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2018 F1

Race Analysis: 2018 German Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton won a chaotic German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring circuit, starting from 14th on the grid, the furthest he has ever taken a win from. The Briton claimed a 17 point lead, as he was blessed with some rain which caused his primary contender, Sebastian Vettel to crash out of the race. Valterri Bottas complete the one-two finish for Mercedes on their home ground, while Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen finished third behind his fellow countryman.

Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen finished in fourth and missed out on the podium, due to a a botched intermediate tyre gamble, when it started to rain. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo had a retirement due to loss of power, around lap 29, when his team asked him to stop the car. The stoppage brought out double yellow flags, but no virtual safety car.

Renault racing driver Nico Hulkenberg finished fifth, the highest best for the driver on home ground, after starting from seventh on the grid. He was followed by Haas driver Romain Grosjean in sixth place. Force India’s Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon in seventh and eighth place respectively. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Brendon Hartley were the final points finishes of the race in ninth and tenth place respectively.

In what started as a night mare of a weekend for Mercedes, post Saturday on their home ground end with 1-2 finish, a redemption for their loss of points and tough luck in the last few races. For Vettel and Ferrari what started as one of their strongest weekends, end in one podium and one DNF.

The race start did not see much action until the ultra-soft tyres of their top 10 drivers started to give away, and cars had started to pit. Hamilton started from P14 on the grid on the soft tyre, and it took him only 11 laps to surge up the grid to P6. Raikkonen was the first to pit around lap 14, from the ultra-soft compound to the soft compound, and he rejoined in fourth place, ahead of Hamilton.

In the meanwhile, Bottas and Vettel, were struggling on their tyres as the track temperatures were warmer and there were scenarios throughout the grid, where the tyres had to started to blister rapidly. The German had to pit at lap at lap 26, after which Bottas lead the race and had to pit at lap 29. From lap 30, it was Raikkonen in leading the race until lap 38.

While Raikkonen leading the race, Vettel was behind him followed by Hamilton in third, and Bottas at that point was running fourth. However, by Lap 38, the German four-time World Champions’ tyres were fresher than his team-mates and stuck in second place behind the Finn, his tyres had started to overheat, and he had flat spotted two fronts after locking up twice. After coercing the pit wall with frustration for a swap, the team asked Raikkonen to let him pass. By lap 39 the two Ferraris swapped places, and started to enter the traffic ahead, until a slight drizzle hit some parts of the track. At the end of lap 42 Hamilton pit to a fresh set of ultra-soft tyres, and rejoined in fifth place.

The forecast for the day did promise showers, but for the teams and drivers it was tough gamble on tyres, with no particular indication of how long the showers were going to last. For the Ferraris, Vettel was supposed to be on a one stop strategy, while Raikkonen on a two stop, but the rain played havoc. Since most of the teams were told the rain wont last beyond three laps most of them opted to keep their drivers out on the existing compound.

On lap 44, Charles Leclerc who was running just outside the top 10 in 11th place pit to intermediates, since his team decided to take the gamble. Along with him, many other drivers followed. However, the young Ferrari protege, lost out towards the last ten laps when the track dried up and finished 15th instead.

At the front Mercedes had Lewis on a comfortable set of tyres, but Bottas was struggling and had the weather conditions been different the two cars would have not been close to the podium, as they were losing time. However, the rain came as a blessing to Lewis and with new ultra-softs, that were easy to manage with dropping temperatures, a chase to the podium was easy. By lap 46, when the rain was heavier, Vettel Raikkonen and Bottas stayed out on the slick tyres, since they were told it would last for a short period. However Verstappen pit to intermediates and back to ultra-softs at lap 49.

At the lap 51, the top three went into traffic, and the mid-field pack that they had to overtake had started to bunch up and were fighting each other in slippery conditions. Several cars spun and Raikkonen lost a place to Bottas, after getting blocked by Kevin Magnussen, due to the blue flags not been waved.

On lap 52, Vettel went through turn 10 a tricky corner, which had large amounts of standing water, leading to aquaplaning and eventually making him spin into the barriers at Turn12. The reason for his crash was a combination of a driver error and track conditions. His retirement brought out the safety car which last till lap 57. Raikkonen took lead for a brief period until his team made him pit to ultra-soft tyres at lap 54, putting Hamilton into lead amidst the chaos.

At the race restart, Bottas attacked Hamilton, but after two attempts, and going wheel to wheel, the team ordered him to back down. Post the race Toto Wolff explained saying that they did not won’t to lose either car or both, given the luck they had in the past race weekends and after witnessing Vettel’s spin. The chance to regain some valuable points with a 1-2 finish, stopped them from allowing their drivers to race each other, it was a risk they could not take.

The next ten laps did not see many position changes in the top 10, as they finished in the same order. Although Raikkonen and Verstappen who had pitted back to ulra-softs, had the fresher compounds, they were unable to challenge the drivers at the front after a point. The Finn later explained it was hard to overtake later, as there was only one particular dry line to take and the ultra-softs and their tyres were too fresh to generate higher grip levels in the limited time, in mixed track conditions.

Hamilton was always going to surge up the grid from the back, and for him or the Ferraris surging from back to the front in a short period of the race is not very difficult anymore. An example of it was Silverstone, where his clash with Kimi sent both down the grid to the bottom of the pack, and both end up on the podium by the end of it. The intriguing however, was Ferrari’s gamble with their pitstops, and the only ones botching it up worse was Red Bull Racing team.

In the drivers’ standings, Hamilton now leads Vettel by 17 points with a total of 188 points while the German has a total of 171 points. Raikkonen trails 40 points behind Vettel in third place with a total of 131 points. The Finn has had seven podiums so far, more than Vettel, out of which the current is the fourth one in a row. For the title contenders, they are now equal with the number of retirements, which is one each. With the current momentum, and Ferraris pace, the drivers’ standings will shuffle up and down further in the season. The next race in Budapest, is on the following weekend of July 27-29, 2018.

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