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BBC Sport's fuel-adjusted German GP grid

F1 Mole | 18:07 UK time, Saturday, 11 July 2009

Mark Webber looks in an incredibly strong position to take his maiden Formula 1 victory in Sunday's German Grand Prix.

Not only did the Australian set pole position - but he was also comfortably fastest when the weight of fuel in the cars is taken into account.

The top 10 drivers in qualifying are not allowed to refuel before the race, so their grid positions are influenced by how much fuel they choose to put in their cars, and therefore when they will make their first pit stops in the race.

So the fuel-adjusted grid for the Nurburgring this weekend, with predicted first pit stop laps, looks like this:

webber595.jpg


1 Mark Webber (lap 20)
2 Sebastian Vettel +0.250secs (lap 19)
3 Lewis Hamilton +0.614 (lap 18)
4 Rubens Barrichello +0.617 (lap 14)
5 Jenson Button +0.838 (lap 13)
6 Adrian Sutil +1.474 (lap 28)
7 Heikki Kovalainen +1.524 (lap 21)
8 Felipe Massa +1.906 (lap 25)
9 Kimi Raikkonen +2.025 (lap 26)
10 Nelson Piquet +2.048 (lap 26)

That list throws up some interesting observations.

Leaving the Red Bulls aside for a moment, perhaps the most striking thing is the vastly improved pace of Lewis Hamilton's McLaren. Fifth place was already impressive enough in itself, but it turns out that the world champion is actually a de facto third fastest.

That is a quite incredible leap forward from where McLaren were at Silverstone, and it backs up McLaren's claim that the new front wing, diffuser and top bodywork they have brought here amounts to about 0.75 seconds in lap-time gain.

Hamilton is still more than 0.6secs slower than the two Red Bulls, but to be faster than the Brawns on merit is a momentous achievement, even taking into account the problems the white cars are having getting their front tyres up to operating temperatures in the cool weather.

The Brawns are clearly in trouble for a second race in succession - Button is more than 0.8secs slower than Webber on fuel-adjusted time and is probably stopping seven laps before the Australian.

The two Red Bulls actually have exactly the same weight of fuel on board. That means the team have been true to their word to allow their drivers to continue battling it out on an equal footing.

They have effectively said to the drivers - go out and see who is fastest and we will work out the strategy from there. Usually, the guy in front as the first stops approaches gets the best strategy. All things being equal, that should be Webber. He will just have to make sure he does not make a mess of his start.

Vettel will want to try to beat his team-mate, of course, but starting where he is in fourth on the grid he has much bigger immediate worries - particularly how to stop the McLarens from getting ahead of him at the start.

Both Hamilton and Kovalainen have the Kers power-boost and energy storage system on their cars, and here at the Nurburgring that is reckoned to be worth as much as 20 metres between the start and the first corner.

Given that there are seven metres between the grid positions, that equates to nearly three grid positions. If the start is wet - as is predicted - Kers will be less of an advantage. But even so there is a very real possibility that Vettel could find himself behind at least one McLaren by the first corner.

If that happens and he is stuck behind them for a significant portion of the race, the German's chances of beating Webber are virtually non-existent.

This is exactly what stopped Vettel challenging Button for victory in Bahrain back in April, so he will be acutely aware of the risk. As Bahrain proved, though, being aware of it is one thing, doing something about it quite another.

In his eighth year in F1, then, the stage seems set for Webber finally to score what would be an immensely popular first win.

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