Last Sunday’s German Grand Prix was one of the best races this season. An incredible, intriguing and epic duel on the track.
For a neutral fan, it was more than one could ask for. A reminder of what Formula One motor racing is all about; the explosive mix that comes with the unpredictability and intrigues of weather, strategy and driver brilliance. Max Verstappen was a deserved winner. He showed yet again why many consider one of the finest drivers under wet conditions.
Mercedes, who are synonymous with performing well in the rain, had an awful day at the office while Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, in particular, had reason to smile.
So called “fringe” teams scored valuable points in both the drivers and constructors championships on a day when normal service was disrupted on the grid.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton had taken pole in his Mercedes on Saturday against all odds after the Ferraris of Vettel and Charles Leclerc encountered technical problems - in Q1 for the German and Q3 for the Monegasque.
With Mercedes also celebrating 125 years in motorsport and their 200th F1 race, a feeling of positive anticipation floated over the team and garage as the rain come hard and fast just hours before the start of the race.
FIA race director Michael Masi sent the cars out behind the safety car and the traditional single formation lap turned into three as he assessed whether the conditions were ideal for racing.
By the second formation lap, the eager drivers were yearning to get on with it. Hamilton, Verstappen and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen were all on the team radios asking for a start.
“Yeah perfect, I don’t understand why we are not racing,” Verstappen responded to his engineer’s inquiry about track conditions. “Safety car needs to come in - it’s not even wet,” went Hamilton almost on cue. Magnussen’s “track is fine….let’s go!” was an indication of how much the drivers were longing to race in the wet.
And off they went, Hamilton getting a great start but with an even better one was four-time champion Vettel. Driving in front of his fans and with a point to prove after starting from the back of the grid, he was soon up to 14th after the first lap with an array of exciting overtakes.
Puddles of water, spins and crashes into the barriers defined the race. Hamilton, Leclerc, Bottas, Hulkenberg among the casualties. Hamilton was lucky to finish the race as the other three all saw their races end after going into the barriers.
Verstappen was fortunate to have spun and gotten back on the track with no damage.
Briton Hamilton’s race fell apart halfway though and there was no way back for him. A five-second penalty, damage to his front wing and a 50-second pit stop was just too much to recover from.
And when Bottas crashed out while chasing Lance Stroll for a podium place, it seemed that Mercedes were enduring their worst race all season. Penalties from the stewards after the race for the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, promoted Hamilton to ninth ensuring the Silver Arrows at least scored some points.
After all is said and done, Germany 2019 was a disastrous outing for Mercedes, a team that is known for its efficiency. Just this year at the Chinese Grand Prix, the team pulled off an incredible feat - a flawless double pit-stop, back-to-back for both its drivers. In their defence, on Sunday the pit crew wasn’t expecting Hamilton, who had no choice but to pit after hitting the barriers and sustaining front wing damage.
Beaming with delight
It ended up being a 50-second stop that effectively ended his race. It is almost a guarantee that they will come back stronger and better for this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring this weekend.
Over at Red Bull, team principal Christian Horner was beaming with delight as they had correctly made all their strategy calls and Verstappen executed his race almost flawlessly as he made the rest of the field look ordinary.
And to the delight of the massive travelling “Orange Army” of Dutch fans who follow their man around various circuits and whose presence is more pronounced especially in Europe.
This story cannot be told without mentioning the grit and determination of Ferrari’s Vettel.
He had the best start to the race going up five places in just a lap. He was lucky to benefit from the chaos, retirements and crashes. But he also displayed the skills that saw him win his four world titles when going past Stroll for third and eventually Russian Daniil Kyvat for second. The overtake on Kvyat drew huge applause across the obviously biased German crowd.
It was great to see his luck turn around on the same circuit where it turned sour twelve months ago. Vettel crashed out of his home race last year and has struggled since. He lost his world championship lead and watched as rival Hamilton romped to a fifth world title.
One can hardly wait for the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend. Fingers crossed that the “let’s go racing” rallying cry takes us on a rollercoaster as incredible or even better than Germany served up.