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Vettel still searching for elusive home win

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany reacts after the qualifying session of the Belgian F1 Grand Prix in Spa Francorchamp
Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany reacts after the qualifying session of the Belgian F1 Grand Prix in Spa Francorchamp

By Mark Meadows

NUERBURGRING, Germany (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel has never won his home German Grand Prix or a race in July, so this week's trip to the Nuerburgring was set to be challenging for the world champion even before last weekend's tire debacle.

The exploding Pirellis from the British Grand Prix have Formula One drivers on edge but talk of a boycott in Germany has been played down with the Italian firm saying rear tires will be made stronger in the short turnaround from Silverstone.

While five drivers including pole sitter Lewis Hamilton suffered blowouts last Sunday, championship leader Vettel's retirement was due to a gearbox problem in the usually reliable Red Bull.

Adding to the pressure at the Nuerburgring for the 26-year-old, celebrating his birthday on Wednesday, is Mercedes' strong performance at Silverstone with Nico Rosberg taking victory and eager to impress again on his and his team's home race.

Despite the odds seemingly being against him, Vettel is excited to be returning home.

"I've always had a lot of fun on this track. In 2009, I made it to the podium for the first time (at the Nuerburgring) in Formula 1 and it was a fantastic experience thanks to the German fans," he said in a statement as he discussed never winning in Germany.

"I don't pay much attention to figures and statistics. It may be nice to look at statistics sometimes, but they only show what has happened in the past, not what is still to come."

Vettel, champion the last three years, leads in the driver standings on 132 points from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso on 111 and Kimi Raikkonen on 98 in the Lotus.

Mercedes have moved up to second in the constructors' championship, 48 points behind Red Bull after eight of 19 races.

The last race at the Nuerburgring, which alternates with Hockenheim, was in 2011 when Hamilton took the checkered flag and Vettel came fourth.

TOO DANGEROUS

The German can at least take solace from the fact Red Bull team mate Mark Webber sealed pole at the track two years ago.

Australian Webber will be racing in his final German Grand Prix before quitting F1 at the end of the season and he nearly never had the chance to race the Nuerburgring again with the track in serious financial difficulty.

The race was almost handed to Hockenheim before F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone stepped in to make sure the it would take place.

Drivers thought last Sunday's British Grand Prix was too dangerous with bits of exploding tires narrowly missing their heads, reminding everyone of when Felipe Massa suffered life-threatening injuries when he was struck by debris in 2009.

In 2005, 14 drivers did not start the U.S. Grand Prix after problems with their Michelin tires.

Ecclestone does not expect the same to happen in Germany, with curbs at Silverstone and the teams' management of the tires possibly contributing to the blowouts even if the Pirellis have been controversial all season due to quick degradation.

Pirelli risked angering drivers further by saying on Tuesday that the teams had mounted rear tires the wrong way around and run them with low pressures.

"I don't think (a boycott) will happen. I don't think it's something we need to address," Ecclestone said.

The 82-year-old said he would be at the Nuerburgring despite the possible threat of arrest because of allegations he bribed a German banker during the 2005-2006 sale of a stake in Formula One.

Ecclestone denies wrongdoing and Munich prosecutors have not yet indicated if they intended to charge him.

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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