Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Preview: 2012 German Grand Prix

A couple days left for the 2012 German Grand Prix. The mid point to the 2012 Formula One Season still sees no clear favorite driver , no dominating car , no over-powering innovation and each race telling a different story about the pecking order . 

The season started with McLaren dominating the opening race , with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel looking vulnerable due to the "restrictions" imposed on exhaust-blowing diffusers ( I say restrictions , since the ban hasn't been completely enforced as teams are still harnessing the gases to gain rear-downforce) and Ferrari in the shambles.

Things as they are , seem at a contrast to the beginning of the season. Red Bull people say have the strongest package, followed by Ferrari and Lotus , McLaren have dropped back and are being given tough competition from Mercedes, Sauber,Williams and Force India.

They have rumours of a huge update on the McLaren this weekend which will boost they're chances of victory and regain their form but with things as they are in the current season simply putting on oodles of downforce on any car doesn't seem to get the results. The tyres here play more of a significant role , sometimes more downforce leads to the tyres getting overheated and not lasting and hence that downforce is not "seen" in lap time. 

Understanding the tyres seems crucial to the winning championship this year(understatement of the year award)

Lotus too have claimed to bring a significant big package on their. As far as I recall , its probably their first BIG upgrade.
Teams do put on small bits and pieces on every Friday of a race weekend, but the big upgrades are what the engineers ultimately anticipate. They usually involve a substantial design change, or a new concept which according to their wind tunnel and CFD tests would be around a gain of  .2 to .3 of a second worth of lap time. Seems small ? That's F1 , an increment of that much would easily put someone like Lotus on the front row of the the grid in qualifying , something which the team is longing for since it has tremendous race pace and easily looks after its tyres and this might lead to one of their drivers on the top step of the podium. 

Red Bull and Ferrari hope to keep their momentum , with both teams bringing the perpetual "small bits" of upgrades.

The old Ring compared to the new Ring after changes in 2002.

Due to its alternating nature, this year we have the Hockenheimring hosting the German Grand Prix. Although the circuit was initially known for its long straights and slow speed chicanes before changes were made by a certain Herman Tilke in 2002 ; The "old" F1 cars would easily achieve speeds upto 350 km/h with their V10 engines screaming at unrestricted RPMs.  

The last time Formula One raced here , it was Ferrari's last 1-2 with Fernando Alonso claiming victory .The race wasn't quite so action packed, with the sturdy Bridgestone tyres not enhancing wheel to wheel racing and out-of-the-box strategies , except for a particular incident of one driver being "faster than" his teammate(Sshh) 

Technical Requirements for the Hockenheim Ring :

Like the latest generation of Hermann Tilke-designed tracks, Hockenheim is characterised by long straights followed by slow corners and hairpins, like all Tilke circuits its designed with overtaking in mind but never in practice. The tyres , DRS and KERS will definitely make things easier this time around but I hope the FIA gets the DRS zone just right like in Valencia. With such a long back straight, a good top-speed is essential to fend off competitors in the race and for a good qualifying lap  , this might suit the Double-DRS/SuperDRS/RFA(nitty gritties of nomenclature) of the Mercedes team who'll be hoping for a good showing at their Home Grand Prix. 

In contrast this mig unfavorable for Ferrari, although their engine isn't as down on Horse Power as the Renault is compared to the Mercedes Engines ; Ferrari has made no secret about its car being slightly on the high drag side. I except most of their updates this weekend to find a solution in that are. 

The High Top Speed this has to be balanced with the grip needed in the medium and low-speed parts of the lap. This will definitely be something the Red Bull and Lotus will compromise on, due to their nicely packaged Renault engine. 

The circuit is one of the hardest tests of the year on brakes, being similar to the demands of Bahrain. Braking stability is vital, especially into the hairpin at Turn Six, where it is easy have a lock-up and flat spot you tyre leaving you at a disadvantage for the remaining of the race. The teams therefore play close attention to finding the optimum braking and cooling solutions, which was one of the priorities at the pre-Grand Prix test.

The long straights and low-speed corner mix of Hockenheim requires contrasting suspension set-ups. Mechanically, teams  are able to run the cars quite soft as there are no significant high speed changes of direction on the circuit. Front to rear, teams run a forward mechanical bias ie: a stiffer front end, in order to get good traction out of the slow and medium speed corners and keep the rear stable under braking. 

Pirelli will bring their Soft and Medium compound tyres for their debut at Hockenheim. Tyre wear is expected to be a little higher than usual majorly due to the traction zones and heavy braking required at this circuit. With early predictions on the weather to be sunny and hot, we might have a mixed bag of tyre-strategies to look forward to and might favor Lotus and Sauber in the race. 

The engine requirements at Hockenheim are not as demanding as in the past, but, with 63 per cent of the lap spent on full throttle, it's still a challenging workout and about average for the season. With a lack of high-speed corners, the main demands come from the long back straight. Good torque is essential and so the engine needs to work well at low revs to help the cars get a good exit out of the low-speed corners. The potential for high temperatures in Hockenheim also means the team must pay attention to cooling to avoid overheating, but the latest generation of V8 engines are capable of running at peak revs in high temperatures.

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