As Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton streak away towards their respective sixth Formula One world championships, the 2019 season at the front has largely been a tale of contrasting fortunes for rivals Ferrari and Red Bull.
Schadenfreude is the German noun for the pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune. Well, I had much schadenfreude from this year’s German Grand Prix, which was full of crashes and mistakes as well as excellent driving.
The reason for all this was the rain that lingered around Hockenheim for most of the afternoon. Every driver came into the race with no experience of driving the 2019 spec of F1 cars in the wet, with some drivers never having driven any F1 car in the wet before.
Off the start, both Red Bulls got wheelspin and fell down the field while Kimi Raikkonen in his Alfa Romeo got a super start, running in third by turn 2. Pierre Gasly’s woeful start continued as he struggled for grip in these tricky conditions, falling further down the field.
The first casualty of this race was Sergio Perez in the Racing Point as he spun coming out of turn 11, hitting the wall rear-first. This brought out the safety car.
The majority of the field pitted to swap their full wet tyres for the intermediates leading to a lot of double stacking. There was even an unsafe release as Ferrari released Charles Leclerc straight into the path of Romain Grosjean. Leclerc himself wasn’t penalised but the stewards fined Ferrari instead.
On lap 15, Daniel Ricciardo became the second casualty of the race as his Renault engine expired with a massive plume of smoke coming out of the back of his car. A virtual safety car was deployed soon afterwards as Ricciardo stopped at turn 8 where he was unsafely parked.
At the end of the brief VSC period, Max Verstappen had a look at an overtake on Bottas at the turn 6 hairpin but he slid as the rear end of his car gave way. He was able to catch back up to the Mercedes relatively quickly though.
By lap 22, teams were considering switching to the soft tyres with Kevin Magnussen the first to do so. However, after Verstappen spun at turn 15 on his mediums, it became apparent that the track was still too wet in places for the slick tyres.
This was especially hammered home after Leclerc understeered into the barriers at the penultimate corner, beaching the car into the gravel for good measured. The safety car was brought out again.
Only a lap after Leclerc’s crash, Lewis Hamilton had a near identical incident, going straight on at the penultimate corner and just touching the barriers, damaging his front wing as he did so. He was able to get back on track though and immediately pitted.
This seemed to come as a surprise to his mechanics as they did not have his tyres ready. Due to the mechanics scrambling about, Hamilton was stationary in the pits for 50.3 seconds – an absolute age in modern F1.
To add to Hamilton’s misfortune, he was then given a five-second time penalty for entering the pit lane on the wrong side of the bollard. He was also under investigation for driving unnecessarily slowly behind the safety car but wasn’t penalised for this.
In all the chaos, Max Verstappen had got himself into the lead of the grand prix. The chaos had also led to Hulkenberg running in 2nd in his Renault, with Valtteri Bottas 3rd, Alexander Albon 4th in his Toro Rosso and Hamilton 5th.
Not long afterwards, Hulkenberg went wide at turn 16 but seemed to have control before his tyres locked up as he applied the brakes, causing the German to crash into the barriers and beach his car. Renault had an opportunity to get a good haul of points today but ended up with yet another double retirement.
Just as the safety car period ended, Lance Stroll pitted for a set of soft compound tyres. This gamble paid off very well as he took the lead very briefly as others did the same. Alas, Verstappen rather predictably got past the Canadian on the run down to turn 6 to re-take the lead.
A few laps later, Stroll was passed by Daniil Kvyat for second as the Toro Rosso mastered the wet conditions, like it did under the control of Sebastian Vettel when he won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.
Someone who perhaps wasn’t enjoying the rain was Lewis Hamilton who caught a damp patch on the inside of turn 1, sending his Mercedes into a spin and narrowly avoiding the barriers.
Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas was not so lucky as he also spun on a wet patch at turn 1, slamming into the barriers and bringing his race to a premature end. Bernd Maylander’s services as safety car driver were required once again.
There were only a few laps left in the race at the end of the final safety car period and Sebastian Vettel certainly made the most of them.
At the end of the safety car period, Vettel was running in fifth and was quick to get past Carlos Sainz, darting up the inside of the Spaniard at turn 6.
His final overtakes were much easier as he breezed past Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat to massive roars from his home crowd as Vettel came home in second place.
Further behind, Pierre Gasly was trying to get past Alexander Albon, who had overtaken him twice over the course of the grand prix. As they exited the turn 6 hairpin, Gasly ran straight into the back of Albon, causing the Frenchman to retire.
Considering that Gasly’s teammate Verstappen won the grand prix and Daniil Kvyat got a podium in the Toro Rosso, Pierre is on very shaky ground. I expect a decision about his future to be made over the summer break, one that I doubt will be favourable for Pierre. Daniil Kvyat may be about to make a return to Red Bull.
Our winner, Verstappen, told Martin Brundle after the race, “It was really tricky out there. You really had to keep focused.”
Kvyat, meanwhile, brilliantly summarised the race as “a horror movie mixed with black comedy”. He also revealed that his girlfriend, Kelly Piquet, had given birth to their daughter on Saturday night.
So, there was plenty of action in what may be the last German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. I would even go as far to say that it was the greatest race in Formula 1 history.
The F1 circus moves on to Hungary next week for the final grand prix before the summer break. However, I am taking mine a little early so will miss the Hungarian Grand Prix but I will return for the Belgian Grand Prix from August 23rd-25th.
CLASSIFICATION (64 LAPS)
1: Max Verstappen: 1:44:31.275: 26pts
2: Sebastian Vettel: +7.333s: 18pts
3: Daniil Kvyat: +8.305s: 15pts
4: Lance Stroll: +8.966s: 12pts
5: Carlos Sainz: +9.583s: 10pts
6: Alexander Albon: +10.052s: 8pts
7: Kimi Raikkonen: +12.214s: 6pts
8: Antonio Giovinazzi: +13.849s: 4pts
9: Romain Grosjean: +16.838s: 2pts
10: Kevin Magnussen: +18.765s: 1pt
11: Lewis Hamilton: +19.667s
12: Robert Kubica: +24.987s
13: George Russell: +26.404s
14: Pierre Gasly: +2 LAPS
DNF: Valtteri Bottas (Lap 56)
DNF: Nico Hulkenberg (Lap 39)
DNF: Charles Leclerc (Lap 27)
DNF: Lando Norris (Lap 25)
DNF: Daniel Ricciardo (Lap 13)
DNF: Sergio Perez (Lap 1)