2014 German Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

As the temperatures rose in Germany, fortunes inter-team were unquestionably mixed, up and down the paddock. In what is an intriguing grid, Nico Rosberg snatched pole position, capitalising on home advantage at his (second) home race of the season. His closest rival of the day, Valtteri Bottas, qualified in P2, with fellow Williams driver Felipe Massa, starting in P3 on the second row of the grid. Where was Lewis Hamilton? The Brit had crashed out of the session in Q1, as a front-right brake failure at turn 12 pitched the Mercedes straight to the scene of the accident. The Brit will start from P15 and will have to endure another recovery drive – It is very much advantage Rosberg, at this stage, once again.

FP3

I cannot remember an FP3 session which has turned the tables of the weekend so dramatically. What we thought we knew as a result of FP1 and FP2 yesterday has been thrown away, as Mercedes proved that sandbagging was the order of the day on Friday. Nico Rosberg finished on top of the timesheet, 0.6 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton, however, the Brit’s lap on the super-soft tyres was significantly compromised by vibrations, which he reported on the radio.
Regardless, Mercedes have now shown their hand. While their soft tyre performance was once again deceptive, Rosberg’s super-soft run demonstrated the pace of the W05. While their advantage over their competitors seems to have been eroded slightly as a result of FRIC, it still looks as though Hamilton and Rosberg will be the two key protagonists in qualifying.
Yesterday, it looked as though Red Bull could feasibly challenge for not only pole position, but also the win on Sunday. However, running on the super-soft tyre in FP3 was decidedly average for both Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, as they finished around a second slower than the rapid Rosberg. I imagine that Red Bull were running heavier for their super-soft run, as I doubt that such a slip down the order could have been manufactured overnight.
The only factor which significantly varied from yesterday was the wind direction. These strong winds which circulated throughout the session caught a number of drivers out, particularly in turns eight, nine and ten, with Fernando Alonso suffering a very uncharacteristic spin at turn eight. However, Hamilton, Bottas and Maldonado were also caught out, (admittedly in less dramatic fashion) on the same corner. 
While Alonso’s spin was inconvenient, Kimi Raikkonen suffered far more pressing issues on the other side of the garage. At around the mid-way point of the session, the Finn began to suffer from a fuel system problems, related to the fuel pump. Once this issue was diagnosed, Kimi did not emerge again. After such an excellent afternoon yesterday, Raikkonen’s lack of FP3 mileage will prove detrimental to the weekend in general, particularly considering his sensitivity behind the wheel. At least a reshuffle of programme meant that Kimi managed to complete a qualifying simulation run on the super-soft tyres before being garage-bound.  
Qualifying will undoubtedly be very interesting. While the chances of a four way scrap for pole between two Mercedes and two Red Bull’s is between slim and none, Rosberg’s lap in this session has laid the gauntlet down. Hamilton needs to respond and without completing a representative run in FP3, it is unclear as to just how much the Brit has in hand.
FP3 Timesheet

01 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:17.779

02 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:18.380 +0.601 
03 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:18.384 +0.605 
04 Felipe Massa Williams 1:18.575 +0.796 
05 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:18.611 +0.832 
06 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:18.756 +0.977 
07 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:18.769 +0.990 
08 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:18.842 +1.063 
09 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:18.890 +1.111 
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:19.127 +1.348 
11 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:19.131 +1.352 
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:19.470 +1.691 
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1:19.489 +1.710 
14 Sergio Perez Force India 1:19.505 +1.726 
15 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:19.601 +1.822 
16 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:20.078 +2.299 
17 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:20.198 +2.419 
18 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:20.466 +2.687 
19 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:20.844 +3.065 
20 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:21.018 +3.239 
21 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:23.077 +5.298 
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:23.449 +5.670 

Qualifying Analysis

On a weekend when Lewis had targeted an improvement in performances on Saturday, another unavoidable failure was certainly not what the doctor ordered. The Brit’s accident paved the way for Nico Rosberg to take his fifth pole of the season, but Nico was forced to extract the maximum from his W05, as both Williams driver’s once again fought valiantly to topple Mercedes, yet unlike in Austria, both Bottas and Massa fell just short of pole position. 

30 Jeez

While Nico Rosberg’s gearbox calamity during the race at Silverstone levelled the playing field in terms of unavoidable reliability issues between the two, Lewis Hamilton has experienced his second issue of the season today. Albeit in qualifying this time, the Brit will have substantial work to do tomorrow in order to recover. After posting a banker lap on the soft compound tyre, Hamilton was on his second timed lap, when his right front brake failed on the entry to turn 12. This forced the car into a dramatic spin as he plunged into the barriers. 
The accident was certainly a heavy one. Recorded at 30G, the impact meant that Lewis had the mandatory visit to the medical centre and was cleared quickly, despite a slight limp. “I can’t believe it obviously, but things like this happen,” Hamilton acknowledged. “Things for whatever reason are sent to try us.” The obvious bruises will not be a concern to Lewis – tomorrows race will be at the forefront of his mind. In his words, Nico has been presented with “another gift,” and on this occasion, the fightback through the field will be made even more difficult by a number of factors. 
Firstly, it was bad enough that P15 was Hamilton’s true starting position, however, the Brit will now start from the pitlane tomorrow, as Mercedes want to change his brake supplier. After the Brembo brakes failed this afternoon, the team will switch his car to the Carbon Industrie brakes, which will mean taking the number 44 out of parc fermé and taking the subsequent pit lane start. In Hamilton’s position, this makes a lot of sense. The brakes which failed on Hamilton’s car were fresh for qualifying, and with the cause of the issue not yet understood, it is a matter of safety first. 
However, this will make Hamilton’s job much more difficult tomorrow. We know that he is sensitive to the subtle changes in brake compounds, as his transition between the McLaren in 2012 and Mercedes in 2013 was not entirely smooth in terms to readjusting to a new brake compound. For Lewis to jump into a race situation, with brakes that he is unfamiliar with, will take a great deal of patience as it will take him the majority of the race to understand the traits of his new brakes. When you are a driver who leans on the brakes, this is particularly inconvenient.

Mixed Fortunes For McLaren

It was not just the Mercedes drivers who experienced sessions on the opposite ends of the scale. Kevin Magnussen nailed a fantastic lap, good enough for P4 on the grid, while Jenson Button could only manage P11. Magnussen had looked mesmerizingly fast all weekend and as every great driver should, his one lap pace reached a peak during qualifying. The Dane needed another good result, as he has struggled to piece together stand-out performances in recent weeks, but a great session today will be a great boost. While a podium is surly out of reach tomorrow, a strong points haul is a definite possibility. It was certainly a day for the young talents of the future, with not only Magnussen’s P4, but Bottas’ P2, and both Ricciardo, Kvyat and Hulkenberg finishing in the top ten.    

While the youngsters proved their worth today, the old-guard experienced an uncharacteristically poor day. Jenson Button’s P11 was a genuine result of poor balance and a poor performance in general. While Button initially complained that Grosjean had blocked him in the final sector, this was a comment in which the Brit was clutching at straws – and these straws were at least 15 car lengths ahead of him. However, P11 is perhaps a better position than P10, as the free choice of tyre at the start of tomorrows race could prove pivotal considering the scale of the degradation of both compounds throughout practice. A two stop strategy is likely.

Conclusions

The grid is poised for another enthralling race tomorrow. Hamilton will be looking to scythe his way through the field on another recovery drive, while Rosberg will be looking to gap the chasing pack to have as big a distance as possible, so that if, (or more likely when) Hamilton reaches P2, Rosberg’s gap will be insurmountable. Meanwhile, the likes of Button and Raikkonen will be hoping to score points starting from outside the top ten and the long runs of the Red Bull on Friday seemed to suggest a better result than P5 and P6. However, can they muscle their way onto the podium? They will have to out-muscle an in-form Williams team, and an incredibly impressive Valtteri Bottas who is earning the title of the new Flying Finn.
Qualifying Result 
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:16.540
2 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:16.759 +0.219
3 Felipe Massa Williams 1:17.078 +0.538
4 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:17.214 +0.674
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:17.273 +0.733
6 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:17.577 +1.037
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:17.649 +1.109
8 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:17.965 +1.425
9 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:18.014 +1.474
10 Sergio Perez Force India 1:18.035 +1.495
11 Jenson Button McLaren 1:18.193
12 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:18.273
13 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:18.285
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:18.787
15 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:18.983
16 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes No time
17 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:19.142
18 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:19.676
19 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:20.195
20 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:20.408
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:20.489
22 Marcus Ericsson Caterham No time
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