The German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring should provide a true indication of the state of play as the Formula One season reaches its exact midpoint, provided that the weather does not intervene in the form of lower than normal temperatures or rain.
The signs are that it will be cool, with the ambient temperature failing to exceed 18 degrees Celsius (making it very similar to Silverstone’s), and showers likely at some time each day. In other words, conditions likely to favour the Red Bulls on Sebastian Vettel’s home ground.
The German is in ebullient form after his second victory of the season in Britain, and has more new parts on his Red Bull RB5 to exploit as he goes for triumph in front of countrymen who already see him as the heir apparent to Michael Schumacher.
“I'd say it's like a soccer match when you play on your home ground,” Vettel says. “You always give 100 percent, but in a home race you're even more motivated, because at home you feel comfortable.
"Not far from the Nurburgring, in Kerpen, I got a lot of kart experience which is why I have many friends in this region. During the 90 minutes of the race I do not think about which country I'm in, because I am concentrated on racing. But before and after, this is special because being at home is the best place to stay."
Brawn, however, have not been idle since their home turf defeat.
"We’re looking forward to returning to the race track and the Nurburgring should be a good circuit for our car and play to its strengths,” team principal Ross Brawn says. “We have several new aerodynamic parts from Silverstone which were not used in qualifying and the race due to the issues that we faced there, along with additional improvements scheduled for this race, which should position us well going into the weekend.
“Whilst coming away with third and sixth placed finishes from Silverstone was still a good outcome from our home Grand Prix, we would be the first to admit that the result did not meet our expectations. However, we have always said that we would have a fight on our hands to maintain our excellent run of results at the start of the season and everyone at the factory and at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brixworth is looking forward to that challenge.
“As a team, we have a good history of going away from a race, thinking about the outcome, identifying where we need to make improvements and then coming back stronger. As the home Grand Prix for Mercedes-Benz, we will be hoping to come away from the weekend with a successful result."
Jenson Button would like nothing more than to resume his championship challenge by returning the favour and denying Vettel the chance of winning at home.
"The Nurburgring is a tricky circuit but there are two key characteristics which should be good for our car,” he says. “It is a relatively slow circuit with a lot of medium-speed corners which are one of the strengths of the BGP001. The Nurburgring is also one of the heaviest braking circuits on the calendar so you need a car which will be good through the four heavy braking zones.
“With the extra week's break, everyone at the factory and at Mercedes has been working extremely hard in preparation for the German Grand Prix to get the best package for the race and we're looking forward to showing what the car can do at the Nurburgring after a disappointing weekend by our standards at the British Grand Prix.
“My last stint at Silverstone showed that the pace of the car is really competitive so we're confident that we can turn it around at this race. I'm sure we will see a really intense fight with our closest competitors and hopefully a great race for the fans."
Ferrari, Williams and Renault all have high hopes of challenging for the podium, as have BMW Sauber and Toyota, both of whom will be racing on home ground (Toyota are based in Cologne). All of them also have aerodynamic upgrades.
McLaren, racing in Mercedes-Benz’s backyard, are realistic about their chances. “The last time we raced at the Nurburgring was in 2007, and I remember I had a tough afternoon battling through from the back of the field to finish just outside the points,” Lewis Hamilton recalls. “It’s a fantastic circuit; fast and flowing with some good spots for overtaking. And it’s in a fantastic part of the world too; deep in the forests of western Germany, where the fans seem to live and breathe Formula One. It’s always an amazing party atmosphere whenever we race in Germany.
“While we aren’t expecting any major upgrades for this weekend, I’m still looking forward to the race. It’s an honour to be part of the Silver Arrows and, while our results haven’t recently shown it, we’re still pushing incredibly hard and are all hopeful of moving closer to the front before the end of this difficult season.”
The ‘new’ Nurburgring circuit mixes high and low-speed corners with heavy braking areas. About 60 percent of the track is run under full throttle, placing heavy demands on the engine, and it also requires excellent aerodynamic efficiency. Characteristically the circuit is grippy, but promotes understeer so drivers and engineers often struggle to achieve the right aerodynamic balance between the sections where maximum speeds reach 300 km/h and the slow and medium-speed parts which require high downforce.
Bridgestone’s tyre choice might help Brawn in the low temperatures; as in Australia, China and Bahrain the Japanese company will bring their medium and super soft slicks, together with their intermediate and wet rubber.