyre changes for the German Grand Prix.
As usual, assuming the weekend's schedule goes to plan, there will be two practice sessions on Friday, followed by a third on Saturday morning. Qualifying takes place later that same day, with the race on Sunday afternoon.
Incidentally, the venue for the German Grand Prix rotates between the Nürburgring and Hockenheim, with each circuit hosting the event in alternate years. This means the last Formula 1 race at this venue was in 2011.
Where to Watch Friday Practice for 2013 Formula 1 German Grand Prix Live
Live coverage of the first practice session starts at 8.45am BST on Sky Sports F1.
Live coverage of the second practice session starts at 12.45pm BST on Sky Sports F1.
Real-time updates are available on the Live Timing section of the sport's official website.
- Name: Nürburgring
- Length: 5.148km
- No of Laps: 60
- Lap Record: 1:29.467 - M Schumacher (Ferrari; 2004)
- 2011 Pole Position: 1:30.079 -M Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
- 2011 Winner: L Hamilton (Mercedes)
In terms of the championship standings, the British Grand Prix also produced a dramatic result (fortunately independent of the tyre problems) for defending world champion Sebastian Vettel. The German slowed and retired from the race, while comfortably in the lead, with a gearbox problem. Vettel's failure to score points, from his championship perspective, was compounded by a superb run to third place by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso; the Spaniard carved his way past four drivers in the final eight laps to finish on the podium and cut the gap to Vettel by 15 points.
Heading into the weekend's schedule at the Nürburgring, Vettel has 132 points to Alonso's 111. Lotus-Renault's Kimi Raikkonen has 98 and Hamilton, who produced a magnificent drive from the back of the grid (after falling back because of the puncture) to finish fourth, is next with 89 points. Vettel's team mate, Mark Webber is fifth with 87.
In the constructors' battle, Red Bull retain a strong grip on their title; the Milton Keynes outfit have 219 points to Mercedes' 171. Ferrari are third with 168, Lotus fourth with 124 and Force India-Mercedes fifth with 59 points.
TheNürburgringis one of the most legendary tracks in all of motorsport, never mind Formula 1. The present circuit is a truncated version of the 22.5km monster with an incredible 172 corners. The main track is now no longer in use; parts of the track now lie as abandoned public roads.
The 5.148km track Formula 1 uses today is not quite as exciting but still has some very challenging corners, with the opening sequence perhaps a particular highlight. The first few corners comprise a tight set of turns that flow into one another, meaning if you're offline going into the first the car will likely struggle through the rest of the section.
The rest is a relatively straight-forward high-speed circuit, with the chicane at the end of the lap and the hairpin at Turn Seven providing good overtaking opportunities.
A well balanced car is critical to a fast lap, with emphasis on stability under braking and traction out of corners. Most of the second sector is high-speed, with the Schumacher S (named after Michael Schumacher, who was born in the nearby town of Kerpen) a highlight - drivers will need to get the power down as early and as cleanly as possible, to maximise straight-line speed down the back of the circuit and into the Warsteiner Kurve.
There is a short burst of speed coming out of the second sector and into Turn 11, Advan Bogen, which is a high-speed right hander taken at nearly 300km/h. That brings the drivers down to Turn 13, the NGK Schikane and around Turn 15 and the start-finish straight.
As a result of the tyre problems at Siverstone, Pirelli have annouced changes to their 2013 tyre line-up, effective immediately. The Italians released a statement after an investigation, which, while blaming the teams for pushing the tyres past company-specified safety limits, has re-introduced the Kevlar belt used in 2012. Essentially, while the rubber compound remains the same, the underlying support structure will be the belt used last year.
In terms of tyre choices for the German Grand Prix weekend, Pirelli have confirmed P Zero Yello (soft) and P Zero White (medium), with the latter designated as Prime. Of course, the Cinturato Blue (wet) and Green (inter) are also available.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director, explained the choice, "The Nürburgring is not on the whole an especially demanding circuit for tyres but there are still some distinctive aspects to look out for when it comes to tyre management, such as the kerbing on the chicanes. We are expecting a performance gap of 0.8-1.0 second between the two nominated compound."
The tyre manufacturers say they expect a three pit stop race for the leading drivers, which, if true, will be the same strategy Lewis Hamilton used to win for McLaren in 2011 (the last time the German GP was held at the Nürburgring). Hamilton's stops were on laps 16, 31 and 51. However, given the wear patterns for the 2013 tyres are significantly quicker and that the leading drivers are likely to start on the softer compounds, expect first pit stops around Lap 12.
The bad news is there is rain forecast for the Friday session. The good news is it is likely to be meagre - between 0.1mm and 0.3mm. The weather in general will be a little nippy, something that has Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean and the Lotus-Renault team a little concerned.
Colder weathers means the tyres take longer to get to operating temperature, which could, in turn, affect stabillity, wear and balance. And a well-balanced car, as all the drivers point out, is important at the Nürburgring. Expect temperatures to be in the low 20C for most of the morning and afternoon, with the mercury peaking at 23C.