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Hamilton towers over rivals in Eifel Grand Prix


As we waited and waited and waited on Friday for the action to begin, forlornly looking on as the fog continued to shroud the Nurburgring, how many of you cast your minds back those images of Jackie Stewart racing through the fog on the Nordschleife, his car flying through the air as he encountered another of the legendary circuit's infamous 'bumps'.

Yet here we were, eventually to be told that there would be no running due to the fact that the medical helicopter couldn't take off, or, more importantly, land at nearby Koblenz.

The irony being that it was said Mr Stewart who was the initial driving force behind the safety crusade that has forever changed the sport.

Regular readers will be aware that we usually head into such races hoping that the weather gods might play their part and add a little spice to proceedings, this time around however we head into the race with the assumption that - contrary to opinion elsewhere - said weather gods will take the day off.

Yes it will be cold, which will present its own problems, but we do not anticipate any rain.

In fact, the lack of running on Friday, which means that there has been no time for long runs and some drivers haven't even had the opportunity to try the mediums, puts plenty of spice on the table as it is, throw in a step forward by Red Bull and even Ferrari and we could be in for an intriguing afternoon.

Quite rightly, Lewis Hamilton is doing his best to ignore the media hype surrounding his opportunity to equal Michael Schumacher's 91 wins, the Briton aware that he has a fight on his hands.

Whatever your view of those penalties, Sochi allowed teammate Valtteri Bottas the opportunity to close the gap, which, if nothing else, will have pleased the head honchos at Liberty Media and F1 in the midst of a heavily curtailed season that was already hitting the coffers. See what we did there?

With Red Bull looking to have found some pace, thereby allowing Max Verstappen to challenge, Chase and the guys must be rubbing their hands in delight... and that's without the possibility of a Ferrari resurgence.

A midfield that is always turbulent and unpredictable will be further spiced up by the unpredictability of the weekend, and for once we feel we can say, with hand on heart, that anything can and probably will happen.

So many unknowns, and when you add in the lack of grip and the clampdown on track limits, we could see a number of mistakes today, including the big guns, which means that even Williams could walk away from here with something to smile about.

Despite the uncertainty, we still expect the winner to be either Hamilton, Bottas or Verstappen, while Leclerc will do well to finish in the top four or five.

Renault is looking strong and while Sainz is playing down McLaren's chances, an engine change for Norris overnight suggests that there are issues.

The Alpha Tauris have the opportunity to pick up some more points while Racing Point is somewhat hampered by the fact that Hulkenberg had to be brought in as a last minute substitute for Stroll.

The most likely strategy is a two-stopper, but with the track not having been used for F1 since 2013 and no running on Friday, in all honesty it remains a question mark for all the teams. Adding to the tactical complexity is the fact that it could be wet and it will certainly be cold, making it even harder to accurately predict tyre behaviour.

Theoretically the quickest way will be to start on the softs, then on lap 19 switch to the mediums for 22 laps, and finally do a 19-lap stint on the softs again. That said, this combination of compounds can be used in any order.

Second-fastest is another two-stopper: one 18-lap stint on the softs plus two 21-lap stints on the mediums.

Slower is a one-stopper, going from medium to hards after 29 laps (or the exact opposite, running 31 laps on the hard before going to medium). The data suggests that a one-stop strategy using medium and soft is not possible.

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers head out.

"There's a lot of movement in my steering wheel," reports Hamilton, "were you not able to fix that last night?" "That's a negative," comes the reply.

Unfortunately, with ten minutes to go before race start, the timing system isn't working.

Air temperature is 10 degrees C, while the track temperature is 19.6 degrees. It is bright and sunny, but cold.

They head off on the warm-up lap, all get away cleanly. All are on softs bar Vettel, Gasly, Kvyat and Hulkenberg who are on mediums.

The grid forms.

They're away. Bottas and Hamilton both get away well, the Finn moving across the track to cover his teammate as much as Verstappen. Hamilton has the inside for Turn 1, while Leclerc is past Ricciardo and alongside Verstappen.

The Mercedes pair are side by side in Turn 1 but Bottas has the inside for Turn 2 and gets ahead of his teammate.

A good start from Albon but he runs wide in Turn 1, as does Perez after being forced out by Ocon who had locked up heavily.

Bottas holds his lead, while Verstappen holds off Leclerc, however, heading into Turn 3 there's a massive lock-up for Albon who somehow avoids clipping Ricciardo.

Suffering the flat spots that followed that lock-up, Albon is under pressure from Norris, Perez and Ocon.

At the end of lap 1, it's Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Albon, Norris, Perez, Ocon and Sainz.

Bottas build a lead of 1.3s while Hamilton has a 1.4s advantage over Verstappen.

Out front, Bottas posts a new fastest lap (32.211), as Leclerc, already 7s down on Verstappen is holding up a train of several cars, not least Ricciardo and Albon.

Ricciardo is all over the Ferrari, the Australian clearly preparing for one of his usual late braking moves.

Another fastest lap for Bottas (32.063), as Grosjean complains about being hit by gravel thrown up by Raikkonen who ran wide at Turn 11. The Frenchman feels his finger may be broken.

Hamilton is warned that he's received the first warning for exceeding the track limits.

The Briton subsequently posts a 31.951, admitting that he is concerned at the pace of "the guy behind" (Verstappen).

Sainz is told of a "possible light shower" in ten minutes.

At the end of lap 7, Albon is the first driver to pit, switching from the softs to the mediums. He rejoins in last position.

The three leaders trade fastest laps, as Ricciardo attacks Leclerc at Turn 1. Despite the Ferrari driver's best efforts, the Australian is not taking no for an answer. One past, he sets about closing the 16s gap to Verstappen.

After 9 laps, it's: Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Norris, Perez, Ocon, Sainz and Giovinazzi. Yes, Giovinazzi.

Check out our Sunday gallery from the Nurburgring, here.


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