LEWIS HAMILTON WALKS ON WATER
Hamilton regains championship lead after stunning drive to victory and an uncharacteristic Vettel error
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.
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.
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)