Verstappen leads home Vettel and Kvyat to win remarkable rain-affected German Grand Prix – Stroll a brilliant fourth

Max Verstappen took advantage of several safety car situations, great strategy and mistakes from rival drivers on a wet circuit to win a dramatic German Grand Prix from a charging Sebastian Vettel and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, Acronis partner team Racing Point’s Lance Stroll finishing a brilliant fourth.

The Dutchman recovered from a bad start off the line to put himself back in the mix for victory. And after Charles Leclerc skated off into the barriers and Hamilton made a mistake the same part of the circuit when seemingly in control of the race (also suffering a time penalty), Verstappen led home Kvyat and Stroll after Valtteri Bottas also crashed out whilst pressurising the Canadian.

It meant for a quite remarkable finish, Kvyat and Stroll timing their final stops for the softest compound rubber perfectly as the rain abated with 20 laps remaining, catching their rivals by surprise.

“Wow what a race,” said an exhausted Verstappen after taking the chequered flag. “Thank you Christian, what a result. Also thank you to the whole team for the pit stop as well, we did a really good job. Thank you.

“It was amazing for us to win in the end, but it was really tricky out there and to make the right calls you really had to remain focused,” added Verstappen in his post race interview. “We pitted on the slick tyre and had a little moment with a 360 (spin) which was nice but great to come out on top here and it was all about trying not to make too many mistakes and really tricky conditions but of course, amazing to win. You learn over the years but very happy for the whole performance today.”

Despite Verstappen’s victory, the driver of the day was arguably Vettel, who bounced back from a nightmare qualifying session to finish a remarkable second, a year after he had slid from the lead of the race.

“It was a long race. At some stages it felt like never ending but a lot of fun,” said Vettel. “It was very tough with the conditions, very tough to read what was the smartest move but yeah, I’m just happy. In the medium on the intermediates I really couldn’t get the hang of it. Eventually, I got the hang of it and got going, so it was good the afternoon took so long, obviously stayed tidy for most of the race and it was a long one. I don’t know if I can recap the whole race now but congratulations to Max, he drove superb but for us obviously to go and get the next car, the next car and the next car.”

For Kvyat, dropped by Toro Rosso towards the end of the 2017 season, the podium marked something of a story of redemption, the Russian understandably delighted to celebrate the birth of his first child the evening before with such a performance.

“It is amazing to be back on the podium,” said Kvyat. “Incredible for Toro Rosso after so many years to bring a podium to the team is amazing and the race was crazy. Finally, I managed to put everything together to get this podium and I’m really happy. It was a horror movie with a bit of black comedy. An incredible rollercoaster, a bit like my whole career!”

With the forecast rain arriving on cue on Sunday, full wet tyres were the order of the day when all five red lights went out to signal the start of the race. But that start was delayed by three laps behind the safety car before a standing start was decided upon.

For many F1 rookies on the grid, the prospect of racing in the rain was a completely new experience but it was Verstappen who was slow out of the blocks, passed by Raikkonen as the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly also dropped places.

The Ferraris, who experienced dreadful luck in qualifying, were also fast starters, Vettel carving his way through the field with Leclerc slicing his way up to fourth from tenth on the grid.

Then the first drama and first safety car of the day, Sergio Perez spinning into the wall on the exit to Turn 11, putting on the power too early and losing control, Vettel leading the charge for intermediate tyres as the Mercedes duo followed suit.

With Kevin Magnussen staying out on full wets, it looked the wrong decision, those opting to stay out on the heavy rain tyre quickly swallowed up by those on intermediate tyres, the leading contenders all on the latter – a great scrap for fourth ensuing between Leclerc and Hulkenberg.

When the race settled into some kind of order, it was almost inevitable that the Mercedes duo led Verstappen and Leclerc, and the Monegasque was fortunate to escape a time penalty for an unsafe release into the path of Romain Grosjean, stewards imposing a fine instead.

The calm didn’t last for long, a huge engine blow-out ending the luckless Daniel Ricciardo’s race and bringing about a Virtual Safety Car. With more rain forecast, Leclerc and Hulkenberg boxed for a new set of fresh inters, timing their stops perfectly to retain position. It was a move that paid dividends, Leclerc gaining three seconds a lap on leader Hamilton, the Renault also gaining time.

With the track rapidly drying but more rain forecast, the race became an intriguing strategic game of guess and double guess of what to do. Haas and Magnussen were first to roll the dice, stopping for the softest, red banded rubber with light rain still falling, Vettel following suit a lap later. Next, it was Verstappen, Red Bull bolting on the medium slick tyres, possibly to take him to the end of the race.

With Bottas also stopping for mediums and Leclerc changing onto the soft red-banded rubber mid-way through the race, all eyes were on race leader Hamilton. And it was also the softest rubber for the Englishman. It was the wrong choice, emphasised by Leclerc pushing too hard, skating off the circuit and into the barriers on the penultimate corner. And with rain returning, Hamilton also made a mistake in exactly the same place, just avoiding the barriers but damaging his nose cone. The Mercedes team weren’t ready, however, and it cost Hamilton the what looked like a certain victory.

Suddenly, it was Verstappen who found himself in control of the race ahead of surprise package of Hulkenberg with Bottas leading Alexander Albon and Hamilton. Things soon went from bad to worse for Hamilton, slapped with a five second time penalty for entering the pits the wrong side of the bollard.

With both Mercedes making quick work of Hulkenberg’s Renault, the pursuit of Verstappen’s Red Bull was about to get easier after the German’s race ended in the familiar barrier on the final corner, bringing about another safety car.

Another great call from Red Bull gave Verstappen a fresh set of inters with which to keep his pursuers at bay – Mercedes keeping Hamilton out rather than serve the time penalty in the pits and putting him out behind traffic again.

It made for a dramatic finish, Verstappen leading a gaggle of cars in to stop for slicks with just 17 laps remaining. With Hamilton having to serve his penalty, it put the Englishman back out in 12th, Stroll remarkably momentarily leading the race for Acronis partner team Racing Point after gambling on slicks much earlier than the opposition. “How did this all go so wrong?” bemoaned the championship leader. He may have spoken too soon, a 360 degree spin putting the Englishman an unaccustomed dead last.

When Kvyat passed Stroll with 13 laps remaining, the podium had a remarkably strange look about it, and it got even better for Stroll as Bottas pushed too hard and spun off into the barriers in an attempt to get past the Canadian.

It brought out yet another safety car and the drama wasn’t over yet, Vettel passing Stroll for third with just two laps remaining before surging past Kvyat a few corners later to complete a quite remarkable drive from the back of the grid.

“I’m very happy,” said Stroll afterward. “It’s a bit unfortunate that the podium slipped away from us today because we were definitely in a position to finish on the podium. With 20 laps to go, I think I was leading the race at one point and a small error into Turn 8 allowed Daniil to get by and that was a bit disappointing but aside  from that, it was a hectic race and we were at the back for the majority of it but we were at the right tyre with 20 laps to go and that’s all that counts.

“I was driving around the circuit with my visor half open for a whole lap. Looking, inspecting the tarmac thinking is it good enough for slicks? We had to take that risk with 20 laps to go. We were at the back, we weren’t scoring points. It wasn’t fully dry at that stage of the race. There were still some corners where it was still quite damp and just about survival but I knew if we could just jump our competitors, who were still on inters at that time, we would be in pretty good shape and that was the case.”

The result of one of the most bizarre Formula One races yet witnessed now means that Verstappen is only 22 points behind Bottas and 61 points behind Hamilton.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.