Back for its financial bi-annual visit to the Hockenheimring, Ferrari led the way in both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships with their main man Sebastian Vettel racing at his home track – literally only 30 minutes away from where he was born.

Ferrari was in the form of their life, starting to rake in a consistent amount of points each weekend off the back of Mercedes’ dismal triple-header run and emerging to be regarded as having the most reliable power unit in the current field.


Friday

FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1 FREE PRACTICE SESSION 2
Pos. Driver Time Laps Pos. Driver Time Laps
4. Sebastian Vettel 1:13.796 23 4. Sebastian Vettel 1:13.310 46
6. Kimi Räikkönen 1:14.267 24 5. Kimi Räikkönen 1:13.427 41
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF71H - 2018 German Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel finished fourth-fastest in both Friday sessions and kept a watching brief on the Mercedes and Red Bull Racing rivals.

With very hot track surface temperatures, similar to the unusual levels we saw at Silverstone a fortnight ago, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen dug deep into their practice programs and finished the morning session in fourth and sixth respectively using only the middle-range, Soft compound tyres, reserving their Ultrasofts and Mediums for later use.

The pair changed to faster runs in the afternoon session with Vettel again posting the fourth fastest time just ahead of his Finnish teammate in fifth.

More obvious than in previous races, the team from Maranello learnt Red Bull Racing was also in the mix for the top prize this weekend after both of their drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, each topped a session on Friday. Ricciardo would, however, be starting from the back of the grid due to changing a number of power unit elements.

“The car has been working well today and it’s been a normal Friday,” commented Vettel on Friday evening. “Today, we tried a little bit of everything. I think we got along quite well with the tyre selection that we used today.

“Now we have to find out how we’ve been working compared to the others, but I think that even if we can still improve our lap time, the car is fine.”

“On Sunday, if the track temperatures stay warm like it was today, for sure it will be challenging for the tyres,” furthered Raikkonen. “It’s going to be more similar to Austria, with a limit on the tyres, and whoever makes the best job in managing them is going to have some advantage.

“So far we have been reasonably strong in most places, we’ll see how it goes here; it looks pretty close.”


Saturday

FREE PRACTICE SESSION 3 QUALIFYING
Pos. Driver Time Laps Pos. Driver Time Laps
4. Sebastian Vettel 1:35.573 5 1. Sebastian Vettel 1:11.212 16
8. Kimi Räikkönen 1:37.755 4 3. Kimi Räikkönen 1:11.547 17
Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen, Scuderia Ferrari SF71H - 2018 German Grand Prix

The finger is back: Vettel claimed a critical pole position while teammate Räikkönen was third-fastest.

A washed-out third practice session proved pointless for the weekend, however, Ferrari’s feeder team Sauber led the session with their academy driver Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson topping the damp hour.

By two o’clock, qualifying had commenced, and it was the first legitimate time cars came out on to the track for the day, now with pole position on the line. The track dried in time for Q1 with both Ferrari’s going 1-2 in the opening eighteen minutes, almost half a second faster than Valtteri Bottas in third.

With Ricciardo no longer a threat due to his grid penalty – Red Bull Racing opted not to run him in Q2 to preserve tyres for the race – Ferrari’s second bonus came when Lewis Hamilton ground to a halt in the final minutes of Q1 with a hydraulics issue. The Englishman would start Sunday’s race from the midfield.

A red flag midway through Q2 interrupted the runs for both Vettel and Räikkönen in the middle session. However, this time, the duo only managed third and fourth on the timesheets behind Bottas and Verstappen. They also elected to start with a straightforward strategy for Sunday’s race, running their fastest lap on the purple-walled Ultrasoft compound, doing the same as their rivals starting in the top ten.

But when push came to shove in the final twelve minutes, Vettel played his cards brilliantly and executed a faultless lap around the 4.5-kilometre circuit to take pole position in style and own the absolute lap record with a scorching lap of 1:11.212.

He did so by stealing it away from Valtteri Bottas in the dying seconds with what everyone initially thought was a near-perfect lap by the Finn. But the German furthered this impression, taking off another two-tenths from Bottas’ earlier lap and proving he was the real deal, even leaving teammate Räikkönen for dead by lapping half a second faster than the #7 driver in an identical car.

“The car was fantastic,” uttered Vettel, speaking after Qualifying. “I could feel it in Q1 already and then in Q3, I knew I could get a good lap.

“Racing here in Germany means a lot to me and hopefully we can get first place tomorrow. We built a strong car and we know there’s still potential. Also, we know we can still improve race by race because there’s still some weaknesses, but overall, we are competitive and strong. So, it’s up to us to make good use of this potential everywhere we go.”

“On my first try in Q3 I had a good feeling and the lap was looking good, but then I made a mistake and got sideways,” added a disappointed Räikkönen. “We had the speed to do better, but I did not want to make any crazy mistake and risk throwing everything away, so on my last try, I took it a little bit easier. Third position is obviously not ideal, but in the end, it is a pretty good position to start from.”


Sunday

FORMULA 1 EMIRATES GROSSER PREIS VON DEUTSCHLAND 2018 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (67 LAPS)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
3. Kimi Räikkönen Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 67 + 6.732
DNF. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 51 Accident
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF71H - 2018 German Grand Prix

That wasn’t part of the plan… Sebastian Vettel crashes out of the lead on Lap 52 and throws away the lead of the Drivers’ Championship.

The threat of rain was real for the afternoon’s race with a 60% chance that precipitation would arrive in the second half of the Grand Prix. Ferrari still had to stick with their starting tyres, as is mandatory for the top ten, meaning they would have to adjust their strategy to the incoming rain throughout the race unlike some of their closest rivals – in Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo – who were out of position down the grid.

It was a steady formation in the opening stage of the race with Vettel maintaining the lead after lap one and Räikkönen close behind in third; Valtteri Bottas separated the pair in second. On Lap 14, Räikkönen made an early dive into the pit lane and bolted on the yellow-walled Softs as he looked to be committing to a bold two-stop strategy.

Race leader Vettel also changed to the softs further into the race on Lap 26 and looked to be on the safer strategy, possibly to take his tyres to the end if a dry race was expected. The four-time World Champion did, however, rejoin the track behind Räikkönen who found his new tyres to his liking.

This created a strategic quandary for Ferrari: at some point down the track, Vettel would have more life in his tyres and potentially be held up if he caught onto the back of his World Championship winning teammate Räikkönen.

Kimi Raikkonen & Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari SF71H - 2018 German Grand Prix

Time for team orders: the Ferrari pit wall had to instruct its drivers to swap places – not for the first time at Hockenheim.

The inevitable happened, and on Lap 34 Vettel became frustrated on the radio as he struggled to follow in the dirty air of his teammate’s SF-71H.

Sebastian Vettel: “This is just silly, I’m just losing time and destroying my tyres. Don’t you see the tyre temperature? Can you see it?”

Riccardo Adami (Vettel’s Race Engineer): “Yep we can see that. We can see that.”

SV: “Yeah? So what are you waiting for?”

RA: “Kimi has been informed. Kimi has been informed.”

On Lap 39, Jock Clear, Ferrari’s Chief Engineer, surfaced onto the radio comprehensively – or politely – telling Räikkönen how he is affecting Sebastian’s roaring pace behind and that he needs to act. Räikkönen shortly replied in typical ‘Kimi Räikkönen fashion’.

Jock Clear (Ferrari’s Chief Engineer): So Kimi, this is Jock. You’re aware we need to look after tyres, both cars need to look after tyres, and you two are on different strategies. Your strategies are slightly different, and we’d like you not to hold up Seb. Thank you.

Kimi Raikkonen: Err… I don’t… sorry but, can you be direct? I don’t know what you want me to do.

JC: “Losing as little time as possible obviously, but where you can, Seb is capable of going quicker, but he’s hurting his tyres and you are as well. We need to look after them.

KR: “Do you want me to, let him go? Basically, just tell me.”

Shortly after, another spanner was thrown into the works with the forecasted heavy rain appearing at the Turn 6 hairpin. It made choosing to pit difficult with virtually one half of the track damp while the other half, where the engineers were in the pit lane, was dry. As slippery as it was, neither Ferrari driver came in for intermediate tyres choosing to take their chances down at the fast approaching, hairpin turn and maintaining track position.

But that decision for Sebastian Vettel would turn out to be a huge blow as the German crashed out of the lead at the Sachskurve, suddenly putting his championship lead of eight points in jeopardy.

The incident scrambled the Safety Car and it was now Valtteri Bottas in the lead after he stole second place off Räikkönen right before the Safety Car intervention. As both Finns were attempting to lap backmarkers, Räikkönen was forced wide at Turn 8 in order to avoid Kevin Magnussen in the Haas battling for position with others in the ever-so-tight midfield.

Bottas chose to pit straight away briefly leaving Räikkönen in the lead, but he also decided to follow his compatriot into the pit lane a lap later, switching to the grippy, Ultrasoft compound for the run home. He was now matching the Mercedes drivers, now holding 1-2 in the Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton did not pit for a second time.

Nine laps to go and Ferrari had nothing left in the tank to challenge Mercedes for the win as they stormed away with a pulsating 1-2 finish. Once again, they retook the lead in both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ championship. Hamilton now rocked the championship standings, holding a dominate 17-point buffer to the stricken Vettel.

“There’s not much to say: I made a small mistake which had a huge impact on the result,” Vettel rued after his incident.

“I braked just a tiny bit too late for the corner, locked the front tyres and then the rear ones so that I couldn’t turn the car anymore. I think I had managed everything right before that.

“We had the pace and we had been in control of the race up to that point. It was my mistake, so I am disappointed.”

“It was not easy, but we tried to make the best calls and I think we got it right,” added Räikkönen.

“The most tricky moments were before the Safety Car came in; it felt like it was raining a lot, somehow we had some decent grip and suddenly quite bad grip. At one point I had a moment with some back-markers and unfortunately, I lost second place.

“In many ways, it could have been better today, but this is what we got. I think that we made the most of it, considering the situation.”

Well, now Ferrari is back to square one. Moments like these are what shape the championship and some can’t help but look back to Singapore last year where it all went wrong for the Scuderia.

The good news is that we are yet to hit the summer break and Ferrari still have plenty of time to regain their position in the championship. The Formula 1 entourage quickly rushes to Hungary this weekend where once again, Ferrari look to be a dominant factor on a track where Mercedes have not had too much success compared to other circuits on the calendar.

It’s certain that we are in for a cracking season in one where we still have yet to see a driver take back-to-back wins. Plenty is still to come from the boys in red.

Images via LAT, Scuderia Ferrari and Sutton Images

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Luke McCullough

Journalist at MotorsportM8
Melbourne based and Australian Grand Prix enthusiast with over 10+ years of attendance.
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