In the week of Ger­many’s fourth World Cup vic­tory, Nico Ros­berg and Mercedes couldn’t be de­nied

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

Nos­tal­gists still rue the con­ver­sion of Hock­en­heim from a clas­sic at-out blast through the for­est to some­thing more in­ti­mate and fid­dly, but there’s no doubt that this is one of Her­mann Tilke’s bet­ter nip-and-tuck jobs. Stand track­side at Turn 2, where once the cars would have been full on the gas, van­ish­ing into the trees en route to the Jim Clark Kurve, and you soon see the cut of Herr Tilke’s jib: the cor­ner snaps back sharply to the right then opens out to the left over a chang­ing cam­ber, tempt­ing driv­ers to over­stretch them­selves. You watch Mar­cus Eric­s­son, ter­rorised by his Cater­ham’s han­dling and fear­ful of er­rors, brake cau­tiously in a straight line and back down all the way through the gears be­fore turn­ing in; then out come the two Mercedes, fast and su­per-com­mit­ted but still twitchy on the way in and, over the kerbs, on the way out.

And yet, if you thought the controversial re­moval of the FRIC sus­pen­sion sys­tems pre-race would have a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on the run­ning or­der, think again. Mercedes were still fastest; Cater­ham still slow­est. Fer­rari were still lock­ing their rear brakes pretty much ev­ery­where, their tor­tured Pirellis squawk­ing. The only team to take a dis­cernible back­wards step rel­a­tive to their im­me­di­ate ri­vals were the long-suf­fer­ing Lo­tus, whose E22 looked pal­pa­bly evil.

“At least you can say we’re con­sis­tent,” smiled Ro­main Gros­jean rue­fully. “We’re out­side the win­dow ev­ery­where…”

As the denizens of Hock­en­heim per­spired un­der blazing skies in tem­per­a­tures above 30°C, this looked to be a race that would be gov­erned by rear-tyre degra­da­tion. Then, overnight, ev­ery­thing changed: Sun­day dawned over­cast and wet – and, though it dried out by lunchtime, the track tem­per­a­ture was around 20 de­grees be­low what it had been at its peak. We were now in front-lim­ited ter­ri­tory and all those teams who had care­fully di­alled in un­der­steer to pro­tect the rear tyres would now be over­work­ing their fronts.

Lewis Hamil­ton had par­tic­u­lar cause to fret, since his front-right brake disc had bro­ken in Q1. Be­sides the im­me­di­ate dam­age to his car – and, with a pit­lane start likely, his prospects – there was his con­fi­dence to con­sider. He’d tried Car­bone In­dus­trie brakes in prac­tice and re­turned to Brembo for qual­i­fy­ing. So the choice was re­vert to CI, the un­favoured choice for this cir­cuit, have a sub-op­ti­mal run, and pos­si­bly bring on a protest from ri­val teams. Or stick with Brembo and risk an­other fail­ure. Mean­while, team-mate Nico Ros­berg was un­trou­bled in P1 with Wil­liams’ Valt­teri Bot­tas along­side.

For Hamil­ton and Mercedes, the path of least re­sis­tance was CI fronts and pre­vi­ousspec Brembo rears, let­ting them start 20th, be­hind ev­ery­one but Eric­s­son and Max Chilton. Lewis, along with Kimi Räikkö­nen and Ro­main

Gros­jean, would start on the soft Pirellis rather than the su­per­softs – coun­ter­in­tu­itive, you might think, but if he could make enough ground in the early laps he would gain free po­si­tions when the su­per­soft run­ners be­gan to pit.

Ros­berg, pre­dictably, roared off into an early lead. Bot­tas suf­fered wheel­spin in fourth gear and was lucky not to get caught up when Felipe Massa and a fast-start­ing Kevin Mag­nussen each laid claim to over­lap­ping ter­ri­tory at Turn 1; the right-rear of the Wil­liams rode over the McLaren’s front-left, tip­ping Massa onto his roll hoop. Out came the Safety Car.

On the restart, Hamil­ton swiftly dis­patched Chilton, Pas­tor Mal­don­ado, Gros­jean, Este­ban Gutiérrez, Adrian Su­til (get­ting an ac­ci­den­tal tap from his old For­mula 3 team-mate as he fol­lowed Ric­cia­rdo through) and Jean-Eric Vergne. Daniil Kvyat spun while at­tempt­ing an op­ti­mistic pass on Ser­gio Pérez, re­mov­ing him­self as an ob­sta­cle. Ten laps in and Lewis was tenth.

Now he was in el­bows-out ter­ri­tory. As Ric­cia­rdo’s su­per­softs gave up abruptly, of­fer­ing him up as prey to Räikkö­nen, Lewis tried to get past both cars at the hair­pin on lap 13, clip­ping the Fer­rari’s front wing but suf­fer­ing no dam­age him­self. Then, ahead, the fron­trun­ners be­gan to pit. By lap 16 Lewis was P2.

He made the softs last ten more laps be­fore tak­ing on an­other set and slot­ting into eighth be­hind Jen­son But­ton. But he then mis­took a slight er­ror from But­ton at the hair­pin – Jen­son had been told to push in ad­vance of his next stop – as an in­vi­ta­tion to come through. The McLaren turned in and re­moved a chunk of front-wing end­plate from the Mercedes.

Lewis sol­diered on un­til it be­came clear that the loss of down­force was over­stress­ing the front tyres, mak­ing a two-stop strat­egy un­ten­able. The team quickly changed tack to a three-stop­per – he’d missed Q2 and Q3, so there were enough new tyres for two short stints on su­per­softs. His nal stop put him in P4 be­hind Fer­nando Alonso, but the Fer­rari’s tyres were also on the wane and the team dithered about re­plac­ing them. As 14th­placed Gutiérrez un­lapped him­self from Alonso and scam­pered away, it was clear that new tyres were over­due – but Fer­nando didn’t have any, hav­ing to make do with used su­per­softs in a nal 12-lap stint that placed him fth at the nish.

With Alonso out of the way, Bot­tas was the only ob­sta­cle to a Mercedes one-two, but Bot­tas pre­vailed over a tense nal few laps. The dif­fer­ence be­tween sec­ond and third is but three points – but will Lewis come to rue leav­ing those three points on the ta­ble come Abu Dhabi and the widely re­viled dou­ble-points rule? We may yet come to say that a de­ci­sive mo­ment in the 2014 cham­pi­onship was a slight mis­judge­ment, mid-race at the mid-point of the sea­son.

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