This was supposed to be Ferrari’s weekend, but like so many Ferrari weekends, it’s been nothing but disappointment for the Scuderia faithful.
Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc seemed destined to battle exclusively among themselves for pole position after controlling all three practice sessions. The SF90 is well-suited to the Hockenheimring’s long straights and the hitherto prevalent hot weather, which are Mercedes’s two weaknesses relative to the Italian team.
But it wasn’t to be. Vettel suffered a turbo problem on his Q1 out-lap that prevented him from qualifying, while Leclerc couldn’t leave his garage for the top-10 shootout due to a fuel system problem.
It leaves the two fastest cars out of place — but practice pace and even to a degree qualifying position could prove irrelevant come the race, with a high chance of rain and substantially cooler conditions due to hit Hockenheim on race day.
|2019 GERMAN GRAND PRIX PROVISIONAL GRID|
|10||Charles Leclerc||No time|
|20||Sebastian Vettel||No time|
Distance: 4.574 kilometres
Lap record: 1:13.780 (Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren, 2004)
Tyre stress: Medium
Lateral load: Medium
Asphalt grip: Medium
Asphalt abrasion: Low
Pit lane speed: 80 kilometres per hour
Pit lane length: 306 metres
Pit lane time loss: 17 seconds
Fuel loss: 0.3 seconds per 10 kilograms
Estimated tyre delta: C2–0.4 seconds–C3–0.6 seconds–C4
Friday was a day of extreme heat in Hockenheim, with ambient temperatures exceeding 40°C and track temperatures peaking at around 55°C, among the highest recorded in Formula One on both counts.
Much to the relief of all involved, a change rolled through the region on Friday night. Saturday reached a top of only 28°C, and Sunday is expected to reach only 24°C.
Therefore the usefulness of Friday data in projecting race pace and strategy is of limited usefulness. Not only does heat affect the way the tyres interact with the road, but a car’s aerodynamics are compromised to incorporate more cooling. The milder temperatures change these parameters.
|C4 (6 laps)|
|Red Bull Racing||1:19.672|
|*Over five laps|
And if the forecast rain were to arrive before the race, delivering us an entirely wet grand prix, the complexion of the event changes completely. There has been no genuine wet-weather running this season, never mind a wet race, and with Pirelli’s wet-weather compounds updated this season, all the teams and drivers will be operating by feel.
Putting the weather to one side for a moment, if the race were dry or at least partly dry, we should be able to expect an interesting battle between Mercedes and Red Bull Racing for supremacy one two distinct tyre strategies.
Lewis Hamilton (P1) and Valtteri Bottas (P3) will start on the medium tyre, while Max Verstappen (P2) and Pierre Gasly (P4) will start on the soft.
Mercedes is attempting to play to its strengths here: its Friday long-run pace on the medium tyre was very competitive relative to Red Bull Racing, and it was also one of the few teams to undertake a race simulation with the hard tyre.
|C3 (6 laps)|
|Red Bull Racing||1:19.645|
Red Bull Racing, on the other hand, while a match for Mercedes on the soft compound, will then switch to hard rubber it had little opportunity to test on Friday owing to Pierre Gasly’s crash.
Turning attention back to the weather forecast, the medium tyre also allows more flexibility should the rain arrive part of the way through the race, allowing a driver to run longer and potentially make a single switch to intermediate or wet-weather tyres while those starting on the soft may have already made a stop.
Indeed this was exactly the strategy employed by Lewis Hamilton at last year’s grand prix to rocket from 14th on the grid to the top step of the podium, albeit aided by Sebastian Vettel crashing out of the lead and Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas subsequently pitting behind the safety car to clear the way ahead.
While it may be a bridge too far for Vettel — though he’ll likely start on the hard tyre if rain is forecast to give him extra range — Leclerc, starting from 10th, will start on the medium tyre and be in the hunt to win big in the event of rain.
The SF90 had the best race pace of all according to Friday data, and If Leclerc were to gain places at the start and use the weather to his advantage, the Monegasque could not be discounted from making a tilt for victory.