The home country of four drivers and the currently dominating team finally has a race again. Would Rosberg or even Teutonic fan favorite Vettel take a domestic pole position? Find out right here.
Just like in the races before, FP1’s prophecy was utter silver arrow dominance. Rosberg was quickest ahead of Hamilton, and the gap to the rest of the field, even the other top teams, was massive: Vettel was 1.1 seconds away, the best Red Bull 1.4. McLaren looked solid and went on to be the fourth best team of the first practice session, followed by Toro Rosso. Both of them will have to look over their shoulder as Force India and Williams, teams with the current Mercedes engine in the back, are expected to go quicker come Saturday.
Leclerc, Ferrari junior driver, and Ocon, Mercedes driver on loan to Renault, were given FP1 time in preparation for a possible full time driving gig next year. For Ocon, the second Manor seat could also become available after Hockenheim, pending Haryanto’s sponsor money flowing into the team. Apart from the rookies, it was business as usual and not even a terribly exciting session. The biggest talking point was the track limit in turn 1, which Verstappen seemed to ignore constantly.
Following the usual pattern, Mercedes’ advantage is slowly melting. This time, Vettel came as close as six tenths of a second. Not the gap he’d wish for and a far cry from Marchionne’s “we’ll fight them for the championship!” blurb from the beginning of this year, but better than before. Red Bull is a close rival though and looked excellent on the long runs. Especially Ricciardo came very close to what Mercedes can do on longer stints with a heavy car – remarkable. Unless the Mercs are sandbagging, the race could be much closer.
Internally, Rosberg kept the upper hand. Hamilton actually was on a different plan than Rosberg so the times are not exactly comparable, but Rosberg looks right at home in Hockenheim, despite most fans wearing a Ferrari cap and cheering for Vettel. Hülkenberg, another fan favorite, pushed his Force India into P7 and was practicing long runs on the hardest available tire. The team is openly talking about a possible 1-stop strategy and is the only one to carry enough hard tires to reasonably do so.
Jenson Button had to visit the trackside hospital after FP2. He later was even driven to the bigger facility in Mannheim where his eyes were checked and a bit of carbon brake debris was found and consequently removed. No harm was done and he’s fit to race.
For the first time in what feels an eternity, weather forecasts suggested a dry qualifying session from start to finish. Q1 started correspondingly slowly, with most big teams choosing to wait for a while and then set a single timed lap. Mercedes showed how confident they are by having Nico and Lewis complete Q1 with the Soft tire instead of the Super Soft that was run by all other teams. And still, the pace was good enough for an easy 1-2. Nothing stops the Mercedes train yet.
A real fight was going on for progress to Q2. Pascal Wehrlein was on fire and maxed out his Manor. It was good enough to defeat Sauber, his teammate and even Kvyat in the far superior Toro Rosso, but a tenth was missing to Palmer and a spot in the next Qualifying session.
Q2’s negative surprise was McLaren. Alonso, who just turned 35, only ended up being 14th. Button outperformed him but still didn’t go much further: 12th for the McLaren driver who’s fighting for another year with the team. Esteban Gutierrez, usually the weaker HaasF1 pilot, outpaced Romain Grosjean. Generally, the Haas seemed unstable on corner exit, and the fact that development has stopped is not going to help in future races. They both did not make it to the final round of Qualifying.
That left five teams with two cars each for Q3: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Force India, and Williams. Rosberg went out for a first try but suddenly pulled into the pits on his hot lap. An electronics problem cost him pace and he opted for one quick shot at the end instead. Meanwhile Hamilton set a first timed lap, but Ricciardo was close – three tenths. Ferrari seemed to lose pace and was visibly slower through the twisty Motodrom section.
How would Rosberg react? The onboard first showed that he gained a tenth in sector now, and by sector two the gap was at three tenths to Hamilton. He could not hold on to the complete gap but saved 0.12 seconds of the advantage over Lewis. The last sector would be Hamilton’s opportunity.
The champion’s counter attack started off good. He gained a tenth in the first corners coming up on the long straight. At the slowest turn of the circuit, the hairpin between two long straights, Hamilton locked up the front tires but still managed to hold the car on line. That right there cost two tenths though, and a good last sector was not enough to defeat Rosberg. Ricciardo will be the first pursuer followed by Max Verstappen, and Räikkönen’s good weekend performance was continued with a win over Vettel, who made multiple mistakes in a Ferrari that just wasn’t working on corner exits.
It’s looking like another Mercedes one-two finish, but raceday is going to be hot and Ferrari and Red Bull know how to treat Pirelli tires. A Rosberg victory is not secure yet as he has to defeat five other potential drivers first. Tune in tomorrow for the last race before F1’s long summer break!