2018 German GP: Hamilton Wins from 14th, Vettel in the Gravel
Sebastian Vettel was close to having one of the best weekends of his life. The man who grew up not 30 miles from the Hockenheimring had never won the German Grand Prix in Formula One, but he started the race on Sunday afternoon from the very front while his rival Lewis Hamilton had to contend with only 14th on the grid.
A victory would have had extra significance as well: Vettel had never won the Formula One German GP and, having just beaten Hamilton at his home circuit in England, winning on his own home ground — emulating what his hero Michael Schumacher had done three times with the same team — would further extend his lead in the championship and put him that much closer to winning a historic fifth title.
But it was not to be. The weather was utterly unpredictable through the middle part of the race and, as seems to happen too often, Ferrari was not as decisive — or decisive in the right way — as it probably should have been. Vettel was left out on the used soft tire as the rain began to drizzle in and ultimately found himself out of grip.
While cautiously approaching a corner at what Martin Brundle called “town limit speeds,” the rear axle nonetheless locked and Vettel became a passenger as he skidded onto the gravel and into the barriers. Up until that point he had been masterfully leading the race and in that one short moment, the dream of winning the German GP was dead.
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It would have been a small consolation prize for Hamilton not to finish too high up the order, but Mercedes was smart to put him on the best possible strategy at the best possible time, and the Brit was blisteringly quick when it mattered. Credit to him: he’s likely one of the best wet-weather drivers in the history of the sport.
He did, it should be said, benefit from a safety car and from team orders. On the restart, his teammate Valtteri Bottas was all over his gearbox and heavily favored to pass him in the few remaining laps thanks to being on much fresher tires. But that duel seemed maybe a little too close for comfort for Mercedes, who must have been having flashbacks to Spain 2016, and chief strategist James Vowles quickly came on the radio to tell Bottas to back off. So much for that.
With the championship now just over halfway completed, Hamilton is back on top of the standings with a respectable 17 point margin over Vettel, having traded spots back and forth with his rival four times, which is approaching a record.
Still, Vettel shouldn’t let that get him feeling too down: he had that same lead just two races into the championship and it had been eliminated with just two more races. Furthermore, Ferrari continues to look like it has the slightly better car, though Mercedes is definitely more on top of things on the pit wall.
The next Grand Prix takes place in Hungary in less than a week, where the circuit is likely to suit the Red Bull car more than usual. We’ll see if they can cause Ferrari and Mercedes some problems and if Vettel can minimize the gap to Hamilton before the teams go on summer break.
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