Lewis Hamilton retook the lead of the drivers’ championship after title rival Sebastian Vettel crashed out of the lead of his home grand prix in dramatic fashion.
Vettel had looked likely to back up his British Grand Prix win with another at his home race with only a dozen laps remaining. But as the forecast rain hit the Hockenheim circuit with increasing ferocity, the German slithered off at Turn 12 and into the gravel at Sachskurve.
“Guys what an amazing job thank you so much I’m so grateful,” said Hamilton over the radio after taking the chequered flag. “Love conquers all. Love conquers all.”
It means that Hamilton, who had charged through the field to second at Silverstone, produced a similarly remarkable drive to gain revenge and take victory on German soil and extend his lead to 17 points. It was a sweet result for the reigning champion, who has had to endure his fair share of bad luck this season.
“It’s obviously very difficult from that position and highly unlikely but you had to believe,” added Hamilton on the podium. “I never thought it would be possible to do something, but you have to keep pushing and you have to believe. Thanks be to god. It was so tough out there, but conditions were perfect for me this time. You never knew what would happen with the other guys behind with the safety car. The team did a fantastic result today, I’m so grateful. Hopefully this solidifies the belief.”
Valtteri Bottas made it a memorable 1-2 for Mercedes to give home fans at least something to cheer, Kimi Raikkonen joining the silver arrow duo on the podium. Max Verstappen finished fourth after a failed gamble on intermediate tyres ahead of Nico Hulkenberg.
And the Acronis Mission Control Centre in Silverstone was left celebrating one of their best results as Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were a brilliant seventh and eighth respectively – the Frenchman producing a quite stunning drive from the very back of the grid.
As was the case at Silverstone, it was a great start from Hamilton, who passed Esteban Ocon, Marcus Ericsson, Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc from his starting position of 14th as the field made a rare clean getaway.
Perez was another fast starter for Force India, passing Carlos Sainz, Leclerc and Romain Grosjean and up to an excellent seventh. It was good news for the team after Ocon’s engine woes of Saturday. But a slow first pitstop, with troubles on the front right tyre, meant he frustratingly dropped back down the field before finishing strongly.
Hamilton was up to fifth by lap 15 but Kimi Raikkonen was able to pit and come out ahead of the Englishman with a new set of softs on. And with Vettel’s opening set of ultra-softs past their optimum range, the leader pitted on lap 26.
Mercedes knew their only chance of getting Hamilton on the podium was to go for the one stop strategy. Just as Hamilton needed to charge from the back of the field in Britain, so the same old story unfolded as the drama delivered in spades.
Daniel Ricciardo’s retirement on lap 29 with a technical issue threatened a virtual safety car to play into Hamilton’s hands. But with the Australian parking in a sensible area and marshals working fast to move the car into a safe position, Hamilton would have to do it the hard way.
And then, as if in answer to the Englishman’s prayers, rain came to the rescue of the English rain master, or as they used to call the great Michael Schumacher in Germany, Der Regenmeister!
Ahead of Hamilton, Ferrari seemed to be doing a good job of scuppering Vettel’s chances with Raikkonen holding back his teammate on older tyres.
“This is just silly, I am just losing time,” complained the championship leader as Hamilton edged ever closer.
Finally, the message from Jock Clear came through and Raikkonen pulled out of the way. But more drama was in the offing for Ferrari.
With rain imminent, Mercedes gambled on boxing Hamilton for ultra-softs. It seemed to be a big call as others, including Max Verstappen, gambled on the intermediate tyre as the rain tumbled down in Turn 6.
But the call appeared to be the correct one as Hamilton banged out fast lap after fast lap to close on the Ferraris.
And when the rain returned with greater ferocity only 16 laps before the end of the race, it made for a chaotic ending with cars slithering and sliding around, struggling massively for grip.
Raikkonen was first to suffer, losing out to Bottas whilst trying to lap a slowing Haas. But worse was to come for Ferrari as Vettel slithered off to the dismay of the home fans.
If it was to be the last German Grand Prix at Hockenheim for the foreseeable future, it was quite the dramatic ending.
Practice makes perfect – the art of the pit stop
Things were initially looking extremely good for Force India with Sergio Perez running a strong seventh until his first pitstop.
Yet as we have seen so often this season with several teams, executing the perfect pitstop in around two seconds is never an easy thing despite the hundreds of practices that go exactly according to plan.
As with almost every aspect of F1 racing, minute attention to detail and rigorous practice is the key to executing the perfect pit stop.
All of the important work is done during the race weekend and the foundations are laid as early as free practice where drivers will practice tyre burnouts over the pit box area to lay down rubber on the slippery concrete surface to improve grip and traction for the pit stops proper.
Now it’s time to practice a stop. The driver will follow four yellow marker arrows in his pit box leading up to the lollipop man and line up his front axle to stop in line with markers being held by the two of the front mechanics.
Once stationary, the car is jacked up and the mechanics can get to work and there are three in place on each corner of the car. One operates the wheel gun, one detaches the old tyre and the other attaches the new one. When the new wheel is in place, each mechanic will raise his arm to signal the job is done and when all four arms are up, the lollipop is lifted and away goes the driver. All in under two seconds.
Of course, not every pitstop always runs like clockwork, even for a team as polished as Force India and behind each tyre crew is a backup wheel gun and a spare wheel nut. Although now a rarity, stalling the car is also a possibility and for this reason a further mechanic lies in wait behind the rear jack operator just in case with a starter motor.
It’s such an important part of grand prix racing that pit crews will practice changing a car’s tyres up to 60 times a weekend with each driver having around 20 mechanics designated to him.
Top image: 2018 German Grand Prix, Saturday. © Wolfgang Wilhelm