By: Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton proved to be the unstoppable man, as he drove from behind to take his second win of the season, at the Formula One 2011 German Grand Prix.
The Englishman prevented two times World Champion, Fernando Alonso from taking the top spot in his Ferrari. Red Bull driver and polesitter Mark Webber had to settle for third place on the podium, as he failed for the fifth time to convert pole position into a victory.
On his way to taking his 16th Formula One career win, Hamilton set a final lap time of 1:37:30.334secs. Hamilton described his feelings after showing impressive form in qualifying yesterday and again today when he converted it into a race win.
“Every win is special – but with all the emotion, effort and energy the team put into today’s victory, this one feels even more special than usual. Coming into this weekend, I said I’d take things one race at a time. So to win today is massively positive for us, but there’s a long way to go and it’ll be about consistency as well as speed from here on in,” explained Hamilton.
Before any on track action had got underway, the drivers has a tough decision to make concerning tyre choices, as the rain started to come down before the formation lap. While Hamilton did not let the initial wet conditions affect his start, as he took the lead from Webber’s grasp, some of the other front-runners and midfield drivers had their fair share of problems.
Hamilton’s team mate Jenson Button was one of the first to suffer in the changeable conditions. The 2009 World Champion appeared to be struggling for grip, as he slipped down the field by three places from his starting position. Alonso was another casualty who was affected by the weather, and slipped off the track at Turn 2 on the second lap. Unfortunately for him, Sebastian Vettel in the second Red Bull was close enough to benefit from the mishap. As Alonso was getting himself back on course, Vettel was able to nip passed and take the position temporarily. The pair continued to mini scrap for a while. Alonso did finally get his moment to cruise passed, and get third place from the German who was racing on home soil.
Further down the field two drivers were having a battle of their own. Although they started the race alongside each other, Force India’s Paul Di Resta and Lotus Renault’s Nick Heidfeld got a bit too close under racing conditions. The pair made contact at Turn 4 of the Nurburgring circuit on just lap two. The coming together meant that both drivers suffered the consequences in one way or another. They fell down the field with Heidfeld just in front maintaining 22nd place and Di Resta following in 23rd position. The incident between the drivers caught the attention of the FIA, who decided to investigate Heidfeld for the contact with the rookie Scotsman. Meanwhile, before the German could be issued with the drive through penalty for causing the collision, he came off the circuit at Turn 3 and crashed out of the race.
On his way to leaving the track after running wide, Heidfeld sadly collected Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi. The Swiss driver did not seem aware of Heidfeld’s presence, which resulted in Buemi having a right rear puncture. After making a swift pit stop to see to the damage, Buemi got going again but had to climb from 22nd place on lap 12. Meanwhile, Heidfeld’s home race had nonetheless come to a rapid end, which meant he did not serve his drive through from the first incident. Instead, he was under investigation by the FIA for a second time in quick succession.
As the action off the track with incidents was at the forefront for a while, some drivers made steady progress out of the limelight. One of which being Sauber driver, Kamui Kobayashi. The daring Japanese driver originally started from 17th place since he failed to get through to Q2, but made an impressive leap as he tends to in races. By lap five he had already got himself up into 11th position. His Mexican team mate, Sergio Perez was experiencing a slightly different fortune though. On lap nine it was evident that he would need to make an essential pit stop soon. At Turn 10 though, Perez had a minor blip as he flat spotted his tyres and went off the track momentarily. Eventually, after the little detour to delay proceedings, Perez made his way to the pits for a tyre change. Perez went on to finish the race, but narrowly missed out on the top ten to take 11th place, whereas Kobayashi went on to secure ninth place for himself.
As well as the midfield drivers having battles with each other, Nico Rosberg was one who got close enough to the front-runners after an impressive performance in qualifying yesterday. Early on in the race the Mercedes driver was showing good form against Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. The German was initially tackled by the Brazilian for fifth place at the time. However, Rosberg put up a good fight, and in the end his efforts prevailed as he maintained his position from Massa. Rosberg’s fellow countryman and World Champion team mate was also at the heart of the action in the early stages of the race. Michael Schumacher who has won at this circuit five times, demonstrated his familiarity with the track, as he got himself into eighth position on lap eight.
As well as mixing with the rest of the field for position, as Rosberg did alone with the likes of Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, the team mates joined forces on lap 23. The pair both successfully passed the Russian rookie, who lost two places as a result of getting passed simultaneously by the duo. Schumacher shortly followed this good performance with a wobbly moment. The former Ferrari driver spun at Turn 10, which was where the reigning World Champion, Vettel also slid at the time when he had Rosberg in his mirrors. Nevertheless, Schumacher quickly got going again to make his way through the field. Overall when it came down to final positions though, Rosberg pipped his veteran team mate to the higher grid slot. Rosberg picked up seventh place, while Schumacher followed closely behind in eighth position.
Another of the outside teams is Force India, but they had a slightly different race experience between team mates compared to Schumacher and Rosberg. While di Resta appeared in the spotlight for the incident with Heidfeld, his German team mate, Adrian Sutil seemed to keep out of the way and make good progress on the quiet. In terms of qualifying statistics, di Resta had been leading Sutil by seven to two, but Sutil surprised his team mate by out qualifying him yesterday. By the end of the race the more experienced driver of the two was triumphant. Sutil managed to secure a solid sixth place for himself. Meanwhile, di Resta had to settle for a place outside of the top ten in 13th place. However, he had done well to land himself that position and go on to finish the race, despite having to come through from the back of the pack after the early dramas in the race.
Before the first round of pit stops came along, Hamilton lost the lead from Webber after 13 laps had been completed. Although Hamilton wasted no time in making sure he was back in the lead, despite running wide at Turn three, which gave Webber the opportunity to get ahead for a moment. Webber decided to pit shortly after this, leaving Hamilton to extend the gap between the two. Elsewhere on the track and Button still remained adrift from the main front-runners. Along the way to try and improve his position, Button had battles with Petrov. His attempts to overtake failed twice as Petrov did well to defend his position. By the end of the race Petrov did finish, unlike Button and got the final top ten point scoring position.
While the battle between Button and Petrov was going on and Webber was in the pits with Hamilton and Alonso, Massa took over the responsibility of leading the field as he had not yet pitted. It was a close shave as Hamilton and Alonso exited the pits at the same time, luckily there was no sign of the pair coming together. It seemed an important moment though, when Hamilton got ahead of the Spaniard. Once Webber got his chance to lead the pack as Massa had to pit, the Australian suddenly came to life and set some speedy lap times. Webber’s first pace setting lap topped the timesheets with a 1:36.947secs, which was shortly followed up with a 1:36.585secs and even better still with a further lap time of 1:36.551secs.
While Webber remained in control mid-way through the race, the front runners following him read as Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Vettel and Rosberg. On lap 26 there was a slight concern that Vettel possibly had problems with his brakes, after this was reported via the team radio. The worrying time was soon over when the team confirmed to Vettel that things were ok after all.
Beyond the top title contenders the Williams boys experienced some good fortune on one side of the garage and disappointment on the other. Sadly, Rubens Barrichello was the one to lose out as he was forced to retire from the race after completing only 16 laps. The Brazilian driver was reported to have an oil leak, which meant he had a swift end to his race. His Venezuelan team mate, Pastor Maldonado did go on to finish the race though. The Formula One rookie missed out on the top ten, but secured 14th place for himself. He also got ahead of Buemi who managed to finish the race after recovering from his contact with Heidfeld at the start. Buemi’s Spanish team mate, Jaime Alguersuari did beat him in terms of final race positions though.
Alguersuari picked up 12th place in the end, with Buemi trailing behind in 15th place. However, for the second time this weekend, Buemi has been punished by the FIA. After qualifying yesterday, he was forced to start from the back of the grid due to fuel irregularities with his car. The final blow to end his race weekend, will take effect in Hungary next week. As a result of his collision with Heidfeld, the FIA have issued a five place grid penalty as Buemi was found to be at fault.
Team Lotus also had a reasonable race, as Heikki Kovalainen made sure he beat rival teams to a higher grid slot. The Finnish driver pipped Marussia Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock to 16th place. While Karun Chandhok finished his first Grand Prix since Silverstone last year, in 20th place in the second Team Lotus car. Glock’s Belgian team mate, Jerome d’Ambrosio landed himself in 18th place, and got ahead of the Hispania Racing newcomer Daniel Ricciardo from Australia. Vitantonio Liuzzi did not have the end he hoped for, as he was forced to retire from the race after coasting down the pit lane on lap 37.
In addition to Vettel potentially having car troubles, Hamilton also appeared to suffer the same fate, when a puff of blue smoke was seen coming out of the back of his car on lap 32. On the very same lap though this did not appear to be of any significance to hamper his chances, as he finally had the moment he had been waiting for. He caught Alonso off guard who seemed to be in his own little world at Turn 2. Hamilton was able to slip passed with ease and snatch the lead from Alonso. Hamilton then seemed to be comfortable leading from the front. On the other hand, Webber had scraps for position with Alonso, and so too did Vettel with Massa. Button’s race around that time was not looking quite as positive or exciting to observe though. The Brit made an unexpected visit to the pits on lap 35, and did not appear out on the track for the rest of the race. It was reported that his car had suffered a hydraulic problem, which spelt the end of his race.
In the latter stages of the Grand Prix a couple of the drivers had some risky manoeuvres. The first came from Massa who was seen cutting the chicane on lap 45, as he attempted to tackle Webber for third place. However, Massa did not seem to have gained an advantage, as Webber was faster than him in that sector of the lap. If the situation had been different, Massa could have possibly been penalised. Another pair trying a similar thing were Schumacher and Petrov on lap 46. The pair were battling for position so hard against each other that in the end both drivers failed to make the chicane. Petrov ran wide and did gain an advantage by avoiding the corner, but Schumacher soon got ahead of him in any case.
With fewer than nine laps to go until the race was over, some of the front runners had to pit again. Hamilton was the first to blink from the lead, and re-joined in third place after the tyre change. Under FIA regulations had the drivers not changed to the medium compound, then they would have been excluded from the race results. Alonso and Webber also responded to Hamilton’s decision to pit. As a result of this though, both Webber and Alonso lost out as Hamilton regained the lead. Alonso emerged from the pits in second place, and remained there as he completed the 60 laps.
This result now means that the 2005 and 2006 World Champion, has had 68 podium finishes in his Formula One career to date. On the final lap of the race it was exciting to see the touch and go moment in the pits with Vettel and Massa. It seemed that Vettel was slightly late on the brakes, and nearly went into the back of Massa as they went into the pits. Fortunately, the drivers avoided any mishap and went on to finish the race. Massa managed to get a solid result and landed fifth place for himself.
It was an eventful German Grand Prix, where there was a lot of hope resting on the home drivers as four out of the six Germans in the field started in the top ten. It was more surprising to see that out of all of them, Vettel was not successful in making it onto the podium for the first time this season.
The result also means that he will have to wait another year, until he can attempt to satisfy his own desires and those of the home crowd to win in Germany. Although, Hamilton as the winner certainly demonstrated that he was worthy of the win today, as he completed his 81st Grand Prix. Despite Vettel finishing in fourth place, he is still very much in control at the top of the Drivers’ Standings. He leads with 216 points, and Webber holds second place from Hamilton, who is only five points behind him. Alonso is currently in fourth place, and four points away from catching Hamilton. Button remains in fifth place and is 21 points behind Alonso.
Where the Constructors’ title fight is concerned, Red Bull are very much charging ahead with 355 points to their name. McLaren are their closest competitors in second place with 243 points, and Ferrari currently sit in third place with 192 points.
The drivers have just one week until their next challenge, where it is certain that the front runners especially, will be hungry for success at the Hungarian Grand Prix. To gain a successful result may be even more crucial at this point in the season, as the Summer break will commence after next weekend. The top title contenders are sure to go head to head, as they look to close the gap on each other in the Championship.