Sunday, 20 July 2008

German Grand Prix Race Report: Lewis Dazzles in Hockenheim

Lewis Hamilton sensationally won an excellent German Grand Prix in fine style, with a battling performance to take the lead in the World Driver's Championship. It was a great day for the young Brit as he saw his main championship rivals have mediocre performances, which will give him and his McLaren team enormous confidence as they build towards the climax of the season. Young Nelson Piquet incredibly ended up in second place after a good performance and a huge slice of luck with his pit stop strategy, leaving compatriot Felipe Massa in third place.

From the start Hamilton and Massa both got perfect starts, and Lewis went defensive early on into turn 1 to emerge with the lead. Any chance of Massa continuing the battle through turns 2 and 3 was prevented by Hamilton's teammate Kovalainen going on the attack from P3. Massa had to make his Ferrari as wide as possible into the hairpin to hold position, which bottled up the field behind him. This was great news for Robert Kubica who had the best first lap of all. He had already leap-frogged Raikkonen off the grid, and while Trulli and Alonso had to take evasive action to avoid Felipe and Heikki at the hairpin, Kubica squeezed through to take fourth place.

Throughout the opening couple of laps all drivers on track were an absolute credit to themselves and to their sport. They were going into some very tight corners 3 and 4 cars abreast with cold tyres and brakes, yet nobody came into contact at all. Superb race craft from all drivers involved for them to all emerge unscathed from the opening laps. A refreshing change from the demolition derby of Silverstone two weeks ago!

After a poor start Kimi Raikkonen knew the pressure was on to get himself back up towards the podium positions. There ensued an interesting battle between the two World Champions in the field, Kimi and Alonso, over sixth place. Alonso was on the defensive, and showing all his guile and experience in making his Renault as wide as possible. However, he seemed to be struggling a little with traction out of the slower corners in the Renault. There were no such issues for Kimi, and after Fernando got a little loose on the exit of turn 2, Raikkonen was able to power past him through 3 and 4.

Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton was simply cruising away from Felipe Massa at the front of the field. He was consistently lapping half a second per lap quicker than the Ferrari, and very quickly had amassed a ten second lead. It transpired that Hamilton was running a little lighter than the rest, but not enough to justify that difference in pace. He was in a class of his own in this early phase of the race.

He emerged after his stop in front of fourth place man Jarno Trulli, and with a huge amount of fuel in his tank judging by the length of his stop. He seemed to make a mistake while getting up to speed, and Trulli managed to get the place back. Hamilton looked keen to make amends straight away and went on the attack, but Trulli was about to come in to pit anyway so the McLaren team urged Lewis to just be patient.

As the first pit stops played out everything worked out beautifully for Lewis Hamilton. Massa was clearly struggling to hold onto the pace of the McLaren, and his other title rival Kimi Raikkonen wasn't impressing at all further down the field. Kubica was still performing well in the BMW as was Kovalainen, and Vettel was impressing yet again in the Toro Rosso. The youngster was having a great little battle with two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso who was starting to struggle a little in the Renault.

Just as everything looked set for a simple victory for Hamilton, the race was turned on its head. On the exit of the final corner Timo Glock's right rear suspension buckled as he nudged the kerb, and he was sent spinning violently backwards into the pit wall at high speed. He was sent bouncing back across the track leaving a trail of debris behind him, and the safety car was immediately deployed. Due to the sheer amount of broken Toyota left across the pit straight it turned out to be a rather long safety car period.

As the pit lane opened nearly the whole field dove in to make their second and final stops. The notable exceptions were Nelson Piquet who was on a bold one-stop strategy, Nick Heidfeld, and race leader Lewis Hamilton. It seemed a baffling decision from the McLaren team, as it would effectively have been a “free” pitstop for Hamilton, but they didn't take it the opportunity. Whether they were worried about the length of the safety car period, or worried about Lewis driving a long final stint on the softer option tyres who knows, but it didn't seem a great idea.

One thing that did play in their favour was that Hamilton was able to avoid the congestion and confusion in the pit lane. Several teams had to queue their drivers in the pit boxes, notably the two Ferraris. On the exit of the pits there was a somewhat controversial incident involving Vettel and Alonso. The Toro Rosso team released Vettel right alongside Alonso, something that according to the regulations they shouldn't do. It resulted in Alonso effectively being pushed wide on the exit and running over the white line. It was a bit naughty from the Toro Rosso team, and I'm a little surprised they weren't punished for it. It would have been extremely harsh for Vettel as it was completely out of his hands, but Alonso was rightly furious about it.

Hamilton knew he had to use whatever fuel he had left in the car to eek out as much of a gap as possible over Massa. As he did in the early stint of the race, he disappeared from the cars behind him as he was consistently massively quicker. Although Massa wasn't impressing in the Ferrari, Hamilton didn't have the time to get enough of a gap. As he emerged from his final stop he was behind his team mate Kovalainen, with Massa, Heidfeld and Piquet off in the distance. He had 15 laps of maximum attack mode ahead of him if he was able to regain his lead.

Unsurprisingly, Kovalainen didn't put up too much of a fight with Lewis, and he made his way through at the hairpin. Massa was next in his sights, a few seconds up the road. Heidfeld pulled off into the pits for his final stop from the lead of the race, amazingly handing P1 to Nelson Piquet who had started on the second to last row of the grid! Massa really wasn't making any headway in terms of catching Piquet despite having theoretically a much faster car. It wasn't long before Hamilton was on the gear box of the Ferrari and ready to make his move.

What should have then emerged was a fantastic tooth and nail battle between two championship contenders for the lead of race. Instead, what we saw was Lewis Hamilton stealing candy from a baby. Within a few corners Hamilton was tucked neatly into the slip stream of the Ferrari on the run down to the hairpin. Massa took the correct defensive line and looked to be making things very difficult for Lewis. Then inexplicably, mystifyingly, ludicrously, Massa simply opened the door as wide as possible for Hamilton. He may as well have layed out some “Welcome Home” banners, put the kettle on and baked a nice cake for Hamilton, such was the ease with which he allowed him to glide past. It was terrible race driving from Massa, and on the evidence of that it is precisely why the likeable Brazilian will never become a World Champion.

There was some excellent battling further down the field too, with Vettel, Kubica and Trulli fighting over the final points paying position. Kubica had slipped down somewhat after Kovalainen overtook him with the move of the race around the outside of the Mercedes chicane. The other move competing for move of the race was Coulthard's move on Jenson Button into turn 2 earlier in the race, though Coulthard then blotted his copy book somewhat by colliding with fellow veteran Rubens Barrichello and taking the Brazilian's front wing off.

The final man left in Lewis' path was Nelson Piquet who was having the race of his life, despite a torrid qualifying session yesterday. Hamilton closed the gap within a couple of laps, and then put a similar move on Piquet into the hairpin. Nelsinho didn't fight too hard, but then again he isn't challenging for a world title. He was just absolutely thrilled to be keeping his car on the track and heading for his first podium finish.

From there on in it was plain sailing for Hamilton. What should have been an extremely hard battle to salvage victory from the jaws of defeat turned out not to be so tricky after all. He drove the last 3 laps in clear air and was able to take the chequered flag with time to spare. It was a brilliant performance from Hamilton in front of the thousands of Mercedes fans in the crowd. Given the rather lacklustre performances from his two rival Massa and Raikkonen, Hamilton will now be the clear favourite to go on and claim his first ever world championship. On this evidence, and judging from his performance in the wet of Silverstone, Hamilton is currently in a class of his own.

Hamilton's problems from earlier in the season look to be well and truly behind him. He is no longer over driving the car, and he seems to have a cooler head on his shoulders at this present moment. Ferrari on the other hand seem to be struggling; both drivers are struggling for pace and more importantly consistency. Felipe Massa seemed rather chuffed with himself on the podium after the race. I suspect he may have had the smile wiped from his face after meeting with his team for debrief, because the way he let Hamilton through so easily was inexcusable. With Ferrari seemingly in a bit of muddle, is there anything to stop Lewis Hamilton at this point in the season?

Race Results

18.Barrichello ret
19.Webber ret
20.Glock ret

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