Hockenheim has been no stranger to drama in the past, and the 2018 German Grand Prix proved to be another chapter in what is the most intriguing F1 World Championship for many years. With performance seemingly evenly balanced between Ferrari and Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel went into his home race with a slender lead over Lewis Hamilton in the points table, and promptly took pole position with a scintillating late lap.
Hamilton, meanwhile, endured a car failure in the first section of qualifying that mean he would start 14th on the grid, with his team mate Valtteri Bottas joining Vettel on the front row. Of course, this was Mercedes’ home race too, so there was a lot to live up to.
Rain had affected the final practice session on Saturday and forecasts indicated the possibility of such late in the race. At the start, Vettel got away cleanly with Bottas settling in behind, with the German eking out his customary early lead. Kimi Raikkonen ran third in the second Ferrari, with Hamilton also getting a good start in the midfield and moving up to 12th by the end of the first lap, and into the top ten just a few laps later.
Vettel pulled out a few seconds lead over Bottas, the German seemingly in control. Early reports of rain proved to be just a momentary and very brief shower.
The pit stop window began to come into play as Raikkonen became the first to take on new tyres on lap 15. It would be ten laps further before leader Vettel pitted, with Bottas – now left in the lead – following in on lap 28. Hamilton, meanwhile, was now up to 5th position and closing on Raikkonen.
Starting to Unfold
With the pit stops over – Hamilton would wait until lap 42 to make his planned single stop – Vettel led Raikkonen by a slender margin, with Bottas following. As rain began to fall at one end of the circuit on lap 43, it looked as though – once again – Mercedes and Hamilton may have got it wrong.
The rain became increasingly heavier and a few of the midfield runners opted to stop for intermediate tyres. The rain began to fade after a couple of laps, prompting those who had stopped to change back. Vettel had stayed out, and it looked like he had done the right thing.
On lap 52, with rain falling once more, Vettel – in the lead by 9 seconds from Bottas – made a mistake at the Sachs Curve and, much to the disappointment of the home crowd, plunged into the barriers, his race at an end.
Bottas, now leading, made a stop for new tyres, but the team were not ready and it was a long stop. Hamilton responded to a call from the team to come in, which was then contradicted by a second one to stay out, just as he crossed the pit lane entry. He crossed back again, a move that would earn him a reprimand after the race.
The safety car had been deployed after the Vettel incident so the stricken Ferrari could be removed. Once all had settled down, behind the safety car it is a Mercedes one-two, with Hamilton – from 14th on the grid – leading Bottas. At the restart, the Finn gave it his all and it looked like we had a race on our hands, but with Raikkonen close behind and looking dangerous, the tam instructs Bottas to hold position. His credentials as a team player are not in doubt, and he does so.
Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to win the German Grand Prix, perhaps the most unexpected victory of the season so far, with his team mate just a couple of seconds behind, and Raikkonen and Ferrari close by in third.
Max Verstappen put in another fine drive to further silence his critics with a great 4th position in the Red Bull, while Nico Hulkenberg can be happy with 5th for Renault in his home race, which is easily the best they can expect at the moment. Romain Grosjean drove well to bring the Haas home in 6th position, adding yet more points to the US team’s tally.
The two Force India drivers – Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon – took 7th and 8th positions, while Marcus Ericsson took 9th for Sauber. Tenth on the road would have gone to Carlos Sainz in the Renault but the Spaniard was handed a 10-second penalty for overtaking under the safety car, leaving Brendan Hartley to take the final point in the Toro Rosso.
The unfolding drama of the season now sees Lewis Hamilton at the top of the table by 17 points, and Mercedes-Benz has also jumped Ferrari in the constructors table. Next stop is the Hungarian Grand Prix in a week’s time.