1. Rosberg has the edge
While Lewis Hamilton has come into Hockenheim with the championship lead and 5 race wins in the last 6 Grand Prix, it was the German Nico Rosberg to topped the timesheets all day. Rosberg was three tenths faster than Hamilton in both sessions as he seeks to go into the summer break with a lead in the championship. There had been a feeling in recent weeks that Nico was rattled by Lewis’ return to form but so far it looks like Rosberg will not be perturbed in his pursuit of a first Drivers World Championship.
2. Turn One will be a battleground
Turn one in Hockenheim is not an overtaking area. It’s a reasonably fast right hand kink, that thanks to the long run to turn two is important for everyone to get as good an exit as possible from. There is also a very nice run-off area on the exit, meaning that in previous years drivers have taken a chunk of it so that they can carry more speed through the corner and arrive at turn two even faster – but not this year it would seem. Just like in Hungary race director Charlie Whiting is laying down the law when it comes to track limits in Hockenheim, and turn one is where the hardest battle will be fought. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen exceeded track limits 14 times at turn one alone in first practice, and while team principal Christian Horner said he would rather let drivers use the space it seems Whiting will bring the hammer down on those who abuse the extra tarmac on the exit of some corners. – even taking away qualifying times tomorrow if need be.
3. Ferrari & Red Bull go to war
While they are a good half second or more behind the Mercedes, the Red Bulls and Ferraris are basically neck and neck this weekend. Sebastian Vettel edged the Red Bulls with a 1:16.208 fastest lap for 3rd fastest in the afternoon session, but the gap to Vestappen in 4th was just two tenths, and it was only 3 tenths back to Kimi Raikkonen in 6th. On the longer runs it seemed that Red Bull were lapping consistently a shade quicker and making their tyres last a little better. While Mercedes may gallop off into the distance the battle for 3rd place could be extremely heated.
4. Williams may have a difficult weekend
The Williams’ were well off the pace this afternoon, clocking in behind thee Toro Rossos, McLarens and Force Indias on a track that should be good for them. Maybe they are playing their cards close to their chest, but Bottas and Massa were almost half a second off the pace of Jenson Button. After being consistently in the middle of the points at the start of the year they have been overtaken first by Force India and now potentially by Toro Rosso and McLaren as well – it is not a good sign.
5. Balance is key
Hockenheim has always posed a challenge to the engineers and mechanics – did you set the car up for maximum speed down the long blasts through the forest or allow for better poise through the tight stadium section? While the dramatic changes made over a decade ago have helped somewhat with that decision there is still a critical balance to be found in Hockenheim, and many teams did not have it today. Fernando Alonso, Romain Grosjean and Rio Haryanto were all seen squirrelling around in the final sector of the lap as they struggled for brake balance and correct wing angles in order to get good performance through the stadium. It may be a long night for their engineers as they adjust their calculations and set things up for tomorrow.