LEWIS HAMIL­TON WALKS ON WA­TER

Hamil­ton re­gains cham­pi­onship lead af­ter stun­ning drive to vic­tory and an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic Vet­tel er­ror

F1 Racing (UK) - - RACE DEBRIEF -

Was it di­vine in­ter­ven­tion or just the most sub­lime drive of a wet-weather mas­ter? Lewis praised his God for help­ing him win an ac­tion-packed Ger­man Grand Prix from 14th place and what­ever your view of his spir­i­tu­al­ity, there was no doubt­ing this was one of his great­est drives.

QUAL­I­FY­ING

It wasn’t the py­rotech­nic erup­tion that would greet a Michael Schu­macher-steered Fer­rari en­ter­ing the sta­dium am­phithe­atre of the Hock­en­heim­ring. But the cheers that re­warded Seb Vet­tel’s 1m 11.212s pole lap for the Ger­man GP car­ried more than an echo of those heady days when a Ger­man mul­ti­ple world cham­pion driv­ing a Fer­rari ruled the F1 world.

As so of­ten with Vet­tel’s scene-steal­ing per­for­mances, his P1 time re­sulted from an un­canny knack of be­ing able to de­liver when it mat­tered. Team-mate Kimi Räikkö­nen had been quick through­out the ses­sion, but while Vet­tel’s fi­nal flyer was seem­ingly er­ror-free, Kimi’s P3 time had been com­pro­mised by a mis­take at Turn 12.

The ex­pected Merc chal­lenge never quite ma­te­ri­alised, de­spite a strong ef­fort from Valt­teri Bot­tas that re­sulted in P2. His 1m 11.416s briefly put him on pro­vi­sional pole, be­fore Vet­tel slam- dunked top spot. Hamil­ton was never a fac­tor, ow­ing to a dra­matic Q1 mo­ment at Turn 1. Hamil­ton ran wide on the exit of the cor­ner (one he’d ear­lier de­scribed as “in­sanely fast in these cars”), bounc­ing over the kerbs and launch­ing his W09 into the air. Af­ter thump­ing down he re­ported the car to be stuck in fourth gear, where­upon he was or­dered to stop. Hamil­ton, in adrenalin-fu­elled de­nial, briefly tried to push his 750kg steed back to the pits in the hope of re­join­ing qual­i­fy­ing, but loss of hy­draulic pres­sure had put his PU at risk, he was told, and he would progress no fur­ther.

Red Bull’s qual­i­fy­ing was lack­lus­tre, given the ses­sion-top­ping per­for­mances of Dan Ric­cia­rdo then Max Ver­stap­pen in first and sec­ond prac­tice. Ver­stap­pen took P4, six tenths from pole and ham­strung by the power deficit of his Re­nault mo­tor through Hock­en­heim’s long-drag sec­ond sec­tor. In the twisty in­field sec­tion, how­ever, the RB14 was mighty, clearly able to carry huge cor­ner-en­try speed – not that this would help Ric­cia­rdo, who was pe­nalised with a back-of-the­grid po­si­tion, af­ter a third MGU-K, en­ergy store and con­trol elec­tron­ics were fit­ted to his PU.

Haas lock­ing out row three (Mag­nus­sen­gros­jean) was both ex­cep­tional and un­ex­cep­tional, now this par­a­digm-shift­ing Fer­rari cus­tomer team have bet­ter worked out how to set up the VF18. Re­nault were next up (Hülken­berg-sainz an­nex­ing row four), ahead of the now rou­tinely im­pres­sive Charles Le­clerc. Ser­gio Perez brought a splash of pink into the top 10, while Fer­nando Alonso’s P11 marked another tri­umph of man over medi­ocrity.

RACE

The Ger­man Grand Prix was surely Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’s to lose from pole po­si­tion in an ev­er­swifter Fer­rari SF71H… And lose it he did, in rather piti­ful fashion, on lap 51, dur­ing a mid-race cloud­burst that rained chaos from above.

En­ter­ing Turn 12 Vet­tel caught a twitch of over­steer as he at­tempted to turn in. He held the slide, but still veered into the gravel be­fore giving the bar­ri­ers a race-end­ing nerf.

Game over – and per­haps not just in Ger­many, for Vet­tel’s point­less exit, com­bined with Lewis Hamil­ton’s un­for­get­table surge to vic­tory, net­ted Lewis a 17-point driv­ers’ ti­tle ad­van­tage.

The foun­da­tion of his 66th win was a re­lent­less se­quence of open­ing laps: twelfth af­ter lap one, he was fifth by lap 13 and ahead of him only Vet­tel, Bot­tas, Ver­stap­pen and Räikkö­nen. At the tail of this speedy gag­gle he seemed set for a podium fin­ish at best, as Vet­tel out front was look­ing com­fort­able and con­fi­dent, able to pull away from Bot­tas at a seem­ingly cushy 0.5s per lap, with a first-sec­ond gap of around four sec­onds.

“PUSH­ING TO THE END AND SET­TING FASTEST LAP ON HIS PENUL­TI­MATE TOUR, HAMIL­TON RECORDED ONE OF HIS MOST RE­MARK­ABLE VIC­TO­RIES. A POST-RACE STEW­ARDS’ EN­QUIRY INTO HIS PIT EN­TRY MOVE RE­SULTED ONLY IN A REP­RI­MAND

All the top run­ners started on ul­tra­softs and had cal­cu­lated two stops (one for more ul­tras, the other for softs) would gar­ner the best re­sult. Hamil­ton’s lowly start­ing po­si­tion foisted upon him a coun­ter­strat­egy that re­lied on a 42-lap open­ing stint on softs. And it was about to play into his favour.

Kimi stopped first, on lap 14; then Vet­tel on lap 25, Bot­tas on lap 28 and Ver­stap­pen a lap later. Hamil­ton, though, stayed out on softs un­til lap 42, by which time he was run­ning third, hav­ing brought him­self into the same pit-stop se­quence as those around him. His one-stop­per would play out against the planned two-stop­pers but even at this stage he looked like a podium con­tender at best. But just a cou­ple of laps later threat­ened rain scram­bled ev­ery al­go­rithm and swept the decks for sheer driv­ing vir­tu­os­ity to come to the fore.

Vet­tel de­clared con­di­tions ac­cept­able: “It’s still ok… the rest of the track is clear. I’ll stay out for now…” he re­ported. But how he’d come to rue that call, for on lap 51 he sailed grip­less into the bar­ri­ers. The prang prompted a Safety Car and it was this in­ter­ven­tion which fi­nally gave Hamil­ton the plat­form he’d need to win.

The pack closed up and both Bot­tas (lap 52), then Räikkö­nen (lap 53) pit­ted for their ul­tras. At the end of lap 54, Lewis also steered for the pits, but just as he’d been called in and crossed the pit en­try line, he was im­me­di­ately or­dered out, so he would con­tinue, hav­ing inherited the lead be­hind the Safety Car as Räikkö­nen pit­ted.

Push­ing to the end and set­ting fastest lap on his penul­ti­mate tour, Hamil­ton recorded one of his most re­mark­able vic­to­ries. A post-race stew­ards’ en­quiry into his pit en­try move re­sulted only in a rep­ri­mand.

It felt like the right out­come for the sport, for this may stand as Hamil­ton’s day of days.

Ger­many was a breeze for Seb from the mo­ment Lewis went out in qual­i­fy­ing (top, left to right) un­til he slid off on lap 51 (above). Lewis, mean­while, re­cov­ered to claim a stun­ning vic­tory (be­low)

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