Hamilton takes thrilling Germany win

By on Monday, July 25, 2011

Formula One can be a funny sport sometimes. For Sebastian Vettel, this weekend was his homecoming. The swashbuckling, young man who since his home race in 2010 has stepped up another gear, taking countless pole positions and victories, clinching his first world title at the age of just 23 and already having one hand on his second at the halfway stage of the season. Yet all weekend he looked out of sorts, unhappy with the balance of his car and visibly tenser than any other race of the season. He was passed by Fernando Alonso, struggled to maintain the pace at the front before spinning. From thereon, he had a brake problem, ran wide and had to rely on his team’s ability in the pits to overhaul Felipe Massa. Yet he still took home 4th place and twelve points, losing just three points of his championship lead.

Cold tyres saw several lock-ups at Turn 1

With Vettel having such an off-key weekend, this left Mark Webber clear to lead Red Bull for the first time this season. Having not beaten Vettel in a race where both finished since his win in Hungary last season – an entire year – he took pole position, although the star of Saturday was arguably Lewis Hamilton. The 2008 world champion had written off his hopes of taking pole on Thursday, yet he lined up second, mere thousandths of a second behind Webber with Hamilton’s pace being electric in the first sector of the lap.

The start yet again saw Webber slip back from pole position – a feat he also succumbed to in Spain and Britain – with Hamilton taking the lead into Turn 1. Vettel became the meat in a Ferrari sandwich, keeping Massa behind but losing out to Fernando Alonso. It was not the cleanest start of the season, as Nick Heidfeld tipped Paul di Resta into a spin, ruining the afternoons of both competitors.

Heidfeld's day starts badly by hitting Di Resta...

With the track still damp in places following heavy rain in the morning and temperatures low, around fourteen degrees centigrade, several drivers were struggling. Webber ran slightly wide at Turn 2, but behind him Alonso dropped a wheel on the damp kerbs, losing a place to Vettel. However, it didn’t take long for the Spaniard to re-pass the home favourite down into Turn 1 and he soon maintained the gap to the lead pair.

Then suddenly, shock! Vettel isn’t in the same shot as the front three. What’s happened? The live timing shows he’s lost six seconds in the middle sector. Has he got a problem? Well, no. It turns out, he’s human. Approaching Turn 10, Vettel made his first major race mistake of the season by braking on the wet white line and spinning off of the circuit. Luckily for Vettel, Turn 10 is one of the few places at the Nurburgring without a gravel trap and such was the pace at the front, he still emerged in fourth, ahead of the squabbling Rosberg and Massa, but now with damaged tyres.

..and gets worse when he crashes into Buemi

Hamilton stretched his lead in the opening laps, but soon Webber was hunting him down. Hamilton made a mistake into the chicane on Lap 12, allowing Webber to pass him into the final corner. But when Hamilton saw him coming, he took a wider line, letting him take the lead on the pit straight. Red Bull used the undercut on Lap 14 to pit Webber and he went about setting purple sectors, meaning that when Hamilton and Alonso pitted simultaneously two laps later, the Australian took the lead and managed to finally lead a lap for the first time in 2011!

However, Webber could not drop Hamilton or Alonso, both champions pushing relentlessly on a day they knew they could snatch valuable points from Vettel. Red Bull tried the undercut again on Lap 30, but this time it didn’t work. Hamilton pitted on Lap 32 and emerged narrowly ahead of Webber, defending vigorously through the first few corners. Alonso pitted on Lap 34 and came out in front of his rivals, but on colder tyres, he was passed brilliantly around the outside of Turn 2 by a determined Hamilton. The McLaren driver subsequently pulled out a three second gap on his arch rival, whilst Webber slipped back.

Hamilton fends off Webber

Neither of the front runners had yet to run the medium tyre, which was thought to be slower than usual around the Nurburgring. Hamilton came in on Lap 50 and although his initial pace was slow, he soon picked up, forcing Ferrari’s hand on Lap 52. The lead was retained by Hamilton and he was much faster than Webber as well, meaning that by the time he pitted four laps from home, his fate had been sealed. Hamilton took his second victory of the season, setting the fastest lap on the penultimate tour to emphasise his pace.

Vettel meanwhile had spent most of his home race stuck behind Massa, having fallen behind the Ferrari driver at the first round of pit stops. Both teams played a game of cat and mouse regarding the pit stops, meaning that Vettel and Massa came in on Lap 59. Vettel closed up under braking for the pit entry and this, combined with the Ferrari pit crew turning into the Cirque du Soleil, gained Vettel another three points.

Mercedes took 7th and 8th

Out of the six Germans on the grid, Adrian Sutil put in the best performance, claiming sixth and valuable points for his Force India team. Sutil – who has often been shaded in terms of pace by team mate Paul di Resta – managed a two stop strategy to beat Rosberg and Schumacher. Mercedes’ home race (even though they are based ten miles from Silverstone) could have gone a little better as Schumacher lost time after a Turn 10 spin and again the team lacked substantial race pace and were lapped by Hamilton.

Kamui Kobayashi benefitted from a strong start and a two stop strategy to claim more points for Sauber with 9th, whilst Vitaly Petrov ended a series of disappointing races by taking tenth. Outside of the top ten, there was little cause for celebration for many of the drivers.

Jenson Button had an appalling day at the office as he dropped places at the start, struggled to pass Vitaly Petrov and simply lacked the pace that should have been there. Just as the outlook started to improve, Button was told that he had to retire his car on safety grounds, courtesy of a hydraulics problem. It was his second retirement in a row and almost certainly ends his slim hopes of a second crown.

Four of the six Germans finished in the points – an admirable performance – although Nick Heidfeld wasn’t one of them. Heidfeld was given a drive through penalty for tangling with Paul di Resta at the start, although he was given the penalty just as he crashed out when trying to overtaking Sebastien Buemi, who copped a grid penalty for the next race. More bad news for Heidfeld emerged after the race, as Bruno Senna will be given his seat for first practice in Hungary. A small sign that Renault is becoming frustrating with Heidfeld’s performances, despite his superior championship position against Petrov.

Lotus’ Karun Chandhok had a nightmare of an event and looked out of his depth in the T128, spinning at Turn 10 and coming home four laps down, significantly behind the Virgin’s and the lone HRT of Ricciardo.

When Alonso couldn't make it back to the pits, Webber helped out, evoking memories of Mansell and Senna

The German Grand Prix
Nurburgring | Germany
60 laps
Weather | Slightly Damp then cloudy

Classified:

Pos  Driver        Team                       Time
 1.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           1h37:30.334
 2.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +     3.980
 3.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +     9.788
 4.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +    47.921
 5.  Massa         Ferrari                    +    52.252
 6.  Sutil         Force India-Mercedes       +  1:26.208
 7.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +     1 lap
 8.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +     1 lap
 9.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +     1 lap
10.  Petrov        Renault                    +     1 lap
11.  Perez         Sauber-Ferrari             +     1 lap
12.  Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +     1 lap
13.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +     1 lap
14.  Maldonado     Williams-Cosworth          +     1 lap
15.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +     1 lap
16.  Kovalainen    Lotus-Renault              +    2 laps
17.  Glock         Virgin-Cosworth            +    3 laps
18.  D'Ambrosio    Virgin-Cosworth            +    3 laps
19.  Ricciardo     HRT-Cosworth               +    3 laps
20.  Chandhok      Lotus-Renault              +    4 laps

Retirements:

Driver        Team                         On lap
Liuzzi        HRT-Cosworth                 37 - Electrics
Button        McLaren-Mercedes             35 - Hydraulics
Barrichello   Williams-Cosworth            16 - Oil leak
Heidfeld      Renault                      9 - Accident with Sebastien Buemi

Pictures courtesy of Sutton Images

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