Nico Rosberg stormed to his fifth victory of the season in front of a jubilant home crowd at the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim on Sunday. The Mercedes driver and championship leader extended his lead over team-mate Lewis Hamilton by dominating proceedings from start to finish. Hamilton was denied a chance of glory due to a heavy qualifying crash on Saturday. The Briton was, however able to claim a third place finish behind the impressive Valtteri Bottas.
Rosberg had already done half the work the previous day by taking pole position for the first time on home turf. Hamilton was widely expected to join him on the front row, but a crash in first qualifying put the Brit to the back of the grid; starting 20th after a gearbox change as a result of the impact. That meant that Bottas started second ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa and the Mclaren of Kevin Magnussen.
The race got off to a dramatic start with a scary crash for Massa at the first corner. The Williams pilot got off the line well and was momentarily side by side with team-mate Bottas on the outside. Magnussen was fast off the line as well as looked to grab the inside of turn one. Massa did not see the Dane and cut into the corner and with it, the Mclaren; flipping the car over and sliding down the run-off area. Magnussen spun off as well and Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull had to take quick evasive action; dropping to 15th place
Magnussen was able to continue but pitted at the end of the opening lap with suspected left front tyre damage. The safety car came out to retrieve the Williams; Massa already out the car and unhurt.
The safety came in after two laps and as per the original start, Rosberg streaked away from Bottas, building up a one and a half second lead. Lewis Hamilton was making good progress through the field and was already up to 15th by the end of lap three. The Mercedes driver got past both the Lotus’ of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean with ease. Also making his way back through the field was Daniel Ricciardo. Running behind the Sauber of Adrian Sutil, the Australian (followed a couple of inches back by Hamilton in the double toe) breezed past the German into the hairpin. Hamilton tried to make the most of Sutil being distracted by taking the place as well but was unsighted by the Sauber, making slight contact, before gaining the place.
There was action throughout the pack and on occasions the action got a bit too close for comfort. Daniil Kvyat in the Toro Rosso had been closing on the Force India of Sergio Pérez. Having cut back on acceleration out of the hairpin, the Russian rookie looked to squeeze Pérez into turn eight. Pérez with nowhere else to go could not avoid contact and Kvyat was spun round; the youngster then pitted and dropped to 20th.
Out front, Rosberg was continuing to extend his lead over Bottas. By lap 12 he was a comfortable 10 seconds in front and cruising. By this time Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari was one of the first to come into the pits to change onto the sot compound tyre. Hamilton was still charging through and by lap 14 had worked his way up to fifth place. This was only after another moment of contact, this time with Alonso’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. Into the hairpin, Ricciardo and Hamilton had DRS enabled and ganged up on the Finn. Ricciardo went wide under braking and Hamilton slightly locked his brakes and deftly tapped Raikkonen’s front wing. Hamilton got the pair and passed Pérez on the next lap.
The action didn’t abate and two laps later there was another ferocious battle; this time between the two Ferraris and Sebastian Vettel. Vettel got squeezed out at turn two by Alonso and on the run down to the hairpin; the pair were side by side. Both however were in the slipstream of Raikkonen and the result was a three a-breast braking zone. More contact was made as Vettel pushed Raikkonen to the left and Alonso, with nowhere to go added to the Finn’s dismay by giving him a whack on the other side. Vettel and Alonso both went past Kimi on the exit.
As the race was approaching the half-distance point, strategies were beginning to come into play. At Force India, it seemed that racers’ instinct got the better of Pérez, with his race engineer berating him: “lift and coast, this is the last time I’m going to tell you this”. Pérez proceeded to lift and coast from that moment. Under threat now, he was then passed by a resurgent Raikkonen who seemed to have some Duracells shoved in the back of him and he worked his way back up the order.
Nico Hülkenberg was having a quiet race for Force India, but as is normally the case with the German, it had been an efficient race. Having started ninth he found himself running in fifth place and showing decent pace. Shortly after half-distance though, he began to complain of losing engine performance; albeit without losing too much overall pace. The same could not be said about Romain Grosjean in the Lotus as he suffered yet another mechanical problem with his car. The Frenchman became the second retirement with a power issue, angrily exiting the car and with it potentially the team come season’s end.
Hamilton, after his second pit stop was again working his way past slower runners. Having passed Ricciardo who seemed to be glued to the front of his Mercedes all race long, he closed to the back of ex-team-mate Jenson Button. Button had been running reasonably strong in the Mclaren though at this point he was beginning to drop back. Hamilton came up to the back of him and believed that Button was letting him past, before cutting back to take his line into the hairpin. More contact was made and this time, the damage was more severe. Front wing endplate flailing wildly.
Hamilton then moved to third place as Vettel and Alonso pitted in front of him; Lewis would however have to pit for a third time and change strategy as a result of the front wing damage. Daniil Kvyat’s race came to a spectacular end on the approach to the hairpin as his Toro Rosso caught fire; flames licking out of the side of the Russian’s car. Kvyat was able to get out of the car quickly enough but his race was over and a potential safety car was on the cards.
No safety car came out and the area was covered by double waved yellow flags. The same thing happened at the final corner a few laps later as Sutil spun and stalled his Sauber; in the most justifiable situation for a safety car (marshals on track at the fast final corner), again no safety car was called. In anticipation of one, Hamilton was pitted for the last time; a move that ultimately cost him second place as he would have to complete more laps on this set of tyres.
Into the closing stages of the race Rosberg was comfortable in front while Bottas continued to lose time to Hamilton. Vettel was in fourth, followed by team-mate Ricciardo who had Alonso for company. Alonso had made significant progress through the pack after his final stop; passing Button the previous lap. A serried of breathtaking battles, passes, re-passes and wheel to wheel action followed between Alonso and Ricciardo. Alonso used the DRS to successfully get past the Australian on the run down to the hairpin and passed the Red Bull. Under braking though, Ricciardo dived down the inside to re-take the position. Alonso then straightened the car perfectly and got the power down to pull alongside Ricciardo and pass on the way to turn eight. Ricciardo once again pounced down the inside and nailed his car to the apex of eight to keep the position.
The next lap, Alonso had much more speed and made the move into the hairpin. Once again Ricciardo immediately fought back and plunged back down into turn eight. This time Alonso gives enough room on the outside. Centimetres separated the pair but sheer brilliance and utmost respect prevented contact; Alonso was up to fifth after an almighty dual.
In the final laps, Hamilton, after having closed on Bottas, could not get close enough to even attempt a pass on the Finn. Rosberg, unchallenged at the front took his first ever German Grand Prix victory from Bottas and Hamilton; Hamilton making up 17 places to secure a fully deserved podium. Vettel followed home in fourth with Alonso and Ricciardo next – 0.082 seconds separating the pair over the line. Hülkenberg was seventh ahead of the two Mclarens of Button and Magnussen with Pérez taking the final point in 10th.
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Grand Prix in Quotes:
“It’s fantastic. It’s an amazing feeling for me to win here at home. A very, special day for me. Thank you for all your support here this weekend” – Nico Rosberg on a perfect home race (Source: FIA, 2014)
“It’s a circuit where you can really attack, it works for an attacking driver like myself so perhaps it suits my driving style a little bit more than some others, maybe” – Lewis Hamilton on why his comeback to third was not as surprising as many believed (Source: FIA, 2014)