After the fantastic bit of racing at Silverstone last round, Germany just mic dropped on the whole season with the first wet race of 2019. The temperatures were reaching record-highs on Friday and Saturday which left the teams without any test data on how their cars would run in the wet on the intermediate and wet compound tyres.
It was a disastrous qualifying for Scuderia Ferrari after dominating the practice sessions as both cars were stumped by technical issues. First was Sebastian Vettel who couldn’t set a time at all and thus started last on the grid, due to an issue with the intercooler. Then Charles Leclerc made it to Q3 before his stallion suffered an issue with the fuel pump control unit and did not let him set a time, starting 10th on the grid. Mercedes seemed to have overcome their tyre woes in high temperatures, capitalizing on Ferrari’s bad luck. Lewis Hamilton qualified for pole position while teammate Valterri Bottas was third fastest.
Max Verstappen qualified second fastest, giving Honda their first front-row start in over a decade. Fellow Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly secured fourth on the starting grid. It was a good day for Alfa Romeo too as Kimi Raikkonen qualified fifth fastest, his best start to the season so far. The Finn shared the third row on the grid with the Haas of Romain Grosjean, who tends to perform well at the Hockenheimring. Behind them, Carlos Sainz was 7th fastest in his McLaren outqualifying Renault yet again who’s best time was set by Nico Hulkenberg, starting 9th. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez managed to get into Q3 and secured the 8th spot on the grid.
8 different teams in the top 10. The eve of the race, the forecasts confirm one important factor for Sunday afternoon – rain.
The cars lineup for the formation lap behind the safety car, everyone is on the blue-stripe wet tyres, the track is wet with cars spraying up a sheet of water behind them affecting the visibility of the cars behind. The fans are ready, the racers are ready, but the safety car doesn’t come in yet and stays out for a total of three laps. It’s now a 64-lap race as everybody finally lines up for the race start.
It’s a great start for both Mercedes drivers as Verstappen struggles for grip to get off the line while Raikkonen gets the jump on Gasly. Hamilton leads into the first corner followed by the Finns, then Max. Vettel makes up six places on the first lap while Leclerc is in P6 by the second lap. The racing is slow and delicate with cars going off into run-off areas as they try to manage the weight of a full tank of fuel on the slippery surface.
Sergio Perez goes into a spin, hits the wall sideways and gets a flat tyre ending his race on the second lap. The safety car is deployed and the first rush of tyre changes ensues with the lead pack already on the third lap. All but five drivers come into the pits to switch to the faster, intermediate tyres (green striped). Lewis stayed ahead of Valterri, Max and Charles. The defending champ seemed to be in a good spot, starting to pull away from the pack but there was more rain incoming.
Even before that, Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault developed some power unit issues and pulled over on the side of the track after spewing liquids and stuff. A Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed on lap 15 and so Leclerc pitted for another set of Inters, the rest of the front runners stayed out. Meanwhile, Lewis is comfortably ahead and Max has caught up to Bottas. Leclerc begins to reel them in on the fresher set of tyres and is back up to P4 in a short time. It looks promising for Ferrari to make a comeback now and the track has started to dry up in parts. It’s risky but teams are starting to experiment with slicks.
After 25 laps, Red Bull pits Verstappen to put him on Medium tyres, followed by Bottas. The Dutch pirouettes over a kerb, does a 360 and regains control. Then on Lap 28 Ferrari puts Leclerc on Soft tyres and as he comes around the final corner on his out-lap, he fucks up. The youngster is carrying too much speed, understeers, aquaplanes over the kerb and into the pool that is the drag racing strip before sliding into the barrier. The car seems fine except that it’s beached and try as he might, the wheels simply spin and don’t go anywhere. Charles Leclerc is out of the race, in a similarly frustrating fashion to how Vettel’s German GP ended in 2018.
Meanwhile, on the lead lap and also on Soft slicks, race leader Lewis comes around to the same corner and also aquaplanes off the final corner and into the wall, but he’s not carrying as much momentum. He hits the wall and damages his front wing but he’s able to keep the Mercedes from getting beached on the gravel. He drives it back into the pits, crossing over the track and grass separating the pit entry lane. There’s a safety car out to collect the Ferrari and Mercedes’ crew is scrambling for this completely unexpected pit stop. It takes them nearly a minute to put on the new front wing and a fresh set of Intermediates. The rest of the top runners have come into the pits as well to change from slicks to inters as well.
Bottas stays out to lead the race behind the safety car and ahead of Verstappen, Hulkenberg and Albon. Mercedes pit the Finn on the second lap behind the safety car which allows Max to take P1, on a fresh set of Inters with no immediate threat as Bottas rejoins the queue in P3, Hamilton in P5 and Vettel in P8. The racing resumes on Lap 34 with the Red Bull leading the pack and Max takes off, well aware that the Silver Arrows will make quick work of the cars in between them. But Lewis has also been handed a 5-second time penalty for wrongly entering the pit lane after this spin, so there is still a good chance for the Dutchman to aim for the win.
Then Nico ends up in swimming into the same barrier as Charles and Lewis on Lap 41, ending his and Renault’s German GP which brings the safety car back out on track. Max pits for another fresh set of Intermediates as does Vettel who is still in P7. The SC returns to the pits and action resumes again on Lap 46 and Max puts in a great in-lap before pitting for Soft slicks. Bottas pits next, handing the lead to Hamilton who then pits the lap after (Lap 48) and is followed by Vettel too. Lewis’ penalty puts him further down the grid now, in P13.
As all this is going down, Racing Point’s bold strategy to be the first to switch to Soft slicks during the safety car period pays off. With Hamilton pitting, Lance Stroll is running in P1 for a brief couple of corners before being passed by Verstappen. Daniil Kvyat is running in P3, setting a faster lap than Max, followed by Bottas, Sainz, Magnussen, Albon, Vettel and Raikkonen. Home-hero Seb begins to make his way up the field once again. A win is out but a podium is well within reach.
You’d think Lewis’ race couldn’t get worse but it did as he spun out again, this time on Turn 1 at the start of Lap 53. But he manages to keep it out of the barriers yet again and gets it back into the garage for another set of slicks and rejoins the race in P14. At least Bottas will score some points for Mercedes in their 125th Grand Prix, that too at their home circuit, right? Almost. In an almost replay fashion, Bottas also spins out on the first corner on Lap 56, losing the rear end as a fraction of the tyres go off the dry racing line. This time the Silver Arrow hits the barriers, hard. One more trip for the Safety Car which also allows Lewis to pit again while in last place to make a final attempt to make it into the points.
Three laps on, the SC pits and Verstappen takes off for the final five laps of the German Grand Prix. Kvyat is finding his way past Stroll as Vettel makes his way through the middle order while rookie Albon gets past Gasly. Sebastian makes light work of the pink F1 car to move up to P3 with two laps to go. On that same lap, Gasly makes a desperate attempt to take his position back from the Toro Rosso and somehow ends up breaking his front end and ruining his race.
Max Verstappen took the victory while Vettel took P2 on the penultimate lap and Kvyat claimed P3 for Toro Rosso’s first podium result in more than a decade. The most beloved podium for racing fans in a very long time indeed and a heroic comeback for Ferrari’s home hero Sebastian Vettel after starting 20th. This is why we love a wet Formula One Sunday!
Mercedes not getting a top-10 finish after their celebrations all weekend to mark their 125 years in motorsport, was a sweet cherry on top for those of us tired of their dominance.
In the end, there were only 13 racers to finish the 2019 GP around Hockenheim. Stroll was able to hang onto P4 while Sainz finished P5 ahead of Albon. Even though Raikkonen and Giovinazzi crossed the line in P7 and P8 respectively, the Alfa Romeo drivers were handed a 30-second time penalty for using ‘driver aids’ at the start of the race.
Both Haas cars crossed the line in the points, Grosjean ahead of Magnussen while Hamilton finished his race in P11. Both Williams cars were able to make it to the chequered flag too, Kubica in P12 and Russell in P13. After the two Alfas got penalised, Kubica got moved up to P10, earning Williams their first championship point this season.
Other noteworthy statistics from this race include a new world record for the fastest pit stop, set by Red Bull again – four new tyres in just 1.88 seconds. Holy f*ck! Also, there were a total of 78 pit stops made during this race. The action resumes without a gap in Hungary before the month-long summer break. Unlikely that it will be anything as exciting, but the Dutch Red Bull duo is bound to offer some serious competition to the Brit in the Silver Arrow.
Full final standings:
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda — 1:44:31.275
- S. Vettel Ferrari +7.333
- D. Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +8.305
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +8.966
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +9.583
- A. Albon Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +10.052
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +16.838
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +18.765
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +19.667
- R. Kubica Williams Racing Mercedes +24.987
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +26.404
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +42.214
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +43.849
- P. Gasly Aston Martin Red Bul Racing Honda DNF
- V. Bottas Mercedes DNF
- N. Hulkenberg Renault DNF
- C. Leclerc Ferrari DNF
- L. Norris McLaren Renault DNF
- D. Ricciardo Renault DNF
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes DNF