The 11th round of the F1 championship came from a chilly Nurburgring in Germany. Having not raced here for seven years, 13 of the 20 drivers were new to the track. The poor weather conditions and reliability issues made for a great race.
Heavy fog consumed Friday’s practice sessions leading to their cancellation so drivers only had one hour on Saturday to test engine modes, set-ups and tyres before qualifying that afternoon. One driver, however, had even less time to practice. Lance Stroll of Racing Point was taken ill on Saturday morning (not COVID-19) so Nico Hulkenberg took over. At 11am on Saturday he was in Cologne drinking coffee when he got the call to come and race. By 2pm he was at the circuit and in the car qualifying. He only had 4 laps’ practice so struggled with the twitchy car in the cold and windy conditions and qualified at the back of the grid.
The lack of practice time meant no drivers had the chance to test out the hard tyres and Ocon didn’t even get to try the medium tyres either.
Bottas pulled out a great flying lap to claim pole and Hamilton slotted into 2nd having peaked in Q2. Verstappen kept the Mercedes close and qualified 3rd, with Leclerc in 4th splitting the Red Bulls. Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, made it out of Q1 for the first time this year to qualify 14th.
Some early pit stops occurred on laps 7 through 11 with Albon, Leclerc and Räikkönen pitting due to graining tyres and flat spots. Ricciardo was up to 4th while Norris and Perez battled behind.
Out of nowhere on lap 13, Hamilton overtook Bottas. Replays show Bottas massively locking up, running wide at turn 1 and allowing Hamilton to close the 1.7 second gap and take the lead. Bottas pitted to replace those flat-spotted tyres. The camera then turned to Russell, with a puncture. Räikkönen had locked up and gone straight into the side of the young Williams driver, sending him flying and breaking the Williams’ suspension, making him the first retirement of the race. He was later issued a 10 second time penalty for this. A virtual safety car was deployed for the marshals to be able to recover the stray car and Hamilton and Verstappen pitted, maintaining 1st and 2nd respectively. Bottas’ timing was all wrong here as Hamilton and Verstappen lost a lot less time by pitting during the VSC.
Bottas suddenly had no power! The Finn, who started on pole, crawls into the pit lane and becomes the second retirement of the race.
Just a few laps later Ocon also retired due to hydraulic issues messing up his brakes and gearbox. With Bottas and Ocon, usual point finishers, out of the race, the other two spots in the top ten were wide open.
Albon was given a 5 second time penalty for his incident with Kvyat and came into the pits to serve it but instead he switched his engine off. He was the fourth retirement in the race, leaving another points finish place open for an underdog.
Norris, Perez and Sainz then pit from 3rd, 4th and 6th respectively, moving Ricciardo, who has already pitted, up into 3rd position.
Norris was having power unit issues, a major concern considering it was new since qualifying yesterday. He was told to use the ‘default zero-three’ setting at the start of each straight to maximise his engine power. He did incredibly well to control the issue and maintain position until the car eventually grinds to a halt on lap 44 with the bodywork smoking. This brought out the safety car helping those on a two-stop strategy.
Ricciardo pits from 3rd giving Perez track position but the Aussie has much fresher tyres. Oddly, Perez then pits giving up the 3rd place back to Ricciardo. Maybe his tyres wouldn’t have lasted until the end.
Grosjean did not pit during the safety car despite an early first pit stop so climbed up to 7th. Leclerc, Gasly and Hulkenberg were also in contention for points.
Hulkenberg had a great restart and takes 8th while Grosjean drops to 9th. Ricciardo tried a move on Verstappen for 2nd but couldn’t make it stick.
On lap 55, Magnussen made a mistake and had to take the escape road. He bumped Vettel when re-joining and Raikonnen overtook.
Hamilton crossed the line after 60 laps to take the win, his 91st win which equals Michael Schumacher’s record. Verstappen took 2nd and Ricciardo got 3rd, Renault’s first podium since 2011. This also means that Cyril Abiteboul, Renault F1 Team managing director, now gets a tattoo of Ricciardo’s choosing. The rest of the top ten are made up of 9 different teams. This is great variety and it’s not often seen in F1 with the usual exceptional reliability.
Heart-warmingly, Hamilton was presented with Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes racing helmet during the post-race interviews by his son Mick Schumacher, an F2 driver. This moment was touching as you can see how much this feat meant to Hamilton. It’s something he’s dreamed of since he was just 13 years old and he’s not slowing down any time soon.
Holly’s driver of the day…and loser
Hulkenberg is my driver of the day, as I’m sure he is yours too. He had no preparation this weekend, turning up with his Renault helmet and jumped straight into the Racing Point. He started last but finished 8th, securing 4 points. He now has as many top eight finishes this season as Vettel despite being subbed-in for only 3 races of the 11 so far. He is also 15th in the championship out of 21 having also scored when standing in for Perez at Silverstone.
Bottas is my loser of the day, but not by his faults. Today was the race to close the championship gap to Hamilton but a DNF means no points and Hamilton extends his lead to 69 points. Bottas drove well to hold off Hamilton and Verstappen for as long as he did, especially after the tense start from the Mercedes duo but ultimately the lack of practice and reliability issues at this track caught up with him, and 3 of the other 4 retirees, to make for a disappointing weekend.