Motorsport has a number of sayings that make sense once time is taken to think about them. One of those is “Rain is the great equaliser” and so it was for the German F1 GP. After days of tire torturing heat, the rains came for much of Europe and that included the Hockenheimring. Sunday’s mid afternoon start had the town and circuit fairly wet, and the race director had called for a formation start behind the safety car, with all cars on wet tires.
The following 64 race laps would see a possibly not unexpected winner, but certainly would see drivers inside the top ten not yet seen this year, and a podium taker for the first time. The race start itself was controversial as the race director had the cars out for more than one lap, meaning that their 105 litres of fuel allowance was being nibbled at, and the airwaves were hot with calls from drivers to get the race started. The call was eventually made to go for a standing, not rolling, start, and as the rain cleared for the moment, so it became.
Although the spray was meters high, Vettel, starting from the rear of the grid, carved his way through in the first lap to find six places. Carlos Sainz was forced wide three times due to other drivers needing safe space, and championship leader Hamilton skipped away for a lead of over two seconds at the end of the second lap. But it took just three laps before someone spun and it was the hapless Sergio Perez from Racing Point, and that brought out the safety car to recover the broken Racing Point entry. Perez was unlucky as the rear of his car broke away under the gentlest of throttle applications exiting a turn, and it was race over.
A flurry of tire swaps ensued, a frantic pit lane saw cars lined up like a taxi queue, and “double stacked” cars as drivers were forced to wait for their team mate to move along. Charles Leclerc was released from the Ferrari pit, and right into the path of the Haas of Romain Grosjean. On track, Vettel still battling in the wet, almost lost a front left as Robert Kubica came within millimetres of contact into a right hand corner. This fired up Vettel and he’d pass three drivers in quick succession. Kevin Magnussen wasn’t called in and would be as high as second momentarily. Lance Stroll would also decline fresh rubber and would be 5th for a time.
Restart and Hulkenberg was looking to get some moves happening on Leclerc who was looking more and more comfortable in the slowly drying conditions. Pierre Gasly wasn’t and things became more miserable as the garage called to advise him to go gentle on the wet tires as more rain was expected.
Great work from the officials to clear Perez with barely two laps under yellow flags, and for some the decision to pit for intermediate tires would work, for others it didn’t. What didn’t work on lap 13 was Daniel Ricciardo’s engine. Yet again the reliability issues that the Australian has dealt with in his swap to Renault have dealt his 2019 season a serious blow, however there was a form of silver lining as it was an old race engine, allowing a legal engine swap for the upcoming Hungary race. It would be here that Magnussen would swap the rubber. Bottas was holding down second behind Hamilton, with Verstappen in third ahead of Leclerc and Kimi Raikkonen. Vettel was up in 7th. McLaren’s Sainz would find the limits of adhesion, with his car performing a graceful 360 degree spin, with Sainz holding the car off the wall and out of the gravel.
Lap 25 and Briton Lando Norris would retire. His power system had failed and the virtual safety car was called. Verstappen’s tire swap had his car spin and again would miss the wall. More tire swaps and Leclerc went for the grippier soft rubber, putting him into a potential challenging for the win position. A lap later and the grip disappeared with Leclerc heading straight into the barriers heading towards pit lane, ending his day. More pit stops, more pit lane madness, and Hamilton would have the first of numerous incidents that would see the Mercedes driver end up down the ladder at race end. Hamilton had also hit the barriers, breaking the nose of the cars, and in a hurry to get to the pit lane had missed a bollard denoting where the drivers should enter which resulted in a five second penalty being applied. This would put Bottas to the lead and Verstappen to 2nd. Alexander Albon would find himself in 3rd! Bottas would be called into another swap and he’d go for intermediate wets.
24 laps left in a very messy race, Kimi Raikkon had gone off and his wet weather skill brought his Alfa Romeo safely back in. Then the track bit again with German born Nico Hulkenberg also hitting the wall at the same place as Hamilton and Leclerc, and this brought out the safety car yet again. Hamilton pitted, taking a five second penalty thanks to his missing the entry bollard. Vettel pitted for intermediate wets, as did Verstappen. The track was drying and the forecast was uncertain for any more rain. Stroll was brought in and put on softs. This would prove to be fortuitous for the Racing Point driver, with a top ten finish looking likely. What’s more, the Canadian would be leading the race, meaning a Canadian would be leading a F1 race for the first time since the days of Jacques Villeneuve.
Verstappen would very quickly put Stroll in his place to take the lead, with Stroll’s mirrors full of Kvyat, Bottas, and Sainz. The track would see a dry line form as the wet tires pumped away water, and speed would increase. Hamilton had called in to say his rubber was going off and he would come in for another swap. Laps would tick by and the Canadian Stroll fought valiantly to keep the quicker Bottas at bay. The pressure was enough and both Hamilton and Bottas cracked. Hamilton spun and kept going but Bottas hit the barriers on lap 65, losing the battle and any chance of a finish.
With just a few laps to go Pierre Gasly, looking for a podium, made connection with Alex Albon and broke the front wing, and subsequently had a puncture to retire in sight of the flag. Vettel had come from the rear of the field, setting the fastest lap of the race, with Daniel Kvyat also getting a fastest lap earlier, much to his surprise. Finally it was the checkered flag and Verstappen had hung on for the win, 7.3 seconds ahead of a brilliant drive from Vettel. Kvyat had also hung on and found himself in 3rd, scoring fifteen points for himself and points for Toro Rosso. The decision to put Stroll on slicks as the track dried saw him into 4th, Sainz had much of his opportunities for 5th, with Toro Rosso getting extra points with Albon in 6th.
Raikkonen’s resurgence continued with a 7th, whilst Grosjean and Magnussen would again touch during a race, yet both would eventually finish 7th and 8th as a post race penalty would be applied to the cars of Raikkonen and Giovinnazi for a technical breach. This would be for clutch settings in the transmission off the start. Hamilton physically finished outside the top ten but would come back to 9th as a result of those penalties. Finally, too, a point for Williams, with Kubica’s quiet and untroubled style seeing him in 10th just ahead of George Russel in 11th, and missing the top ten by barely two seconds. Raikkonen and Giovinazzi would be confirmed as 12th and 13th.
“It has been one of my most difficult races and it is great to come out on top, the team made all the right calls. They were giving me the right information and keeping an eye on all the other teams and sector times. They were really on top of things and everyone worked so well together.” said an absolutely delighted Verstappen after the race. Hamilton rued the finish with:” ….but that’s very painful and I’m just glad it’s over. It’s hard to perform when you’re not at 100 per cent. ”
With a Toro Rosso on the podium for the first time in 11 years, Kvyat’s delight also shone through:”“It’s incredible to be back on the podium in what could be called my ‘second career’. I thought it would never happen again in my life, so I’m so incredibly happy. There’s so many emotions I still need some time to let it all sink in! ” It’s another quick turnaround for the F1 family as they head to Hungary and the Hungoraring at Budapest for this coming weekend, August 2 to 4.