Lewis Hamilton won the German Grand Prix from 14th place on the grid, leading a Mercedes 1-2 finish ahead Valtteri Bottas with Kimi Raikkonen in third.
It was Hamilton’s 44th win for Mercedes and his first from this far down the grid. He retook the championship lead that Sebastian Vettel had taken from him at Silverstone. It was his fourth German GP victory on the weekend that he announced his new two year Mercedes contract.
Mercedes returned to the top of the Constructors’ Championship table ahead of Ferrari.
“It was highly unlikely but you always have to believe,” said Hamilton. “The team did a great job, I kept pushing and believing. It was so tough there; conditions were perfect for business time! For those who don’t know me, now they do!”
It was a win based on strategy decisions; Weather played its part, teams had to guess what would be the best tyre as the rain arrived, then eased. Mercedes gave Hamilton a set of ultrasoft tyres, gambling that the rain would not be so intense and the ultrasoft would be the best tyre in that condition.
It caught Vettel out, the German had controlled the race overall, but crashed out sensationally in he stadium section, throwing away 25 points.
“Miracles do happen,” said his engineer Peter Bonnington on the radio on the slow down lap. Team boss Toto Wolff said that Mercedes had not been the fastest car and called on the team to address that for the races ahead in the season.
“We have a strong car and we can be more confident than anyone else. I had it in my hands, small mistake and big disappointment. I apologise to the team,” said Vettel.
Just like Silverstone, this began as a race about a Vettel vs Bottas battle at the front and a Hamilton fightback through the field and ended with a 10 lap dash to the flag after a late Safety Car.
Ferrari again appeared to use Kimi Raikkonen as a tactical chess piece in their quest to win the drivers’ world championship for Vettel. The Finn was pitted early on Lap 15 to both challenge Bottas but also to cover Hamilton’s progress through the field. Instead he ended up sitting in front of Vettel after the German’s stop and the latter described the approach as ‘silly’.
Ricciardo chose to start on the medium tyres from 19th on the grid, while Hamilton went for softs from P14. Hamilton made up two places on the opening laps as a result, while Ricciardo took longer to get going.
At the start Vettel was decisive into Turn 1 fighting off Bottas who reacted faster to the lights. Verstappen and Raikkonen battled furiously but the older man held off the younger. Verstappen had got the better launch, but pulled out of a risky move down the inside into Turn 1, a sign that he’s perhaps re-evaluated risk at the starts after a tricky early season.
Hulkenberg locked up as he fought off an attack from Grosjean who had lost a place to the German after running wide in Turn 1 from a superb 6th place on the grid.
At the end of the opening lap, Vettel led from Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Perez and Sainz.
Hamilton was up into the Top 10 by Lap 3, scything past Charles Leclerc. He passed Sainz for ninth on Lap 6. But with a large field spread at Hockenheim, he was already a pit stop worth of time behind the race leader at this point and hoping for the threatened rain to come.
He made short work of Grosjean and Perez and by Lap nine was up to seventh. Meanwhile Ricciardo was making slower progress, reaching only 14th place at this stage.
At the front Vettel easily opened a lead of just under four seconds over Bottas, like at Silverstone. Verstappen shadowed Raikkonen. The strategists were in talking to the weather data suppliers, no-one wanting to be the team who pits their driver for a new set of dry tyres just before the rain comes in. So drivers were encouraged to extend the opening stint as a hedge.
Hamilton passed Magnussen for fifth on Lap 14, which put him in the game if there were to be rain or a Safety Car.
Ferrari pitted Raikkonen on Lap 15, ostensibly to try to drag Bottas into covering him with an earlier than idea pit stop but also more importantly to come out ahead of Hamilton on the same soft tyres, so he could cover Hamilton’s progress. Raikkonen set the fastest lap to that point on his first flying lap.
Ricciardo came alive as the mediums started to crossover with the worn tyres around him, he passed Alonso for 12th on Lap 18. He passed Leclerc for 10th on Lap 19.
The Force India duo got too close and both lost position to Hulkenberg. Perez had further misery with a slow stop due to a sticking front right. He dropped to 14th.
Vettel was still safe to Hamilton on Lap 24, with four seconds to play with, but a lock up inspired the race leader to stop a lap later. He emerged ahead of Hamilton on new softs, but behind Raikkonen.
By Lap 27 Bottas led the race ahead of Verstappen, neither had stopped yet. Raikkonen, Vettel, Hamilton and Ricciardo. But the Australian retired soon after, reporting a loss of power. It was his second retirement in three races.
Raikkonen was told that his team mate was on the same tyres that were 11 laps fresher than his own, but Vettel locked up and put a flat spot on his right front. He radioed that the strategy was ‘silly. I’m losing time and damaging my tyres” following Raikkonen.
Verstappen stopped on Lap 29 and rejoined in fifth place, but Hamilton had not stopped at this point.
Vettel radioed that his rear tyres were getting hot, while Hamilton was waiting for the rain, which was predicted to fall around Lap 40-45. His pace at this stage was still good.
“Don’t you see the tyre temperature? Do you see it? What are you waiting for?” he radioed on Lap 38, frustrated with Ferrari’s lack of decision making on letting the team leader through.
Hamilton began to lose touch with the leaders on his worn softs.
Raikkonen was ordered to let Vettel through, as they were on different strategies and he obliged on Lap 38.
But as the teams began getting more serious in predictions of rain, Hamilton was only seven seconds behind Vettel as he desperately waited for the rain to fall. On Lap 43 Hamilton was pitted for ultra softs for an aggressive final stint and a gamble that there would be no rain. Hamilton had told them the tyres had one lap left so it was the right gamble to take to go with ultra softs, in case the rain were only to be a shower, they would deal with it better than worn softs. A Safety Car would also give him a great chance.
Hamilton rejoined fifth behind Verstappen. The rain fell a lap later at Turn 6..
It was decision time.
Sauber went for it, pitting Leclerc for intermediates, hoping for first mover advantage. Alonso made the same move.
Hamilton was now two seconds a lap faster than the leaders with 11 laps to go. It was a bold move for a chance for victory and depended on it not raining enough to justify wet tyres.
Verstappen went for intermediates losing a position to Hamilton.
Vettel made a mistake, breaking a piece of his front wing off. Hamilton was 15 seconds behind in fourth place.
Vettel led Raikkonen by 6.7 seconds, with Bottas in third, Hamilton fourth and Magnussen fifth as Verstappen pitted again to get off the intermediates.
The rain then intensified. Bottas challenged Raikkonen whose tyres were no very worn and passed him for second place on Lap Lap 51 after Raikkonen ran wide avoiding a back marker.
Vettel went off on Lap 52, just 15 laps from the end of the race, bringing out the Safety Car. Bottas pitted and the team were not ready with the tyres, Hamilton had looked like stopping but didn’t, cutting across the grass at the last minute.
The rules “crossing the line separating the pit entry and the track by a car entering the pit lane is prohibited”. But the stewards took a lenient view and let Hamilton off with a reprimand.
Raikkonen now led on worn soft tyres, Hamilton was second on fresher ultrasofts. Raikkonen pitted for fresh ultrasofts, rejoining third behind Hamilton and Bottas.
The race restarted on Lap 58, Raikkonen was too far behind Bottas to try anything, while Bottas attacked his team mate using the extra grip of the new tyres. He didn’t manage it and Hamilton pulled away once his older tyres were up to temperature.
Bottas was told to hold position, Mercedes strategist James Vowles adding, “I’m sorry,”
Verstappen finished fourth, getting away with the chopping and changing on tyres. Hulkenberg was fifth, Grosjean sixth, Perez was seventh, Ocon eighth, Ericsson ninth and Hartley 10th.
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