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Likely the last German Grand Prix for now provided a dramatic wet-dry race hinging on safety cars – and a stunning victory drive by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Full race report from Hockenheim
Max Verstappen is cheered by his Red Bull team as he completes his fine win of a dramatic German Grand Prix Photo: Motorsport Images
A hazy, crazy, race where five pitstops were the norm; guessing and second guessing. Pressing or not pressing, trying to keep the thread of your race going without getting onto the final corner run-off skating rink – for that was the graveyard of hopes and dreams. Especially those of Mercedes having a 125-year celebration that ended up more of a costume drama wake.
Three times Max Verstappen led a safety car queue, so many times it was an easy routine for him by the end. An inspired call for slicks at precisely the right moment – hats off to Toro Rosso and Racing Point for making it and to Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll, respectively third and fourth, for maximising it.
After Verstappen and his second Red Bull-Honda win in three races, came a quite sensational Sebastian Vettel from last on the grid after not having recorded a time in qualifying. In a transposed glory/disaster contrast from last year, Lewis Hamilton looked unstoppable early on before a series of disasters dropped him almost to the back
Oh and the Haas drivers collided again…
Another present from Ferrari to Lewis Hamilton, gratefully accepted and brilliantly exploited. Ferrari’s mechanical failures in qualifying (a turbo pipe for Sebastian Vettel on his Q1 out-lap, a fuel pump failure for Charles Leclerc that prevented him doing a lap in Q3) meant the likely two fastest cars were not around to contest pole. Vettel could hear the hiss of escaping air and feel the drastic lack of power as soon as he took to the track in Q1. Nothing could be done in time.
Leclerc’s problem that left him sitting out Q3 was quite different but possibly from a common cause as the latest developments around lowered inlet charge temperatures and appropriate fuel possibly created new strains. The end result was another Ferrari opportunity squandered.
Sebastian Vettel’s demeanour sums up Ferrari’s disastrous qualifying Photo: Motorsport Images
Although Hamilton could add this to the presents already received from the Scuderia at Bahrain, Baku and Montreal, he turned in a quite brilliant lap on his first Q3 run to convert that present into his 87th career pole, his fourth of the season.
Mercedes had arrived here with a massive aero upgrade (worth 0.5sec in the tunnel) – but also two cooling packages, standard and extreme. The weather on Friday was extreme, with an ambient in the low forties (and a track that ran as hot as 56 deg C for a time). So on went the extreme package, made possible by the upgrade.
This was aerodynamically compromising, but not to the extent that it should have overshadowed the upgrade itself, which comprised new front wing, bargeboards, sidepods (with a slightly outward orientation of the radiator inlets) and rear wing endplate. So it was a little puzzling for the team to observe that it couldn’t claw back through the corners the 0.7sec the Ferrari was taking from them on the straights.
The Merc’s best sector was the final one, through the twists of the stadium section, but not to the extent that it was expecting. Even into Saturday, as the cooler conditions allowed the standard cooling package (smaller cockpit outlets and tighter-fitting bodywork beneath the rear crash structure) to be fitted, they were no closer. In fact, they seemed further away, if anything. In Q1 Leclerc had a 0.3sec advantage over Hamilton, and the Mercs were only 17th and 19th through the speed trap.
“The loadings tell us that the upgrade has worked but in terms of how we fully exploit that and what effect the surface had, we don’t know yet,” surmised team boss Toto Wolff. Hamilton had been feeling unwell with what felt like the beginnings of a fever on Saturday morning. Esteban Ocon was put on stand-by, but Hamilton, his voice croaky, managed to pull through.
The car was slightly off balance in P3 with the standard cooling package carried through into Q1 but as the track temperatures came up, it seemed to help and he actually shaded Leclerc in Q2 (with both on mediums), though the latter had messed up his first lap and so had done his time on his third (Leclerc’s Q1 lap had actually been faster).
But with Leclerc not around at all in Q3, Hamilton’s opposition distilled down to team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Having got a feel for the track on softs with a part-lap in Q2, Hamilton was immediately on-track at the start of Q3 and let rip with a very committed lap, the W10 twitching this way and that, visibly very close to its limit. It would stand as pole, Hamilton unable to better it on his second run.
Bottas did not have a car beneath him with which he felt he could commit. “I struggled with the consistency in the braking zones in turn 2, 6 and 8 – all of the heavy braking events,” he explained. “I just didn’t have a consistent feeling under braking, so I couldn’t really put a good lap together.” His best was 0.35sec adrift of his team-mate, good for only third on the grid.
Verstappen managed to eclipse Bottas to put his Red Bull on the front row. He’d had quite a disrupted time, with a glitch in Q2 that briefly cut the engine completely, forcing him to abandon the lap and visit the pits for attention.
With the clock ticking down and a question mark about the engine, it was felt he could no longer afford the luxury of the medium tyres on which he’d originally planned to go through – and switched to the softs. The engine was fully on song in Q3 though and he aggressively hustled his grid time from it on his first run. “As the temperatures came up I was losing grip. It seemed to affect us more than Mercedes,” he said.
Pierre Gasly in the sister car bounced back well from a difficult Friday when he’d crashed heavily out of the final corner, requiring a rebuild around the spare chassis. He’d been struggling to match Verstappen’s confidence in pitching the car to compensate for its understeer in the faster turns. In the new car he punched in a time good for the outside of row two, albeit still 0.4sec adrift of Verstappen.
The Mercedes were first and third in qualifying; Hamilton taking a stunning pole Photo: Motorsport Images
With no Ferraris around to contest the rest of Q3, there was a fifth place on offer – and it was sealed by Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa, with a time that was within hundredths of Gasly’s. The Alfa’s strong straightline performance (second and third fastest through the trap) was a bigger help than usual here and Räikkönen had calmly worked a good balance from it then produced the lap when it mattered. Team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi missed Q3 by a couple of hundredths and would start 11th.
Romain Grosjean in the Melbourne-spec Haas couldn’t quite repeat his Q2 time on his single Q3 run but lined up sixth a couple of tenths adrift of Räikkönen. Team-mate Kevin Magnussen was in the current-spec car and back in 12th, a vital few hundredths slower in Q2.
As a generality, the current car seemed more competitive than Grosjean’s original when the track temperatures were lower. But the positions switched whenever the surface temperature passed a certain threshold. Still a lot of head-scratching going on here, but some vital clues.
The McLaren wasn’t as well-suited to this track layout as the Alfa and consequently was a little less competitive than usual, with Carlos Sainz feeling the lap he did just to put it seventh was pretty much all there was. Lando Norris went out in Q1, only 16th, the 0.1sec that a battery pack problem cost him proving costly. A replacement power unit meant he started from the back alongside Vettel.
Racing Point brought a heavily-updated car here, configured around repackaged cooling with different shape Red Bull-like sidepods. It was a big improvement – and Sergio Pérez got through to Q3 for the first time since Baku and qualified it eighth.
Lance Stroll, having been consistently on Pérez’s pace through the practices, lost the balance of the car on the changing track and could do no better than 15th, at least breaking out of Q1 for the first time this season.
Only one Renault made it to Q3, that of Nico Hülkenberg, a vital three-hundredths faster than 13th-fastest Daniel Ricciardo. The car’s inconsistent balance through the corners – understeering initially but with the front finally loading up part-way through the turn – was proving difficult to drive around. Hülkenberg didn’t get a good lap together in Q3 and was ahead only of the non-running Leclerc there. Ricciardo’s little wobble into turn 2 consigned him to his mid-grid slot.
Daniil Kvyat found the Toro Rosso difficult right from the start of the weekend and his eventual 14th place, well adrift of the Renaults, McLarens, Alfas etc was as good as it was going to get. Alex Albon – whose car had a mechanical problem around the clutch that required a Friday night rebuild – was running a lower downforce set up than Kvyat and was right among those cars in Saturday morning practice and reckoned he could have qualified among them and even had a run at Q3. As it was, he got stuck behind Norris into the stadium section on his crucial Q1 lap and wound up a very disappointed 17th.
Williams had a further bargeboard and floor update for this race. Robert Kubica used it on Friday but bits of it were falling off even before he damaged it further with a heavy hit over a kerb. He reverted to the standard spec car for Saturday, with George Russell doing it the other way around, but being compromised by a damaged floor (also from a heavy kerb hit) in qualifying. They were separated by only 0.1sec, with Russell ahead.
The wet race started with three reconnaissance laps behind the safety car Photo: Motorsport Images
The price to be paid for the heatwave was thunderstorms Saturday evening into Sunday morning, with light showers in between occasional downpours into the afternoon. By 3pm the track was wet even though the rain was by now only light.
Since the beginning of last year, the race director has had at his discretion the option of setting the field away behind the safety car, not as part of the race, but for reconnaissance laps and – if deemed safe – to then bring the field back to the grid for a standing start.
Michael Masi took that option up. The wet tyre-shod field followed the safety car for three laps which were knocked off the original 67-lap race distance before taking up their original grid positions for a standing start.
Hamilton surged unchallenged into the lead, almost immediately backed up by Bottas as both Red Bulls baulked down with wheelspin, just as had Verstappen in Austria. A suspected software glitch was being investigated thoroughly at the time of writing.
It meant that Räikkönen was able to pass Verstappen for third even before the first turn, Max having to get his elbows out just to keep Grosjean behind. Gasly’s similarly slow start allowed Sainz, Hülkenberg and Giovinazzi past – with the latter then going straight on at turn two and falling way back. Leclerc nipped by Gasly into that same turn.
Bottas had run way wide on the turn one run-off but maintained his place behind the ball of spray from Hamilton’s car, Lewis the only one with a clear view. There really was very little grip in these early stages and down the kinking back straight towards the hairpin it was all very twitchy as Grosjean was slipstreamed by Sainz and Hülkenberg.
They fanned out three-abreast into the hairpin, Hülkenberg squeezing by Grosjean’s inside for fifth, with Sainz being forced to jink onto the escape road on the exit to avoid contact with the Haas. As they slowed each other, so Leclerc was able to pounce past the McLaren and Haas to set chase for Hulk. This dicing allowed the top four to put murky damp daylight between them and their chasers before the lap was even halfway done.
Hamilton and Bottas led Räikkönen across the line, with Verstappen keen to get by the Alfa before the Mercs escaped. Then a gap to Hülkenberg, Leclerc, Grosjean, Gasly, Sainz, Magnussen, Pérez, Giovinazzi, Ricciardo, Vettel, Stroll, Albon, Kvyat, Russell, Norris and Kubica.
That was the foundation for a crazy race. Safety cars, VSCs and a cool, slippery surface meant the action was regularly punctuated, the field closed back up, allowing gambles from those with nothing to lose – and making for very uncomfortable choices for engineers used to being led by data.
Here’s a list of the safety cars and VSCs and how they impacted on what happened between each.
Safety Car 1. Pérez spins lap 2
Verstappen found a way by Räikkönen as they exited the hairpin but he was already almost 5sec adrift of the flying Hamilton.
Meanwhile in the midfield, Pérez was struggling to get any sort of heat into the tyres and had already been wildly crossed up out of turn eight as he sought to challenge Magnussen on the second lap. Getting just a little too hard on the gas out of turn 11 led to the Racing Point make a graceful loop into the barriers on the right.
This happened right in front of Vettel who realised a safety car was inevitable, making it the perfect time for him to dive into the pits for a set of intermediates. He was followed in by Albon – and this would boost them both several places as the front-runners couldn’t respond until the following lap.
Almost everyone pitted for inters – but initially not Magnussen, Stroll, Norris and the Williams pair, which cost them time. They would all come to pit in the next few laps as the rain remained light and a racing line of sorts went down in between the treacherous mirror glaze of standing water.
The last two turns were particularly slippery and on one occasion Leclerc entered the pitstraight in a manner more Roger Clark than Jim Clark. Later on, Sainz would skim totally sideways across it without quite touching anything: “Rally skills,” he reckoned.
Räikkönen lost out in the pits and was jumped by Leclerc and Hülkenberg for fourth and fifth. Vettel rose up to 10th, ahead of Sainz. Grosjean lost a load of places as he was forced into an emergency stop in the pitlane to avoid Leclerc, who’d just been released into his path. Ferrari received a fine for this. The time lost getting the Haas started again dropped Grosjean into the midfield. Gasly dropped from 10th almost to the back after a delay in the pits.
Racing got underway again at the end of lap four, with Hamilton – menacing little power slides out of the last couple of turns – sprinting away into the distance, Bottas dropping back into visibility range and trying to look after the tyres while fending off the aggressive Verstappen on his tail.
This was going to be quite a challenge for everyone. As the track dried, so it would burn through the intermediate very quickly, particularly the left-front. The trick was going to be not incurring an extra stop through using them too hard.
Hamilton was able to run his own lines unencumbered and appeared set to run away with it, over 3sec clear of the battling Bottas and Verstappen by the 10th lap. Leclerc was in a no-man’s-land fourth, pulling ever further clear of Hülkenberg. Sixth place Räikkönen was already half a minute off the lead as he fended off Vettel, with Sainz and Albon watching on from close by.
Ricciardo in his Renault was having a very low-key race back in 11th between Grosjean and Kvyat when his high-mileage spec 1 motor threw a big cloud of oily smoke out the back on its 14th lap.
Virtual Safety Car to recover Ricciardo. Lap 14.
The VSC came at the perfect time for Leclerc and Hülkenberg as those in front of them had already passed the pit entry road and they had a big gap over Räikkönen behind. So Ferrari brought Leclerc in for an almost-free pitstop to fit a brand new set of inters. Renault did the same for Hülkenberg and he lost only one place to Räikkönen, which he’d soon reclaim.
This gave Leclerc a considerable grip advantage and he slashed into the gap to Verstappen and the Mercs. For a time he was lapping 3sec quicker than leader Hamilton but after a few laps he’d used up that grip advantage and still lay fourth, albeit now only 3sec or so behind the continuing Bottas/Verstappen struggle. The tyre boost from the Ricciardo VSC had brought Leclerc into contention – and that would come to have consequences.
Verstappen got down the inside of Bottas into the hairpin on one occasion but then had to catch a wild slide as he traversed the oil left by Ricciardo.
By this time the track was drying into a line that was really beginning to burn up the inters very quickly and still the rain was falling only intermittently and lightly. Drivers began to think in terms of a switch to slicks.
The problem with that was those tricky final two turns – and the ice-rink-like drag strip that forms the run-off area between those two turns. Vettel, still having not found a way by Räikkönen’s sixth place, was beginning to think in terms of throwing the dice for slicks. Verstappen and Hülkenberg were each cautioning their teams against such a move.
Magnussen was the first to give it a try from near the back on the 21st lap. He was able to set personal bests in the middle sector but not on the overall lap, as sector three remained slippery. Nonetheless, Vettel followed his example a couple of laps later by having a set of softs fitted.
Hamilton was aghast at how little grip he had on his new slicks. Meantime Bottas and Verstappen were instructed to pit. Before that happened though, Hamilton lost the car out of that penultimate corner
These would have the best grip of the three slick compounds in such conditions but were prone to graining and would probably not give much range. The choice between this and the medium was one between pace and range – with no obvious answer, much to the torment of the data-driven guys on the pitwall.
With Vettel setting times comparable to those of the inters-shod Leclerc, it was enough to trigger Red Bull into bringing in Verstappen for an attempt at undercutting past Bottas for second. A set of mediums were fitted. The stop was good but the out-lap pace was disastrous, Max totally unable to generate the required temperature to get the harder rubber working.
He spun spectacularly towards the end of that out-lap, looping around 360-degrees in the stadium section between turns 13 and 14, caught with the clutch and without actually coming to a stop, without hitting anything or losing a place.
“Why have you given me these tyres?” he protested. “They’re too hard.” But it meant that Bottas was able to stay ahead as Mercedes responded on the next lap – though they too opted for mediums.
Just as this was happening Lando Norris’ quiet race in the McLaren came to an end as the engine lost all power. He pulled off to the side.
Virtual Safety Car To Recover Norris. Lap 26
Ferrari responded by bringing in Leclerc for a set of softs. He’d been around 3sec behind Verstappen before the latter had pitted but the VSC saved around 8sec on a flat-out stop and so jumped him ahead of not only Verstappen but Bottas too.
It looked all set to be Hamilton vs Leclerc as Mercedes got ready to bring in the leader for a set of softs. He’d been asked about the choice, the team suggesting mediums. “That doesn’t feel like the right tyre to me,” he’d responded and requested a set of softs.
The VSC was ending just as Hamilton was entering the pitlane, so giving Leclerc a further boost. As the Merc stood stationary receiving its red-walled tyres, the Ferrari was at full racing speed through the stadium section and looked set to take a big chunk out of Hamilton’s lead.
But just as the white and silver car was re-entering the track at one end of the pitstraight, so the red car was skating off into the barriers at the other. Leclerc had gone wide and once onto that lethally slippery drag-strip there was no way back, the Ferrari hitting the tyre barriers with a hard thud, its wheels bogged down in the gravel. Leclerc could not contain his desolate dismay.
Charles Leclerc’s race ends via the notorious drag strap run-off Photo: Motorsport Images
Safety Car 2. Leclerc’s off. Lap 28.
Even as Hamilton saw the S/C signs and monitored the delta time to which he must adhere, he was aghast at how little grip he had on his new slicks. Now that he was limited to the S/C delta time it was going to be next to impossible to bring them in and he wrestled around the lap as best he could. Meantime Bottas and Verstappen were instructed to pit.
Before that happened though, Hamilton lost the car out of that penultimate corner, skated across the drag strip but managed to hit the wall with just a glancing blow, The front wing was damaged, but he was still going – and even able to aim his car to the pit entry road – just after Verstappen had flashed through there for his corrective change back onto inters. Hülkenberg had pitted at this point too, for fresh inters, having shrewdly avoided the temptation of slicks. Bottas meanwhile had been told to stay out by Mercedes as they saw Hamilton’s accident unfold.
In getting to the pit entry road, Hamilton was forced to go the unspecified side of the bollard. It was that or take to the track with bits of disintegrating car falling all around. He would later be given a 5sec penalty for this.
Because the garage had originally been expecting Bottas, it had the wrong tyres ready when Hamilton limped in – and no nose. It took best part of a minute for that confusion to play out – and for Hamilton to be on his way with new wing and fresh inters, now down in fifth behind Alex Albon.
“When I’d come in the previous lap for slicks I could see it was about to start raining again,” Hamilton lamented later. “There was a big black cloud. But the team are usually better informed than the driver. But on this occasion I should have insisted on inters, so I blame myself.
“After that, it was like a domino effect. Or snakes and ladders. Each snake just led me onto another one. Up to that point I thought we’d been having an awesome race.”
Hamilton’s race unravelled after this off Photo: Motorsport Images
The extra lap on mediums cost Bottas further time and as he pitted and Verstappen took the lead so the Dutch contingent – most of it in the first segment of the stadium section – roared its approval.
Because of the Mercedes disaster, Hülkenberg was able to jump up to second. Albon – having his first experience of an F1 car in the wet – lay a startling fourth, a combination of a great drive and spot-on calls from the Toro Rosso pitwall.
So the field was bunched up all over again and lined up behind the safety car for five laps in the order of: Verstappen, Hülkenberg, Bottas, Albon, Hamilton, Sainz, Räikkönen, Vettel, Gasly, Giovinazzi, Kvyat, Magnussen, Grosjean, Russell, Kubica and Stroll, the latter having just spun and restarted without damage.
Racing resumed at the end of the 33rd lap and Verstappen sprinted away into the distance, just as emphatically as Hamilton had done earlier. It took three laps for Hamilton to find a way by Albon. A lap later Bottas passed Hülkenberg for second, but Verstappen was already almost 9sec up the road in a quite superlative performance. A lap later and Hamilton took third place from Hülkenberg.
Hulk had been as impressive as he always is in such conditions, but as has happened before, he was not able to hang on for the reward his talent had made feasible. He was yet another to get crossed up through that final section and he hit the wall in pretty much the same place as had Leclerc.
Safety Car 3. Hülkenberg’s Off. Lap 40.
Out came the safety car again. Because of the time saved by stopping under the safety car, Verstappen’s lead over Bottas guaranteed him a free pitstop – which Red Bull took up to fit him with a new set of inters. He rejoined still leading.
Mercedes left both its drivers out there. Why so? In hindsight, it should probably have brought at least Bottas in. But there were a couple of reasons it didn’t. It would have dropped him behind Albon in fourth and the team had just watched Hamilton lose a whole heap of time trying to pass the unflappable Toro Rosso youngster. As Bottas had been doing that, so Hamilton would have been making overcut gains on him, courtesy of being able to go faster on old tyres in free air than Bottas on new rubber stuck behind a Toro Rosso.
It did not want to artificially invert the merited order. Especially not after what had just happened at Silverstone. Besides, they reckoned they’d all be coming in for slicks soon enough, as the rain did now seem to be fizzling out.
Bringing Hamilton in would’ve entailed taking his 5sec penalty just as the field was compacted, so potentially losing him even more places. Hence Verstappen now had inters 12 laps newer than those of the two following Mercs.
He was perfectly placed. Bottas was told his best remaining chance of beating Verstappen was to get ahead of him at the restart. He didn’t even get close – Verstappen judging things perfectly to pull away all over again as racing got underway once more at the end of the 45th lap.
Just before that happened, Stroll, running ahead only of Robert Kubica’s Williams, was brought in by Racing Point for a throw of the dice: a new set of soft slicks. A lap later and Toro Rosso and Haas made the exact same gamble for Kvyat and Magnussen respectively.
Hamilton could not immediately fire up his worn inters and as they headed down to the turn six hairpin upon the restart, he was under attack from Albon, Sainz and Gasly. Sainz came out of there side-by-side with the Mercedes as they raced up to the fast kink of turn seven. Although Hamilton was able to just about prevail there, he was clearly in trouble.
Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll timed their final switch to slicks to perfection Photo: Motorsport Images
Sainz at least was able to hang on inside of Albon into turn eight, the Toro Rosso driver then being zapped on the exit by Gasly too. His rubber was as tired as Hamilton’s and he’d be in for a set of softs in a few corners’ time – as would be the leaders Verstappen and Bottas.
They’d all been encouraged into this by the pace of Stroll and Kvyat, coming through the field together with way more grip than the inters runners. As those on inters were forced to recognise they couldn’t hang on until the end – with Hamilton, Räikkönen and Vettel in on lap 47, so Stroll and Kvyat rose up to first and third going into the 48th lap!
Verstappen was able to repass the Racing Point before the end of the lap, leaving him and Kvyat to see how long they could fend off the recovering Bottas and Sainz, the latter having just managed to get out ahead of the earlier-stopping Magnussen who’d undercut himself ahead of Albon, Vettel, Grosjean and Räikkönen, the latter having had a brief off.
Hamilton, because he’d had to take his 5sec penalty, had fallen way down the order and to compound his misery had spun through the fast turn one. He played down any suggestion that his bug may have left him under-par. “I don’t think the challenge was physical today,” he said. “It was mental.”
With all the field now flat-out on slicks and the order fabulously jumbled up, so the action came thick and fast behind the serene Verstappen. Albon was quick to get his revenge on Gasly, scything down his inside into the hairpin on the 48th lap.
Two laps later and Albon repeated that move on Magnussen at the same place to move up to sixth. Kvyat swept by Stroll for second on the 51st lap, with the Racing Point now being harried mercilessly by Bottas’ Mercedes, Sainz looking on from close behind.
Vettel was flying once onto slicks, having shown no great pace on the inters. He picked off Gasly and Magnussen in quick succession and closed down on Albon, sweeping past on the 54th lap and gaining fast on the Stroll/Bottas/Sainz train. Further back, as Grosjean on his newer slicks caught team-mate Magnussen, he made for a move around the outside of the hairpin – and got his wheels banged in response.
Grosjean prevailed but the fact that they’d touched yet again may well have brought matters to a head within the team. The recovering Räikkönen would soon pass them both and be followed through by Alfa team-mate Giovinazzi, the Haas pair not able to sustain their performance for more than a few consecutive laps.
Six laps to go and Bottas was still not making headway against Stroll when he got the Merc’s left-rear out of the dry line and onto the damp – just as Hamilton had a few laps earlier. In an instant the car spun but on a trajectory that took it hard into the wall.
It was a disastrous moment for Bottas as he fights to hold onto his seat. It could hardly have been a less glorious way for Mercedes to commemorate its 125th anniversary in the sport.
Safety Car 4. Bottas’ off. Lap 57.
As the safety car took to the track once more, all that had changed for Verstappen – whose lead over Kvyat had been 11sec – was the identity of the car behind. With all the gaps closed up again, the safety car came in at the end of lap 59, giving us five more laps of racing.
Verstappen sprinted away without any challenge from Kvyat. Vettel was immediately down Sainz’s inside into the hairpin and up to fourth with a beautifully-judged move. Albon and Gasly were yet again side-by-side, but the Toro Rosso always stayed ahead.
On the 61st lap Gasly was slipstreaming his rival up to turn seven and flicked right just as Albon was moving that way. The Red Bull’s front wing was plucked off – and off he went in a shower of sparks into retirement, promoting Räikkönen up to seventh. Albon carried on unhindered.
Vettel – the only guy lapping at anything like Verstappen’s pace – was catching Stroll fast. He made an easy DRS pass on it on the 62nd lap. Kvyat, driving a wonderful race, was less than 1sec ahead.
As the safety car took to the track once more, all that had changed for Verstappen was the identity of the car behind. Verstappen sprinted away without any challenge from Kvyat
But the Toro Rosso was no match for a DRS-aided Ferrari down the back straight and Vettel was ahead well before the braking zone. From last on the grid to second, the German Ferrari fans were almost as raucous in their response as the Dutch had been for Verstappen.
Verstappen duly gave Red Bull its first win at Hockenheim and Honda’s second victory in three races. Vettel’s sparkling second could hardly have been a bigger contrast to last year’s ignominy. The opposite applied to Hamilton as he fell ever-further down the snakes and crossed the line 11th ahead only of the two Williams.
Kvyat gave Toro Rosso its first podium since Vettel’s Monza victory in 2008. “The race was a bit like a horror show, with black humour,” he said. “A bit like my career.” His wife gave birth to their daughter the previous night, so a pretty sensational weekend all round for him.
Stroll’s fourth represented flawless use of the throw of the dice Racing Point had provided him with. Sainz felt a little cheated that he’d been obliged not to take the strategy risk that had allowed Kvyat and Stroll to leapfrog him but it had been another strong performance.
Albon’s drive was in many ways sensational albeit overshadowed by the ‘gamble’ strategies ahead. Räikkönen, Giovinazzi, Grosjean and Magnussen rounded out the top 10. But the Alfas were subsequently handed 30sec penalties for having a little too much automated clutch release in their software, moving up the Haas pair and bringing none other than Robert Kubica into the points.
Russell had run ahead for most of the race but suffered a moment on the 50th lap that allowed his team-mate ahead.
With that, F1 waved Hockenheim goodbye.
Verstappen, Kvyat and Vettel toast their fine drives to the podium Photo: Motorsport Images
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1hr 44min 31.275sec||26*|
|3||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||+8.305||15|
|4||Lance Stroll||Racing Point||+8.966||12|
|5||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren||+9.583||10|
|6||Alexander Albon||Toro Rosso||+10.052||8|
|12||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo||+42.214|
|13||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+43.849|
|14||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull||Collision|
|DNF||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||Spun off|
|DNF||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault||Spun off|
|DNF||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||Spun off|
|DNF||Lando Norris||McLaren||Power Unit|
|DNF||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point||Spun off|
*Includes point for fastest lap
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||162|
|6||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull||55|
|7||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren||48|
|8||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||27|
|9||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo||25|
|12||Lance Stroll||Racing Point||18|
|15||Alexander Albon||Toro Rosso||15|
|16||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point||13|
|18||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1|
Esteban Ocon will remain with Alpine in Formula 1 until the 2024 season after signing a new deal
Top F1 Fantasy picks and predictions for the 2021 French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard
After the Indy 500, I did a bit of a comparison about how IndyCar’s showpiece event gives drivers more of a chance to shine than Formula 1 does in any…
Paul Ricard hosts the 2021 French Grand Prix and round seven of the Formula 1 season. Here are a few key things to keep an eye on throughout the weekend in France