Formula One hasn’t raced at the Nurburgring for seven years, and on Friday it seemed like it might yet not get the job done on its unexpected return either.
With thick fog enveloping the surrounding areas, the medical helicopter was unable to fly from the circuit to the designated hospital. No copter, to track activity, and so the day’s running was abandoned.
The FIA has devised a plant to ensure the race won’t be called off in similar circumstances — a short ambulance ride to a new helipad in a lower-lying area should do the trick — but the chilly autumnal conditions remain.
The ambient temperature on Saturday and forecast for Sunday is just 8°C. Though sun broke through the gloom for qualifying, rain remains a threat for the race.
It compounds a tricky situation for the teams as they try to determine plans for the race.
The last time F1 raced here, in 2013, the cars were substantially slower — pole was almost five seconds slower than Valtteri Bottas managed this weekend — making historical data useless.
The lack of practice eliminated the opportunity for the sort of in-depth acclimatisation normally afforded to teams and drivers, which means no-one took any great set-up knowledge into the race — indeed several drivers complained of imperfect car characteristics they presumably would ordinarily ironed out on Friday night.
Combined with the shivering cold, the Eifel Grand Prix offers quite the predicament for a summer sport used to chasing perfection.
|PROVISIONAL STARTING GRID|
Distance: 5.148 kilometres
Lap record: 1:29.468 (Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, 2004)
Track record: 1:25.269 (Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2020)
Lateral load: medium
Tyre stress: medium
Asphalt grip: TBC
Asphalt abrasion: TBC
Safety car probability: N/A
Pit lane speed: 60 kilometres per hour
Pit lane length: 377 metres (approx.)
Pit lane time loss: TBC
Fuel consumption: 1.83 kilograms per lap
Tyres: C2 (hard), C3 (medium), C4 (soft)
Estimated tyre delta
Of course for all the unpredictability, Mercedes still managed to lock out the front row, albeit with Bottas beating Lewis Hamilton for only the third time this season.
However, of serious intrigue was the pace Max Verstappen squeezed from his Red Bull Racing car. The RB16 has been steadily upgraded to try to cure it nervous disposition, and the Dutchman noted after qualifying that for the first time this year he was battling understeer rather than oversteer — true, likely at least in part down to the cold temperatures, but nonetheless a positive sign.
Red Bull Racing tends to gain ground on Mercedes in race conditions — the Black Arrows reckon by as much as three-tenths of a second. His teammate, Alex Albon, was around half a second adrift and qualified fifth behind a superb Charles Leclerc, and assuming the Thai can get himself away to a decent getaway, the team should be in a strong position to challenge Mercedes.
Albon’s presence could prove crucial, and more so than usual. Strategy is unclear for this race thanks to the lack of track time, so having a second roll of the dice on tactics, whether to pressure Mercedes or simply to respond to movement ahead, will be decisive in the podium composition.
On the strategy front, the undercut, at least for the first stop, is unlikely to be powerful. The cold weather means tyre warm-up will be difficult, and with the top 10 all starting on softs, the switch to mediums will make getting the rubber up to temperature only more difficult.
Expect to hear plenty about tyre temperature and use. The fronts will be the limiting factor given they’re worked less, and if they drop outside the narrow sweet spot, they’ll go through a difficult graining phase that will force the car to understeer more. Recovering graining tyres is a time-consuming process, and if the race is a two-stop strategy as forecast, making an early tyre change might be faster overall than waiting it out.
Safety car restarts threaten chaos for similar reasons. At safety car pace no-one will be able to keep tyre temperatures up, which could lead to all sorts of action at the first turn of the resumption. With rain on the radar, the race leader would have to be hoping no hero tries slicks at the wrong time and neutralises the race.