Questions for the German GP
Will Pirelli's tyre remedy work? Are Rosberg and Hamilton now in the title fight? Can Sebastian Vettel finally break his July jinx?
By James Galloway, Pete Gill, William Esler & Sky Bet's Jamie Casey. Last Updated: July 4, 2013 10:46pm
Will Pirelli's tyre revisions do the trick?
If the frightening tyre blow-outs seen at last weekend's British GP could never occur at a good time, the fact they happened on a back-to-back race weeks has nonetheless been particularly untimely for Pirelli, especially as the following six weeks feature just a solitary stop on the calendar.
Still, the 2013 F1 schedule is what it is and after three days of dramatic fallout and recriminations the tyre manufacturer has confirmed its plan of attack to avoid a repeat of the Silverstone failures at the Nurburgring. Their emergency remedy, as expected, is the return of Kevlar-belted rear tyres - the solution Pirelli originally intended to race to cure the early-season delamination problems, with the revised structure trialled by drivers in Friday Practice in Montreal and then again last week at Silverstone.
The good news for Pirelli is that the twisty Nurburgring certainly doesn't possess Silverstone's array of high-speed corners and tyre-loading demands so it's arguable the 2013 tyres in their previous specification would have been sufficient, although neither the sport nor its tyre supplier were ever going to take that risk.
The fact that there'll be a second stage to Pirelli's belt-and-braces operation, with the return to last year's rear structures from Hungary, suggests that in an ideal world they'd have those tyres for Germany too if logistics allowed. So while the tyre supplier are confident they'll be no Silverstone repeat, some will not feel completely placated until we see the return of last year's full tried-and-trusted structures.
Are Mercedes now serious title contenders?
And if they weren't already, will they be transformed into a bona fide threat to Red Bull by the changes announced by Pirelli on Tuesday?
Mercedes are very much the emerging force in F1, securing pole position in five of the last six events and claiming victory in two of the last three races. One clear impression easily overlooked in the wake of the attention-grabbing tyre blowouts at Silverstone was the lead Mercedes' superiority over the Red Bulls on race day around a circuit which wasn't expected to suit the W04. Nico Rosberg might have ultimately owed his victory to a gearbox failure on the RB9, but Lewis Hamilton's advantage over Sebastian Vettel before he became the first driver to suffer a tyre failure was the real thing: significant, comfortable, commanding.
"They're a good team, they've got a quick car, they've got good drivers," Red Bull boss Christian Horner reflected. "They're for sure going to be a contender between now and the end of the year."
Coincidence or not, Mercedes' tyre-wear problems have eased since testgate and any disadvantage suffered from their exclusion at the rebranded Young Driver Test will be mitigated by the expected consequences of Pirelli's return to a Kevlar-belted tyre. According to Sky F1 columnist Mark Hughes, the change should have the effect of reducing rear tyre temperatures - very much Mercedes' Achilles Heel - by around ten degrees Celsius.
In a sport of fine margins, that's a substantial change - enough, perhaps, to transform the title race too.
Will Fernando Alonso qualify in the top ten?
The Spanish GP in May saw Ferrari start to slip down the pecking order on single-lap pace and since then Fernando Alonso has found himself swimming against the tide. "The dangerous moment is the way that we seem to perform worse and worse," an angry double World Champion declared after setting only the tenth-fastest Q3 time at Silverstone.
Alonso is known to extract more from the car than team-mate Felipe Massa, but at the start of the season the pair usually qualified within a couple of spots of each other on the second or third row of the grid, suggesting the F138 was the third quickest on outright pace. But since then Ferrari have clearly been on the slide: Alonso's last four grid positions read fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth while Massa has not even made Q3 since Barcelona, although a spate of crashes have not helped the Brazilian's cause.
Excluding the 2012 Italian GP, when his Ferrari had suspension problems, last weekend was Alonso's worst qualifying performance since last year's European GP - and the F2012 was considered a bit of a dog at that point. The 31-year-old admits he has been lucky to salvage strong points finishes from these lowly grid slots, but even he knows he cannot rely on that to stay in the title hunt.
With only a week between races, it is unlikely Ferrari will have been able to bring any major updates to the car, thus if Silverstone is anything to go by, a top-ten spot could be challenge, with Red Bull, Mercedes, Lotus, Force India and even now perhaps Toro Rosso all seemingly quicker over a single lap. However, on what is the one-year anniversary of his last pole position, if one man can pull off a shock result in Germany, you would not bet against the Spaniard.
Is this the weekend for Paul Di Resta?
Paul Di Resta is making a bit of a name for himself in 2013 and it is a testament to both he and Force India that his odds of finishing on the podium are much shorter than, say, 2009 World Champion Jenson Button.
The Scot is 16/1 to claim his first top-three finish in F1 at the German GP (compared to Button's price of 28/1) but Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and to a lesser extent Lotus are once again likely to dominate the top six, let alone the podium.
Having been denied a career-best fifth-place start due to an underweight car in his home grand prix, Di Resta enhanced his credentials by putting the set-back behind him and racing towards a points finish at Silverstone and he's 1/3 on to secure another top-ten finish.
The bookmakers will have some big pay-outs to make if Di Resta can make a mockery of his 16/1 price at the Nurburgring, but the safer money should go on the 27-year-old to claim his second top-six place of the season at Sky Bet's 9/4.
Can Sebastian Vettel end his double July jinx?
There's not much Vettel hasn't achieved in his already glittering career but there are two rather glaring anomalies on his outstanding CV - he has never won his home German GP, and even more bizarrely, never won at any point of July.
Let's tackle that second statistic first. Of the 109 races Vettel has competed in to date, 12 have taken place in July - the month of his birth incidentally. While it would be overly sensational to depict it as being a 'horror' month for the German - he has climbed the podium five times and been in the top-eight on all ten occasions he has finished - the curious facts are that his victory tally stands at zero whereas team-mate Mark Webber's, by pertinent comparison, is at three.
Of course, given Vettel boasts a stunning 30% winning strike rate across the remaining eight months of the season, it's hardly a coincidence, however odd, he's going to be losing much sleep over. However, what you do suspect is a real nagging July annoyance for him is the fact he has yet to triumph at his home grand prix, be that at Hockenheim or the Nurburgring.
This weekend presents the 25-year-old with his sixth attempt to join the ranks of drivers to have won their own event, and given Red Bull's strong performances in Canada and Britain, it's no surprise to see his victory odds are as short as ever. Indeed, given the way his Silverstone panned out, banishing both parts of his double jinx wouldn't be any better timed for his title defence heading towards the summer break.