German GP Preview: Can Red Bull spoil Mercedes' party at Hockenheim?

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Glorious Hockenheim awaits as Formula 1 reaches the midway point in the 2019 season at the German Grand Prix this weekend.

Halfway through Lap 33 will officially signify that moment and once again, Mercedes start as favourites to score what would be their 10th win in 11 races this year.

But Hockenheim represents much more than just a home race for the German brand...

Mercedes is the official sponsor for a Grand Prix which features on the calendar in consecutive years for the first time since 2014.

And Mercedes is also taking the opportunity to commemorate 125 years of motorsport with a special one-off livery for the race.

At the start of the week though, a few nervous eyes would have seen weather predictions for the heatwave currently baking Europe to continue into the weekend in Germany, bringing back memories of Austria.

But now that has changed and instead, the stormy aftermath from record-breaking temperatures could cause a whole different challenge at Hockenheim.

As for the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, the dynamic has been interesting with the Finn able to match the world champion in qualifying before struggling to keep pace in the race.

A response does need to come soon from Valtteri if he wants to push Hamilton for the rest of the season however, and that must come in the form of victory in at least one of the two races before the summer break.

Another big question at the start of the weekend is who will be the team to step up and challenge the might of the Silver Arrows?

Ferrari and Red Bull went at it hammer and tongs at Silverstone two weeks ago, with the consensus being that the RB15 is now ahead of the SF90 in race pace at least.

And with today's Hockenheim much more technical than the 4.25-mile monster it used to be, that could offer a chance for Max Verstappen to qualify ahead of the Scuderia, particularly if it did rain.

There will also be a lot of attention on the Dutchman's teammate Pierre Gasly, who enjoyed his best race at Red Bull in Britain as he matched his best F1 result of fourth.

Now he has shown capable of such a performance, the expectation and focus will be on producing that consistently.

At Ferrari, all eyes will be on one man, Sebastian Vettel. The native from nearby Heppenheim has struggled to capture the nation as Michael Schumacher did during his career.

In fact, so little of a draw is the four-time world champion that German GP organisers have Mick Schumacher doing a demonstration in his father's 2004 Ferrari to attract interest.

Vettel heads to Hockenheim with demons to put to rest too, after crashing out while leading in damp conditions last year.

For many, that was the turning point in his season and has only (officially) won once more since at Spa... we'll gloss over Canada.

That moment also appeared to trigger the tendency for mistakes, including that at Silverstone which saw him slam into the back of Verstappen, knocking both off the track.

With more rain predicted, it will be an interesting test of Vettel's character if a repeat scenario from 2018 occurs, but could provide a boost in confidence if he emerged with a strong result.

To do that he'll have to stop the momentum of his teammate Charles Leclerc, who has scored podiums in his past four races.

There is already talk of the Monegasque establishing himself as the lead driver at Ferrari, regardless of any priorities, and it is upto Vettel to prove he is still the man who rules at Maranello.

If one trait is consistent with Hockenheim regardless of the layout it is great racing, with the long Parabolika to the Turn 6 hairpin one of the best overtaking spots on the calendar.

And this means the thrilling midfield battle could be even more intense this weekend.

McLaren has established themselves as the fourth-best team in recent races and there's little reason to doubt that will change.

Renault will also continue as their main threat, particularly through Daniel Ricciardo, but an unknown quantity is Racing Point, who brings the first of two major upgrades over the next two races which will result in a B-spec car.

If the gains are substantial, that could have a major impact on the pecking order, spicing up an already intense battle for fourth in the Constructors' Championship even more. 

Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso are also very much in the fight for the final points places, with Kimi Raikkonen in the top 10 in the past three races, and if the weather does play a part, literally any result in the midfield is possible.

Rain is probably the only thing that could help Haas' chances, as the American team struggles for pace.

In qualifying, the car remains competitive and both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are desperate for a strong result after the disaster in Britain.

Finally, Williams is expected to bring more updates to their beleaguered car in a hope of closing the gap to the midfield.

And with lap times traditionally very close on what was only a 1m11s lap for pole last year, that might offer a chance to be a little more competitive.

Another exciting weekend lies in store at Hockenheim and, after the action of Silverstone, I'm pretty sure it won't disappoint!

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