Lewis Hamilton won a dramatic German Grand Prix after title rival Sebastian Vettel crashed out from the lead in wet conditions.
Hamilton, who started 14th on the grid, led home a Mercedes one-two at Hockenheim, but only after team orders (for both Ferrari and Mercedes), a rain shower and a Safety Car had mixed and re-mixed the order. Vettel’s failure to finish — after sliding off the road in Hockenheim’s stadium section while running slick tyres in damp conditions — means Hamilton has taken a 17-point lead in the drivers’ championship with ten races remaining.
Although the race swung on a rain shower on lap 44, the German Grand Prix wasn’t without drama up to that point. Hamilton had fought his way back into contention with a long stint on the soft tyres from 14th on the grid, while a split strategy at Ferrari saw Kimi Raikkonen, who finished third, and Vettel tripping over each other midway through the race.
Had it stayed dry it would have been a simple Vettel win, but Ferrari didn’t make life easy for themselves. By pitting Raikkonen early on lap 15 on a two-stop strategy the Italian team ended up compromising Vettel’s more conventional one-stop strategy from pole position. When Vettel pitted on lap 25 he emerged behind Raikkonen and lost time as his rear tyres overheated with the extra strain of following another car. A volley of radio messages between the Ferrari pit wall and Raikkonen became increasingly fraught before Vettel was reluctantly allowed past by his teammate on lap 39.
Although the Ferraris were still leading the pack in first and second, there was a threat of rain in the air and the race still seemed in the balance. Hamilton was up to third by this point having not stopped for tyres and was seemingly waiting for the rain to hit before making his first stop. However, with blisters emerging on his rear tyres as he waited for the weather to change, Mercedes’ took the decision to pit Hamilton for a set of slick ultra-soft tyres just two laps before the rain hit at Turn 6.
The isolated shower meant half the track remained dry as conditions worsened in sector two, and those that gambled on a switch to intermediate tyres, including Red Bull’s Max Verstappen from fourth, failed to see a payoff in the laps that followed as heavy rain held off. But Hamilton’s new ultra-softs — fresh out of their tyre blankets and able to retain more heat than the worn softs on his rivals ahead — saw him slash the gap to the leaders as conditions remained in the balance between wet and dry.
As Hamilton closed in on Raikkonen and Bottas, who were fighting for second place, Vettel made a mistake and crashed off the road several seconds ahead. He appeared to leave his braking too late on the run to the Sachs Kurve, and in front of a packed stadium a twitch from the rear of his Ferrari sent him skittering across the gravel. Less than two seconds later later the nose of his car was buried in the barriers and his race was over — the Ferrari driver slamming his steering wheel in frustration.
A Safety Car followed, under which Bottas and Raikkonen mimicked Hamilton’s strategy by taking on ultra-soft tyres. Hamilton nearly pitted as well but bailed from the pit lane entrance at the last moment to remain on track and take the lead, with Bottas, Raikkonen and Vertsappen emerging behind on fresher tyres.
At the restart, Bottas attacked Hamilton out of Turn 6 and into Turn 8 but was told by Mercedes strategist James Vowles not to race his teammate. Bottas accepted his fate and settled for second while holding off Raikkonen behind until the chequered flag.
Verstappen took fourth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in fifth, Romain Grosjean in sixth and the two Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon in seventh and eighth. With tyre gambles going wrong up and down the order, Marcus Ericsson and Brendon Hartley took unlikely points finishes in ninth and tenth.
Daniel Ricciardo was one of four cars to retire after suffering power unit gremlins in his Red Bull on lap 29.