THE weather in Germany at this time of year is utterly unpredictable.
That, combined with great driving, luck, team orders and divine power, yesterday gave Lewis Hamilton a near miraculous win in the German Grand Prix – and put him back at the top of the driver’s championship.
Starting from 14th on the grid after his Mercedes had a mechanical failure in qualifying, he rapidly zoomed past the Saubers, Force Indias and others to be in 6th place by lap 11 on the 4.57km 17-turn Hockenheimring, where drivers are at full throttle for more than half of each lap.
It was a hot day that had some drivers complaining of excessive tyre wear as early as lap 7, but by half distance a huge dark cloud descended on the anvil-shaped circuit in Baden-Wurttemberg – but the rain came later, starting at only at one corner.
That caused havoc, with some teams opting for intermediate tyres, others staying on softs or mediums, and Toro Rosso inexplicably put full wet weather tyres on Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso, which immediately eliminated any hopes the young Frenchman had of a top 10 finish.
On lap 14, Hamilton passed Kevin Magnussen’s Haas car for fifth, and started hunting down the leading quartet of Sebastien Vettel, who dominated from the start, Merc teammate Valtteri Bottas, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen in the lone Red Bull.
Daniel Ricciardo, who started his Red Bull from stone last because of extensive modifications to his car as the team focused on making it superquick for next Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, was making good progress until lap 29, when it all came to an end.
“I heard something strange when I was downshifting at Turn 6, then I lost power and the engine sounded pretty sick, so the team asked me to pull over,” he said.
“I have been in this position too often this season.”
Was that comment indicative of a departure from the team? Nobody’s telling.
The rain came on lap 42 when Raikkonen was in the lead, but he then got the dreaded radio message to let Vettel through, and the angry Finn obliged.
Then, with 15 laps to go, and the rain getting heavier, Vettel ran wide at a corner and drove his Ferrari into the barriers.
The safety car was deployed, allowing Bottas and Raikkonen to stop for new tyres.
Mercedes told Hamilton to stop as well, but the Briton apparently changed his mind at the pit entrance and steered back across the track – and into the lead.
Bottas soon caught up to him and was in the process of overtaking when he too got the team call to ‘maintain position’ – a soft version of ‘stay behind Hamilton.’
And so it finished.
Hamilton won from Bottas for another Mercedes 1-2.
However, Hamilton’s victory hung in the balance for a while as race stewards examined his aborted pit stop antic. More luck was in store for him as he escaped with just a reprimand.
Raikkonen was third for Ferrari, Verstappen fourth in the Red Bull and Nico Hulkenberg fifth in the Renault.
Then came Romain Grosjean after a stirring drive in the closing laps in the Haas, with the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon seventh and eight, Marcus Ericsson ninth for Alfa-Sauber and Brendon Hartley taking the final championship point for Toro Rosso.
An interesting feature was the partisan crowd’s cheering when Vettel crashed, showing that they put the Mercedes brand well ahead of the red car’s German driver.
With the drivers on the podium, the rain came down in torrents.
“I have never had a race like this,” Hamilton said.
“I prayed as I always do before the race, and my prayers were really answered.
“It has freaked me out a little, particularly with the biblical storm afterwards.”
Vettel’s comment on putting the Ferrari into the wall and losing his championship lead?
“I don’t think it was a huge mistake – it was a huge impact on the race. One mistake, a big disappointment. It will not make me lose sleep tonight.”
Next round, before the summer break, is the Hungarian Grand Prix, on Sunday, July 29 – and Daniel Ricciardo could be facing another grid penalty, depending on what, if any part of his car’s parts needs to be replaced.
It’s been a difficult season for the sport’s most marketable and liked driver, and whether he will stay with Red Bull or move to another team remains the top subject of F1 conversation.
A decision has to be made by next Sunday.