Hamilton hoping for rain to beat the Hockenheim heatwave
Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton is hoping rain will come to the rescue as a Hockenheim heatwave threatens to dash Mercedes’s hopes of a home German Grand Prix win on Sunday.
The five-time world champion and Mercedes have been dominant this season, the team winning nine of 10 races so far, but they wilted in the sweltering heat at last month’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Mercedes have made changes to help cool the car but, with much of Europe caught in the grip of a heatwave, Hockenheim could be even hotter than the temperatures were at Spielberg where Max Verstappen won for Red Bull.
“If it stays this hot we are going to struggle and be in trouble,” the 34-year-old Briton, who leads team mate Valtteri Bottas by 39 points in the standings, told reporters on Thursday.
“There is not much we can do (when it comes to cooling), it is a much bigger design issue when it gets hot which is not so easy to change.
“We are working towards it but it is very small steps and small increments which are not making a massive difference,” he added.
“It is definitely a good thing if it rains.”
Friday, when the cars first take to the track for two sessions of practice, is expected to be just as hot as Thursday, when temperatures touched 39 degrees Celsius.
But thunderstorms are predicted for Saturday, when qualifying is held, while the chance of rain on race Sunday — a 200th Formula One start for Mercedes as a constructor — has also gone up.
Hamilton, who won in the rain from 14th on the grid last year even as Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel crashed out of the lead, is renowned as a wet-weather specialist.
He has won the German Grand Prix four times, three of those victories at Hockenheim, and is chasing his eighth win of the season on Sunday.
Vettel says he is his own biggest critic
If Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is feeling the pressure ahead of his home German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, then he knows who to blame.
That, the four times Formula One world champion recognised on Thursday, is because he has always been his own harshest critic.
“If I get something wrong and do a mistake, I can’t be happy with that,” the 32-year-old told reporters ahead of Sunday’s race at Hockenheim.
“The pressure I put on myself after that is bigger than any external factors. (It’s been) the same as long as I can remember.”
Vettel’s lacklustre form has been under intense scrutiny this season, with his on-form 21-year-old Monegasque team mate Charles Leclerc providing hot competition, and the pressure is mounting.
Last year at Hockenheim Vettel started on pole position only to crash out while leading on a track made slippery by rain.
That turned out to be the costliest of a series of mistakes in 2018 that undid his title charge, handing Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton — who won in Germany — a lead that the Briton never relinquished.
Hamilton is now a five times champion and well on his way to a sixth title, winning seven of the 10 races so far.
Vettel, who won four titles in a row between 2010-13 with Red Bull, has meanwhile looked a shadow of his former self since that mistake.
The German has won just once since his Hockenheim heartbreak, at the Belgian Grand Prix last August.
Ferrari have been unable to produce a car to match dominant Mercedes this season with the Italian team without a win since now-departed Kimi Raikkonen triumphed in Texas last October.
In his fifth season with the glamour team, Vettel is already 100 points behind championship leader Hamilton with no realistic hope of challenging for the title.
However, he said the dream of following in boyhood idol Michael Schumacher’s footsteps by becoming a champion for the sport’s oldest and most successful team remained very much alive.
Driving for Ferrari despite the weight of expectation that goes with it, he said, was a privilege and not a burden.
“I think we all know that Formula One is a world where people are very short sighted which is also fair and part of the game,” said Vettel.
“Obviously this year hasn’t gone the way we wanted after the last two years.
“Still, I think things are progressing in the right direction in the big picture.”
Rain would cement his status as favourite to collect a fifth German Grand Prix win, a record for success at the race in the world championship era.
Hamilton, who won his home British Grand Prix at Silverstone for a record sixth time two weeks ago, is still spoiling for a fight.
“Last year here... I think Ferrari were slightly quicker but I hope it gets closer throughout the year,” he said. “I’m always ready, it just has not always been the case every year.”