It’s not been a good season for Lewis Hamilton. Nine races in and the former champion had only win to his name after a season marred with controversy, anger and disappointment on his part. But things turned around for Lewis this weekend, on the chilly Nurburgring track (where no-one expected anything from McLaren, the Brit blitzed the track and left all others standing.
It started well for Lewis on Saturday. An astounding qualifying lap put him sec on on the grid behind Mark Webber and crucially ahead of everyone’s rival, Sebastien Vettel. The race pace of the McLaren proved even more impressive as Hamilton stormed past a slow starting Webber at the first corner and continued to lap at remarkable speed. Others got faster laps at various points in the race, but Lewis remained the most consistently fast and I think that’s the key factor in how race win today.
But of course it’s never as simple as that in F1 (well not anymore anyway!) as we were treated to a fantastically entertaining battle around one of the worlds most famous circuits. Throughout the race, the top three drivers were consistently close, spending a period of around 10 laps within 2 seconds of each other in the middle section of the race. And it wasn’t just a close procession, there was overtaking – lots of it.
Near the start of the Grand Prix, we saw Hamilton have a slight wobble causing him to be overtaken by an opportunist Webber. But this lasted mere seconds as Hamilton powered down the pit-straight and outbreaked the Australian to retake the lead. It shows how racy Hamilton was today that he was not prepared to give an inch to anyone. He showed this again later when coming out of the pits alongside Webber. Hamilton calmly and cunningly moved his McLaren out to the right and forced Webber onto a wet patch of track, keeping his lead competently. Later on, he gave Webber a masterclass on how to overtake on the outside by punishing Alonso as he exited the pits, giving him track position and potentially the move that won him the race.
Hamilton has been criticised a lot this season (in my opinion fairly) for his clumsy moves – racing headlong onto a situation without thought of how it was to end. But today we saw the racer we used to love return. He took every opportunity in an aggressive manner, but never reckless and it pid off for him.
Both of the Ferrari’s were also feeling very racy today. Alonso took the opportunity to be the first man this season to pass Vettel at full racing speed (without the German making a mistake) and made it stick. Massa also showed great form, passing several competitors and ending his race battling with Sebastien Vettel in a thrilling fight for fourth on track.
And that brings me to Mr. Vettel. There’s no doubt about it, he had an off weekend. We saw him off the track a couple of times after mistakes and his raw pace was never really there today. Who knows what the reason for this was – is he becoming complacent with his massive points lead, was it the pressure of his home GP? It was most likely neither of these factors, he just had a slightly poor weekend. From post-race interviews, he seems unhappy – suggesting Red Bull need to improve, but I think he’ll look back at this weekend and laugh. After all he still has a 77 point lead!
On track action was of course only half of the race today, with strategy playing a big part. It was interesting to see what the UK commentators refer to as ‘the undercut’ failed this weekend. The Pirelli’s were lasting longer, no doubt due to the cooler track and it meant that staying out longer was the smart thing to do on the options. This left Mark Webber all at sea when both Hamilton and Alonso passed him easily in the second stops.
The reverse was true later in the race, when it turned out the prime tyres (which all the teams believed to be extremely slow) were actually a lot quicker than expected. This gave Hamilton the final advantage he needed when he pitted first for his set of primes and quickly pulled out a lead over Alonso and Webber.
I wonder if Ferrari regret not bringing Massa in earlier for the primes, knowing what we know now. The Brazillian was battling hard with Vettel, but both drivers stayed out until the final lap, opting for a thrilling pit-race between Red Bull and Ferrari – eventually lost by Massa. If Massa had have pitted earlier for the primes, he could have increased his lead enough to stay ahead of Vettel instead of losing a place on the final lap – never a good feeling!
Of course it wasn’t just the top five racing today – further down the field there was a sterling, if quiet, performance from Adrian Sutil who progressed his Force India
into sixth position. Mercedes continued their mediocre season with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher finishing 7th and 8th respectively.
There was drama early on between Nick Heidfeld and Sebastien Buemi as the Toro Rosso ploughed into the Renault knocking Heidfeld out of hie home race, Buemihas been given a five-place grid drop for the next Grand Prix. And Renault will probably be disappointed with Petrov’s 10th place, which was looking stronger earlier on. The team promised much this year but have failed to deliver.
One person I have yet to mention is Jenson Button who had without doubt the worst weekend. After qualifying low down, he simply went backwards at the start, losing out to Petrov and Schumacher. There was comeback and a glimmer of hope for the Brit later on, but that was quashed as his car was retired with a hydraulic problem – quite unusual considering the reliability of post 2009 F1. After two disappointing races, Jenson will be hoping for an actual race finish in Hungary.
The final twist of the day came after the chequered flag when Alonso’s Ferrari ran out of fuel and stopped on track. In a repeat of the legendary Mansell-Senna lift at Silverstone, Mark Webber offered Alonso a ride back to the pit lane – breaking several FIA regulations, but providing us with one final spectacle for the weekend. Luckily the stewards have seen fit to not hand any penalty to either driver for this incident.
F1 leaves Nurburgring with it’s head held high. It was another stunning weekend with a very worthy winner. In fact, it makes me wonder why the FIA ever demoted Nurburgring from holding the European GP, it beats Valencia hands down and that way we could have it every year! But as it is, we will look forward to our next Nurburgring race in 2013 and head off to The Hungaroring. The same man still leads the standings, but a different man has the pace – do we have a fightback on our hands?