Sebastian Vettel was today able to do something that he had failed to do his entire F1 career, as he took his first home Grand Prix win, holding off an impressive display by the Lotus pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
It was Vettel’s fourth win of the season and the 30th of his F1 career.
“It was a tough race; it was one of the toughest for a long time, ” said Vettel, who described his main emotion at winning his home race as “relief”.
“I’m happy the race wasn’t two or three laps longer, as Kimi was a bit quicker towards the end. I’m very happy that it worked out and it’s very special.”
After taking the race lead from a slow-starting Lewis Hamilton in to the first corner of the opening lap, Vettel was able to extend his lead in the opening stint and looked to have a big gap as the early switches to the prime tyre took place.
At this point Mark Webber had sat in second place after also passing Hamilton at the start, but his race came in to trouble at his first pit-stop. An issue with the right-rear tyre was unsolved as his drove away from his pit-box, resulting in the tyre coming off the car and hitting an F1 Management cameraman, Paul Allen, in the pit-lane.
Reports state that he was taken to hospital, with a cracked bone in his shoulder and rib. Red Bull was fined by the stewards for the incident.
With higher air and track temperatures the Lotus car came in to its own. As the cars starting on the option tyre pitted for the prime compound around the six lap mark, Grosjean was able to run until thirteen laps in to the Grand Prix before making the switch to primes. This put Grosjean in the hunt for the race victory as he put himself in second place following his stop.
At this point Vettel held a comfortable twelve second gap between himself and Raikkonen, but that was undone by a Safety Car period as the race entered the halfway stage.
Jules Bianchi’s Marussia suffered a blown engine at the final chicane before rolling back across the track and down the hill, prompting the Safety Car and a flurry of pit stops.
When the race restarted it was how you were for the leaders, albeit much closer together. Grosjean began to pile even more pressure on the Red Bull driver with Raikkonen close behind. Lotus had hoped to stick to ‘Plan A’, presumably a two-stop race, but changed to three stops when their tyre wear became too extreme with seventeen laps still to run.
Grosjean was the first to make a third stop; Vettel following suit a lap later. This denied the Frenchman the chance of an under-cut an their positions remained unchanged following the stops.
At this point it appeared that Raikkonen, now in the race lead and fifteen seconds ahead of Vettel, would attempt to complete the race on his degrading prime tyres. But with eleven laps left he pitted for a second set of the soft option tyre, dropping to third and set about chasing Vettel for the win.
Grosjean let him past with little resistance and he closed to within a second of Vettel by the race end, but was unable to deny the World Championship leader of his 30th career victory.
He is now 34 points ahead of Alonso, and sees his team extend their Constructor’s Championship lead to 67 points over Mercedes.
Last week’s winners had a day to forget as Hamilton lost out to both Red Bull’s and suffered a lack of grip on the medium tyre following his first stop and spent much of the race in traffic. He made a late third stop and was able to pick his way through the pack to fifth place and maintain his team’s three point advantage over Ferrari in the teams Championship.
Nico Rosberg could not make up the ground lost in yesterday’s disappointing qualifying session and ended the day in ninth place after battling with Nico Hulkenberg for much of the race.
Alonso was the sole points scorer for Ferrari after Felipe Massa spun at turn one in the opening laps and retired from the Grand Prix. The Ferrari was unable to match the pace of the Lotus and Red Bull ahead, but Alonso was able to make the best of what was available. He sees his lead over Raikkonen in the Championship now cut to seven points.
McLaren had one of their strongest races of 2013, with Jenson Button and Sergio Perez taking sixth and eighth places respectively. They were the first of the two-stop runners and this result gives them encouragement in catching regaining fifth place in the Constructor’s Championship from Force India.
GERMAN GRAND PRIX, Nurburgring, Race
1. Vettel Red Bull 25 Pts
2. Raikkonen Lotus 18 pts
3. Grosjean Lotus 15 pts
4. Alonso Ferrari 12 pts
5. Hamilton Mercedes 10 pts
6. Button McLaren 8 pts
7. Webber Red Bull 6 pts
8. Perez McLaren 4 pts
9. Rosberg Mercedes 2 pts
10. Hulkenberg Sauber 1 pt
11. Di Resta Force India
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso
13. Sutil Force India
14. Gutierrez Sauber
15. Maldonado Williams
16. Bottas Williams
17. Pic Caterham
18. van der Garde Caterham
19. Chilton Marussia