10 talking points from a fantastic German GP at Hockenheim
You’ve got to love a wet race. Almost every team and driver triggered a story from a drama-filled German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, with the track itself adding to the chaos.
1. Verstappen keeps his cool
Max Verstappen has a well-earned a wild-man reputation, but this was a markedly mature performance to deliver Red Bull Racing what is remarkably its first win at Hockenheim.
Once upon a time, his dreadful start from the front row – “too much wheelspin” – and the 360-degree rotation after taking on dry tyres in one of his five – yes, count them, five – pitstops might have led to a mental unravelling. But in 2019 ‘the kid’ has grown up. In harness with a team that consistently makes the right strategy calls in the heat of battle, Verstappen is starting to look like the full package. This was a brilliant win laced with a dose of luck.
This time, that’s not slang for another Lewis Hamilton masterclass. Instead, it’s a more of a literal description for a German GP in which the five-time world champion was visibly under the weather. It was reflected in an uncharacteristic performance featuring a couple of big mistakes, but also a weirdly comedic blunder from his team.
Hamilton had two offs, but unlike others – most notably his team-mate – he got away from both. Like all the greats, Lewis rides his luck when he has to. And it could have been a lot worse: he even backed into a couple of points for ninth, after both Alfa Romeos were given post-race 30-second time penalties for technical infringements. That’s a decent result in the circumstances.
3. Another blot for F1’s stewards
After his first big mistake, Hamilton pitted but did so from the wrong side of a bollard marking the pit entrance. Not for the first time, the stewards stuck to the letter of the law and pinned him with a five-second penalty.
And not for the first time, it was a highly questionable decision from the sport’s referees.
Hamilton had no hope of passing to the right side of the bollard in this instance and clearly in such circumstances gained no advantage. But F1’s stewards either don’t have a remit – or lacked the confidence – to make a ruling based on common sense and individual circumstance. The system and the F1 decision-making mentality desperately needs an overhaul.
Had the team’s fancy dress celebrations, in which the team took a leaf from the Goodwood Revival to turn the clock back to mark its 200th F1 GP and 125-year anniversary in motorsport, gone to its head? Hamilton’s last-second pitstop led to uncharacteristic chaos in the Mercedes pit that has been compared to a pitstop from the 1950s.
But that’s an insult to Alfred Neubauer’s mechanics. Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss’s crew back in 1955 never put on a show of astonishing panic and ineptitude like this. We assume normal service will resume in Budapest next weekend.
5. Bottas staring into the abyss
Valtteri Bottas was perfectly placed to do himself – and his team – some massive favours on Sunday. Hamilton’s troubles gave him a golden chance to make inroads into his team-mate’s title lead; he could also have spared Merc’s anniversary blushes by at least challenging Verstappen for victory; and it was laid on a plate for him to show Toto Wolff why he deserves a fourth season at the team just as the boss is weighing up the stick-or-twist decision on his driver line-up for 2020.
Instead, Bottas dropped it at Turn 1. And typical of his luck, while Hamilton had survived an identical spin, Bottas couldn’t keep the white nose of his Merc from bouncing into the wall. Game over – at this rate not just for this race. He needs a seriously big performance in Hungary next weekend.
He was anonymous for chunks of this race, but when it counted Sebastian Vettel showed his class to rise to a wonderful second place in front of his home crowd – from 20th on the grid following Ferrari engine traumas on Saturday.
Redemption after the clanger at Hockenheim in 2018? You could say that. It was uplifting to see him smile on Sunday afternoon.
7. Leclerc’s “unacceptable” criticism
Charles Leclerc wasn’t alone in being caught out by the shiny skating-rink surface on the outside of the final turn – far from it. But his branding of the drag strip’s lethal surface as “unacceptable” as a run-off on a Formula 1 circuit will likely be the defining criticism of Hockenheim from an otherwise great grand prix for the track.
The trouble is the circuit, as its bosses know only too well, isn’t just an F1 circuit – because it simply has to be more than that. Indeed, its F1 future remains very much in the balance with this possibly proving to be the track’s final German GP. The financial stress F1 puts on venues is too often unsustainable.
Hockenheim, like every permanent race circuit, has to diversify simply to survive. Drag racing is hugely popular in Germany, has its own fine tradition and that strip is much-needed. It’s also been there for years.
So while it was unfortunate that a perfect storm (literally) made the strip a problematic feature on Sunday, was it really fair for Leclerc to be critical? Then again, why would he be thinking about the bigger picture for Hockenheim?
What is unarguable is that F1 is so homogenised today, young drivers have no way of understanding that such variables were once an accepted part of the sport’s tapestry. Leclerc is 21 and has no reason to understand this – but in contrast to his predecessors, he doesn’t have much to moan about.
There was some fortune involved in Daniil Kvyat’s third-place podium – but surely no one would begrudge the Russian his joy, especially on the same weekend he became a dad. What a day to remember for the Toro Rosso driver, another to savour redemption, three years after he was sacked by Red Bull. It’s remarkable he’s even back on the F1 grid, because most don’t get a second chance.
9. Another uncomfortable day for Gasly
Kvyat’s performance, and arguably even more emphatically that of his team-mate Alex Albon, only increased the pressure that is building once again on Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly. A strong Silverstone performance suddenly seemed an age away as the Frenchman struggled to piece together the accomplished race he needs to cling on to his drive. Both Kvyat and Albon are said to be in contention for promotion, especially after Hockenheim.
How the German GP ended for Gasly just sums up his current state. He mistimed a pass on Albon, lost his front wing and skated off the track into retirement, as the British-born Thai continued to an eventual sixth place. Like Bottas, Gasly needs a brilliant Hungarian GP weekend.