Sebastian Vettel finally took his first victory in Germany on Sunday, surviving race long pressure from Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. The Red Bull driver started from second on the grid and after a rocket start, took the lead at the first corner, outdragging polesitter Lewis Hamilton.
After the tyre débâcle of Silverstone last week, Pirelli came into the German Grand Prix weekend licking their wounds, but remained defiant that changes would be made and that no such problems would occur in the Eiffel region. And throughout practice and qualifying this rung true. Thankfully. And during these sessions Mercedes and Red Bull showed that they were the clear front runners in this years championship by sharing the fastest laps in FP1, FP2 and FP3. For Mercedes, on home turf, it was to be a bitter-sweet qualifying as Nico Rosberg was eliminated in Q2; the local driver to start 11th on the grid; is worst of the year. On the other scale, Lewis Hamilton salvaged Saturday for the Silver Arrow by snatching his second pole in a row, and third of the year. Lining up alongside him was Sebastian Vettel with Mark Webber behind him. Following the top 3 were the two Lotus’ of Raikkonen and Grosjean while Mclaren’s Jenson Button was satisfied to make a rare appearance in the top 10.
Off the line, Hamilton initially got away well, but in the second phase, bogged down. Vettel was able to pull alongside the Briton as was Webber. Hamilton, caught in a Red Bull sandwhich had to back out and let the two team-mates battle it out into turn one. Webber nearly making all the way round the outside of Vettel by braking later had to give way and settle for second on the exit. Hamilton, now down to third had to defend from Raikkonen round the loop but held the position. Felipe Massa’s inconsistent season continued to unravel on lap 4 as the Brazilian spun out at turn 1; the car swapping ends under braking. Out front, Vettel had kept his lead from team-mate Webber and began to gradually open the gap. Elsewhere, Rosberg dropped one place while Paul di Resta also had a poor start, losing several spots.
Mclaren soon found themselves in another intra team dual, Sergio Pérez closed up on and passed Jenson Button on the run down into turn 1. The pit sequence began at the end of lap 5 with Force India’s Paul di Resta making his first stop. Simultaneously, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne also came in, and narrowly avoided the Scot’s unsafe release which was investigated after the race. Vettel still led from Webber, both trying to extend their tyres’ life. Meanwhile Hamilton pitted on lap 7 to move onto the medium compound tyres; rejoining in 10th place. Vettel responded the lap after Hamilton (and rejoined in front of the Brit) with Webber following one lap later.
Attention was then fixed and restricted to the pitlane as the paddock was again reminded of the dangers associated with the sport. Webber was released from his box too early, the right rear nut had not been fitted properly. There was a horrifying inevitability about what followed. The loose wheel detached and sped down the pitlane, narrowly avoiding mechanics but not an FOM camerman, Paul Allen. The Brit was hit from behind at shoulder height, and fell to the ground. A sickening sight fortunately only resulted in minimal injuries, a broken shoulder and cracked ribs.
Back in the race, Lotus were impressing with their durability, Grosjean managing to run a lot further in the race than the rest of the frontrunners, and showing good pace too. The Frenchman, who had made sure his team knew he thought he was faster than team-mate Raikkonen was lifting himself into genuine contention for the win. Lotus were running 2nd and 3rd through some fast stops and great, determined overtaking, Raikkonen moving round the outside of Hamilton into the final chicane. With the lead coming down with every lap, leader Vettel was seemingly under pressure; and it didn’t get any better due to a temporary KERS malfunction on the reigning champions car.
The race then interrupted as Jules Bianchi’s Marrusia’s engine failed on the approach to the final chicane. Plumes of smoke into the braking zone was the least of the marshal’s concerns as suddenly the Marrusia started to roll back down the track, unmanned into traffic. Ironically, the car ended up in a safer position after rolling away than it had been initially. The safety car came out however, and this sped up the timing of the second pit stops. Vettel and Grosjean had just been approaching the stricken Marrusia at the deployment, so dived straight in covering each other off. They rejoined in the same positions with Raikkonen close behind, on new (and different) tyres.
With Grosjean on the hard tyres and Raikkonen on the soft, Lotus decided to split strategies to give them the best chance of taking their first victory since the opening round in Australia. Raikkonen found immediate speed on his softer compound, contrary to earlier indications from practice. As a result, Grosjean who had the measure of his illustrious team-mate all race was instructed “not to hold Kimi up”, a difficult pill for the Frenchman to swallow. And while the Finn chased down Vettel, Alonso was chasing down Grosjean for third.
Both chasers would come up just short though as Sebastian Vettel finally took his first win in Germany, and his first win in July as a Formula One driver. Raikkonen finished just over a second behind with Grosjean beating Alonso by two seconds. Lewis Hamilton could not capitalise on his pole position and finished 5th with former team-mate Jenson Button scoring his first points since Monaco in 6th. Mark Webber salvaged 7th after his pitlane scare with the second Mclaren of Pérez dropping down in the closing stages to finish 8th. Rosberg and Hulkenberg completed the top 10 to make it three Germans in the points on home soil.
And more importantly: no tyre failures.