F1 – Eifel GP – Race
Hallo, MiniFans! We’re in Germany, home of Nico Hulkenberg and one of the classic F1 circuits: Nürburgring. With the threat of rain and Verstappen on the horizon, Mercedes wasn’t as comfortable as it usually is, especially with Bottas on pole instead of Hamilton. The lack of free practices added to not having stepped foot on this track since 2013 meant that the teams had no idea of how tyres would work in the long run. This, alongside having just one hour to set the car up and the parc fermé, made it so teams and drivers alike were a bit clueless as to what to expect from the race.
Tyres were likely to be on of the key aspects of the race. With such low temperatures, getting the rubber warm enough for them to work would be almost a nightmare. Despite this, Vettel, Gasly, Grosjean and Kvyat decided to start with medium tyres. Both Mercedes went slightly off track in their effort to either maintain or obtain first place, but it didn’t go further than that and their positions remained the same as they were on the grid. Behind them, Ricciardo managed to find a space to overtake Albon, who didn’t give up easily but eventually needed to yield to the Australian after blocking his front tyre in his effort. Verstappen broke free from Leclerc, who started to create a small train of faster cars behind him. Hulkenberg, almost everyone’s favourite for the weekend, got himself into seventeenth from last place.
The first stop was made by courtesy of Red Bull, who pitted Albon for mediums due to the very likely flat spot on his front left from the aggressive breaking in his try to overtake Ricciardo. Some raindrops were spotted on the track but it wasn’t close enough to even think about wet weather tyres and drivers kept coming into the pits for their next slick tyre. Vettel changed to hards after getting another flat spot, while Hamilton overtook Bottas due to yet another flat spot and subsequent tyre change. At the back, an incident between Russell and Raikkonen left the British driver with a puncture that made him retire his car. A virtual safety car came out to allow marshals to move the Williams and Mercedes called Hamilton in, while Red Bull did the same with Verstappen. The faster stop by the Dutch driver got him closer but, as soon as it was over, a double yellow was waved due to an incident between Albon and Kvyat, which left the Russian with no front wing. Ricciardo had done his stop in the last moments of the VSC, while Bottas seemed to have an engine problem that prompted Mercedes to retire the car.
The first penalty of the race was awarded to Raikkonen for his incident with Russell, with ten seconds being awarded to his time. The second one was for Albon, five seconds for the incident with Kvyat, but it wasn’t complied with as his next stop meant his retirement. With the race mostly settled for the two front drivers, it became a matter of seeing who would step on the third place of the podium. All fingers pointed at Ricciardo, but the stop he had made, more than ten laps older than most of his rivals’, and the unknown tyre behaviour in the long run made the thought not as set in stone as it may have been in other circumstances, along with Pérez’s performance once he managed to overtake Leclerc.
Graining started to be noticeable on some cars’ front tyres, such as Ricciardo’s, whose gap to Pérez was getting smaller. Hulkengerb, by his part, had made it into the points, grasping a 10th place and fighting to climb even higher up. Vettel’s hard tyres, fitted near the beginning of the race, needed changing and Ferrari opted for softs. Meanwhile, Norris retired, parking his car beside the wall on turn 6 and making a yellow flag come out before a satefy car was finally called out. All cars with slight tyre problems were called into the pits for softs, with the exception of Pérez, whose team deemed a better choice to not stop him at first but eventually relented, luckily letting him back out in the same spot he was in prior to the incident. Complaints were made about the speed of the safety car, as tyres have proven to be difficult to be taken up to working temperature.
The rolling restart, a rare oddity in the last handful of races, offered a very clean kick-off, with just a small fight over a couple of corners between Verstappen, Ricciardo and Pérez. Leclerc, not having changed tyres, was having a hard time trying to keep Hulkenberg behind. Cars started to slowly settle in their positions for the last few laps in the race. Hamilton was off into his own world, as was Verstappen, but the interest was behind them. Renault and Racing Point were the ones fencing for a third place that was up for grabs while Hamilton chased his 91st victory, a win that meant he finally tied with Michael Schumacher.
Nürburgring brought us back to podiums that aren’t plagued merely by Mercedes and Red Bull, as a yellow and black car climbed up with them in what seemed could have been Bottas’ glory day. Ricciardo fought tooth and nail in the beginning stages of the race and it paid off. His hard earned fourth place from Albon and Leclerc meant that, once Bottas had to retire, the third step of the podium was his property to defend and his alone. Hard work by both him and his team got the French manufacturer its first podium since 2011. It’s only a matter of time to see whether the momentum will keep on going or it was just a fluke. We’ll be back in Portimao in two weeks’ time to check on it.