Aside from winning the start, among the key challenges for Bottas was going to be controlling the expected tyre graining. The long corners and cool temperatures were sure to induce it. The graining was potentially going to increase the wear rate of the left-front and limit how long you could make your first stint, giving you real problems getting through on the faster one-stop strategy. One of the core skills of Hamilton is his ability to combine pace with giving the tyres an easy time. It’s the key skill required of any driver in this era of F1 and the area that Bottas targeted pre-season for where he most needed to improve.
But actually the temperatures on Sunday, whilst low enough to have drivers complaining of numb fingers and toes, were not as low as forecast. With the sun peeping through the clouds, the track temperature was up to 15C. Good news for Bottas. Hamilton winning the drag race off the startline and claiming the inside for Turn One was a potential problem, but Bottas hung on around the outside of the right-hander, the two black Mercedes’ perilously close to touching as they understeered way off circuit, but Bottas maintaining momentum enough to still be alongside as they rejoined the track, thereby putting himself on the inside for the left-hander that follows. Now it was Hamilton hanging on around the outside and as he tried to get the power down, so the car snapped out of line, losing him enough momentum to allow Bottas to escape.
Even with the aid of DRS, the Nürburgring isn’t conducive to overtaking and Hamilton’s most feasible route to victory as Bottas set quite a hot early pace was to try for a tyre offset in the second stint. So he backed himself out of the turbulence of Bottas’ car, just enough to keep Verstappen off his back.
The one-stop strategy was calculated as faster by around 5sec over a race distance than a two-stop. But for that to be so required a first stint of at least 20 laps, preferably more. So after a dozen laps or so, Hamilton – having nursed his rubber carefully – began to apply a bit of pressure to his team-mate. Bottas responded, keen to keep Hamilton out of DRS range. There was a little bit of drizzle falling at the first turn and Bottas locked up there going into the 13th lap. He’d badly flat-spotted his right-front and lost the lead. He headed to the pits for replacements, now locked into a two-stop race.