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Relief Drivers

F1 Preview - Nürburgring
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By Richard D Fox | 07/09/2009
Category: Relief Drivers
 

PREVIEW:  2009 GROßER PRIES SANTANDER VON DEUTSCHLAND (Santander Grand Prix of Germany)

Welcome to Nürburgring! The best summary of this weekend's race came from Bob Varsha's introduction to the race broadcast on Speed a year or two back.  I don't remember the precise start of the quote, but I'll do my best to repeat it; the important part starts with "find," and THAT part, I remember word-for-word:  "Lying in the mountains between Cologne and Frankfurt, you'll find the world's greatest race track, and today... we're at the one they built next to it."

I won't go into the full details of the history of the massive racing facility known as the Nürburgring, since that could be a column in and of itself.  Suffice to say that the original track, including the legendary 14-mile Nordschleife, or North Loop, opened in 1927, and, except for the interruption in racing during and after WWII, was the home of the German Grand Prix almost every year until 1976, when the series left for Hockenheim due to safety concerns.  The new "GP-Strecke," or GP Course, was opened in 1984, having been built specifically for Formula One; with the rise of Michael Schumacher, it became a permanent fixture of the schedule in 1995, despite many feeling that it was a pale shadow of the still-open Nordschleife. (For a more detailed history of the circuit, see Wikipedia's article on the circuit.) 

This year's German Grand Prix looks to be the most competitive race ever held at what some old-timers have dubbed the "Ersatzring," due to how closely matched the cars are this year.  While the course offers few passing opportunities, Those that it does present are fairly good ones, and it has a mixture of fast and slow corners, forcing a compromise aerodynamic setup that results in competitive racing, as some teams opt for higher straightline speed, while others prefer greater downforce and drag to improve cornering.

While Brawn GP's Jenson Button still holds a massive 23-point lead over his teammate, Rubens Barrichello, Sebastian Vettel is just two points back of Barrichello, with Red Bull teammate Mark Webber a mere 4.5 points behind him, which gives all four men a shot at the championship, though normal logic would indicate that it would come down to Vettel chasing Button, with Barrichello and Webber assigned to try to provide all the support they can to their teammates--though with Vettel and Webber so close in the standings, their positions in the team could swap with a single mistake on Vettel's part.  Toyota's Jarno Trulli is unlikely to challenge for fourth, 14 points back of Webber, but with Felipe Massa leading the Ferrari charge a mere 5.5 points back, and the next four championship positions within six points of Massa, there will likely be a serious fight for every possible point, as fifth place is within reach, and sixth place is anybody's game.

In the Constructors Championship, while Brawn and Red Bull are clearly the only championship contenders, with Brawn currently holding a 105-75.5 point lead, the surprisingly good Toyota squad currently has an 8.5-point lead over Ferrari for third, while Williams, McLaren, and Renault are all within 4.5 points of each other in a three-way fight for fifth.  BMW and Toro Rosso, despite disappointing years, both still have an outside shot at fifth place, and while Force India has yet to score its first championship point, the pace the team has shown this year indicates it's just a matter of time before they score points--and possibly enough points to leapfrog Toro Rosso, and maybe even BMW.

Sebastian Vettel will be driving with a special urgency this weekend, as this is the only Grand Prix in his home nation of Germany this year.  Whether he will step up to the challenge is open to debate, but it would be hard to bet against him, given his pace in recent weeks and his almost complete domination at the last race in Silverstone.  However, the Brawn team will be looking to uphold the honor of their engine manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz, in front of its large home contingent of officers and employees; don't be surprised if Mercedes has brought a special engine tuning for this weekend to try and avoid being beaten here.

Historically, however, this track has not favored the "home squad," with both BMW and Mercedes engines having frequently suffered failures directly in front of the corporate pavillions, and Kimi Raikkonen having had two spectacular--and bizarre--DNFs there while driving the McLaren-Mercedes, one when his rear wing disintigrated on the longest straightaway, and one when a flat-spotted tire vibrated the right-front suspension until it broke off while he was in the lead on the final lap.

The track is also known for sometimes having bizarre things happen in the infield, as the local fans are amongst the most rowdy and raucous in all of Formula One.  Some who have been to both have compared the infield at the Nürburgring to the infield at Talladega Superspeedway, as both tend to be week-long, drunken, rowdy parties that can get a bit scary to be around.  This year, the crowd should be in extra high spirits as they hope to cheer their countryman on to victory, but without the air of inevitability that Michael Schumacher's races had developed.

Qualifying will be broadcast live on SPEED at 8:00 Eastern on Saturday morning, with a replay at noon Eastern, while the race itself is being shown on tape-delay at 3PM Eastern on Fox Sunday afternoon, and Speed replaying it at 1PM Eastern on Tuesday.  Since the Cup race this weekend is being held on Saturday night, why not check out the GP?  It's two hours in the late afternoon--less of a time commitment than you normally would need for a Cup race, and about the same as popping in a movie.  The racing has been unprecedentedly close this year, with the entire field covered by only one second during qualifying last race at Silverstone, and while the track may not be as threatened as Silverstone is, with the FIA/FOTA war threatening to flare up again despite the "peace in our time" agreement, Lord only knows who, if anyone, will be racing there next year.

About the author: Richard D Fox (aka "rdfox") lives in Howell Michigan, an hour from Michigan International Speedway. He's been following NASCAR since the early '90s and F1 since the late '90s.

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Comments:
jim88
07/09/2009 9:32 am (1)
I see all kinds of half points mentioned.

How does that happen?

Jim @ Home
rdfox
07/09/2009 12:24 pm (2)
Whoops. Meant to mention that in the article. Because the Malaysian GP was shortened by rain (and, had completed less than 75% of the full race distance), per the Formula One Sporting Regulations, only half the normal points were awarded. Since normally, winner receives 10 points, second place receives 8, third receives 6, and then it drops off one point per position through eighth place, the fourth, sixth, and eighth-place drivers received 2.5, 1.5, and 0.5 points, respectively.

(For the record, if the race is red-flagged and can't be resumed when the leader has yet to complete two laps, the race will be treated as having never happened, with no points awarded, while if the race is more than 75% complete when halted, full points will be awarded, in the order that the cars crossed the line to start the lap *before* the lap that the race was red-flagged on. Confused yet? If not... well, FIA has the full F1 Technical and Sporting Regulations posted on their website for anyone to read. Now THAT'S something NASCAR could learn from...)
giluvracing
07/09/2009 1:16 pm (3)
Great article, RD, but the link is wrong. Try  this one.

--Mike.
Carol
07/09/2009 1:24 pm (4)
Thanks, Mike!
I fixed the link and also made yours active.

C
giluvracing
07/09/2009 1:58 pm (5)
Awesome!!

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