2018 German GP Review and Hungarian GP Preview – By Bob Constanduros
How extraordinary was that? On lap 50 of the German Grand Prix we were looking at a Ferrari one-two, engineered by team orders or not! Four laps later, it was a Mercedes one-two, once again with a sniff of team orders. And that’s how it stayed to the chequered flag, 13 laps later. Wow. How Ferrari lost the German Grand Prix; that was amazing.
It had, after all, been all about Ferrari and superior engine power. Not just Sebastian Vettel on pole position, with Kimi Raikkonen lined up behind him, but that proof from Messrs Grosjean and Magnussen in fifth and sixth places in Ferrari-powered Haas, Leclerc in ninth and Ericsson in 13th in Ferrari-powered Saubers. It all added up to Ferrari-fest.
Lewis Hamilton had ended qualifying squatting beside his parked Ferrari and this commentator, at least, was wondering if he had stopped his car early enough to avoid power unit damage and a potential engine change. According to the TV audio, after his excursion at turn one, he had been told to stop the car and yet eventually parked it at turn ten. This may have been an illusion caused by a deferred team radio broadcast, but even so, going from turn one to turn ten whether being told to pull over or not is still a hefty chunk of a lap.
Thankfully, it wasn’t the problem it might have been and Lewis was able to line up 14th. But one of my colleagues remarked that he was worried about Lewis’s state of mind, following the last two or three Grands Prix and what we have seen from the reigning World Champion.
We needn’t have worried, of course. Our newly coiffed champion did what he does best in the face of adversity and just came storming through the order. Heavens, why doesn’t everyone want to start 14th? It was an amazing drive.
On lap 14, when he overtook Kevin Magnussen for fifth place, he was a full 16s behind the next guy ahead of him, Kimi Raikkonen. Lewis was on softs whereas Kimi was on ultras. And on that lap, Kimi pitted for softs and rejoined just a couple of seconds ahead of Lewis. This pair were now the class of the field, and while Kimi on the newer tyres pulled away from Lewis, they were reeling in the leading trio of Sebastian, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen ahead of them.
That changed on lap 25 when Sebastian pitted for softs and came out behind teammate Kimi. Huh, how long was that going to last? When the second Mercedes pitted for softs three laps later, and the remaining Red Bull just a lap after that, the Ferraris found themselves around three seconds ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes which was being hauled in by Bottas on his newer tyres.
On lap 39 of the 67, Ferrari engineered their switch as Jock Clear had a slightly convoluted conversation about the importance of tyre management with Raikkonen who let his teammate past. And as Bottas closed on Hamilton, it was now the latter’s turn to pit for new tyres and to slip to fifth, behind even Verstappen, with 25 laps to go.
Help, of course, was at hand in the form of the weather and with 17 laps to go, down came the rain – but only on some parts of the track. So making a pit stop for intermediates or whatever was unclear. Sebastian didn’t, and paid the price as he slid off at the Sachs Curve. Bottas and Magnussen both had confused stops which cost them as much as 15s extra each. Verstappen had already made two stops on laps 46 and 48 which had dropped him back, so that suddenly it was that Mercedes one-two to the flag – although Hamilton had that confused should I – shouldn’t I? near pit stop.
Further back, a tremendous safety car-induced battle for other points-finishers saw last minute place changes. Hulkenberg had delighted the local fans with fifth place, but Grosjean had passed Ericsson for eighth and then overtook both Force Indias in the last two laps for sixth, demoting the pink cars to seventh and eighth with Ericsson ninth and Sainz in tenth.
Most importantly, the German fans had seen their national driver at least replaced by their national team on the podium and a great race. This was an excellent crowd and viewing figures around the world reflected what was a superb race. Whether we go back to Germany is up for debate – it could even be elsewhere in Germany but the race attendance and viewing figures confirmed that Germany is still very much interested in Formula One.
And what might they see this weekend in Hungary? Just take a look back at last year and you get the distinct impression that Red Bull have their eye on this race. Daniel Ricciardo was fastest in the first two session, Vettel in FP3 and then Q1 and Q3, with Hamilton fastest in Q2.
Lewis has a phenomenal record at this track; two poles plus once inheriting from pole plus two wins from pole and another three wins: five in total. Vettel has two poles plus a win from pole last year and a win in 2015.
Ricciardo purposefully took new power unit elements in Germany last weekend to be in the best place this weekend on this non-power circuit – but that was before his Red Bull-Renault expired in the race, so his situation is slightly uncertain. Teammate Max Verstappen has never been on the podium here.
And then there’s the weather, of course. It’s always going to be hot – 29 to 31 or thereabouts with a minimum around 20, but there seems to be a strong possibility of thunderstorms throughout the race weekend, from Friday to Sunday. That threat has been coming and going, so it’s hard to pin down, but it’s certainly there, which could be even better for Red Bull.
It’s certainly going to be a weekend of tyre management. Pirelli have brought the same tyre combination as last weekend with the jump from ultras to softs and mediums. It was a one stop strategy last year with everyone stopping between laps 30 and 33 but there wasn’t a lot of overtaking: no normal overtakes and only six DRS overtakes, so qualifying is going to be just as important as ever. Sebastian Vettel’s qualifying record here is important, but what we can see is that the championship protagonists are going to be closely locked, while the ‘best of the rest’ battle will be just as tough. And this is the last race before the summer break. Who is going away with a sweet taste in their mouths, and who with a sour one?