UN­STOP­PABLE HAMIL­TON

Lewis wins in Nico’s back­yard

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - BY STU­ART CODLING

Lewis Hamil­ton con­sol­i­dated his grip on the world cham­pi­onship lead with a fine vic­tory in a Ger­man Grand Prix largely de­ter­mined by strat­egy and tyre man­age­ment rather than wheel-to-wheel bravura, while Mercedes team­mate Nico Ros­berg paid the price for squan­der­ing pole po­si­tion with a poor start.

The tight­est con­test in the top po­si­tions was the bat­tle for sec­ond place be­tween the two Red Bull drivers. Daniel Ric­cia­rdo pre­vailed in that one in spite of los­ing a place to his team-mate, Max Ver­stap­pen, at the start. Ros­berg’s ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion was fourth place af­ter in­cur­ring a penalty for an overly phys­i­cal pass on Ver­stap­pen while fight­ing his way back into con­tention.

Qual­i­fy­ing

If this week­end’s qual­i­fy­ing hour was more straight­for­ward than its equiv­a­lent last time out in Bu­dapest, it was nev­er­the­less tight. Dur­ing the morn­ing’s third prac­tice ses­sion it had be­come ap­par­ent that the track con­di­tions were very dif­fer­ent from what the drivers had ex­pe­ri­enced the day be­fore, so the first half of Q1 was very quiet as the ma­jor­ity of the field sat on their hands, aim­ing not to burn through more than one set of tyres if pos­si­ble, given the abra­sive­ness of Hock­en­heim’s sur­face.

As the track started to fill up with 10 min­utes to go, Mercedes in­di­cated its con­fi­dence by send­ing its drivers out on the the­o­ret­i­cally slower soft tyre, leav­ing one un­used set avail­able for the race. Even so, Hamil­ton topped the times by two tenths of a sec­ond from Ros­berg.

Ten­sion mounted in the fi­nal mo­ments for those drivers hov­er­ing near the elim­i­na­tion zone, and Jen­son But­ton, Este­ban Gu­tier­rez, Car­los Sainz, Ro­main Gros­jean, Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Mag­nussen were among those who had to use a sec­ond set of su­per-softs to elude the drop. Palmer un­der­lined his im­pres­sive re­cent form by go­ing quicker than team-mate Mag­nussen in spite of miss­ing first prac­tice on Fri­day while Este­ban Ocon drove his Re­nault, pro­ceed­ing to Q2 at Mag­nussen’s ex­pense.

Be­hind Mag­nussen, Pas­cal Wehrlein came out on top in the bat­tle of the Manors, but nei­ther he nor Rio Haryanto got through to Q2 – al­beit by just 0.15s in Wehrlein’s case. The trou­bled Daniil Kvyat, a driver whose ca­reer seems to have en­gaged re­verse gear, also failed to make the cut, along with the Saubers of Felipe Nasr and Mar­cus Eric­s­son, who brought up the rear, half a sec­ond off where they needed to be to chal­lenge for a Q2 slot.

Hamil­ton, Ros­berg, Ver­stap­pen, Raikko­nen and Ric­cia­rdo were quick enough on their first Q2 laps to sit out the re­main­der of that ses­sion, while Vet­tel was among those who had to make a sec­ond run. Gu­tier­rez was the quick­est of those to fall out­side the top 10, just ahead of Jen­son But­ton, who had locked up and flat-spot­ted his right-front at Turn 1 on his first hot lap. Sainz also missed the cut for Q3, ahead of Fernando Alonso, who felt he was baulked by Vet­tel.

Gros­jean was two-tenths shy of team-mate Gu­tier­rez but that was enough to be four places be­hind him on the grid, an un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stance that was mag­ni­fied by the five-place grid penalty he was also to re­ceive for chang­ing his gear­box. That pro­moted Palmer, who failed to bet­ter his Q1 lap and propped up the Q2 or­der in 16th place, and the Brit then gained an­other grid po­si­tion when Sainz was pe­nalised three places for im­ped­ing Felipe Massa’s first Q2 run.

In Q3 an elec­tronic glitch forced Ros­berg to abort his first hot lap, leav­ing him with just one op­por­tu­nity to shoot for pole. Ac­cord­ingly, Mercedes sent him out be­fore the fi­nal rush so as to miss the traf­fic – but he would also be hitting the track be­fore the the­o­ret­i­cal evo­lu­tion peak.

Still, Ros­berg gave it a mighty ef­fort and went fastest of all, but it re­mained to be seen if Hamil­ton could do bet­ter. He couldn’t, go­ing slightly wide into Turn 1 and then lock­ing up into Turn 6, fall­ing short by a lit­tle over a tenth of a sec­ond. The world cham­pion was man­i­festly dis­ap­pointed af­ter­words, tersely de­scrib­ing the lock-up as “sub­tle” and caus­ing min­i­mal time loss.

“I brought it to qual­i­fy­ing,” he said. “I was quick­est, quick­est, quick­est and I was eas­ily quick­est again in the end but I didn’t de­liver.

“I’ve got my en­gi­neers who work un­til 0100, 0200hrs every night, so it’s a lot of weight when you don’t de­liver the way they have de­liv­ered. So that’s where I am in my head.”

Ric­cia­rdo nailed third place, 0.363s off the pole time and feel­ing that he might have been closer, but only by a tenth or so, had he not spun up his wheels un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion out of Turn 8. Teenage won­der Max Ver­stap­pen was just a frac­tion off his Red Bull team-mate, leav­ing Raikko­nen and Vet­tel fifth and sixth – the lat­ter the best part of a sec­ond off the pole po­si­tion time. Vet­tel blamed Fer­rari’s rel­a­tive un­der­per­for­mance on fail­ing to find an ideal set-up for the day’s dif­fer­ent con­di­tions – and in­deed, the three Mercedes-pow­ered cars be­hind, driven by Valt­teri Bot­tas, Nico Hulken­berg and Ser­gio Perez, all stopped the clock within two tenths of a sec­ond of him. He was much closer to them than he was to pole.

Race

Hamil­ton be­gan the process of putting this race in the bag by mak­ing a bet­ter get­away than Ros­berg as the lights went out.

Both drivers re­acted quickly, but then Ros­berg got too much wheel­spin and was sim­ply over­whelmed. Ric­cia­rdo swept past well be­fore Turn 1 and took up the rac­ing line, only to see Ver­stap­pen cheek­ily sling­shot past on the out­side, rat­tling over the exit kerb.

As Hamil­ton streaked away with Ver­stap­pen in pur­suit, Ros­berg des­per­ately probed for a way past third-placed Ric­cia­rdo, but also had to be mind­ful of the Fer­raris of Vet­tel and Raikko­nen at Hock­en­heim’s pinch-points over the first lap. Vet­tel had a look on the out­side line into Turn 6 but Ros­berg ran him wide at the exit and he had to back off. The Fer­raris were sim­ply not quick enough to of­fer any chal­lenge once the race was a lap old, even as the lead­ing four switched into tyre­con­ser­va­tion mode.

From then on it was a ques­tion of man­ag­ing the gaps un­til the first round of pit­stops, when both Mercedes and Red Bull split their strate­gies. Ver­stap­pen and Ros­berg were first in – on lap 11 – and took on su­per-soft Pirellis. Any hope that Ros­berg could make an un­der­cut stick evap­o­rated when his stop was slower, drop­ping him be­hind the Mclarens of But­ton and Alonso, while Ver­stap­pen emerged from the pit­lane prac­ti­cally on But­ton’s tail and made short work of him.

Ric­cia­rdo pit­ted on the fol­low­ing lap and took on soft-com­pound tyres, emerg­ing with three sec­onds in hand over Ros­berg, who was then in­formed by his en­gi­neer that they were mov­ing to “Plan B” – while Hamil­ton made his stop for softs on lap 14, emerg­ing with his lead in­tact. Even in tyre-man­age­ment mode the top four then edged away from the two Fer­raris, although Ver­stap­pen was vo­cal that the su­per-soft was “def­i­nitely not the race tyre”, feel­ing that the soft­est rub­ber was vul­ner­a­ble to degra­da­tion with the fuel weight still quite high.

Hamil­ton held his lead­ing mar­gin at around six sec­onds un­til the next set of pit­stops were in the off­ing, where­upon he picked up his pace slightly as Ver­stap­pen be­gan to strug­gle a lit­tle. Ros­berg did 16 laps on his su­per-softs be­fore switch­ing to softs on lap 27, and Ver­stap­pen did the same the next time around – but this time the Mercedes pit­stop was flaw­less, and Ver­stap­pen ex­ited the pits only just ahead.

On the run down to Turn 6 Ros­berg at­tacked on the in­side line, brak­ing su­per-late in a Senna-style let-me- through-or-we-crash move from a long way back. Ver­stap­pen once again be­gan to weave in the brak­ing zone, as is his want, but Ros­berg was so com­mit­ted that he had to think the bet­ter of it. Both cars sailed well past the apex be­fore they could be­gin to steer, af­ter which Ros­berg sealed Ver­stap­pen off at the exit.

Ver­stap­pen com­plained that he had been forced off and the stew­ards agreed, hand­ing Ros­berg a fivesec­ond penalty and a rep­ri­mand. He protested that he had been on full lock and couldn’t make the turn, but re­plays of the in­ci­dent con­firmed that by then he had al­ready ploughed straight on and caused Ver­stap­pen to abort the cor­ner.

Ric­cia­rdo and Hamil­ton made their sec­ond stops, this time for su­per-softs, on laps 33 and 34. By now, with de­clin­ing fuel loads, the su­per-soft was the right tyre to have, while Ver­stap­pen com­plained that his car was now un­der­steer­ing too much on the softs. Ric­cia­rdo caught his team-mate on lap 40 and the teenager of­fered no re­sis­tance as they swapped places cleanly at Turn 6.

Fer­rari now en­ter­tained some

fan­ci­ful no­tions that Vet­tel, lapping around eight sec­onds be­hind Ver­stap­pen, could un­der­cut the Red Bull if they pit­ted soon. Vet­tel point­blank re­fused to stop, say­ing that his tyres were work­ing per­fectly.

On lap 44 Ros­berg made his third and fi­nal stop, tak­ing more than his five-sec­ond penalty (ow­ing to a stop­watch er­ror by the team) and he emerged in what be­came a net fourth place. Red Bull cov­ered this stop – and Fer­rari’s clum­sily tele­graphed tac­ti­cal mus­ings – by bring­ing Ver­stap­pen in for his fi­nal pit visit a lap later, send­ing him out safely in third.

Vet­tel pit­ted at the same time as Ric­cia­rdo, on lap 46, and as was pal­pa­bly ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­one ex­cept the Fer­rari pit­wall, he emerged in fifth – four sec­onds be­hind Ros­berg, let alone Ver­stap­pen. In spite of a few drops of rain, the or­der of the top six then re­mained static to the end as Hamil­ton crossed the line 6.996s ahead of Ric­cia­rdo, with Ver­stap­pen a fur­ther 6.417 be­hind, shad­owed to the che­quered flag by a frus­trated Ros­berg. Vet­tel and Raikko­nen were a lonely fifth and sixth.

“To­day I saved my en­gine a lot,” said Hamil­ton af­ter­wards, “which is why they closed up as much as they did. Hope­fully I’ve saved enough of my en­gine to­day to use it at the next race. It will ei­ther be the next race or Monza, be­cause I’m go­ing to run out of engines soon.”

Wil­liams tried to run Bot­tas on a two-stop strat­egy that called for a long fi­nal stint on the soft tyres, but it left him vul­ner­a­ble to as­sault in the clos­ing min­utes and sev­enth place slipped through his fingers. First Hulken­berg barged past and then But­ton, de­mot­ing Bot­tas to ninth.

Dis­as­trous starts by Perez, Gu­tier­rez and Massa had opened the door for the two Mclarens to break in to the top 10 again, but both cars had to save fuel in the lat­ter part of the race, and while But­ton was pro­tected to some ex­tent by Bot­tas strug­gling on old tyres, Alonso was picked off by the re­cov­er­ing Perez and Gu­tier­rez, drop­ping to 12th.

Vic­tory for Hamil­ton leaves him fly­ing high in ti­tle bat­tle

Ros­berg was pun­ished for this pass on Ver­stap­pen (fore­ground)

Hamil­ton dom­i­nated for his sixth win of the year

But­ton picked up points with eighth place

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