Germans are known to be immensely precise and efficient. You would therefore think that a German race circuit would lean towards the same attributes but if it’s Hockenheim, the opposite rings true.
The magnitude of the frenetic race that took place at the historic circuit on Sunday is difficult to quantify. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was able to claim a memorable victory after a race in which all the ‘usual suspects’ when it comes to the likely race winners, including Verstappen himself, encountered trouble at one time or the other.
For instance, both Verstappen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton did 360-degree turns and fortunately kept themselves on the track during the course of the race which saw plenty of action happen in the pits.
The 64-lap race saw Verstappen and his teammate, Pierre Gasly, make horrendous starts. Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas started well in third and was second within seconds, but then went off the track in Turn One, a clear harbinger of what lay ahead.
Verstappen had fallen to fourth but in the second lap, he made light work of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who started last due to a mechanical issue in qualifying, was up to 13th before the end of the second lap.
SportPesa Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, who started eighth, was the first casualty of the race spinning and damaging his car in the process through contact with a barrier. This brought out the Safety Car for what would be a busy day for its driver.
The same would apply for the pit crews who were kept busy as a number of drivers went in for fresh wets, with Vettel and Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon being the only ones to ‘wear’ the intermediates.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who had started tenth, exited the pits with much gusto and in the process, got into the way of the Haas of Romain Grosjean. The infringement led to a team penalty for Ferrari.By the seventh lap, Vettel had risen up to eighth position.
In contrast, Gasly had dropped to 17th from his fourth place start. Kevin Magnussen, in the Haas, had failed to pit in the safety car period and had gone up to second position but this strategy backfired spectacularly when he had to pit in race conditions which left him worse off than before. Leclerc had his first close call with crashing but managed to prevent a spin after almost going out wide.
Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault couldn’t handle the wet-dry conditions anymore and the power unit gave way on the fifteenth lap leading to the deployment of a Virtual Safety Car and more pit stops. On the seventeenth lap, Verstappen made an attempt to pass Bottas by using the inside of a turn but the conditions were so treacherous that he lost his rear in the process. Two laps later, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was able to recover after almost beaching his car at Turn 16.
Verstappen then started piling pressure on Bottas. It is during this push that he made the full 360-degree turn, which soon afterwards led to his pit stop.
Leclerc was not so lucky with his interaction with Turn 16. The Monegasque beached on the gravel having hit one of the Mercedes banners celebrating 125 years in motorsport.
Ironically, Hamilton almost repeated Leclerc’s mistake at the same place but was able to keep his car in motion despite coming into contact with the barrier. He recovered and went round the pit-entry bollard the wrong way (receiving a five-second penalty for this later on) and came into the pit stop in need of fresh tyres and a new nose only to find bewildered pit crew members who took 50.3 seconds to nurse his car back to health.
Raikkonen also had to make a daring save to avoid the barriers in the 39th lap. Two laps later, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg who was putting up a good showing at his home Grand Prix and had in fact been second at some point, also got stuck in similar fashion to Leclerc, bringing out the Safety Car.
In the ensuing melee, SportPesa Racing Point’s Lance Stroll took a massive gamble and put on softs, the only man to do so. Seventeen laps from the finish, Hamilton was leading with Verstappen in sixth position and Bottas in ninth.
But the conditions were drying and more people went in for new tyres. It led to the odd outcome of Stroll leading the race, but soon afterwards, Verstappen was back in the lead. Hamilton spun twelve laps from the end and would soon find himself last after serving his penalty in the pit stop. Then seven laps from the end, Bottas, who was chasing the Mercedes-powered SportPesa Racing Point of Stroll, spun and crashed.
The Safety Car, again, came out. Oddly, there was a shot of Hamilton just out of the pits with the Safety Car right behind him and behind it, the Red Bull of the race leader, Verstappen.
With four laps to go, Vettel was able to pass Sainz, Stroll, and then the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat, earning himself a second-place finish. Gasly damaged his car agonisingly close to the chequered flag when he clipped the back of Albon’s Toro Rosso while attempting to overtake. Kvyat finished third.
The race had a dizzying 78 pit stops, saw Williams score its first points for 2019 after the Alfa Romeos were penalised post-race and also saw two different Honda-powered teams on the podium for the first time since the 1988 Australian Grand Prix.
Needless to say, the Haas teammates also banged wheels again.
The glaringly clear lesson from the race are that white livery does not portend an ‘innocent’ race even if you have anniversaries to commemorate.