Just one week after Jeremy Clarkson launched a scathing attack on F1 due to a lack of exciting racing, F1 has produced one of the best races for a number of years. Hockenheim has never been the most exciting of layouts in my opinion since the track was redesigned. However, today it produced a spectacle that was exciting throughout.
The race started as the first proper wet race of the season; meaning it was a huge leap into the unknown for teams. This was the first time, outside of the simulator, that they would get to see how their cars performed in the wet. At first, it seemed that there would be a mix of starters on the wet tyres and the inters. However, in the end everyone started on the wets.
The formation lap started behind the safety car. The formation lap isn’t usually a place for drama or controversy. Today was different, as it took 4 formation laps before the safety car pulled in to let the grid form up. Lots of drivers including Verstappen, Vettel and Hamilton all agreed with me, thinking it was unnecessary. They wanted to get on with the race. The start was action packed. Pierre Gasly’s Red Bull fell from 4th all the way down to 8th, a sign to come for his afternoon. Räikkönen made his way up to 3rd; a fantastic start for Alfa Romeo and the Iceman. The Ferraris had also made good progress on the opening lap. Leclerc had made his way into 6th from 10th, with his teammate Vettel in 14th after starting in 20th and last place.
I expected the race to settle down for lap 2, however I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sergio Perez lost control of his Racing point on the exit of turn 10 and slid across into the barriers. The safety car was released into the race for the first time, bunching up the field. With the track drying up, it was the perfect opportunity for drivers to get rid of their wet tyres and switch on to intermediates. The whole field went on to the inters, apart from Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, Lance Stoll’s Racing Point, Lando Norris’ McLaren along with George Russel and Robert Kubica’s Williams cars. Those who stayed out on the wets had clearly made the wrong call. By lap 5, the safety car had pulled in and we were racing once again. However, Magnussen who was in 2nd after staying out, was immediately swamped by Valterri Bottas and Max Verstappen.
Those who had taken the risk on the full wet tyres had all changed to the inters by lap 9. The gamble didn’t pay off, and it seemed that it would be a long Sunday for all of those who didn’t pit under the safety car. Talking of the pitstops under the safety car, Charles Leclerc was released too early by his Ferrari team, which lead to a near collision between him and the Haas of Romain Grosjean. I have to say, when the new series of F1 Drive to Survive comes out on Netflix, I can’t wait to see Gunther Steiner’s reaction to that incident! However the stewards investigated the incident, and rather than the standard 5 second stop go penalty we have got all too used to seeing, Leclerc was not personally penalised. Ferrari were instead fined by the FIA. This is something that does make me wonder. I agree Leclerc shouldn’t have been penalised; however Ferrari gained time out of it. With the deep pockets Ferrari have, they could see it as worth the small fine. However, unsafe releases put drivers at risk and they have to be eliminated.
Anyway, back to the race and on to lap 10. Hamilton was leading with supreme pace over everyone and was followed by Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas. Verstappen was third with Leclerc’s Ferrari in 4th. Räikkönen’s Alfa was 6th ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari in 7thy. A fantastic start to the race for Seb, however, his pace wasn’t looking good. The Toro Rosso and Haas cars were spread out all the way from 9th with Albon and 16th with Magnussen. However, we had hope for more drama, as we were told heavy rain was on the way.
Drama is what we got. Driver’s all over the grid were struggling for grip; notably Leclerc at turn 16 when he nearly lost the back end. However, through beautiful car control, he kept it on the track. On lap 15, we got the Virtual Safety Car released when Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault poured white smoke out of its exhaust and poured fluid all over the track from the hairpin all the way to turn 8. Leclerc gained a free stop and was able to put new inters on, along with the other Renault of Nico Hulkenberg. The VSC ended and caused havoc, as the track was drying up. Neither inters nor slicks appeared to be the correct tyre at this stage. Carlos Sainz got it wrong at the final corner which put him down the order. Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc was flying on fresh tyres, setting fastest laps and closing in on Verstappen. However, we wouldn’t get to see this battle as the race started to unfold.
Lap 22 saw Kevin Magnussen take another massive risk, as he became the first car to put slick tyres on. Vettel followed on lap 24, however the softs appeared to be working, as Magnussen set a personal best middle sector. Many followed Vettel and Magnussen on to the softs that seemed to work. However Verstappen and Bottas both put mediums on, a less grippy compound as they were thinking about getting to the end of the race without stopping. This was a bad decision on Red Bull’s part, as Verstappen had a big spin on the exit of turn 10 due to a lack of grip on the mediums. At the same time, McLaren had put Sainz on to new inters, suggesting confusion as to the right tyre at this point. However, Leclerc got rid of any doubt, as he went wide at the final turn and aquaplaned into the barriers.
The consequences of Leclerc’s crash were massive. The safety car was deployed for the second time in the race, and carnage ensued. Hamilton had a big moment at the penultimate corner, losing his front wing in the process. He then entered the pits incorrectly, getting a 5 second stop go penalty that was later awarded. Then, to add insult to injury, Mercedes weren’t ready in the pits for Lewis, leading to him being stationary for 50 seconds, and throwing the race away in the process. After the field settled under the safety car, Verstappen led from Hulkenberg’s Renault, and Bottas’ Mercedes. Hamilton was down in 5th. Everyone was back on the intermediate tyres.
Verstappen got away extremely well and over the following laps extended a big lead out over Nico Hulkenberg. Nico was struggling for pace, and he dropped down to 4th by the end of lap 38. He then crashed 3 laps later in similar fashion to Leclerc; bringing out another safety car. Both Vettel and Verstappen stopped for new inters in tricky conditions. Hamilton couldn’t due to his penalty which would put him out in traffic.
The safety car went into the pits on lap 45. However, once again, one of the midfield teams decided to take a gamble. Lance Stroll put the soft tyres on and this proved to be a masterstroke, as everyone followed in the next 2 laps. And by lap 47, Stoll led the race. It wasn’t for long before Verstappen overtook him for the lead. However, still a fantastic strategy call nevertheless.
Cars at this stage were exchanging fastest laps, with Verstappen, Vettel and Even Daniil Kvyat setting them as they fought for the fastest lap point. Meanwhile, Hamilton was having a shocker. He was struggling for pace, and then after a spin at turn 1, he went down to 13th. He narrowly avoided the barriers. However, his teammate Bottas wasn’t so lucky. Valterri’s car smashed into the barriers, bringing out the safety car for the 4th time.
The closing stages were extremely tense. Could Hamilton salvage some points? Could Vettel get on the podium. Could Stroll and Kvyat hold on to their podiums. Sadly for Lance Stroll and Lewis Hamilton, neither of these things happened. Hamilton was only able to manage 11th, and Stroll was overtaken by a charging Seb Vettel; cheered on by his home crowd. Kvyat was unable to hold on to 2nd, but held off Stroll for the final step on the podium. Max Verstappen took out an incredible race win which gave the many people dressed in orange something to cheer about in the grandstand. Stroll finished 4th, bringing back vital points for the Racing Point Team and Sainz finished a solid 5th for McLaren. Albon was only 6th which was disappointing with his teammates performnance. However, his incident with Gasly would have hampered his performance. Räikkönen brought solid points home for Alfa in 7th and his teammate Antonio Giovanazzi followed suit in 8th The Haas cars of Grosjean and MAgnussen were 9th and 10th respectively to finish the points finishes. Hamilton was 11th with the Williams cars 12th and 13th.
What a race. I haven’t been able to say for a while that I was excited all the way through a Grand Prix. Today, that changed. It just shows how much the rain can level the game and how you should never give up in F1. At one point, Kvyat was 17th, but somehow he hauled his Toro Rosso up the field for a podium. Well done F1. To respond to high level criticism from Mr Clarkson in that manner is outstanding. If rain brings this much excitement to the 2019 season, I will be doing a rain dance on the 4th of August for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
*Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovanazzi were penalized post race for using an illegal clutch map. Both drivers received 30 second penalties resulting in Räikkönen being demoted from 7th to 12th and Giovanazzi being demoted from 8th to 13th. Hamilton and Kubica therefore scored points as they finished 9th and 10th respectively after the penalties. Haas also saw more points, as Grosjean and Magnussen were promoted to 7th and 8th respectively.