It’s safe to say that I would have preferred to sit here and write a completely different report of today’s Grand Prix, after the brilliant results of Sebastian Vettel in yesterday’s qualifying. However, the rain-soaked Hockenheim delivered a very interesting race, with lots of overtaking and overall great chances for entertainment.
Lewis Hamilton was on the hunt for Sebastian’s spot at the top of the Drivers’ Standing, but yesterday it seemed very far from his reach, having ended Q2 in P14 for an hydraulic failure. However, tables turned massively, as we’re about to see.
The first few laps
The first four drivers on the grid all keep their position in Lap 1: Verstappen tries to get ahead of Kimi Räikkönen to no avail, and Bottas has no chance of getting past Vettel. Hamilton immediately starts his overtaking spree, reaching P11 after getting past Alonso at Lap 3. At the very beginning of the race, Räikkönen sees some raindrops on his helmet, but nothing more seems to develop. Sebastian shows an incredible pace from the start, being at +2.3s from Bottas in just a few laps. The intervals in the front seem to be astronomical: Bottas’s Mercedes and Verstappen’s Red Bull are not able to keep up with the Prancing Horses, losing seconds lap after lap, and in just 7 laps Magnussen (P5) is 15 seconds behind Verstappen, effectively creating a massive distance between the head of the formation and everybody else.
In the meantime, Ricciardo does his best with mediums and overtakes Ericsson in Lap 10 to get to p14. Clouds are getting darker, and the Aussie is struggling with his top speed to get past Alonso and Leclerc, while these two are battling between each other as we’ve grown accustomed to see during the course of this season.
Starts to rain
Räikkönen is the first one to pit at lap 15, sporting Softs as he gets out in P4, marking the first of many lap records under the 1:18 benchmark. Grosjean, Sainz, Hartley and Stroll are close to an accident in the turn 6 hairpin, which is thankfully averted. While the pit carousel going on from lap 23 is still happening, the other German driving today, Nico Hulkenberg, does an amazing double overtake, getting past Ericsson and Ocon in one turn.
Despite heavy chances of rain, Ferrari takes the bold approach on tyre strategy and pits Vettel at lap 26, getting him back on track back in P4, 1.4 s behind Kimi. Just a few laps later, the long and complicated fightback of Daniel Ricciardo is ended abruptly, having him retired for an undetermined power loss. With fresher tyres right after his pit stop, Valtteri Bottas breaks the 1.17 wall with a 1.16.956 lap. Heavy blistering can be seen on Lewis’s rear left tyre, as he is the last one waiting for rain to pit.
The casual team-fights
During this GP we’ve also witnessed a good old team fight between Sebastian and Kimi, with the latter eventually giving up the position after being informed that the two are on different strategies. Rain comes right after Hamilton’s first (and very late) pit stop, sending paddocks into a frenzy for wet or intermediate tyres.This strategy doesn’t seem to pay back, with drivers such as Gasly, Alonso, Verstappen, Leclerc losing some precious seconds and eventually switching back to dry tyres after less than two laps. Despite wet tyres being way too much for what seemed like a slight drizzle, many cars start to spin around, including Leclerc, Perez and Sirotkin, who evetually retires (followed by Stroll: another double DNF for Williams). These unstable conditions cause Grosjean to momentarily push Räikkönen out of the track and, most importantly, Vettel to hit the barriers and prematurely ending his race, in tears.
Hamilton is the fastest on track and gains lead after a not-so-clean manouver, almost entering pit lane, having the paddock change their mind and cutting the grass to go back on track. Safety car is then deployed, and when the driving pace goes back to normal Bottas goes wheel to wheel with his team mate, before being stopped by the team with a very clear message asking him to hold his position. The chequered flag waves at an unexpected Hamilton’s win and at an overall action-packed weekend.