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.

As they battle for 6th, Norris and Perez clash wheels.

Leclerc pits at the end of lap 10, rejoining in 19th. Meanwhile, a spin for Vettel at Turn 1 as he battled with Giovinazzi. Raikkonen has also pitted.

Next time around Vettel and Russell pit, the German admitting that he flat-spotted his tyres with that spin.

Hamilton is warned about a brief shower that will hit in a few minutes.

Moments later the Briton sweep by Bottas after the Finn locks up and heavily flat-spots his tyres. A needless mistake by the Mercedes driver.

As Mercedes prepares for Bottas to pit, Verstappen is all over the Finn. Meanwhile, Russell has spun at Turn 1.

Bottas rejoins in fourth behind Ricciardo, as Russell appears to have an issue with his left-rear. Indeed, replay shows the Williams was clouted by Raikkonen as the three battled with Vettel for 18th.

"I gave him plenty of space," sighs Russell.

"Be careful with that front locking," Hamilton is warned, "you've seen what it can do."

Bottas reels in Ricciardo, the Finn seeking to make up for his earlier mistake. The Australian, who is not actually racing the Finn, offers no resistance.

On lap 16, the VSC is deployed as Russell's Williams is removed from the side of the track where the Briton eventually parked up.

Hamilton and Verstappen take the opportunity to pit, as does Ricciardo.

No sooner is the VSC withdrawn again than Albon clouts Kvyat, ripping off the AlphaTauri's front wing. A silly mistake by the Thai driver, who pulled across the track before he had actually cleared the AlphaTauri.

"I've no power, no power," reports Bottas as he is passed by Norris and Perez.

Kvyat makes it back to the pits, where a new nose is fitted. He rejoins in last position.

"Box, box, box," Bottas is told, "we have to retire." "F***," is the brief response.

Meanwhile, Hulkenberg is up to 10th, just ahead of Leclerc.

The stewards are to investigate the Raikkonen/Russell and Albon/Kvyat incidents.

Indeed, Raikkonen gets a 10s penalty for "causing a collision".

2.536s down on Hamilton, Verstappen posts a new fastest lap (30.439). This race doesn't appear to be over.

Meanwhile, Albon sets his sights on the second AlphaTauri.

Currently third, Norris is told his pace is good.

As he harries Gasly, Albon almost collects the Frenchman as they battle for 8th, forcing him wide. "They race me so hard," sighs the Thai driver.

A very slow Ocon enters the pits. "I lost something," he reports.

To make Albon's day that little bit worse he is handed a 5s penalty. As if on cue the Red Bull driver pits for fresh rubber and to serve his penalty. However, it's game over for the youngster as his car is pushed into its garage.

So, after 24 laps we are 4 cars down, Russell, Bottas, Ocon and now Albon.

Out front, Hamilton leads Verstappen by 3.8s with Norris 32s behind. Perez is fourth, 3.2s down on Norris, ahead of Sainz, Ricciardo, Gasly, Leclerc, Hulkenberg and Grosjean. However, Norris, Perez, Sainz, Gasly, Hulkenberg and Grosjean have yet to stop.

"I've lost power," warns Norris, "drivability is terrible and it's getting worse." Given a number of settings to try, he reveals that "it's not any better".

Leclerc nails countryman Gasly in Turn 1 to take 7th.

Under the impression that Perez had pitted, Norris is shocked to hear that the Mexican is still 1.5s behind.

That said, the Racing Point driver subsequently pits, as does Sainz. They rejoin in 7th (Perez) and 9th. Grosjean also pits.

"It's getting worse," reports Norris, "I've got no power at all." He subsequently pits, but is it for rubber or to retire. Switching to mediums he heads back out and rejoins in 5th. Hulkenberg also pits.

Perez sweeps by the struggling Norris in Turn 1 to take 5th.

Gasly pits at the end of lap 31, thereby promoting Vettel to ninth.

Meanwhile, Hamilton now has a 5.4s advantage over Verstappen who is 55s clear of Ricciardo.

Barring a major upset at the front, the focus now appears to be who will take the third place on the podium.

Perez passes Leclerc to take fourth, but the Ferrari driver, courtesy of DRS, immediately retakes the position as the pair seek to close the 17s gap to Ricciardo.

As Hamilton complains of graining on his right-front, Perez repeats his earlier move and this tame successfully retakes fourth from Leclerc. The Monegasque subsequently pits. The Ferrari driver rejoins in 10th and is immediately locked in battle with Gasly.

After 37 laps, Verstappen is losing ground to the leader.

Raikkonen is up to 8th but he still has that 10s penalty to serve.

Giovinazzi pits at the end of lap 38.

Down in 14th, Magnussen goes quickest in S2 as he seeks to close on 13th-placed Giovinazzi.

Hulkenberg, currently 10th, is told he doesn't need to look after his right front, which leaves the German a little confused.

Leclerc passes his Ferrari teammate for 7th, as said teammate is subsequently left for dead by Gasly.

"Not sure I can make it to the end," says Vettel of his hards which he has flat-spotted. Indeed, the German subsequently pits.

"You're catching Ricciardo by seven-tenths a lap," Perez is told. "Along with Hamilton your pace is the fastest."

On lap 44, Norris parks up at Turn 6, thereby bringing out the yellows. In the pitlane a couple of teams are preparing for a possible safety car or VSC.

Check out our Sunday gallery from the Nurburgring, here.

Indeed, the safety car is deployed.

Ricciardo is first to pit, while Perez stays out. Sainz pits, as do Hamilton and Verstappen. Gasly, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen and others follow suit.

Next time around Perez pits as the marshals push Norris' stricken car to safety.

"Tell the safety car to speed up," urges Hamilton.

"It's not safe for him to go this slow for us guys on new tyres," adds the world champion.

"This safety car can't be out for long mate, because the tyres are so cold," urges Verstappen. However, a number of lapped cars have yet to un-lap themselves.

Verstappen and Hamilton continue to complain about the pace - or need - of the safety car.

The safety car will withdraw at the end of lap 49, leaving 11 laps.

Hamilton backs up the pack in order to create a gap to the safety car.

A couple of minor lock-ups at the restart but nothing serious. Hamilton holds his position and while Ricciardo is all over Verstappen, Perez is all over the Renault. Hulkenberg passes Grosjean for 8th.

Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Perez, Sainz, Leclerc, Gasly, Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Giovinazzi.

Gasly passes Leclerc, while Hulkenberg also sizes up the Ferrari.

Out front, Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (28.487).

Separated by 1.8s Hamilton and Verstappen trade fastest sectors. Behind them, Ricciardo is finding it difficult to shake off Perez.

Running wide in Turn 4 Ricciardo has his time deleted.

"Everything is possible," 14th placed Raikkonen is told.

In successive corners, Latifi is passed by Vettel and then Raikkonen.

A 28.257 from Hamilton as he builds a 2.8s lead.

"Kevin is close behind Gio," Grosjean is told, "let's try to build a gap while they're both distracted."

However, Magnussen is in fact passed by Vettel, the German forcing the Dane wide in the process. Indeed, Magnussen, on mediums, is subsequently passed by Raikkonen.

Running together, Vettel and Raikkonen hunt down Giovinazzi.

Lap 58 sees another fastest lap from Hamilton (28.145).

Kvyat wants to retire his car, but is told to stay out.

Eyeing that point, Verstappen goes quickest in S1 as they begin the final lap.

Ricciardo calls for radio silence.

Hamilton wins, while Verstappen takes second and fastest lap, and Ricciardo claims the final podium place.

Perez is fourth, ahead of Sainz, Gasly, Leclerc, Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Giovinazzi.

Vettel is eleventh, ahead of Raikkonen, Magnussen, Latifi and Kvyat.

So, while the race did indeed provide a few surprises, in many ways it was business as usual.

Bottas' retirement - Mercedes first of the season - effectively ends his championship hopes - such as they were - while Verstappen clearly didn't have the equipment to mount the challenge we'd hoped for.

Hamilton equals Michael Schumacher's record of 91 wins, while Kimi Raikkonen becomes the sport's most experienced driver.

If nothing else, Hamilton's win will allow us to create a silly headline playing on the name of the event, but as the sport's owners continue to seek ways of spicing up the racing, one cannot help but feel that in addition to some of the recent penalties, whether the safety car was really needed and certainly for so long.

None of which should detract from another world class performance from Hamilton as he and Mercedes cruise to another brace of titles.

Check out our Sunday gallery from the Nurburgring, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 11/10/2020
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