After the snooze-fest at Sochi, Formula 1 headed to another iconic track for this special 2020 season. While the calendar rarely skips Germany, the sport was returning to Nürburgring after a 7-year gap. Technically this would be the first time that the turbo-hybrid F1 cars would be racing at this circuit and it would also be the first race here for more than half the drivers on the current grid. The area of Nürburg is also infamous for its unpredictable weather conditions and there were signs of a possible wet race. All these factors gave us hope for a more interesting race weekend yet again.
It started interestingly enough with Friday’s free practice being cancelled due to the extreme cold, wet and foggy conditions. This meant that no team or driver had any time to test and gain experience with the 2020 F1 cars heading towards qualifying. The cold track temperatures also meant that it could make it harder to find grip as modern Pirelli F1 tyres are most effective when hot enough between a certain range of temperatures.
Another interesting development on Saturday was Lance Stroll having to bow out due to being a bit ill and stuck to the toilet seat. Luckily Racing Point was able to get a hold of Nico Hulkenberg yet again who was in Cologne at the time and by that afternoon, the Hulk was taking part in qualifying. Even though Nico qualified dead last, nobody would hold it against him given the suddenness of the circumstances.
Mercedes kept their streak of pole positions as well as another front-row lockout at the Nürburgring (dubbed as the Eifel GP for some reason). It was Valtteri Bottas who pipped Lewis Hamilton to the front of the grid with Max Verstappen being third fastest. Much to most people’s surprise, Charles Leclerc was fourth quickest around the German track perhaps since the layout didn’t necessarily favour an outright power advantage. Starting behind them would be Alex Albon and Daniel Ricciardo with Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris occupying the fourth row. Sergio Perez meanwhile was only ninth fastest and would be lining up alongside Carlos Sainz on the grid. At the back of the grid, Hulkenberg was joined by Kimi Raikkonen for the record number of F1 race starts as he lined up for the 323rd time. As it happens, the previous F1 race at Nürburgring in 2013 saw Kimi on the podium when he used to drive for the Lotus team alongside then-teammate Romain Grosjean.
I’ve had plenty of practice around the Nürburgring GP circuit in the virtual world of Gran Turismo Sport so I know that the first corner is a tricky one to get right at the start with the decline and the tight angle. Hamilton had the inside line from P2 on the grid and when the lights went out on Sunday, he did try to make the most of it at the start. He went deep into the left-hander, understeering almost, but Bottas stayed alongside on the outside line and was able to cut ahead down the inside of the following turn. Verstappen had a look down the inside of Hamilton on Turn 3 but got blocked off by the Brit. Around the same corner, Albon thought he’d have a go down the inside to regain his position from Ricciardo and pass Leclerc too. Unfortunately, he locked up his front left and earned himself a significant flat-spot and stayed in P6. This allowed Norris and Perez to the put pressure on the Red Bull for the rest of the lap but they weren’t able to make the overtake. It worked out for them anyway since Albon had to pit for a fresh set of Medium tyres by Lap 8 because the flat spot was causing too much vibration. The following lap, Daniel made it past Leclerc around the outside of Turn 2 to move up into P4.
At the front of the field, the two Mercedes were surging ahead with the lonely No.33 Red Bull somewhat nearby in P3. Hamilton was piling the pressure onto Bottas and on Lap 13, it paid off. The Finn locked up his front right wheel while braking for Turn 1 which allowed Lewis to catch up and complete the overtake around Turn 2. At the end of the lap, Bottas pitted for his fresh set of Medium tyres which put him brought him back on track in P4 and only a couple of seconds behind Ricciardo. That’s how far ahead the Mercs were of everyone else.
On Lap 14, we had our first retirement of the race with the broken Williams of George Russell. The unfortunate youngster ended up getting hit by the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen as they were rounding Turn 1. Kimi was rtetaking his position down the inside line but his right front locked up, had a bit of oversteer and ended up side-shunting Russell. The impact sent the Williams car airborne and landing heavily thus causing far more significant damage to the left rear than the right rear that took the impact of the initial collision. Kimi got a 10-second penalty for the collision which seemed fair to him as well. Retrieving the broken car brought on the brief Virtual Safety Car (VSC) period which allowed the front runners an easy pit stop at the end of Lap 16, with Lewis and Max rejoining still ahead of Valtteri. The Renault lost a few positions as the rest of the middle order stayed out. Behind them, Albon was able to recover a few positions as some had pitted earlier in the race and was running in P11.
As he honed in on Daniil Kvyat ahead of him around the penultimate chicane, the Alpha Tauri missed the first corner and cut across the grass to rejoin the track. Albon decided to pass Kvyat on the inside line towards the final corner but for some reason, cut across the AlphaTauri too soon and ended up knocking Kvyat’s front wing off, just as they rounded the pit entry. The Russian ended up having to do the entire lap while missing most of his front downforce which put him in plum last.
At the end of Lap 17, we were treated to a bit of a shock when Bottas was being overtaken by Norris and Perez around the penultimate chicane. The Finn was heard reporting a loss of power from his Mercedes power unit and the following lap, the No. 77 W11 was retired. A particularly sad end after the successful result at Sochi just a couple of weeks ago. This moment pretty much solidified Hamilton’s victory at the 2020 Eifel GP with a bleak hope for some rain or similar engine issues. Max was keeping within a 3 to 4 seconds range of the Brit but seemed to lack the pace to hunt him down. Meanwhile, P3 was more than 30 seconds behind them both with more than half the race remaining. Soon after Bottas, Ocon and Albon joined the retiree list with mechanical problems. For Alex, the race seemed over anyway since he picked up a penalty for his collision with Kvyat and narrowly missed hitting Gasly too.
The final DNF of this race was Lando Norris whose McLaren also fell victim to engine issues from Lap 26 onwards. Norris was having a good race and seemed poised for another strong point-scoring finish in P3 before pitting on Lap 30 for his fresh set of Medium tyres. After the stop, he was still in P5 but slid down to P7 over the next couple of laps. Perez was racing Leclerc for P4 and the Racing Point eventually got ahead of the Ferrari. It was on Lap 44 that Norris finally had to park the car on the runoff for Turn 6. While it looked like he parked close enough to the barrier exit, the stewards still deployed the Safety Car to slow things down while the stricken McLaren was recovered. Norris also gave the world a new McLaren-retired-deckchair meme as he slumped into one at the steward post, a throwback to the now-iconic Alonso meme from 2015.
With Bottas out of the running, Ricciardo had been enjoying P3 for most of the race but was getting caught by Perez whose tyres were 12 laps fresher. By Lap 44, Lewis had already lapped most of the middle order and was more than a minute clear of the third-place Renault. When the safety car was deployed, Ricciardo jumped into the pits right away for a set of used soft tyres while Hamilton, Verstappen and Perez did the same the following lap. Most others pitted on the same lap as the Renault except for Leclerc, Vettel, Grosjean, Magnussen and Latifi who had pitted less than 10 laps before the SC. Since most cars had to un-lap themselves under the SC period, it ended up having to stay out for an extra lap or two which wasn’t a popular decision with the front runners (Lewis and Max) who were reporting to their teams that their tyres were getting dangerously cold and would struggle for any grip at the restart.
Hamilton is a master of race restarts and was able to time it perfectly yet again when the SC pitted at the end of Lap 49 of 60. The Mercedes driver was able to shoot off while Verstappen struggled for traction around the final corner. Ricciardo tried to get past his former teammate with Perez hot on his tail but the Red Bull was once again out of reach. The Honey Badger spent the last few laps staying out of DRS range of the Racing Point behind him which was the most action we’d enjoyed in the second half of the Eifel GP.
In the end, Lewis took the chequered flag at the Nürburging and now equals Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins in Formula 1. To commemorate this historic achievment, Mick Schumacher, Michael’s son, presented Lewis with one of his dad’s iconic red helmets from his latter years in F1. It was a poignant moment for fans across the board.
His record-equalling seventh driver’s world championship seems confirmed too with Bottas now being 69 points behind and there are only 6 races left in this shortened season. Verstappen secured yet another P2 finish, taking his podium tally to 7 for the 2020 season.
But the car most of us were most excited to see across the finish line was the No.3 Renault of Daniel Ricciardo who finished P3. The Aussie had not only claimed his first podium since Monaco 2018 but the first podium result for the Renault team since they returned to F1 as a factory outfit in 2016. Daniel had been tantalisingly close to the podium spot a few times in the last few races but ran out of laps to close the gap. The R.S.20 has improved dramatically in the second half of the season and Ricciardo’s strong results speak for themselves. It was great to see his smiley face on the podium again. While he completely forgot to do a shoey on the ceremony stage, he did one for the fans once he got to his trailer and you can see it below:
Sergio Perez had to settle for P4, just missing out on ending his dry run of podiums too. But he still earned the team crucial constructor points. The only person who got us as excited as Ricciardo on the podium was Nico Hulkenberg who managed to finish a respectable P8. This from a man who is not actively driving in F1 and had no plans of racing until the day before. Not only did the Hulk get #driveroftheday, but his result also helped Racing Point climb to third in the constructor’s championship.
A tough day for McLaren with only one car finishing the race but Carlos was still able to salvage the situation with a P5 result. Pierre Gasly was able to get P6 thanks to a long first stint after starting on the Medium tyres from 12th on the grid. If it hadn’t been for the Albon incident, Kvyat could have scored some points too but he ended the race in last. Charles was the only Ferrari driver to get some points this weekend with a P7 finish while Vettel crossed the line in P11. The former champion had a rough start when he spun early in the race and had to change tyres after just 11 laps on the Mediums. Kimi ended up in P12 after serving his 10-second penalty in the pits but teammate Giovinazzi picked up another point with his P10 finish.
Even Haas got a couple of points at Germany thanks to a resilient drive from Romain Grosjean, starting 16th and finishing P9. He made some cool overtakes too during the race and picked up a small injury near the start of the race when the car ahead kicked up some gravel that struck the Frenchman’s index finger. Teammate Kevin Magnussen lost out on the alternate strategy and finished P13 while Williams pointless run continues as Nicolas Latifi crossed the line in P14.
The Eifel GP at Nürburgring stole the best chance of a wet race and the Mercedes dominance was almost unbearable but it still gave us a few memorable twists and results. Hopefully, things will be more interesting for the next triple-header of exciting circuits, starting with Portimao in two weeks.
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Final race standings
- L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:35:49.641
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +4.470
- D. Ricciardo Renault +14.613
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +16.070
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +21.905
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +22.766
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +30.814
- N. Hulkenberg Racing Point BWT Mercedes +32.596
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +39.081
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +40.035
- S. Vettel Ferrari +40.810
- K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +41.476
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +49.585
- N. Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes +54.449
- D. Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda +55.588
- L. Norris McLaren Renault DNF
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda DNF
- E. Ocon Renault DNF
- V. Bottas Mercedes DNF
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes DNF