F1

Hamilton wins German GP in spite of McLaren tactics

Hamilton wins German GP in spite of McLaren tactics

In the end, he had to work for it, but pole sitter Lewis Hamilton used the fastest car in the field Sunday to win the German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring. Victory at this track was the first for McLaren Mercedes since Mika Hakkinen's in ...

In the end, he had to work for it, but pole sitter Lewis Hamilton used the fastest car in the field Sunday to win the German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring. Victory at this track was the first for McLaren Mercedes since Mika Hakkinen's in 1998.

Lewis Hamilton takes the checkered flag.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Benefiting from a one-stop strategy and a safety car, Renault's Nelsinho Piquet, who started 17th, finished second for his first Formula One podium and Renault's best performance of the season. Ferrari's Felipe Massa was third after starting from the front row.

Rain held off despite the presence of ominous clouds and the outcome came down to Hamilton pressured not by competitors but by a safety car and team strategy. Hamilton was walking it until Lap 36. While running in eighth, Timo Glock's Toyota broke its right rear suspension and flung the German out of the final turn, across the track into the pit-lane wall at high speed. Glock got out of the car and leaned on the fence, appearing shaken. He was taken by ambulance to hospital for medical checks as a precautionary measure. He showed no physical signs of injury, the team announced.

The episode cratered Hamilton's 20-second lead. He had stopped on Lap 18 so would need another stop. But unlike most runners and Piquet, who had stopped just before the crash, Hamilton -- along with Nick Heidfeld, who later surrendered a possible podium to needing a splash of gas -- did not stop when the pits opened under the safety car. Hamilton stopped on Lap 51, but his lead was about 10 seconds short of the 23-second margin he needed to come out ahead. He returned in fifth place as Piquet led. Read that again: Piquet led.

Hamilton easily passed his teammate Heikki Kovalainen for fourth then took aim at Massa who had chased the Englishman unevenly through most of the race. Hamilton passed Felipe Massa at the hairpin then benefited from Heidfeld pitting. That left the unlikely Brazilian out front. Hamilton passed him at the hairpin on Lap 60 to lead again for the final seven laps. He built a 5.5-second lead before taking the checkered.

Nelson A. Piquet, Renault F1 Team, R28.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"I am obviously very happy!" Piquet said "After qualifying yesterday I was thinking that my weekend was over, but we opted for an aggressive strategy in the race and the team made some great decisions when the safety car came out. Then I had to concentrate to keep my pace up and look after my tires as much as possible towards the end of the race. I knew that Lewis was much faster than me, so I did not want to take any pointless risks. This second place today is a great reward for the whole team."

More important for the Brazilian's career, his boss was happy.

"Nelson had an amazing race," said team principal Flavio Briatore. "He proved to be very fast towards the end of the race and was able to remain strong under enormous pressure. He was not able to hold off Hamilton who was much faster, but he was able to defend his second place strongly. I am delighted for him and for the team who really deserve this result."

Winner two weeks ago in Britian, Hamilton posts the season's first consecutive victories. Hamilton tallies Australia, Monaco, Britain and Germany. Massa has three victories and Kimi Raikkonen two. Hamilton breaks a deadlock atop the drivers' standings, taking a four-point lead over Massa with Raikkonen seven back. Points leaders are Hamilton 58, Massa 54, Raikkonen 51, and Robert Kubica 48. Unless Ferrari mount a challenge, this race could mark the start of Hamilton's championship run.

"I nailed it this afternoon," Hamilton said. "When the team told me I had to build a 23-second gap in just seven laps, I knew I had to drive over the limit, and I did. But I knew we had the best car this weekend and felt comfortable pushing hard to make up the gap. In the final stint, I had to work for today's win. When the safety car came out, I questioned whether I should pit, but I trusted the team to make the best decision on strategy. It didn't quite work out, but I knew we had the pace in the car to keep pushing and want to say a big thank you to Heikki, who realised I was quicker."

Said Massa, "It was a difficult race. Right from the beginning, Hamilton's pace seemed unbeatable and I understood that it would be very hard to beat him. I never had good grip and, in the final stages, I also had brake problems and was not even able to attack Piquet, whom I congratulate on the first podium of his career."

Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber F1 Team, F1.08.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Heidfeld was the first German, placing fourth for BMW Sauber and setting fast lap at 1 minute, 15.987 seconds. He was followed by Hamilton's teammate Kovalainen, then Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, and his BMW Sauber teammate Kubica. Eighth went to Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel, who was out of the points for only a brief time, regaining them when Toyota's Jarno Trulli ran off track with four laps to go.

"Coming fourth from 12th on the grid is a great result," Heidfeld said. "Not making it into the top 10 in qualifying meant we were free to choose our fuel load afterwards, and so we went for a rather long first stint. That's why I was able to stay out during the safety car period when almost everybody else was refuelling. That was certainly crucial as I was able to pull away as soon as the traffic was behind me. Before that I couldn't show my true speed as I never had a clear lap. The car was good and the fact that I set the fastest race lap proves it. In the end I was very close to Felipe but still had no chance to overtake him. It was a good home race for me and I'm happy I could give something back to the fans who may have been disappointed by my qualifying performance yesterday."

Ferrari failed to challenge McLaren as Massa lapped unevenly and Raikkonen was lackluster, the Finn's car seeming to come alive only in the final 25 laps.

But while the grownups grumped, wunderkind Vettel beamed.

Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Fernando Alonso, Renault F1 Team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"It was a tough race with a lot of fights but it was big fun," Vettel said. "The first lap was hard and close. I tried to pass Kimi, but it didn't work out. I took some time to find a rhythm but I had a wonderful car and could run a great pace. I was disappointed when I saw the safety car as I was comfortably holding a points position, but we did the best we could in the situation. I fought to the end and although I was quicker than Jarno I could not pass and then he made a mistake, which brought me back to eighth place. Congratulations to everyone in the team. Eighth with no retirements, means we deserved to finish where we did and I am proud of that."

Running at the end but out of the points were fourth-best qualifier Trulli in ninth, followed by Nico Rosberg for Williams, Fernando Alonso for Renault, Sebastien Bourdais for Toro Rosso, David Coulthard for Red Bull, Giancarlo Fisichella for Force India, Kazuki Nakajima for Williams, Adrian Sutil for Force India, and Jenson Button for Honda, sufferer of tire problems.

"I am happy with this result in terms of the pace I could run, but I was a bit unlucky with the safety car incident, as I knew it would involve me queuing in the pits behind Sebastian," Bourdais said. "I was able to keep up with Heidfeld in the first stint and the lap times were decent. The car worked better on the option tire. Overall, I had a strong race and kept pushing, hanging on to take 12th. So now, I need to repeat this sort of performance and, hopefully, have some good luck to see it move me further up the order."

Like Raikkonen, the only other world champion in the field, Alonso, starting from fifth, had a forgettable day. His pass attempts did little more than open the door to others passing him.

"The team made a good move for me with the strategy under the safety car and I could make up some places after I pitted and the others went in," Fisichella said. "I could have finished perhaps one place higher up, but, unfortunately, I locked up through Turn 8 and lost a position. But all the same it's nice to get a finish and to be racing again."

Timo Glock, Toyota F1 Team, TF108, crashed.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The low-attrition race lost only Glock, Red Bull's Mark Webber, whose Renault engine gave up on Lap 42, and Rubens Barrichello, who bumped into Coulthard and was forced to park his Honda. Bourdais ran solidly for his 12th position, a hints he might be coming to grips with the STR3. Placing 14th and 16th shows progress for back-row starters Force India. Williams won't be happy with their day, and Honda's results indicate the Japanese carmaker still hasn't cracked it.

Ferrari maintains a commanding lead in the constructors' race, 105 points to 89 for BMW Sauber. McLaren follows on 86. Thereafter come Toyota 25, Red Bull 24, Renault 23, Williams 16, Honda 14, and Toro Rosso eight.

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