Formula 1 was treated to a Max Verstappen master class of a different kind – can we have more Max Magic in Hungary?
Usually, a masterclass from Max Verstappen would mean a race full of bold overtakes and aggression. However, it was Verstappen’s patient and measured approach that won him top honours in Germany, not to mention the apt tyre strategy chosen by the team-driver through changing weather conditions. After chasing the Mercedes drivers for the first half of the race, Verstappen grabbed the lead when Hamilton spun, hit the wall and lost parts of his front wing. But Verstappen’s race wasn’t without drama either. At the start, excessive wheel-spin saw the Dutch driver fall back to 4th place, followed by a 360-degree spin mid-race. (Read: FIA Finally Adjusting To Max Verstappen?)
After winning two out of the last three races, Verstappen is now 3rd in the Drivers’ Championship, only 22 points behind Bottas, while being 21 points ahead of Vettel. Over the last 12 months, Verstappen has won 3 races (more than any of the Ferrari drivers), scored 8 podium finishes and 5th being his lowest finishing position.
After delivering memorable races in Austria and Great Britain, Formula 1’s excitement quotient climbed several notches with the 2019 German Grand Prix, the season’s first wet race. The rain-affected and incident-filled race at Hockenheim will go down in history as one of the many memorable wet races – like Brazil in 2003 and Canada in 2011. All it took were a few drops of intermittent rain showers to add unpredictability to the sport!
After 3 laps behind the Safety Car, the FIA decided to use the standing start procedure to officially start the German Grand Prix – a decision that brought much cheer to the fans, after all, two of the most prolific wet-weather racers, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, shared the front starting row of the grid. Sebastian Vettel, who still claims to be a part of the 2019 title fight, started 20th and last after Ferrari’s main issues during the weekend of the German Grand Prix occurred in qualifying.
After a nearly two-hour-long race, Verstappen took the chequered flag, followed by Vettel and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, a welcome addition to the podium (that resembled a Red Bull reunion!). This was Toro Rosso’s second podium since their debut in Formula 1 in 2006. Racing Point’s Lance Stroll, who broke his Q1 elimination duck after 14 races, finished 4th, followed by the always-consistent Mclaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr. – who has scored points from 7 out of the last 8 races. Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon (6th) led the two Alfa Romeos (Kimi Raikkonen-Antonio Giovinazzi) and Haas (Romain Grosjean-Kevin Magnussen) across the finish line. However, a post-race penalty for start procedure infringement saw 30 seconds (equivalent to a 10-second stop-go penalty) be added to the final race time of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. As a result, Hamilton and Williams’ Robert Kubica, who crossed the finish line 11th and 12th respectively were promoted to 9th and 10th. Kubica scored Williams’ first point for 2019 and his first championship point after his heroic return to the sport this season.
— Kunal Shah (@kunalashah) July 29, 2019
The six Safety Car periods (four, Safety Cars + two, Virtual Safety Cars) aided the 78 pit-stops that were made in the race. Hamilton, who was dead last at one point of the race, made six stops, while Sainz Jr. made the least number of stops at three. As acknowledged by most drivers who finished the race (13 finishers, in total), making as few mistakes was key to getting a good result. The seven drivers who missed out were – Sergio Perez, the first driver to lose control and crash out of the race. Daniel Ricciardo was a victim of an exhaust issue with his Renault power unit. Lando Norris, who started 19th after being eliminated in Q1 and taking on new power unit components. Pierre Gasly had a late-race retirement after being tackled hard by an aggressively defending Albon. Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc and Nico Hulkenberg were three drivers with podium potential who crashed out of the German Grand Prix due to driver errors in slippery conditions.
Mercedes’ famous race management skills was tested to its limit at their home race. The reigning world champions, who celebrated 125 years of participation in Motorsport and their 200th race in Formula 1 in Germany, chose a commemorative white-silver livery for their cars and a 50s themed-clothing for their pit crew. After running 1-2 in the early part of the race, a rare mistake from Hamilton threw the team’s race in disarray. Hamilton made a surprise entry into the pits for a new front wing, while the team was waiting to service Bottas’ car. This confusion saw Hamilton be stationary in the pits for 50 seconds. Furthermore, Hamilton’s entry into the pits was from the wrong side of the pit-entry bollard. The FIA awarded him their favourite five-second time penalty.
After exiting the pits (in 5th place) and at the restart, Hamilton did well to regain a podium position by overtaking Albon and Hulkenberg. However, it was during the Hulkenberg-induced Safety Car period that Mercedes made their first strategy error. In order to serve the time penalty at a later stage, the team failed to pit Hamilton for fresh tyres even though most of the others did so. At the subsequent restart, Mercedes made their second error – they pitted Hamilton a lap later than Verstappen and Bottas, a decision that saw their star driver be 12th in the race. The final nail in Hamilton’s German Grand Prix fiasco was when he suffered a massive spin while trying to desperately make up ground. The spin resulted in an extra stop that took away all chances of scoring points until the post-race penalty for the Alfa Romeos.
As for Valtteri Bottas, a win or second place finish was within reach. After being beaten by Hamilton in qualifying, the changing conditions in the race offered the Finnish driver an opportunity to claw back vital points in his Drivers’ Championship battle. However, a crash at Turn 1 ended Bottas’ chances in the German Grand Prix. Mercedes, also the title sponsor of the German Grand Prix, were at the receiving end of fans rooting for an anti-Mercedes result, when Bottas crashed or during Hamilton’s spin and lengthy pit-stop.
But has the Mercedes juggernaut in the 2019 Formula 1 Season come to an end? No way! The hotter races in Europe have definitely cost them some speed, but expecting them to lose the championships would be silly. While definitely disappointed at the embarrassing race on home soil, Mercedes would be pleased knowing that they made all their mistakes in one race itself! Unfortunately, it was this race that Mercedes chose to record their segments for season 2 of the Netflix show.
— Kunal Shah (@kunalashah) July 28, 2019
Vettel & Kvyat’s Redemption
Ferrari’s troubles at the German Grand Prix started in qualifying. Vettel’s power unit suffered issues in Q1, while Leclerc’s did so in Q3 – forcing both drivers to sit out of the respective sessions. Despite not winning a single race this season, it would be safe to assume that Ferrari lost themselves possible victories in at least five races – Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Canada, Austria and Germany.
Leclerc, who started 10th, drove a fine race aided by sound strategy from Ferrari to be in contention for a podium finish. However, the treacherous tarmac off-the-track at Turn 16 caught Leclerc out, crashing him into the Mercedes advertisement boards. It was this same piece of tarmac that eventually caught out and ended Nico Hulkenberg’s race too – costing the local driver a shot at his first-ever Formula 1 podium. In fact, Hamilton and Raikkonen were lucky to survive their incidents at this corner and not see their races end in the barrier.
Vettel, who famously crashed out of the lead of the German Grand Prix a year ago and in similar conditions, drove a fine race from 20th place and finish 18 places higher in 2nd place. The Ferrari driver, who was fighting for places in the bottom-half of the top-10 for a majority of the race, came alive after the track dried in the closing stages. Vettel overtook Sainz, Stroll and Kvyat in the dying stages to claim his second place. However, he almost lost 2nd place to Kvyat after a brief off-track moment on the very last lap of the race.
Stroll and Kvyat were the other beneficiaries of the Hulkenberg-induced Safety Car, pitting at an opportune time and finding themselves 2nd and 3rd respectively. The Formula 1 returnee Kvyat (who was blessed with a baby girl on the weekend of the German Grand Prix) pulled off an overtake on track to claim second place from Stroll, scoring his podium for Toro Rosso before Gasly managed to score his with Red Bull! It would be safe to say that this Safety Car period was definite in confirming the fate of several drivers. Albon, for example, was running 4th before the advent of the Safety Car, but lost places eventually as his team decided to his Kvyat and leave him out to keep track position.
Haas: Do The Opposite
The other notable tyre strategy has to be Haas’ for Kevin Magnussen. The American team chose to leave their Danish driver on wets while the entire grid used the advantage of the intermediates on a drying track. Of course, the team was betting on more rain to come for the strategy to play to their advantage. Similarly, Magnussen was the first driver to switch to slicks when the track had visibly dried. In the end, Magnussen’s heroics won him 8th place, a spot behind his team-mate Grosjean – who he had a coming together with for the second race in succession. One wonders how Haas will sanction their errant drivers!
Finally, the FIA’s financial penalty for Ferrari’s unsafe release of Leclerc during the first round of pit-stops will raise questions in the days to come. It was only in Monaco when Red Bull Racing received a 5-second penalty for a similar infringement. Will teams be able to ‘pay their way’ through such unsafe releases in the future? One hopes not!
Up next this weekend is the Hungarian Grand Prix. One should expect the shaken Mercedes team to bounce back with a vengeance. With temperatures expected to stabilise, will Red Bull Racing and Ferrari still be able to mount a challenge on the Silver Arrows? Also, this is the final race before Formula 1 goes off for its summer break – basically, the last chance for every driver to make an impression before the silly season commences and decides their fate.
This post was first published on Firstpost