McLaren ace Lewis Hamilton, won a dramatic German Grand Prix on Sunday at the famed Nurburgring.
It took a mesmeric display behind the wheel from the Englishman as well as a brilliantly executed strategy from his team to take the twenty-five points; however Hamilton had to fight hard for the honours.
A race long battle with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull’s Mark Webber kept the Briton honest throughout – the trio eventually filling out the podium.
In the distance, an off-colour Sebastian Vettel brought his Renault-powered Red Bull home 4th, not far ahead of the under pressure Felipe Massa (Ferrari). However few will remember that – this day belonged to McLaren and Hamilton.
A Stellar Beginning
Having started on the front row, Hamilton jumped into the lead ahead of poleman Webber at the first corner. Vettel also lost out off the line to Alonso; however the 24-year-old repaid Alonso by taking the Spaniard on the following lap, as he offroaded his Ferrari 150° through the second turn.
Behind the leading quartet, Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) took 5th from Massa off the line, while a dreadful start by Jenson Button (McLaren) dropped him to 10th behind Adrian Sutil (Force India), Vitaly Petrov (Renault) and Michael Schumacher (Mercedes).
Within a lap, Schumacher had taken Petrov for 8th, leaving the Russian to battle it out with the stranded Briton.
Button was not the only Briton to suffer at the start. Scotland’s Paul di Resta (Force India) was the victim of a bump from behind by Renault’s Nick Heidfeld. The resultant touch spun di Resta around, dropping him from 12th to last.
It would be a battle through the slower machinery for the young Scot – he was 20th by lap four and 17th five laps later, as the competition began to get tougher.
Heidfeld too would lose out early on – only his accident was a far more violent affair. The veteran chanced upon the quick starting Sebastien Buemi on the ninth lap, attempting a move around the outside of the final chicane.
The Toro Rosso man squeezed Heidfeld onto the grass, launching the R31 off the ground, before landing hard minus a front wing.
Heidfeld was not best pleased:
“He blocked the left hand side, as he is allowed to do, but when I went to his right hand side he just moved over on me. He just didn’t give me any room and pushed me on to the grass and after that there was nothing I could do. It’s never nice being up in the air in one of these cars and it could have been dangerous.“
Buemi (naturally) saw the incident rather differently:
“Heidfeld drove into me at the chicane and I got a puncture on my right rear. So I had to pit and change tyres, which compromised our strategy (…) and that was really it. It has been a disappointing weekend in which we cannot be satisfied with our performance, therefore all we can do is look ahead to the Hungarian Grand Prix and at least we don’t have long to wait for that.”
The Swiss pilot’s ensuing tyre change left him trailing around near the rear end for much of the day.
Stops and Wheel Banging
At the front, the crews were readying themselves for the first set of tyre changes, but on track movements continued to alter strategies. Indeed, the gap between the leading four rarely extended beyond four seconds and Hamilton – leading with aplomb – was certainly being kept on his toes by Webber.
Yet while Webber couldn’t force the issue on the McLaren, Alonso made his Ferrari appear large in Vettel’s mirrors, as the Spaniard ducked and dived around the peripheral vision of the Red Bull. It would be soon.
On the eighth lap, the moment came and Alonso dived down the inside of Vettel at the Castrol-S for 3rd place. Suddenly the game had changed.
One tour later and Vettel – cast adrift of the leading trio – planted a wheel on a damp patch approaching turn five and with a snap; Vettel’s RB7 was a spinning mess.
There was some luck in Vettel’s hand – the German held his 4th place, thanks to a squabbling battle between Rosberg and Massa; however the Red Bull had now fallen a further twelve seconds behind Alonso; however Vettel was not alone in error.
Closing in on the tail of Hamilton, Webber pushed the 2008 Champion for the lead. For a time, the McLaren pilot kept his attacker at bay, only to be distracted by an ill-timed call from the pitwall. His concentration broken, Webber ducked to the inside of the final corner snatching the leading – albeit temporarily – from Hamilton; however this was not over yet by any stretch.
The Australian – his straight-line speed hampered by a sluggish exit – slugged it out with Hamilton down start/finish, with the McLaren’s more powerful Mercedes grunt giving him the edge. Now back in the lead, Hamilton’s balance was firmly restored.
There Were Other Fights Too…
Meanwhile, Massa continued to press Rosberg for 5th place, but for all his extra pace, it would not be until the twelfth lap that the Brazilian took the position; although it would require some force from the Ferrari pilot as he playfully banged the Mercedes out of the way.
With Rosberg out of the way, Massa began to pull in the struggling Vettel. As the stops approached, Vettel was under the watchful gaze of the encroaching Ferrari.
Button, too, was fighting against perceived weaker opposition. Having leaned on the Renault for opening stint of the race, the McLaren man finally made his move into the first turn on lap seventeen.
By then, the leading group had already gained a full pitstop on Button. The McLaren driver was not his happiest about the fight:
“I got too much wheelspin away from the line and had to fight my way back from 10th place. I got stuck behind Vitaly [Petrov], who was very difficult to pass because he moved a lot in the braking areas.”
While Massa and Button battled, those ahead were already changing tyres. Webber was first in (lap 14), followed by Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel (lap 16). Massa stayed out for an extra lap, playing the leading car for a single tour – it would prove to be vital.
Webber – turned over quickly by his Red Bull crew – emerged facing the rear wing of Sutil in 6th place. The Australian dispensed with the Force India driver after several corners, but it was enough to hold Webber briefly.
Once in the clear, Webber chased down Vettel / Massa, who were by now busy with their own intense fight. This time, the Ferrari man made quick work of the German – a dive bomb down the inside of Vettel approaching the final chicane gave Massa the position and Vettel the impetuous to pit.
His teammate now vacated, Webber closed in on Massa; however this was no easy fight, despite the Australian’s fresher Pirelli’s – this time, Massa was going to win out… for a lap at least.
Webber was not too disappointed. In spite of Sutil and Massa, the extra two laps offered the Red Bull driver enough extra pace to beat Hamilton and Alonso to the lead. Vettel, for all his trouble, emerged behind the on fire Massa, when the Ferrari stopped.
Massa’s push continued. Overtakes on Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi (lap 20) and Petrov (lap 21) bringing the Brazilian up to 6th behind Webber, Hamilton, Alonso and the yet to stop Sutil and Button.
Falling and Climbing
Where one Brazilian was on it, another came to quiet halt. Starting from 14th, Williams’ Rubens Barrichello jumped to 12th early (even without a KERS unit); however an oil leak curtailed his day on the seventeenth lap.
“We were doing quite well after making a good start and were looking comfortable for a two-stop strategy but then the team came on the radio and called me in with an oil leak. I wanted to continue but the team said there was no way and that was the right decision.”
Vettel, on the other hand, was beginning to make progress once again. On fresh tyres and renewed confidence, the young German sliced by Kobayashi and Petrov (on laps 20 and 22 respectively).
With Sutil stopping on lap 22, Vettel now held 6th, followed closely by a surging pair of Mercedes machines, led by Rosberg. Amidst the overtakes, Kobayashi and Petrov also made the first of their stops, hoping that maybe they might fall into small points by the chequered flag.
Button, too, would make his first stop in lap 25, but his race would not last much longer than that. The Briton had just forced a way passed Rosberg, as “long stinted” up the order, when the hydraulic pressure of his MP-26 dropped.
“I’d just overtaken Nico [Rosberg] for sixth when my power steering started to get heavy. Soon after, we retired the car on safety grounds because we had a hydraulic issue. It was a very disappointing end, but these things sometimes happen in motor racing and you just have to put it behind you and move on.”
It wasn’t all gloom for McLaren. Despite emerging behind Webber after the first stops, neither the silver Hamilton nor the red Alonso allowed the Red Bull pilot to get away.
With every tour, the Australian caught glimpses of his foes in his mirrors and each time around, the pressure grew substantially. After all, this is the same machine in which Vettel has delivered six victories to Webber’s none…
Yet for all the pressure, Hamilton could not pass yet. Webber’s corner-exit pace was just a little too good. Alonso was facing the same problem behind Hamilton.
The Deciding Scrap
Where the status quo held on track, it was finally broken in the pits. Once again, Webber was first in (lap 30); Hamilton followed on the next lap, with Alonso completing the threesome a lap later.
If one were to follow the guide of tyre stops from this year, Webber realistically should have emerged well in the lead, but nothing was going Red Bull’s way today.
A swift stop by McLaren and Hamilton beat Webber out of the pits, only just. As the Red Bull speared into the first corner on already warm tyres, Hamilton fought the Australian hard, shoving Webber aside in the exchange. The first battle had been won in brutal, but efficient style.
Just under one hundred seconds later, Alonso exited the pitlane to face Hamilton in a similar fight, but this was one scrap the Spaniard would lose.
Like Webber, Hamilton hung Alonso out to dry as they banged wheels through turn two – with the inside line and the better pace, Hamilton drove around the outside of the Ferrari to retake the lead.
This time, he would not give it up. From here on in, the race was a controlled event, with Hamilton coyly setting the pace. By lap 34, the lead was 1.7 seconds, extending to three seconds by lap 37. From there, the gap held, there was simply no need to extend it further.
By the time, Hamilton made his final stop for the medium Pirelli’s on lap 51; the top three places had solidified somewhat. The Briton maintained a solid gap through the laps; his tyres wearing in unison with Alonso and Webber – they too, separated themselves by three seconds.
Still wary of the Red Bull, Alonso made his final stop on lap 53, with Webber dipping in three tours later; however the dire pace that was expected of the mediums never transpired and once again, the status quo held.
Battle Won, but What of the War?
As the chequered flag flew at the end of the 60th lap, Lewis Hamilton raised his fist in glory. Following several tough races, it was easy to feel his delight.
“Every win is special – but with all the emotion, effort and energy the team put into today’s victory, this one feels even more special than usual. Coming into this weekend, I said I’d take things one race at a time. So to win today is massively positive for us, but there’s a long way to go and it’ll be about consistency as well as speed from here on in.
I felt the moves I made today were some of the most precise I’ve ever pulled off. Being able to drive with your head as well as your heart, and getting it just right, is massively satisfying. The fight for the world championship will be very, very, very hard now. We’re back in the fight though, and I really hope we can carry this forward and keep the momentum going.”
Fernando Alonso, too, had much to be happy with, even if he didn’t win the Grand Prix:
“I think in the last stint we could not get any closer to Lewis. I think with the medium tyres we were not too quick, so we just controlled the gap with Mark and secured the second place. We struggled a little in quail(fying), being 4th yesterday, but today the car showed great pace, a great degradation of the tyres, so we can keep the pace of the leaders.”
Mark Webber, however, was feeling somewhat off colour having lost a potential first win of the season:
“I’m disappointed not to get the win today. At the end we needed to try and do something a bit different; we led the middle part of the race, but we couldn’t get the tyre range around the pit stops to get the undercut on the second stop. I drove on the limit, but we were not quick enough and that was it. I did pretty much everything I could today – it was very intense racing between the three of us at the front (Lewis, Fernando and Mark), I was pushing to the limit, but there wasn’t much more we could do to challenge for the victory.”
Disappointment and Satisfaction
Felipe Massa was also feeling a touch of disappointment following the race. Having headed Sebastian Vettel into the final stint, the pair pitted together for mediums at the beginning of the final lap, only for the Brazilian to suffer a stuck wheelnut – again – during the vital tyre change.
It gifted Vettel 4th place, with Massa four seconds adrift at the flag – poor reward for what was a stellar job by the Brazilian.
On the other hand, Adrian Sutil was ecstatic with his 6th place finish – a surprise considering the outright pace of his Force India. A well managed two-stop strategy kept the German pilot in 6th – just reward for a good day’s work:
“We had a great car all weekend and everything just went perfectly. The tyres lasted well and we definitely made the right calls with the strategy, which helped me beat Nico [Rosberg] in the final stint. It was actually quite a lonely race for me because I spent most of the time running in clean air so I could really show the potential of the car.”
Nico Rosberg eventually won the Mercedes battle for 7th and 8th, but was helped in part by a spin from Michael Schumacher during the race. The veteran lost fifteen seconds as he went around, yet pulled to within nine seconds of Rosberg at the flag.
Schumacher’s fastest lap was over half-a-second quicker than Rosberg, hinting that if they mistakes were ironed out, Schumacher could potentially topped his younger teammate. Admittedly, much of Rosberg’s pace was lost in battles in the upper echelons of the midfield, including tussles with Kobayashi and Sutil; however neither Mercedes driver will appreciate the simple fact that they were lapped.
Kamui Kobayashi and Vitaly Petrov rounded out the point scoring positions, with the Sauber man winning the battle to 9th.
They beat Sergio Perez (11th, Sauber) and Jaime Alguersuari (12th, Toro Rosso), both of whom had quiet events, while Paul di Resta took a frustrated 13th following his first lap clash with Nick Heidfeld. Perez, too, was in the wars early on – an clash on lap 8 left him requiring a new nose and a reworked strategy.
Pastor Maldonado closed a disappointing day for Williams by coming home 14th, ahead of Sebastien Buemi (15th). After a tough weekend, Buemi was slammed with a five-place grid penalty for the Hungarian Grand Prix thanks to his accident with Heidfeld.
It potentially leaves the Swiss racer with another tough few days in prospect at the hot and dusty Hungaroring.
Heikki Kovalainen came 16th in his Lotus. The Finn held a healthy advantage over the Virgin Racing pairing of Timo Glock (17th) and Jerome d’Ambrosio (18th).
Daniel Ricciardo was the sole HRT F1 finisher in 19th, following the retirement of teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi on lap 44.
Lotus substitute Karun Chandhok was the final classified driver. A tough race for the Indian saw his require a new nose on the ninth lap and spin twice thereafter. He was lapped four times.
Incredibly, Vettel only lost three points from his championship lead, leaving the title hunt in quite a precarious position
Should Hamilton, Alonso, Webber and Massa continue to have good races, the reigning Champion may find himself losing bundles of points at every round. However, with no clear challenger emerging from the pack, Vettel’s lead may just be too large to cut down. Next week sees the paddock go to Hungary – the final race before the summer break.
Race Rating: 5 out of 5
2011 German Grand Prix (Rd 10, July 24th) Pos Driver Team Time 1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1h37:30.334 (60 laps) 2. Alonso Ferrari + 3.980 3. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 9.788 4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 47.921 5. Massa Ferrari + 52.252 6. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1:26.208 7. Rosberg Mercedes + 1 lap 8. Schumacher Mercedes + 1 lap 9. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap 10. Petrov Renault + 1 lap 11. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap 12. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap 13. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap 14. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap 15. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap 16. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault + 2 laps 17. Glock Virgin-Cosworth + 3 laps 18. D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth + 3 laps 19. Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth + 3 laps 20. Chandhok Lotus-Renault + 4 laps Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:34.587 Not classified/retirements: Driver Team On lap Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 44 Button McLaren-Mercedes 42 Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 23 Heidfeld Renault 10 World Championship standings, Drivers: 1. Vettel 216 2. Webber 139 3. Hamilton 134 4. Alonso 130 5. Button 109 6. Massa 62 7. Rosberg 46 8. Heidfeld 34 9. Schumacher 32 10. Petrov 32 11. Kobayashi 27 12. Sutil 18 13. Alguersuari 9 14. Perez 8 15. Buemi 8 16. Barrichello 4 17. Di Resta 2 World Championship standings, Constructors: 1. Red Bull-Renault 355 2. McLaren-Mercedes 243 3. Ferrari 192 4. Mercedes 78 5. Renault 66 6. Sauber-Ferrari 35 7. Force India-Mercedes 20 8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 17 9. Williams-Cosworth 4