Lewis Hamilton continued his imperious run of form at the German Grand Prix, winning the race at a canter. He was joined on the podium by the Red Bull drivers of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Title challenger and Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate Nico Rosberg once again had a difficult race after a terrible start from pole, finishing fourth. The result leaves Hamilton 19 points clear of Rosberg in the championship battle, despite being 43 points adrift after the first five rounds.
Rosberg for the second race in a row failed to capitalise on starting from pole position. As the lights went out Rosberg got away cleanly, but lost momentum after causing some wheel spin while shifting up through the gears. His momentum retarded, he could but look on as Hamilton and the Red Bull duo flew past him on the run down to the first corner. Rosberg tried gamely to fight back and was attacking Max Verstappen on the opening lap, until the Mercedes strategists reminded him of the “plan” for the early stint of the race – namely tyre preservation. Rosberg settled down and dropped away from Verstappen. Hamilton was quickly out of DRS range of Daniel Ricciardo, who could not keep up with the Mercedes in clean air in front. Behind the lead quartet, Sebastian Vettel had made the better start of the two Ferraris and was leading his team mate in fifth place.
The top six finished the last lap in the same order they finished the first. The race, although far away from a classic, was not without incident. One again Nico Rosberg felt the wrath of the race stewards, incurring a five second time penalty after forcing Max Verstappen wide at the hairpin that comprises turn six at Hockenheim. Mercedes attempted to undercut Verstappen at the first round of pitstops, and Rosberg found himself immediately behind Verstappen when the Dutchman emerged from the pits. The German at his home race wasted no time in launching an attack down the inside of Verstappen. It was an opportunistic move, with Rosberg breaking far too late into the tightest corner on the track, and with Rosberg having a far tighter angle driving into the corner by virtue of diving down the inside of Verstappen, making the apex of the corner was never a realistic outcome. The result was that Verstappen was forced off the track avoiding contact. Rosberg claimed that Verstappen had moved his car while in the breaking zone (which was a criticism levelled at him for his risky defending one week ago in Hungary) but the stewards were unsympathetic.
Rosberg duly served the five second time penalty at his second pitstop, but a hiccup with the team director’s stopwatch meant that Rosberg spent eight seconds stationary instead of the five incurred from his penalty. It was insult to injury. Rosberg emerged from the pits still in fourth, but was unable to ever get on terms with Verstappen ahead of him. While Hamilton admitted after the race that he had turned down his engine power after the third lap and cruised to the finish, Rosberg appeared bereft of pace. The Mercedes is a dominant car when leading, but the evidence suggests that it has difficulty following cars ahead of it. The second half of the season may become far more interesting if the Red Bulls can improve their qualifying pace or consistently get better starts than the Mercedes pair. It would be a big ask, considering the pace advantage Mercedes currently holds during qualifying.
Ferrari had an anonymous outing in Germany, finishing fifth and six some thirty seconds behind Hamilton. In the same week that the Scuderia lost their highly regarded technical chief James Allison, they found themselves losing second position in the constructors’ championship to Red Bull, who are looking stronger with each passing race. Vettel’s frustration was evident on track, questioning the team’s strategy over the radio and unilaterally deciding not to pit when instructed. Ferrari promised much for 2016 and have failed to deliver. With one of their key personnel gone, it will be a long hard road the team from Maranello must walk before they can challenge for race wins again, let alone a championship.
Nico Hulkenberg continued a strong run of form and was seventh for Force India. Jenson Button was eighth for McLaren who have improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. Button passed Valterri Bottas in the Williams for eighth on the penultimate lap. Williams had attempted a daring two stop strategy comprising a very long second stint. Unfortunately for the Finn the strategy failed to pay off and his tyres hit the ‘cliff’ meaning they rapidly lost performance towards the end of the race. Button passed him easily but the other Foce India of Perez was too far back to capitalise. Fernando Alonso was battling in the points for the majority of the race, but was passed by Perez for tenth in the closing laps as he had to conserve fuel and nurse his worn tyres.
Hamilton has now won six of the last seven races, and won the last four races in a row. It is the first time in Formula 1 history that two drivers have won four consecutive races in the season – Rosberg also won the first four races of the season. It was another dark day for Rosberg, who has watched on as his once commanding championship lead evaporated over the past six weeks. Few would bet on Rosberg to be Champion from here, and he has a lot of soul-searching to do over the summer break.
Formula 1 will return at Spa Francorchamps on August 28 for the Belgian Grand Prix.