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Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen will be the drivers to watch at the 2018 Formula One German Grand Prix on Sunday.
The latter won the second free practice session by setting a track record at Hockenheim on Friday. Red Bull Racing also had a winner in FP1, courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo, who will start from the back of the grid after incurring penalties for “using too many engine parts,” per BBC Sport’s Andrew Benson.
It means Ricciardo has little chance of altering the picture atop the Drivers standings. Hamilton can, though, despite being eight points adrift of Vettel.
Hamilton has won just once in his last three races, winning in France before not finishing in Austria, then coming second as Vettel regained momentum at Silverstone.
Date: Sunday, July 22
Start Time: 2:10 p.m. BST/9:10 a.m. ET
TV Info: Sky Sports F1, ESPN2
Live Stream: Sky Go, WatchESPN
Vettel is the driver to beat, and he’s armed with a car capable of comfortably negotiating a demanding course. Ferrari’s engine power was obvious during practice sessions, when Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen generally proved quickest on long runs, according to Benson.
Long runs are a factor at Hockenheim, with F1 writer Luke Murphy of JAonF1.com making note of the “mixture of long straights and low and high-speed corners.”
Vettel knows what it takes to react to the sudden changes on a circuit, but the same is true of Hamilton, who won here in 2016, the last time this race appeared on the F1 calendar.
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Hamilton has a lot to overcome this year, notably the crash with Raikkonen which left him with too much to overcome at Silverstone. It means Hamilton’s once 14-point lead in the standings has quickly unravelled.
Having attempted to keep pace during the practice runs, Hamilton couldn’t finish ahead of Ricciardo or Verstappen. However, don’t bet against the 33-year-old regaining his best once the race proper starts.
Both Hamilton and Vettel have to be increasingly aware of Verstappen’s potential as a future champion in waiting. The 20-year-old already displayed his talent by beating the rest in Austria, before establishing a track record on Hockenheimring:
🔝 It’s a good day for @redbullracing! @Max33Verstappen tops FP2 for the #GermanGP 🇩🇪 https://t.co/7xKRUmVewS
Verstappen impressed, but it’s too soon to take a win for Red Bull on Sunday for granted, particularly when he wasn’t the only one to make quick work of the circuit:
Channel 4 F1® @C4F1
🏁 Max Verstappen made it a practice double for Red Bull at Hockenheim as he set a new track record before having a car issue investigated 🏁
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas also beat Michael Schumacher’s previous leading time of 1:13.306 from 2004 ⏱️
#C4F1 🇩🇪 #GermanGP https://t.co/BOH5avrE3R
The closely contested nature of the practice sessions was also summed up by how the three main teams attacked the sectors:
Formula 1 @F1
Fastest sectors evenly split for Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull 👀
Who’ll make it count? find out on Saturday…
#GermanGP 🇩🇪 #F1 https://t.co/Ds7ICNHF81
It all points to Red Bull being smart to expect a tougher time of things once the race proper gets underway. Things are too close to call, but this race can offer a solid marker for how the championship may play out.
The standings are finally poised, with the opportunity available for one driver and one team to pull away.