When Hamilton stepped out of his McLaren after Friday practice he said pole was out of the question but warned: "It's the race where we're able to do the most damage..." His predictions were a little off the mark on Saturday, as he did almost have the pace for pole, but he was certainly right for Sunday.
Red Bull were rattled by the pace of both McLaren and Ferrari and also by the fact that Vettel had a rare and unexplained drop in form, with Mark Webber becoming the main contender for the team this time around.
It was a close battle between the top three in the race - Hamilton, Alonso and Webber - and while tyres were a major factor once again, this time it all played out in a very different way.
Early in the weekend, it was clear that of the two tyre types provided by Pirelli - soft and medium - the latter was significantly slower and neither was going to wear particularly harshly in the cool temperatures at the Nurburgring.
With the rules stipulating teams must use both tyre types in the race, it seemed teams would want to run the medium tyre last and for as little time as possible - and sure enough Hamilton, Alonso and Webber all went for three stops, with a soft-soft-soft-medium strategy.
Hamilton took to the front at the start but lost the lead when Webber played the classic 'undercut' move on lap 14.
This is a now well-practised technique used when drivers are within a few seconds of each other coming up to a round of pit stops. The driver behind will try to leapfrog the man in front by pitting for new tyres first then trying to set a fast out-lap on typically much grippier (and therefore faster) fresh rubber, gaining an advantage big enough to stay ahead once the other driver has made his stop.
Webber was half a second back on Hamilton when he pitted but he came out in traffic and, apparently thinking that would hamper his progress on the new rubber, both Hamilton and Alonso stayed out for two laps before both making their stops on lap 16.
In the cool weather, the tyres did not get to working temperature as quickly as normal - but with two laps to get them up to speed Webber was still able to gain the advantage, and he took the lead.
In the second set of stops, the difference between Webber in first and Hamilton in second was again just over half a second and again Webber pitted first of the three on lap 30.
Crucially, however, this time Hamilton pitted just one lap later and Webber had not been able to do enough on that one lap with new tyres to make the gap to stay ahead - so Hamilton took the lead.
The same happened to Hamilton on the next lap, however, as Alonso pitted and came out ahead - but this time Hamilton was close enough to have a go, his tyres were grippy enough to make it stick and he grabbed the lead back with a thrilling move around the outside of the Ferrari, with Webber now sitting just behind in third.
Webber faded in the next stint, making it effectively a two-horse race to the finish - but there was still one roll of the dice and that was when to make the switch to the harder tyres.
From practice, it appeared that a fresh medium tyre was around 1.5s slower than a fresh soft tyre. As the soft tyres degraded, however, there was a point at which the performance from a new medium would match or better the performance of a worn soft. Picking when that would happen was crucial.
McLaren deemed that moment to be lap 51, at which point leader Hamilton had a two-second advantage over Alonso.
Hamilton's last full flying lap with the soft tyres, on lap 50, was a 1:35.5 and his first full flying lap with the medium tyres, on lap 53, was a 1:34.8. Point proved - yet Ferrari left it not one but two laps after Hamilton's stop before they reacted to bring in Alonso.
Alonso matched Hamilton's in-lap and beat his out-lap by a full second - but the Ferrari driver's extra two laps on slower worn soft tyres was enough to keep Hamilton ahead. Webber, who stayed out longer than both and had therefore taken the lead on the road, was lapping slower and still had to pit, so when he did so all Hamilton had to do was drive it home to the finish.
It was a combination of perfection from both McLaren and Hamilton, then, that secured the victory. The team got the two elements of the tyre strategy spot on and the Briton's pass on Alonso in the second set of stops was crucial to pulling the whole thing together. No wonder Hamilton was so emotional after such an intense fight.
- Lewis Hamilton
- Mark Webber