German GP 2008
JULY 21, 2008
Race Report - Lewis the dominator
Thank you Timo Glock. It is true that the substantial impact that you had with the pit wall may have been a little painful and, despite the rather eccentric method by which you were extracted from your wrecked car, you did everyone a favour. Before the impact the German Grand Prix had been a rather dull affair. The crash lit the race up and we were treated to a magnificent display by the fast-becoming great Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren team took the dubious decision to leave Hamilton out while most of the others pitted. This left Hamilton leading from Nick Heidfeld and Nelson Piquet. Hamilton was fifth and his hopes seemed slim with only 16 laps remaining. Hamilton went past his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen without too much trouble. He gained another place when Heidfeld pitted. That left Felipe Massa and Piquet ahead of him. Lewis dealt with the Ferrari in impressive style and gobbled up Piquet within three laps. Another nice move took him into the lead and to another impressive victory.
Thanks Timo. Hope the back is not too painful this morning.
From the start Hamilton had looked unbeatable. McLaren decided to refuel him first on lap 18, in order to avoid "possible Safety Car problems". He was back in the lead by lap 22 when the nearest chasers Felipe Massa and Heikki Kovalainen stopped. And then he pulled away.
"It was very comfortable," he said. "We had a good strategy and a good car. I made a great start. There was no real hassle from Felipe and I was able to focus on my job, being smooth and consistent. Surprisingly I was pulling away at half a second a lap. Then the Safety Car comes out. That was no surprise. I had a feeling something like that would happen. That's motor racing. We probably should have come in. I don't understand exactly what is going on but I have to have full confidence in the guys who tell me what to do. We could have done a better job but we were quickest and it just made my job a little harder. That is what I am here for."
The Safety Car went on longer than expected but Hamilton was ready. The only problem was one that went unseen by the TV cameras. Behind the Safety Car Lewis backed off a little to create some space between his car and the Safety Car in the kink between the Sachs Kurve and the final two corners. Hamilton put his foot down again but as he accelerated Maylander slowed. Eyewitnesses report that Hamilton only just managed to avoid impact with the back end of the Mercedes-Benz. Given what happened in Canada it would have a very different story if the McLaren had run into the back of a Mercedes in front of the German marque's home crowd.
At the start of lap 42 the race was on again. Lewis needed to have a gap of 23 seconds before his final stop in order to beat Massa. He had fuel for only eight laps and so he needed to be three seconds a lap faster than the Ferrari.
That was not going to happen. Hamilton made his final stop and was down to fifth place. He quickly made it past his team mate and Heidfeld had to pit, putting Lewis up to third, with only Piquet and Massa still in front of him on the track.
"I just did the best job I could," he said. "I nailed it, pushing even more than I had in the first stint. I had nice clean space but we were not able to do it. The great thing was that the team was very positive and came across the radio and said 'Don't worry, we can do this'. That enabled me to go for a win."
It was a great charge and a terrific result.
There was nothing that Massa could do.
"I saw Lewis in my slipstream and tried to brake as late as possible," said Felipe. "I didn't have great performance and saw him coming alongside. I knew if I passed him again he would pass me again very easily, because he had huge pace. For sure we expected a different race, because Lewis's pace early on was so quick. By then we knew McLaren was much quicker than us on the track. In the first stint it was half a second a lap quicker, and we couldn't do anything. Then after the Safety Car we did a more or less normal job and maybe Lewis was too optimistic with his strategy. But on the hard tyres we couldn't have that pace and also under braking we had a little problem. I didn't have the car to fight. I tried but it was not possible today. But at the end of the day we had a good race and finished third, so we cannot be negative. The Championship is still open."
Hamilton thought he was leading but the team told him that, odd though it may seem, Piquet was actually the leader.
Without wishing to be unkind to Piquet, who was doing a good job, this was a case of a shark battling with a goldfish. A Renault against a McLaren is simply no contest this year. Nelson did what he could but resistance was impossible. There was no point in having an accident and Nelson was more than delighted with second place.
"After qualifying yesterday I was thinking that my weekend was over, " he said. "But we opted for an aggressive strategy in the race and the team made some great decisions when the Safety Car came out. Then I had to concentrate to keep my pace up and look after my tyres as much as possible towards the end of the race. I knew that Lewis was much faster than me, so I did not want to take any pointless risks. This second place today is a great reward for the whole team."
Indeed so and much-needed on a day when team leader Fernando Alonso went backwards in the race, spun and ended up in 11th place.
Massa had to spend the last part of the race holding back Heidfeld but the BMW did not have the same pace as the Ferrari and Nick had to settle for fourth.
"Coming fourth from 12th on the grid is a great result," he said. "Not making it into the top 10 in qualifying meant we were free to choose our fuel load afterwards, and so we went for a rather long first stint. That's why I was able to stay out during the Safety Car period when almost everybody else was refuelling. That was certainly crucial as I was able to pull away as soon as the traffic was behind me. Before that I couldn't show my true speed as I never had a clear lap. The car was good and the fact that I set the fastest race lap proves it. In the end I was very close to Felipe, but still had no chance to overtake him."
Robert Kubica was not as happy.
"During the first half of the race I was able to match the pace of McLaren Mercedes and Ferrari," he said, "but then suddenly my tyres lost lots of grip. Perhaps this was because they cooled down too much. We now have to analyse the data."
Kubica ended the day seventh behind Kovalainen and Kimi Raikkonen
"This was a very difficult race," Kovalainen said. "My speed was not good enough and I couldn't make the tyres work to their best. The Safety Car period didn't help me either, and I lost positions during my pit stop. Then I lost time behind Kubica before I finally managed to overtake him."
Raikkonen's race was dull.
"We have struggled all weekend and we have to try and understand why," he said. "Usually, our race pace is always good but today that was not the case."
The final point went to Sebastian Vettel, who did a great job in the Toro Rosso. He showed that he is overawed by no-one and even showed his muscles to Alonso when they left the pits side by side. Later he caught and overtook Jarno Trulli, who is famous for his abilities as a defensive driver.
"Eighth with no retirements, means we deserved to finish where we did and I am proud of that," said Vettel.
Trulli ended up ninth but his dull race was overshadowed somewhat by Glock's crash. The team seemed unable to spot what everyone else had seen on TV. Timo suffered a left rear suspension failure.
By the end of the race Trulli had Nico Rosberg chasing him. Alonso and Bourdais followed them across the line.
"It's not great to go home without any points," said Rosberg, "but it was a good race. It was a bit difficult at the beginning as I had a technical problem at the start which cost me a place. From then on I was pretty comfortable, and I was able to push hard when I had free track - the car felt good, but then with the Safety Car the order was mixed up quite a bit."
Kazuki Nakajima was 15th on this occasion and admitted to having had a difficult race.
"I was stuck in the traffic for a long time," he said. It would have also helped if the Safety Car had stayed out a bit longer so I could have made my stop. Then finally, in the last stint, I picked up some debris under the car which was causing bad understeer."
Red Bull had a very dull day. David Coulthard made a bad start and dropped to 15th. He then lost a lot of time behind the Honda of Jenson Button and later collided with his old F3 sparring partner Rubens Barrichello
"I was just unlucky," Rubens said. "I was trying to force him to take a wider line on the outside through turn nine so that on turn 10 I would be able to come up the inside, but unfortunately he didn't see me on the inside and we touched. The team could see at the stop that there was too much damage to the front bargeboards to continue and that ended my race."
Coulthard was able to keep going.
"Rubens got better traction off a turn and moved over, I came back on to my line to take the corner. I guess he thought I wasn't going to do that, which is why he had his car there."
DC rejoined and finished 13th. This was rather better than Mark Webber, who had looked to be in a position to score points but then damaged an oil cooler on wreckage from Glock's crash and had to retire.
Barrichello's team-mate Button had a horrible time with no traction.
"It is obviously disappointing to finish in 17th position," he said. "We pitted early for my first stop to prevent Rosberg overtaking and I lost a lot of time there to both him and Rubens because we had no performance on the prime tyre after my stop. When the Safety Car came out, we immediately pitted for tyres to enable us to switch back to the option tyre as soon as possible and unfortunately that meant that although I was a lap down, I was not able to overtake the leader. I'm very disappointed."
There was disappointment too at Force India where Sutil had a spin and Fisichella was off the pace and was later penalised for pitting too early under the Safety Car. The time penalty meant he fell from 14th to 16th.
But for Glock it would have been a pretty dull race but in the end it was a gripper.
The question that now needs to be answered is whether this was specific to Hockenheim or whether McLaren is really ahead.
We'll find that out in Budapest.