F1 wrap: 2011 German Grand Prix
NURBURGRING, Germany - Three times during the 2011 Formula 1 GP all seemed lost; three times McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton came back to snatch the lead, the last time holding on to it for the most crucial laps.
Hamilton took the lead the first time with a muscular move off the grid and into the first corner; later he forced Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso to cede after briefly being demoted due to a slower pit-stop.
After all three drivers dived into the pits during the closing stages for their regulation stint on Pirelli’s medium compound, Hamilton retained his advantage to win his second GP of the season. His victory was particularly sweet: before the race McLaren was written off as “no-hopers” after a disastrous (by the team’s own standards) British GP was won by Alonso.
SECOND WIN OF THE SEASON
The trio respectively stopped three times, using the same strategy of three initial stints on softs and a final run on mediums. With soft tyres proving more than a second a lap faster on the 13-degree track all three drivers maximised their initial stints. The cool weather, described by most as “cold” despite being the height of summer in the northern hemisphere, facilitated low degradation, which proved crucial to the outcome. During practice Hamilton destroyed his left rear tyre.
The chequered flag dropped after 97 minutes of solid racing and a scintillating display from three of the grid’s most robust drivers. From the first corner to the last they harried, bobbed, weaved and bumped wheels, the winner in doubt even after Hamilton emerged from the final pit-stop shuffle with only a four-second lead over Alonso and Webber a further five seconds behind.
The on-off-on blown diffuser affair hit McLaren hardest with Ferrari seemingly coming off slightly better than Red Bull Before the qualifying round nobody would have banked on Hamilton coming out tops – unless it rained in the Eifel, which seemed a pretty safe bet given that every weather forecast warned of a wet race, which would create the sort of chaos in which he excels.
During the race Hamilton put in a perfect lap, one which had him at 10½/10s through every twist and bend of the Nürburgring’s 15 to push his silver F1 car on the front row beside Red Bull, with just 0.055sec between them. That lap set the 2008 World champion up for victory – and was an indication of how hard he pushed can be gleaned from the fact that team mate and World title successor Jenson Button qualified 1.2sec slower.
Much like the Silverstone GP, the lead Red Bull was driven by Mark Webber, with reigning champion Sebastian Vettel proving his fallibility by qualifying third on home soil. Alonso lined up in fourth.
The scene was set for an epic race.
Supreme wet-weather skills or not, a Hamilton victory still seemed a long shot; many wondered whether the McLaren driver had gambled too much on the weather, setting his car up for dry running while his direct opposition had changed their vehicle set-ups.
Indeed it rained through most of the support races but at the beginning of the GP the skies were cold, damp and grey – but dry, with not a drop falling for the next two hours. As the black/white flag fell so drizzle resumed...
McLaren took stick after short-fuelling Lewis in Britain and sending Button out on three wheels after a stop. In Germany their gamble paid off handsomely, allowing Hamilton to become the only driver apart from six-times 2011 winner Vettel to win more than one race this season.
Equally remarkable was the fact that Hamilton’s win marked four different winners in four races, McLaren having achieved victory in Canada. Alonso has scored more points than any other driver over the last three races, suggesting that Red Bull could face a torrid fight in the nine (of 19) races remaining.
For the first time in 2011 Vettel, who not only lost a place at the start but nearly spun out during his chase, looked stretched – particularly by Felipe Massa. It was only a sticking left rear wheel nut on Massa’s Ferrari after both drivers dived into the pits for a last-lap switch to mediums that allowed Vettel to salvage fourth. Thus Vettel had not only qualified off the front row for the first time this season but finished off the podium for the first time in 12 races – if 2010’s final two races are included.
A remarkable sixth place went to Adrian Sutil after he adopted a two-stop strategy, with German compatriots Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher taking seventh and eighth for Mercedes. The final two points places went to Vitaly Petrov and Kamui Kobayashi, the latter feeling particularly satisfied after failing to make the Q2 cut during qualifying.
Whichever way you look at it, the German GP belonged to Hamilton and McLaren. That said, kudos to Pirelli: this time around the outcome did not hinge on degradation – quite the opposite – while the DRS zone had minimal effect on the outcome.
The 2011 F1 battle is far from over; as Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali told Wheels24 after the race, in 2010 Ferrari won in Germany (albeit in Hockenheim due to the timeshare deal struck with F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone by the two circuits), yet proved a second off Red Bull’s pace in Budapest a week later.
McLaren could suffer the same fate in Hungary – so Hamilton and his crew should enjoy that bubbly feeling while it lasts.