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If this turns out to be Germany’s last F1 race, then the sport is certainly going out on a high.
Lewis Hamilton’s victory was as deserved as it was unexpected and it keeps the 2018 season bubbling like a freshly-poured Eichbaum lager.
And, even by the high standards that the 2018 season has already set, this was a race to savour, particularly the second half … and the aftermath too.
Win No.44 for driver No.44
Hamilton’s victory was significant for all manner of reasons. Certainly, it was one of his more memorable wins – he rated the day as one of his best race days – and it was his 44th F1 victory for Merc in the hybrid era (and 66th overall), that win record finally matching the number on his car.
It was his 100th points finish for Mercedes AMG and, remarkably, was the German manufacturer’s first 1-2 finish on home turf.
And it also marked the first time Hamilton had taken victory after starting outside the top six on the F1 grid.
Even more significant, though, was the way Hamilton calmly made his way through the field from 14th, after a hydraulics problem cut short his qualifying and left him looking like a lost soul.
Although the Mercedes have struggled with tyre wear at times, in Germany Hamilton nursed the soft-compound rubber he started on remarkably well. Pirelli reckoned the softs would last 35 laps but Hamilton kept them running until lap 42 – despite his car being heavy with fuel, and despite others struggling with their tyres around him.
Gripping stuff as rain and rubber keep everyone guessing
As the race passed the halfway stage, it became clear that there was rain on the way – the only question was when it would arrive.
Hamilton babied his tyres as long as he could, hoping to make a single pitstop for wet tyres if the heavens opened.
But, on lap 42, his team asked him how much further his tyres would take him. ‘One lap,’ replied Hamilton, and he pitted soon after for purple ultrasofts.
It was a crucial decision. Hamilton started putting in hot laps then, within minutes, rain started to fall at turn six.
As some of the lesser teams – and Max Verstappen’s Red Bull – pitted for intermediate tyres, Hamilton and the rest of the field continued on their dry-weather rubber, albeit gingerly at those points where rain was falling.
I say gingerly – but Hamilton, who exited the pits in fifth place, was gaining two seconds a lap on the leaders.
Those who’d gambled on wet-weather tyres quickly found themselves having to pit again to put dry tyres on.
Meanwhile, it was all about to go wrong for Ferrari. Very wrong.
Ferrari’s bad day at the F1 office
Raikkonen was struggling for grip and Valtteri Bottas squeezed past him into second place.
What had looked like a stick-on 1-2 for Ferrari was now shaping up to be a proper battle at the front.
Then, with parts of the track skidpan-wet and other parts bone-dry, Vettel’s car twitched on the entry to the Stadium hairpin.
Vettel caught the twitch but that sent his Ferrari – somewhat slowly – on a path straight into the barriers.
Vettel pummelled his steering wheel in anger, swore over the radio and then kicked at the gravel as he made his way from the scene of an accident which could have a huge bearing on the F1 title race … and that was entirely of his own making.
The drama wasn’t over yet – it had barely begun.
Confusion reigns in the rain at Mercedes
Vettel’s shunt triggered a Safety Car, and Mercedes took the chance to pit Bottas… rather too quickly, it transpired.
The purple ulrasoft tyres for Bottas weren’t ready as he stopped in the pits and he lost valuable seconds as his mechanics struggled to put new boots on his beast.
Then Hamilton was called into the pits, and it all went a bit mad at Mercedes.
Hamilton was told: ‘So box-box, box-box. Get the gap. So the gap to Valtteri is…’ Confused, Hamilton appeared to reply: ‘Give me some help.’
His engineer replied: ‘Stay out. No, stay ou… ininininininininininininin.’ He sounded like a Dalek in need of re-booting.
It was very nearly a disastrous communication breakdown. Hamilton was in the pit entry and, at the last minute, swerved over the grass back on to the track, passing up his chance to put new tyres on in favour of maintaining track position.
While this was going on, Ferrari had called Raikkonen into the pits, all of which meant Hamilton now led the race, behind a Safety Car, and with his F1 team-mate on his gearbox.
To their credit, Mercedes allowed their drivers to race on the re-start, and Bottas came close to passing Hamilton. But Bottas was then told to hold station and he and Hamilton went on to score what is a famous one-two at the Hockenheimring.
Not so fast Lewis …
Hamilton was overjoyed, thanked God, Jesus, his team and reminded us all of the importance of never giving up.
But, in the stewards’ room, trouble was brewing. Hamilton’s last-minute lunge from the pitlane back on to the track had broken a track-limits rule.
Mercedes and Hamilton held their hands up and, after an agonising couple of hours, the stewards released their verdict: Hamilton was indeed guilty of an offence but, given the circumstances, he would be given only a reprimand, and his victory stood.
The F1 forums lit up, as you would expect, as even a minor punishment such as a five-second penalty would have cost Hamilton his victory.
In the end, the fact no one was put at risk, coupled with Mercedes’ compliance in admitting the offence and Hamilton’s driving record, seems to have been what swayed the stewards.
Whether you agree with their decision or not, the result catapults Hamilton back to the top of the F1 Drivers’ Championship with a handy 17-point lead over Vettel, and sticks Mercedes back ahead of Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship.
Did Mercedes win this race? Or did Ferrari lose it? Neither, perhaps – Hamilton’s take on the result was: ‘Love conquers all.’
Next up is Hungary, in a week. Let’s see if love is enough to win the day there too.