Round five of the Championship, the European Grand Prix, takes place this weekend at Germany’s Nürburgring. The race is the first home event of the season for Mercedes-Benz, followed by the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in July.
In the two weeks since the San Marino Grand Prix, Team McLaren Mercedes has completed a productive test session at Silverstone, covering over 1,680km in preparation for Sunday’s race, with Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett in attendance.
The European Grand Prix was first held at the Brands Hatch circuit in the UK, in 1983. In the 14 races since then, the event has travelled to Donington in the UK and Jerez before settling at the Nürburgring. The first race at the German track took place in 1984 and was won by Alain Prost in his McLaren TAG Turbo.
Set in countryside some 80 kms south-west of Cologne, the Nürburgring stands in the shadow of the epic Nordschleife, which was built in 1927. The legendary 22 km drive through the Eifel mountains was used as a test track for the German automotive industry in addition to being a race circuit, regularly staging the German Grand Prix. The inaugural race on the track was won by Rudolf Caracciola in the Mercedes S.
The Nürburgring was also the birth place of the Silver Arrows, when in June 1934 Manfred von Brauchitsch won the Eifel race in a Mercedes W25. In order to meet the weight limit of 750kg, the car’s white paint work had to be stripped the night before the race exposing its silver aluminium body.
However safety concerns saw the German Grand Prix transferred to Hockenheim in 1977.
In 1984 the revised track returned to the calendar, in the form of a modern Grand Prix venue, and has held the European Grand Prix on nine occasions. Further revisions to the track since then have included the addition of a 583 metre section called the Mercedes Arena prior to the 2002 race.
In every year since 1995 Mercedes-Benz has presented a special programme to entertain the visitors of the Mercedes-Benz grandstand between the practice and qualifying sessions. This creates additional value at no extra cost to the spectators. In the safe driving centre next to the grandstand the visitors can experience driving lessons onboard with a professional driving instructor. The display areas behind the grandstand and the vending area next to the paddock entrance are meeting points for the fans of all teams. Live music will be performed, several contests with exclusive prizes will be held. Interview and autograph sessions, which will be announced well in advance, will be held with the Team McLaren Mercedes Formula One drivers, Mercedes-Benz DTM drivers and members of the Team McLaren Mercedes team management.
“Although it is not like some of the wider tracks such as Bahrain and Turkey, there are a couple of genuine chances to overtake at the Nürburgring, such as the chicane, the first corner with its wide entrance and also as you go into to the Mercedes Arena. At Imola it was impossible to pass even if you had the pace, so hopefully we will be able to make the most of our strategy for the qualifying and race and get a good result here. Although the nature of the track means you can build up a good rhythm, there are some odd cambers and bumps that you have to watch out for. Also, as with San Marino, Nürburgring is another track where you really use the kerbs pretty aggressively, to make sure you get a fast lap time. Following my exit on the final lap at the Nürburgring last year as a result of a flat spotted tyre, I am hoping to have a less dramatic race this year; however this track seems to always see exciting and close racing.”
Juan Pablo Montoya
“It was good to get on the podium at Imola and get some points. The strategy worked well and hopefully we can build on that and continue to move forward in Europe. The Nürburgring is a fairly mixed track, with some straights, hairpins, different types of corners, however I would say it is dominated by slow corners. As a result, we will run with a medium-high downforce here and traction and grip are more important than at a super fast track such as Canada. It does tend to be quite grippy here as it is pretty smooth, but there is a lot of understeer and this is always a focus of the free practice sessions to minimise this. We have been testing at Silverstone for three days following San Marino, it was an interesting test and we had some good running with new components for this race. As this is a home race for Mercedes-Benz, I hope we can put on a good show for the home fans.”
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren Mercedes CEO
“We had a positive week at the Silverstone test, completing the proving process on developments to the chassis and engine, and it will be interesting to see how they translate to the race track. The character of the Nürburgring lends itself to closely fought racing, with the opportunities to overtake, and with the competitiveness we have seen so far this season across a number of teams, it should be another hard fought race. As always, our primary target at Team McLaren Mercedes is to take the victory, and we are pushing forward with our development programme strongly as we need to make a performance step to arrive at the European Grand Prix with the pace to challenge for the win. The track does not see an over-dependence on a particular element of the car, be it the chassis, engine or tyres, and as a result will provide an opportunity to maximise performance of the package as a whole. The weather at the Nürburgring is notoriously unpredictable and could be a factor for the outcome of the race.”
Norbert Haug, Mercedes VP
“The Nürburgring is the birth place of the Silver Arrow, which will celebrate its 72nd anniversary during this year’s Grand Prix. In our first home race in 2006 the strain on all team members who work outside of the pits will be bigger than previously at Imola for example, however we all look forward to these efforts. After Imola we tested intensively at Silverstone and covered a total of 1,689 kilometres. The Nürburgring’s layout is a good mixture of very fast, medium fast and slow corners. Right in front of the Mercedes grandstand the lap starts with a dramatic hairpin leading into the Mercedes Arena, which is particularly interesting because this twisty part of the track allows different racing lines. We have always been fast at the ‘Ring and last year we held the lead until the last lap, when Kimi’s suspension broke due to vibrations he encountered since the halfway point of the race because of a flat-spotted tyre. To hold the same position through to the finish line would be the greatest reward for everybody in the team who had continuously worked hard since we began testing on 23rd January.”