Analysis: How Red Bull laid waste to Rosberg's crucial home race

As Lewis Hamilton enjoyed a flawless run towards victory, local hero Nico Rosberg endured a home race to forget thanks, in large part, to the Red Bull drivers. Adam Cooper explains.

Analysis: How Red Bull laid waste to Rosberg's crucial home race
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid leads at the start of the race
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid leads at the start of the race
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF16-H
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF16-H
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12 battle for position
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12 battle for position
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12 battle for position
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12 battle for position
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB12
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB12, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF16-H at the start of the race
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB12 on the grid
Podium: third place Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing celebrates his second position in parc ferme
Podium: winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1
Podium: winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1, second place Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing, third place Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Lewis Hamilton made a little history in Germany when he became the first man to win four grands prix in a calendar month, although to be fair to everyone else who has ever raced in F1, the only previous opportunity for it to happen was in July 2005.

Nevertheless it's an impressive statistic, and with six wins from the last seven starts, Hamilton has turned a 43-point deficit into a 19-point lead.

Like Hungary, Hockenheim was perhaps not the most thrilling of races, given the lack of incidents and a low attrition rate.

But there was nevertheless much intrigue as Red Bull gave Mercedes a hard time, and Nico Rosberg found himself unable to recover from the double whammy of a bad start and a controversial five-second penalty.

For the sixth time this year Mercedes won a race while its second car failed to make the top three, further proof that there is no room for error.

The start was to prove decisive, as once again Hamilton overcame the frustration of losing pole by jumping straight into the lead. In Hungary Rosberg also lost out to Daniel Ricciardo, before getting him back at Turn Two.

This time both the Australian and his teammate Max Verstappen got by – subsequently swapping places between themselves as the Dutchman took the wide line – and there was no immediate way back for Rosberg.

"Too much engagement on the clutch, that's a bad start," said Rosberg. "It caught me by surprise, I didn't expect that at all, especially after the formation lap start, when it felt good."

In fact, his formation lap start wasn't that great, but the team wasn't able to talk to him about it, as that remains the one area still subject to a radio ban – precisely because it can add a random element to starts.

"Nico had a lot of wheelspin," Paddy Lowe told Motorsport.com. "The clutch was over-engaged, It's one of the things you've got to tune. He had a lot of wheelspin on the practice start on the dummy grid. Ironically it's the one lap where you can't say anything!

"We probably would have told him there was too much clutch engagement. You hope the driver can detect that from that start. It turns out that the driver finds it very difficult to resolve the difference between wheelspin on the one hand, and insufficient engagement on the other. They both feel slow, but they don't know which way it was. So he lost a lot of ground."

Hamilton didn't immediately pull away from Verstappen – after six laps the gap was still only 2.1s – but then it began to grow a little as the Dutchman faced tyre issues.

Most teams had gone into the race with two stops as the primary plan, but with three as a very viable alternative, and when Verstappen came in as early as lap 11 it was apparent that he was going for the latter.

He went to supersofts, as did Rosberg (by now over 6s adrift of his team mate) who followed him in. Rosberg was further hampered by a slightly slow stop.

However, when Ricciardo came in a lap later he was put on softs, and when Hamilton pitted on lap 14, he too went to softs. So now we had a mix of strategies between the two sets of team mates in the top four.

Hamilton stayed safely clear of Verstappen through that second stint, extending his lead only slightly, as Ricciardo and Rosberg followed.

It was Rosberg who jumped first, coming in on lap 27 to go to the softs.

Rosberg penalty

 

Red Bull had to cover him with Verstappen, and it was after the Dutchman emerged from the pits just in front that Rosberg made his aggressive pass. Inevitably opinions are divided as to whether it was a clean move or not, but a few laps later the FIA stewards gave their verdict.

"It was racing," said Rosberg. "I was really ecstatic at the time, because I was like wow that was awesome, because I came from miles behind.

"And very happy to get the position, because that would have meant second place at least, damage limitation and that sort of thing. I was surprised to get a penalty for it."

Rosberg was at least now in front of both Red Bulls and in clean air, as Ricciardo fell behind when he pitted for supersofts on lap 33. At that stage Rosberg was 3.2s clear of third placed Verstappen, and making up for his penalty did not seem such a stretch. Indeed as the pit wall made clear, "You just need to pull that gap and it's yours."

However, that simply didn't happen. Not only did Rosberg not forge the gap that he required, Verstappen actually began to edge closer.

"It seems that we have not really a good set-up overall and he was lacking grip," Toto Wolff explained. "When he was trying to go faster, when he was trying to attack, he probably overheated the tyres, and lacked pace."

More worrying for Mercedes was the fact that Ricciardo was very comfortable on the supersofts and was putting his team mate under pressure, with Max reporting that he was "struggling with these tyres."

On lap 40 the Red Bulls changed places, and Daniel began to close in on Rosberg. Rosberg was urged by the pit wall to pick up the pace, but it wasn't there. Indeed as the third round of stops approached both Ricciardo and Verstapen were still within that critical five second range.

Ricciardo didn't exactly need any extra motivation, but it must have been encouraging to be told, "Rosberg is struggling a bit, it's going to be good."

Stopwatch failure

By now Mercedes was resigned to the situation, and on lap 44 Rosberg was brought in for his third and final stop for used softs, where the penalty would have to be served.

It was then that his race went from bad for worse as the team screwed up the timing of his penalty – an iPhone was apparently used rather than a traditional stopwatch – and when that failed they had to leave a margin, and over three extra seconds were unnecessarily lost before his tyres were changed.

"The system we use gave us a lot more safety than we needed," said Lowe. "You don't practice it a great deal, but I think we need to practice it more than we did. It wasn't perfect, we need to improve our systems on that. I'm very happy that it didn't make a difference to the result, one way or the other, we weren't going to recover the time…"

Stops for Verstappen and Ricciardo followed over the next couple of laps. On the supersofts they showed good pace over that final stint, and stayed safely clear of Rosberg on his used softs.

"The soft looked like a better tyre today, the supersoft was struggling to show pace," said Lowe. "We were happy that we had two softs and Red Bull only had one, but actually they still managed to do two good stints on the supersoft at the end."

Indeed having taken on new supersofts Ricciardo kept the pressure on leader Hamilton. After Hamilton made his final stop on lap 47 he was 10.5s clear, but that came down to 6-7s almost immediately, and at one stage the gap got as low as 5.7s. 

Typically Hamilton was going only as fast as he needed to, managing not just the tyres but also trying to keep a little extra life in his engine, mindful of upcoming penalties.

It might not have been as spectacular as some of his other victories, but this was nevertheless a copybook drive from Hamilton.

"There isn't too much to say," said Lowe. "A good start, great management of the tyres. He pushed when he needed to, didn't push when he didn't need to, and there was some good safe pit stops, quick and safe, and he came home in the lead. He has a knack of deciding what gap he's comfortable with to control, and then he can control it."

Double Red Bull podium

Getting both drivers on the podium and ahead of a healthy Mercedes was a good effort by Red Bull, and switching the strategies ultimately paid off. Ricciardo lost out in Spain with a pit wall call that could have gone either way, and this time, he was the beneficiary.

"After Rosberg had picked up his penalty, the objective was very much to ensure that we got both drivers ahead," said Horner.

"While Daniel was on the faster tyre and closing very quickly on Max, we asked that he release him quickly rather than lose time fighting each other to ensure that both of them were able to get ahead of Rosberg with his five-second penalty. And Max immediately did that efficiently, and today is a result of great team work between the whole team, including the two race drivers."

For Rosberg this was a miserable afternoon, and fourth place brought little comfort as he saw Hamilton add 13 points to his championship lead.

"We actually did manage to recover him up to second after the second stop, after the overtake," said Lowe. "But the overall story is that Red Bull had strong pace today. And with all respect to them, they had a strong car this weekend. They turned out to be much better on the supersoft than they had looked in practice.

"We didn't think that they would make it last in the way they did in the final stint. Nico had two big hurdles to cross and recover from, the bad start, and the five-second penalty. We probably could have done one of them, but not both, with the pace we had today. So that was that."

Wolff, meanwhile, expressed his sympathy for the German, and insisted that he will bounce back.

"On a day like today you are having a shitty start," said the team boss. "You are losing two positions, you battle your way back and you are being penalised. Instead of spending five seconds in the stands, you're spending eight seconds.

"There is a human being in the car. And on top of that a set-up that probably overheated the tyres. So you put all that together and you are having a bad day, that is a consequence.

"He is mentally very strong. and nothing is done yet is my opinion. Once he has recovered in the next couple of days, I have no doubt he will come back very strong for Spa."

 

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