Sebastian Vettel is the third most successful grand prix driver in history in terms of race victories, with 52 to date. But only one of those was delivered at his home race – and in F1, remarkably, he’s never won at Hockenheim.
Vettel’s eight German GP home misses – and one direct hit
How sweet it would be if he could rub out that smudge on his record and add a second German GP victory to his tally this weekend, especially in the double context of what happened this time last year and the uncomfortable situation he finds himself tangled in this season.
Vettel’s string of unforced errors has become a major theme of the current era of F1, with his four glorious world titles for Red Bull between 2010-13 fast receding into memory. But it was the clanger at Hockenheim last year that chimes most rudely – and is surely the most painful to a proud and sensitive German.
And at a time when Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc is growing in stature and confidence, Vettel’s need to fully make the most of his home advantage this weekend is only more crucial.
The trouble is that German home-race record doesn’t bode well. As he prepares for his 10th, Vettel won’t want to dwell on the past: nine races – and only that one victory to show for them.
2008: a big weekend
Vettel’s first home grand prix was a grand occasion for him in more ways than one. Not only did he qualify ninth and score points with eighth place for Toro Rosso, it was also the race at which he was confirmed as a Red Bull Racing driver for 2009. Not long after, he would sensationally win a wet-dry Italian GP, a memorable first of those 52 and a pointer towards the incredible run of success that the young man was about to enjoy.
2009: Webber steals the limelight
Vettel wasted no time making further progress in his first season at Red Bull, winning the team’s first race, in China, and arriving at his home grand prix off the back of a win at Silverstone. But at the Nürburgring he would be forced to concede (perhaps through gritted teeth) that his team-mate Mark Webber was the best man on the day. The Aussie came back from an early-race drive-through penalty for contact with Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn to lead home Vettel for a Red Bull one-two, and dramatically score his first F1 win.
2010: Ferrari controversy dominates
This time Vettel started from pole position – his first on home turf – but again found himself thrust into the shadows as Ferrari scored what turned into a controversial one-two at Hockenheim. This was the infamous race in which Felipe Massa was told on the radio that “Fernando is faster than you”, a barely coded message for the Brazilian to cede his lead to team-mate Alonso. In a time when team orders were banned, it caused a storm that eventually led to the rule being overturned as unworkable and unrealistic in F1. Vettel was third behind the two Ferraris.
2011: grey day in a season of gold
Arriving at home as a world champion for the first time, Vettel was fully into his stride by 2011. This was a season he would utterly dominate, scoring 11 wins in total – but his relatively low-key fourth place at the Nürburgring, having qualified third, was a surprising and rare off weekend.
2012: penalty costs a podium
In his world title hat-trick season, Germany once again failed to inspire a gold-standard result that reflected his usual form at Red Bull. This time, at Hockenheim, Seb had at least appeared to pull off something for his home fans to cheer about when he passed Jenson Button’s McLaren late on for second place, having earlier lost out to the Brit. But after celebrating his podium the move was deemed unfair by the stewards, who ruled Vettel had left the track to complete the pass – and the consequent penalty dropped him to fifth. (Skip to 12m 48s on the video above to see the illegal move...)
2013: victory at last
At the fifth time of asking, in what turned out to be his fourth and (to date) final world title season, Vettel delivered the home victory he had long been dreaming of at the Nürburgring. Outqualified by Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, Vettel seized control of the race from the Englishman, then withheld a late-race threat from Lotus drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean to secure a great win – still his only one at home.
2014: near the end at Red Bull
After so much glory, it’s remarkable how quickly things turned sour for Vettel at Red Bull as the hybrid era began. Lumbered with a Renault power unit left far in the wake of the potent Mercedes, he also faced a bright and cheerful threat in the form of new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Hockenheim appeared to be set to offer a snapshot of Vettel’s season, as he qualified three tenths off the Australian. But in the race he at least showed some of the zest that had taken him to four consecutive titles, outracing Ricciardo and finishing a fighting fourth. But soon he would shock the F1 world by being announced as a Ferrari driver, as replacement for Alonso.
2016: a disappointing first for Ferrari
Interestingly, Vettel remembers this race as special, solely because it was his first home grand prix in a Ferrari (there hadn’t been a German GP in 2015). But a lacklustre sixth on the grid was converted into a low-key fifth on Sunday as Nico Rosberg basked in the German home-race glory with victory for Mercedes, on his way to defeating team-mate Hamilton over a remarkable season to claim a brilliant world title. Rosberg’s achievement only grows in stature as Hamilton’s iron grip over F1 today continues to tighten.
2018: the unforgettable clanger
And so we come to Vettel’s only home-race DNF – and one that might come to define his time at Ferrari. After another missed season for the German GP in 2017, Vettel returned to Hockenheim finally with a red car capable of beating the Silver Arrows. And it was all going so well… until a moment of horror in the rain left Vettel slithering into the gravel in front of a wall of his home support. This should have been Seb’s second German GP win and the catapult to a fifth world title. Instead, it was the first clear sign of a season – and perhaps a career – that was beginning to unravel.
Time for redemption – or a further painful anti-climax at the race that means more to him than any other? No pressure, Sebastian.
Photography courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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