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German GP: Preview - McLaren

NEWS STORY
13/07/2008

After Silverstone, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team begins preparations for its second 'home' race; next week's Santander German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.

Another historic event, the German Grand Prix has previously been held on four circuits – two iterations of the Nürburgring. (22 races for the Nordschleife, one for the new circuit, in 1985), Hockenheim (30 races) and a singular event, in 1959, at Berlin's Avus circuit. This year will mark the 55th running of the German Grand Prix.

While the Hockenheim circuit was not introduced onto the Formula 1 calendar until 1970, it first existed in recognisable form way back in 1938 and gained its familiar concrete stadium section in 1966. It existed largely unchanged until 2002, when it was dramatically shortened from its mighty 6.8km incarnation to 4.6km by Formula 1 architect Hermann Tilke.

McLaren has won six times, including a victory for McLaren-Mercedes with Mika Hakkinen in 1998. As a manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz first triumphed in Germany back in 1954, when Juan Manuel Fangio won at the old Nürburgring in a W196.

Since last year, organisers elected to alternate the German round of the world championship between the Nürburgring (organised by ADAC in odd-numbered years) and Hockenheim (organised by AvD in even-numbered years). Due to a disagreement over naming rights, this is the first German Grand Prix to take place since 2006; last year's Nürburgring race was called the European Grand Prix.

Does your win at Silverstone take some of the pressure off your shoulders?
Lewis Hamilton: "Pressure always exists because you need to win consistently. In Formula 1, you're only as good as your last race and Silverstone already felt like an old memory by the time I was testing at Hockenheim on Tuesday. Generally, however, a race win briefly takes the load off everyone's shoulders because it allows you to push forward without looking back at the problems you may have faced in the previous race. But you can never get complacent and we'll be pushing hard again in Germany next week."

This is your first time at Hockenheim in a Formula 1 car, what are your initial impressions?
LH: "I was at Hockenheim in 2005 when I won a Formula 3 EuroSeries race and in 2006 with GP2 when I finished second and third. It's actually quite a straightforward circuit to get into, and it helps that our car just feels so awesome at the moment. There's a bit of everything around here and it's quite fun to throw the car into some of the high-speed corners, like Turn One and Turn 12 – the high-speed right-hander into the stadium section."

You are going to the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Farnborough Air Show ahead of the Santander German Grand Prix – how do events like these affect your preparations?
LH: "I'm going to Goodwood on Sunday – it's an event I love because, unlike a grand prix, it lets you get closer to the fans, and I always get a real boost from their enthusiasm and positivity. It's also a place where you can meet other racing drivers in a really relaxed atmosphere – that's not something you experience during a race weekend either. On the Monday I'm going to Farnborough, which should also be pretty cool. But I'm still doing less than I was before Silverstone and I'll have several days to relax before Hockenheim."

Will there be any special promotion activities with Mercedes-Benz for the fans?
LH: "It will be great to be at Hockenheim where I will compete in my first German Grand Prix. I'm looking forward to the support of the Germans and especially the Mercedes fans. I know that many of them will be on the Mercedes grandstand from where they have a great view and there will also be a fantastic entertainment programme behind the grandstand. I will be on stage during the weekend and answer questions about my practice and qualifying. It is always nice to get close to the fans as it gives me additional motivation."

At the start of the season, you talked about needing time to settle in – after your impressive qualifying performance at Silverstone, do you now feel more at ease with the car and team than before?
Heikki Kovalainen: "In some ways, yes. For sure, in the dry at Silverstone I couldn't believe how good the car felt and just how much I could keep pushing it. It felt better than ever. But the race showed I can still do more to improve – both in terms of my driving style and the way the team works with me. I know I have the speed, I just need to work harder to apply it across the whole race weekend."

Does the track suit the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes technical package?
HK: "Our car's real strengths are in high-speed corners and under braking. Hockenheim is more of a technical, medium-speed circuit so I wouldn't expect us to have any particular advantage – but the car does feel very good here. It has a similar downforce level to Magny-Cours, where we weren't really able to show our true potential, so it will be interesting to see where we sit in comparison to our rivals."

The team tried a new dorsal fin engine cover during the test – did it make a difference?
HK: "The new top body engine cover has been designed to improve aero performance, particularly through high-speed corners – and we feel it had an advantage during the Hockenheim test. But it's still too early to say; maybe Hockenheim is not the best place to try this new wing and we need to see if it is affected by crosswinds – it was quite windy at the Hockenheim test, but we didn't seem to be too affected by the wind. It's definitely encouraging for the future."

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