An outstanding drive from Lewis Hamilton has netted the former World Champion his second win of the 2011 Formula 1 season. The Briton emerged on top at the end of a race-long three-way scrap with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber for the lead, while Sebastian Vettel took fourth, finishing off the podium for the first time this season.
Concern over possible rain showers hitting the circuit proved relatively unfounded, as the dark clouds hanging over the Eifel region decided not to deposit their contents on the track. But the race proved exciting enough without the rain, with the action featuring plenty of overtaking and strategy choices as teams tried to deal with the chilly conditions.
Mark Webber might be a good qualifier – this being his third pole position of the season – but there was one glaring statistic heading into Sunday’s race: he’d yet to lead a lap all season. And the Australian’s history of poor getaways continued once again, dropping his revs too low as the red lights went out. He was instantly passed by Lewis Hamilton on the short run into Turn 1, and he found himself sandwiched by the Ferraris as they braked for the often-fraught right-hander. Neither made it by him, but Alonso slotted into third ahead of Vettel, while Felipe Massa ran too wide and fell to sixth behind Nico Rosberg.
On the second lap, Vettel got past Alonso when the Spaniard ran wide after touching a damp Astroturf patch at the exit of the corner, but the positions were reversed when Alonso drafted by Vettel with a neat move into Turn 1 six laps later.
Vettel’s hopes of recovering to a podium finish went belly-up when he touched a damp white marker line braking for Turn 10, pitching him into a sudden spin, from which he quickly recovered, but the top-three had disappeared up the road.
Up ahead, the closely-matched trio of Hamilton, Webber and Alonso continued to duke it out, and Webber momentarily took the lead on lap 12 at the final corner when Hamilton had a moment at the Veedol Chicane. But Hamilton quickly redressed this, and blasted by on the front straight to resume the lead once again.
With the temperatures being surprisingly cold, strategy was going to play an important role, as no one wanted to run on the harder ‘Medium’ Pirelli compound for any length of time, it being estimated to be up to two seconds a lap slower than the ‘Soft’ compound.
For the frontrunners, a three-stop strategy was the way to go, and Webber blinked first when he pitted on lap 14. He emerged in some traffic, but his subsequent laps in clear air proved quick enough for him to leapfrog Hamilton and Alonso when they pitted in unison on lap 16.
With Vettel and Rosberg having also made their first pit stops, Massa held onto the lead and was the last of the frontrunners to pit for fresh tyres, releasing Webber into the lead. But the Red Bull driver couldn’t build any sort of cushion over the chasing Hamilton and Alonso, and his margin over the pair was negligible when he pitted for a second tyre change on lap 30. Hamilton and Alonso would follow with their pit stops over the next two laps.
This time, Webber’s hopes of getting an advantage on fresher rubber didn’t eventuate. Hamilton emerged from the pit lane line astern with Webber, and doggedly held him off as they snaked their way through the opening sector of the lap. Alonso actually emerged in front Hamilton, but the McLaren’s slightly warmer tyres proved the difference, and he simply swept around the outside of the Ferrari at Turn 2 to take the lead.
Hamilton started to build himself a cushion over Alonso, while Webber progressively began to fall back; all three trying to make their final set of soft tyres last as long as possible before they had to switch to the slower ‘medium’ compound.
With ten laps to go, Hamilton pitted first – Alonso two laps later – and he was able to maintain his lead over the winner of the last round at Silverstone. With nothing to lose, Webber held on to his soft tyres until five laps to go, hoping that he could outpace the leading duo. It didn’t work, and he had to settle for third place.
For Hamilton, this was an outstanding drive in a car that few believed would be capable of challenging the leading Red Bulls and Ferraris. Perhaps the cooler temperatures helped – Hamilton is notably hard on his tyres – to allow him to push the car harder. Certainly when one contrasts his performance with team-mate Jenson Button – who fluffed his start and was buried in the midfield all race before retiring – this would give this theory some credence.
Alonso proved his Silverstone form was no flash in the pan with another excellent display, but it would seem that the Ferrari perhaps wasn’t quick enough in all sections of the lap, and it certainly had some understeer issues.
Behind the leading three, Massa had used his late first pit stop to leap ahead of Vettel and claim fourth, a position he held until the penultimate lap when he and the German pitted together for a single lap on the medium tyre compound. The Red Bull stop was much quicker than Ferrari’s rather pedestrian effort, and the local boy took a disconsolate fourth, having been outclassed in all areas by team-mate Webber for the first time all season.
Sixth place went to Adrian Sutil, who used a two-stop strategy to great effect after his top-ten qualifying effort on Saturday. The Force India driver had one of the best races of his career, and it was a surprisingly disciplined, measured performance from the local driver.
The two Mercedes GPs of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher made it four Germans in the top-eight. Schumacher showed decent pace that was more deserving of his lower-points’ finish, but he mirrored Vettel’s snap spin at Turn 10 during the race which cost him crucial time.
Kamui Kobayashi took advantage of a lightning getaway and a two-stop strategy – the logical choice given the Sauber’s renowned easiness on its tyres – to claim ninth place, despite never really having the pace in the car. Team-mate Sergio Pérez tried a similar strategy, finishing just out of the points in eleventh, one spot ahead of Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso.
The final point went to Vitaly Petrov in the Renault, who lost ground by staying out too long on his first set of tyres, and then pitting too early for his medium compound tyres as the end of the race approached.
Team-mate Nick Heidfeld notched up a retirement after he was forced off the circuit by an absent-minded Sébastien Buemi, who squeezed the German off the circuit under braking for the Veedol Chicane. It was a scary accident, but not the first for Heidfeld, who had earned himself a drive-through penalty for colliding with Paul di Resta on the opening lap. Buemi rightly earned himself a five-place grid penalty for his part in the contact, which he will serve at the Hungarian Grand Prix next weekend.
That collision was one that TV fans never got to see, and we’ll take this opportunity to give a thumb’s down to the German TV director, who often seemed to cut away (and then not show replays of) the important action.
Paul di Resta’s hopes of a points’ finish were ruined courtesy of Heidfeld’s kamikaze move on the opening lap, and the Scot finished a lap down in thirteenth, one place ahead of fellow rookie Pastor Maldonado, with the Venezuelan giving every indication that Williams’ strong form at Monaco is but a distant memory.
Heikki Kovalainen once again finished best of the second-tier-team drivers, with the Lotus driver comfortably outperforming the two Virgin Racing entries of Timo Glock and Jérôme d’Ambrosio.
Daniel Ricciardo showed much better pace – running in close company with d’Ambrosio until fading in the final third of the race – en route to finishing 19th, while team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi retired with an electrical problem in his Hispania.
Bog last and well off the pace was Lotus stand-in Karun Chandhok, whose race build-up of seemingly countless spins and off-track excursions continued into the race. The Indian – making his first race appearance since last year’s British Grand Prix – looked decidedly race-rusty and out of his depth in comparison to the measured style of driving we had grown accustomed to last year. If Team Lotus was wanting to use this weekend as a means of evaluating his potential for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in October, then his was hardly the performance that would warrant further consideration.
2011 German Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (60 laps):
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||60||1:37:30.344|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||60||+ 3.980|
|3.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||60||+ 9.788|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||60||+ 47.921|
|5.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||60||+ 52.252|
|6.||Adrian Sutil||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||60||+ 1:26.208|
|7.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||59||1 lap behind|
|8.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||59||1 lap behind|
|9.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||59||1 lap behind|
|10.||Vitaly Petrov||Lotus Renault GP R31||59||1 lap behind|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||59||1 lap behind|
|12.||Jaime Alguersuari||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||59||1 lap behind|
|13.||Paul di Resta||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||59||1 lap behind|
|14.||Pastor Maldonado||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||59||1 lap behind|
|15.||Sébastien Buemi||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||59||1 lap behind|
|16.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus – Renault T128||58||2 laps behind|
|17.||Timo Glock||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||57||3 laps behind|
|18.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||57||3 laps behind|
|19.||Daniel Ricciardo||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||57||3 laps behind|
|20.||Karun Chandhok||Team Lotus – Renault T128||56||4 laps behind|
|DNF.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||37||Electrical|
|DNF.||Jenson Button||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||35||Hydraulics|
|DNF.||Rubens Barrichello||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||16||Oil Leak|
|DNF.||Nick Heidfeld||Lotus Renault GP R31||9||Accident|
|Lewis Hamilton||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||59||1:34.302|
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