ROUND 9 – GERMANY, 7 July, Nurburgring
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1 hr 14m 41.711s (av race speed 182.896 kph
2nd: Kim Raikkonen (Lotus F1 Team) gap 1.008 s
3rd: Romain Grosjean (Lotus F1 Team) gap 4.822 s (5.830)
Fastest Lap: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1:33.468
Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:29.398
VETTEL ENDS HOME JINX AT LAST
It had to happen in the end. And so, it did. After a week when even the most enthusiastic supporters of anything round, black and made of rubber grew tired of talking about tyres, it was the performance of the Pirelli products in scorching heat that decided, finally, that Sebastian Vettel should finally end his great jinx. His win at Hockenheim on Sunday, when he took advantage of Mercedes’ heat-related performance failings, brought him his first Formula One victory on home soil and, more bizarrely, his first win in the month of July.
It was also the first by a German driver in a German Grand Prix at the famous Nurburgring since the start of the world championship in 1950 (Michael Schumacher’s home successes, in the German Grand Prix, were all notably at Hockenheim while his, and brother Ralf’s victories at the ‘ring came in races run with alternative titles – Ralf, for example, winning the European Grand Prix there in both 2001 and 2003). On a hot sporting night, cue traditional German celebrations in the forests of the Eifel mountains.
Vettel brought his Red Bull home just ahead of the threatening Lotus of a rampaging Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn having been given a set of new soft tyres for the final 10 laps with instructions to hunt down the defending triple world champion. Another lap to add to the 60 they did round the track that gave Mark Webber his maiden F1 win and it may have been a very different story, but Vettel drove with great precision to finish first ahead of Raikkonen and his Lotus team-mate third-placed Frenchman Romain Grosjean. It was his fourth win this year and the 30th of his career, lifting him 34 points clear of nearest rival Fernando Alonso of Ferrari in the Drivers’ Championship.
Yes, yes, yes!" screamed Vettel on his victory lap. “Woo-hooh! Thanks guys that was a tough race. They really gave me a run for my money.” In a more composed, if less revealing comment, he later added: “It's unbelievable. I am very, very happy. Kimi was pushing very close in the end, but I was pushing in every lap except from the ones with the safety car. I enjoyed today and I could feel Kimi coming and it was quite close with Romain too, but we recovered and I am very happy the race ended after 60 laps -- and not 61 or 62 laps."
The Lotus team clearly relished the much-hotter-than-expected conditions – the track temperature was 46 degrees Celsius during the race – while others, led notably by Mercedes, appeared dumbfounded by the heat and lost all of the pace and durability that had carried them to success at Silverstone a week earlier. Nico Rosberg, another German seeking homeland glory, had won the British Grand Prix, but here he qualified 11th on Saturday when the team misjudged the changing track conditions and then struggled to finish ninth. Rosberg’s team-mate Lewis Hamilton repeated his scorching pole lap routine on Saturday, but, after suffering a fuel leak and then brake problems just prior to the race, was beaten by both Red Bulls at the start and, with his tyres wearing fast, soon appeared to be racing in treacle.
Webber’s incident with errant wheel
All this should have signalled another great race for Mark Webber on one of his favourite circuits, where he has enjoyed two poles and regular podiums in the past. This time, however, his race was to be undone by an extraordinary pit-lane incident after eight laps when he came in for fresh tyres. As he drew away, unbeknown to him, his rear right wheel worked free and bounced down the pits until it struck a tv cameraman, Briton Paul Allen, in the back. He escaped a very serious injury, but was detained overnight in hospital having suffered a broken shoulder and cracked ribs. Webber, on three wheels, was pulled back, re-booted and re-started.
Hence a race that was in prospect filled with competitive anticipation turned into a collection of incidents and pit-stops as Vettel worked his way clear and the two Lotus men strove to catch him. This time, unlike Silverstone where he was forced to retire with gearbox problems, Vettel survived the pressure while others jostled and scrapped for the supporting roles in the finishing order behind him. Of these, Lotus were truly fast, Fernando Alonso was dogged and sometimes daring for Ferrari and Hamilton, at times, scintillating as they finished fourth and fifth respectively – one Safety Car period, after Jules Bianchi’s errant and empty Marussia F1 car had rolled backwards across the circuit (it had been abandoned by its driver due to a blown engine).
Jenson Button and his McLaren team-mate Sergio Perez adhered to a careful McLaren strategy to take sixth and eighth, sandwiching the resolute Webber who, after falling to the back of the field, created a familiar drama of his own by slicing deftly through them again to finish seventh. Rosberg, who had hoped to add a ‘home’ German win to his other ‘home’ triumphs in Monaco and Britain, had to settle for ninth ahead of another German Nico Hulkenberg, an impressive 10th for Sauber.
For Daniel Ricciardo, it was another notable weekend. Fired by ambition to succeed compatriot Webber at Red Bull next year, he secured sixth place on the grid ahead of both Ferraris, both McLarens and the Mercedes of Rosberg with another dazzling qualifying lap for Toro Rosso on Saturday. His race was no less well done, but like the Mercedes men he struggled with the black things, lost grip levels and, in his words ‘it was very frustrating going round and round, gradually slipping backwards…’
Next race: round 10, Hungary, July 28
Hot and slow, often compared to Monaco without the glamour, the Hungaroring is a 15-minute drive north out of Budapest and makes a stark contrast to most of the high-speed European circuits. The city is much-modernised, but retains great heritage and history, a combination that has allowed the race weekend to become a collectors’ item.