After being absent from the calendar last season, the German Grand Prix returned with relatively low-key practice and qualifying, and a race that was pretty entertaining – though not if you’re Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg was quickest in the practice sessions and snatched pole with a blistering lap, something he needed to do in order to lay down a marker, having lost the championship lead to Lewis Hamilton last time out in Hungary. It’s am overused word, but momentum is everything in F1 and with three consecutive wins for Hamilton going into the race (Austria, Britain and Hungary) it was vital for Rosberg to regain the initiative. Pole secured, eyes turned to the race itself, and for Rosberg, this is where it went horribly wrong.
A poor getaway meant that he lost the lead into the first corner for the second consecutive race to Hamilton, and this time also slipped behind the two Red Bulls (Verstappen leapfrogging Ricciardo to become the leading Bull). Ricciardo was able to keep ahead of Rosberg reasonably well, whilst Hamilton began to etch out a gap to Verstappen.
Strategy would prove crucial, with Mercedes pitting Rosberg first (an unusual move, since normally their lead car would dictate the stop, though with Hamilton under no immediate threat from Rosberg, it was probably a case of Mercedes trying to maximise their team points). As they did so, Red Bull pitted Verstappen (in a bid to cover Rosberg). Rosberg’s stop was sloppy by the standards set in F1 and he would continue to trail Verstappen until the next stops.
Up front, it looked like Hamilton and Ricciardo would try to go for a two-stop strategy, but this was soon abandoned as the pair came in a few laps later. Further back, the Ferraris languished in obscurity for the most part – they would end up fifth and sixth, largely on their own.
Williams’ Felipe Massa had a torrid race, involved in what appeared to be a minor first lap bump with a Renault, that inexplicably led to him lapping much slower than teammate Bottas, to the extent that Toro Rossos and Renaults were easing by him (Magnussen’s opportunistic dart after Sainz had already gone through was a masterful effort). Williams had a terrible race, with Massa eventually retiring and Bottas slipping well down the field, as a result of a failed attempt to make a two-stop race work.
Back near the front, Rosberg’s day would get worse. As the second round of stops took place, he found himself right on the tail of Verstappen and tried to lunge by at the main hairpin. Initially he succeeded, but he appeared to turn very late, leaving Verstappen nowhere to go but offroad. At the time the move looked hard but fair; on reflection, given the view from the cockpit, it may have been a mistake from Rosberg.
A 5-second time penalty (to be taken at the final stops) became an eight second penalty due to a mistake with a stop watch, just to compound Rosberg’s misery.
Hamilton meanwhile, cruised to his sixth win of the year. Ricciardo looked quicker at times, but Hamilton would then reopen the gap, which hovered around six seconds. His win puts him 19 points clear of Rosberg, could would finish fourth. With Hamilton due to take a grid penalty for an unauthorised engine change, having a buffer may well prove crucial. It also allows Hamilton to reflect upon a successful second quarter of the season as the summer break starts. Rosberg will be wondering how a 43-point advantage has turned into a 19-point deficit.
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