Q1 started out messy, with Maldonado stopping because of a mechanical failure right on his out lap. Then, Bad Luck (capitalised) struck Hamilton once more, as his car caught on fire, believed to be a fuel leak. Also, just before the fire started, he had brake issues, some of which might have been affecting him in practice too. It leaves him stranded in 21st, on a track that doesn’t allow for overtaking like Hockenheim.
The last problem came for Chilton’s car, but he had already set a time, so was able to stay ahead of Ericsson on the grid. Then, to the surprise of everyone, Raikkonen was bumped out of Q1 by Bianchi, touted as his eventual replacement at Ferrari. Sure, the Marussia had soft tires on, while Raikkonen set his time on mediums, but his lap wasn’t that great, and he should have gone out again instead of expecting the Marussias and Caterhams to drop out of Q1.
Then, in Q2, another failure happened, this time a hydraulic leak to Perez. It’s a problem that afflicted Hulkenberg’s car in FP3, and struck them again. Then, Kvyat spun at the end of Q2, which brought out double yellows that ruined a few laps.
Finally, as we got into Q3, rain started to fall, but only at Turn 1. So Rosberg locked up and went wide as he was about to do his timed lap, but his mistake went unpunished again as Magnussen ran right into the wet tarmac at the end of the straight, and couldn’t brake in time. Cue hitting the barriers and the red flag which halted the session. Even Button went off at the corner after his teammate, and there was very nearly a collision.
But the rest of the track was dry, so when Q3 restarted, everyone was on slicks, and Rosberg eventually pulled out a 0.486s on Vettel, just as Vettel had gotten on provisional pole by 0.035s. Bottas, despite the low-downforce Williams, managed to split the Red Bulls, with Ricciardo ahead of Alonso ahead of Massa.
With overtaking difficult at this track, it’s hard to see how Hamilton can make up places. He despondently mentioned that it’ll be hard to even get into the top 10 in the race, and definitely won’t make top 5. That’ll be a huge deficit to Rosberg come the break, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. That’s 4-1 in mechanical issues in Rosberg’s favour now, and his mistakes haven’t cost him either. In Monaco, he ended up on pole. In Canada, he wasn’t cautioned for going off track. And now, he went off but got pole in the end.
Kudos to Rosberg for managing to get the car home, but this is looking like another Vettel/Webber situation again. Conspiracy theorists are already out in force, and that won’t go away until things even up between the two.
I know I’ve been saying this every race this season, BUT WHAT A RACE.
The drama was thanks to the rain that came pouring down 30mins before the race started, and because the track dries quickly in some parts, there were damp portions and really wet portions of the track. Radar said that more rain would be coming, and so most people went on inters, and hoped for either more or less rain, depending on their grid positions.
Kvyat stalled right before the formation lap with a loss of power. Bottas took second ahead of Vettel at the start of the race, and Alonso sneaks in for 3rd. Button also snuck ahead of Ricciardo on the opening lap, while way back behind Hamilton spun off track with cold brakes. He suffered some minor wing damage, but it was less than in Hockenheim, and he gingerly continued.
Rosberg quickly built up a lead at the front, then Ericsson crashed rather spectacularly. The safety car came out,, just as the front four runners had past the pit entrance, forcing them to take another lap while everyone else dived into the pits. This meant that Rosberg came out behind Ricciardo/Button/Massa in 4th, with the rest of the front four scattered behind him interspersed with other cars.
Surprisingly, McLaren opted to put Button on inters and not to change Magnussen’s tires at all, anticipating more rain that no one else was seeing on their radars. It seemed like a good idea at the time, as the track was still pretty wet and everyone struggled just to stay on track. But as no rain arrived and the track started to dry, it was increasingly clear that it was a bad mistake.
During the safety car period, more drama occurred as Grosjean spun off at nearly the same place Ericsson crashed, while Rosberg had a smoking left rear brake. Then, as the race restarted, Button took Ricciardo thanks to his inters working better on the still-drying track, while Hamilton fought his way up until he was behind Vettel, and just one car away from his teammate stuck behind Jean-Eric Vergne of all people.
Respect for Vergne, who seems, along with Toro Rosso, to excel in changeable conditions, as he held off Rosberg admirably for a long chunk of time, which kept Hamilton in contention as he was being held up by Vettel, unable to find a way past. Ricciardo slowly eked out a gap at the front, as Alonso started to pressure Massa in 2nd, having inherited the place when Button pitted.
Behind them was just as much drama as Hulkenberg hit his teammate Perez as he tried to overtake him on the final corner, and had his first non-scoring race of the season, leaving Alonso as the only driver who has scored points every race so far. Meanwhile, Maldonado hit Bianchi as he tried the overtake at Turn 1, a favourite for all the drivers, damaging Bianchi’s floor and forcing his own nose change.
Then, Perez touches the astroturf coming into the pit straight, and promptly spins and smashes his car into the pitwall right in front of the Red Bull and Mercedes head honchos, showering the track with debris. That meant another safety car, and some drivers quickly pitted. Williams tried the long game with mediums, while Ricciardo went for softs and dropped down to 6th in the pack. During this time, Kobayashi retired too, due to a mechanical failure on his car.
As the race restarted, Hamilton resumed his chase of Vettel, who then spun off as Perez did, except he somehow only brushed the pitwall with his right rear, and was able to continue going. But it lost him a place, and Hamilton could then chase down Vergne in 2nd, taking him on the outside at high speed around the blind Turn 4 for what must be the overtake of the season so far.
Rosberg pitted before Hamilton for softs, and ended up behind Bottas for a brief fight as Hamilton continued to push hard in front until it was time for him to pit, crucially putting him just ahead of Rosberg. Given that Rosberg needed to pit again, the team told Hamilton to move over, but Hamilton refused, knowing that if Rosberg went to do his race, he would be extending his lead in the championship.
So Rosberg, unwilling to try and get too close for overtaking and risk damaging his car, had to trundle behind Hamilton losing about 10s for the 10 laps. Finally, Mercedes pulled him into the pits for his final pit stop, leaving Hamilton free to chase down Alonso which he did so with aplomb.
In the midfield, Raikkonen picked up the mantle for the Red Bull/Ferrari battle that has been raging for a couple of races now, as he fought Vettel just as he came out of the pits ahead of the world champion. Out in front, Ricciardo pitted once more, but that meant he had fresh tires to catch Hamilton and Alonso, both struggling on older tires.
The train behind them for 5th looked like an exciting prospect, but Bottas pitted, and Rosberg took out Raikkonen then Massa in swift succession on his (old) soft tires, and proceeded to smash the 25s gap to the front four in a few laps. Meanwhile, out in front, Ricciardo caught Hamilton at the same time as he caught Alonso, and the trio fought a thrilling battle with fantastic passing moves from Ricciardo to get ahead of two former world champions, securing the lead and zooming off into the distance for his 2nd win in Formula 1.
Try as he might, Hamilton couldn’t get past Alonso, and Rosberg caught up with 3 laps to go. On the final lap, Rosberg had a look on the outside, but Hamilton squeezed his teammate out, and managed to cling into the final podium spot. Behind them came Massa in a respectable 5th, Raikkonen in a fighting 6th, Vettel trudging home in 7th and Bottas in 8th. Vergne and Button took the last two points-scoring slots, with Sutil doing quite well for Sauber up in 11th. Magnussen came 12th, ahead of Maldonado, Kvyat, Bianchi, and Chilton.
It was great driving from all three podium finishers; Ricciardo with a great strategy, Alonso somehow making his soft tires last for 30-odd laps, and a pit-lane to podium race for Hamilton. For all of Rosberg’s bad luck in the race with the safety car, you wonder whether he could have done better, given that Alonso made it to 2nd despite being part of the quartet that were inconvenienced by it.
There was wheel-to-wheel racing, changeable conditions, drama, and a whole lot of skill on show from the drivers. It’s definitely one of the best races of the season, and we still have plenty to go. What a difference a year makes, eh?