HOCHHEIM AM MAIN, Germany (AFP) – Less than two weeks after an acrimonious aftermath to the British Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton will this weekend bid to wreck Sebastian Vettel’s homecoming at Hockenheim just as the German ruined his own carnival at Silverstone.
As the Formula One world championship heads to its half-way mark and a simmering rivalry shows hints of boiling over, championship leader Vettel has a chance to land another telling blow for Ferrari as Hamilton’s Mercedes team, also on home soil, seek to recover their consistency.
Vettel leads Hamilton by eight points after his British triumph and would dearly love another success, in front of his family, friends and fans, to ensure he heads into the European summer break with a clear advantage.
That would give satisfaction, too, to Ferrari team chief Maurizio Arrivabene who, after the British race, declared that Mercedes should have been ashamed of remarks made about Ferrari.
Mercedes technical director James Allison was quoted as suggesting that opening lap accidents in France and Britain, that had seen Ferrari cars collide with Mercedes, could be explained only as “deliberate or incompetent.”
Little more was said once the dust had settled and defending four-time champion Hamilton had described his own outburst, after Kimi Raikkonen had crashed into him, as “dumb”.
But that brief war of words signalled tensions between the two teams and their drivers as they fight for points and the initiative in this year’s yo-yo title race.
While Vettel, who was born in nearby Heppenheim, has never won at Hockenheim and only once in Germany -– at the Nurburgring -– while Hamilton won at the Baden-Wurttemberg circuit in 2016 and is seeking his fourth German triumph overall.
Following some unexpectedly off-key performances in recent races, Mercedes badly need to bounce back.
“Going to Hockenheim always feels like coming home,” said team chief Toto Wolff.
“It’s only about a 90-minutes drive from out Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart.
“We will fight hard to not only put on a good show for our friends and fans in Hockenheim, but also get the result that they will be hoping for.”
Wolff was a downcast figure at Silverstone after Ferrari romped to victory, but has since reviewed Mercedes’ overall showing in the unprecedented triple header of races in France, Austria and Britain.
“We didn’t score as many points in the triple-header as we had hoped,” he said.
“A lot of that was down to our own mistakes. However, there is a silver lining to this.
“While we didn’t maximise on points, we did bring the quickest car to all three races.”
He added that Mercedes had had a “decent first half” as they head into the 11th race on the 21-race calendar, but had “left points on the table and had to do damage limitation more often than we wanted.”
As Wolff rallied his team, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo suggested that they no longer enjoyed the supremacy of previous seasons and were looking vulnerable.
“They are not as dominant as they have been the last few years,” said the Red Bull driver.
“That was inevitably going to start to mellow out at some point. I still think they are the overall toughest package to beat on the grid, but for sure they’ve shown some signs of weaknesses in some areas.
“Compared to how they’ve been, they look vulnerable, but in the big scheme of things they are a strong team and difficult to beat.”
The Australian and his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen may emerge as challengers on the modern Hockenheim ring – no longer the high-speed power track following an overhaul in 2002.
But it is expected that Vettel, back at the circuit where he saw his first F1 race as a boy, will be scrapping with Hamilton as the two four-time champions lock horns again.