Force to be reckoned with
Force India drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez are worth supporting in this weekend's German Grand Prix.
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Just as F1's competitive order appeared to have settled down into something bordering on predictability, along comes the sport's governing body to give things a subtle shake-up.
The latest acronym to have doubts cast upon its legality is FRICS, the front and rear interconnected suspension system, which is a mechanism designed to improve a car's ride stability.
- 0.5pt Nico Hulkenberg to finish on the podium at 18/1 (Ladbrokes) - may suddenly find his rivals have regressed
- 0.5pt Sergio Perez to finish on the podium at 25/1 (William Hill, Betfred, BetVictor) - repeat of Bahrain tyre-saving trick might put him in contention
- 2pts Hulkenberg to finish in the top six at 7/4 (BetVictor, Ladbrokes) - bet has landed six times in nine races, showing his consistency
- 2pts Perez to finish in the top six at 4/1 (BetVictor) - simply too long given tyre compounds to be used this weekend
The FIA's technical delegate informed the teams last week that the extreme nature of the some of the designs could be argued to contravene the rules prohibiting moveable aerodynamic devices, thus rendering them liable to a protest during a race weekend, so all the teams are likely to remove their designs at least for the three days of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
Needless to say the timing of the declaration has proved controversial, with conspiracy theorists suggesting the powers-that-be are looking for a way to clip the wings of the Mercedes team, which has won nine of the 10 races run so far this year.
Previous mid-season rulings have changed the course of the championship, notably the ordering of Michelin to change the construction of its tyres in 2003, which handed a decisive advantage to the Bridgestone-shod Ferrari team, and the prohibition of the Renault-pioneered mass-damper technology in 2006, which again enabled Ferrari to fight back in the title race.
The paddock consensus appears to be that Red Bull and Ferrari are the teams which urged the FIA to look more closely into the technology and therefore have the most to gain from its outlawing, but the smoke and mirrors in F1 are such that it is not always wise to jump to conclusions.
In any case, both those big-budget teams also employ the hydraulic technology at the centre of the controversy and could also suffer from its removal, albeit perhaps to a lesser extent than Mercedes.
And the Williams team, which now seems to be best of the rest behind the silver cars, is also thought to credit its recent revival to the gains made from its FRICS system and its ability to keep tyre wear balanced and degradation in check.
The one outfit which seems most likely to benefit from the change is Force India, who are thought not to have fully incorporated the trick suspension system on their cars, or at least not to have gained a significant advantage from its implementation.
Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez have plugged away admirably in the VJM07, occasionally transcending the car but racking up more points between them (91) than the better-funded McLaren team, with whom they share a customer engine supply from Mercedes.
If, and of course we're only speculating, Force India do gain an advantage from their rivals being compromised, there could be some value on some of the bigger prices on Hulkenberg and Perez excelling.
Ladbrokes offer 18/1 on the German taking a maiden podium finish in his home race, while Perez is listed at 25/1 in three places to repeat his rostrum appearance in Bahrain.
The key for Perez in that race was his ability to keep the tyres in shape for far longer than his rivals, and that knack could be a key to his performance at Hockenheim this Sunday - the super-soft and soft tyres are the least durable compounds within Pirelli's range and many of the frontrunners could struggle, particularly without the assistance of FRICS in spreading the loads evenly.
The pair are also listed at 7/4 and 4/1 respectively to take a top-six finish, something which Hulkenberg has managed in two-thirds of the nine races so far, and which Perez has managed twice, most recently in Austria last month.
Even if we're off the mark with our theory about the team benefitting from the rule change, its drivers should benefit from the switch back to higher-degradation rubber for this circuit.
- Friday's free practice sessions take place at 0900 and 1300; Saturday's at 1000. Qualifying is at 1300 on Saturday with the race scheduled for the same time on Sunday (all times BST).