Lewis Hamilton claimed his second Grand Prix win of 2011 in an exhilarating race at the Nurburgring.
Hamilton fought throughout the race with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber in a battle of wits in the pits and guts on the track.
Webber bogged down at the start and Hamilton out-dragged him on the run to the first corner. Behind them Alonso dived to the inside and took Vettel for third place.
Vettel briefly took third after Alonso went off at turn two on the second lap. But a few laps later he surrendered the position and shortly after made a mistake of his own, spinning at high speed at the RTL Kurve.
Webber hunted down Hamilton and pounced as the McLaren driver ran wide at the chicane. But Hamilton fought back and squeezed down the inside of Webber going into turn one.
Red Bull strategy got Webber back into the lead – he arrived in the pits before Hamilton and despite being held up on his out lap, was quick enough on his next tour to get ahead.
Hamilton emerged from the pits with Alonso in his wheel tracks to find Webber in front of him, chasing Felipe Massa, who was yet to pit, into turn one.
The strategy that worked for Webber at the first round of pit stops failed the second time – Hamilton came out narrowly ahead of the Red Bull, edging Webber onto the kerbs at turn two to stay ahead.
But the next time by Alonso, who had been third, emerged from the pits ahead of both of them. Hamilton was close at hand and drew along the outside of the Ferrari at turn two.
This was the moment that decided the race. Alonso gave Hamilton more room than Webber had received, and the McLaren was through into the lead.
Last-lap pit stops
Hamilton made a rapid escape, pulling out more than a second on Alonso over the rest of the lap. Despite knowing he would need to make a final stop to switch to the much slower medium tyres, Hamilton drew away from his two pursuers.
The teams had been wary of switching to the harder tyres, but in the end it proved not quite as slow as they had expected. This time Hamilton was the first of the three to pit, and though Alonso stayed out hoping the McLaren would hit trouble, it proved to be in vain.
Vettel arrived in fourth after a troubled race, part of which was spent with the brake bias wound forward due to a problem with his car. He spent over half the race tracking Massa’s Ferrari, trying to find a way past.
The pair finally made their switch to medium tyres together on the final lap. A slow change by Massa’s crew handed Vettel fourth place.
Their battle should have been joined by Jenson Button, who made a late first pit stop having been stuck behind Vitaly Petrov after the start. But he retired with an hydraulic problem shortly before half distance.
Adrian Sutil finished sixth after a great drive in his home race, the highest driver to finish using two pit stops. That elevated him on front of the two Mercedes drivers.
Michael Schumacher had been looking for a way past his team mate when he had a very similar spin to Vettel at the same corner. He finished 9.9 seconds behind Nico Rosberg.
Kamui Kobayashi rose to ninth from 17th on the grid and Vitaly Petrov claimed the final point after running a long first stint which saw him lose several places.
Just outside the points were Sergio Perez and Jaime Alguersuari. Paul di Resta finished less than half a second behind the Toro Rosso after being tipped into a spin by Nick Heidfeld on the first lap.
Heidfeld later retired after tangling with the other Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi, who squeezed him off on the approach to the chicane. Buemi picked up a puncture and finished 15th behind Pastor Maldonado.
Heikki Kovalainen with 16th, two laps in front of Karun Chandhok, the last runner who had a spin during the race.
In between them were the Virgins of Timo Glock and Jerome D’Ambrosio, and the sole HRT of Daniel Ricciardo. His team mate joined Rubens Barrichello in retirement earlier on.
Hamilton’s win has made little difference to Vettel’s points margin. Any of the top three finishers might hope this is a turning point in their seasons, but they’re going to have to do a lot more winning before Vettel has anything to worry about.
2011 German Grand Prix
Image © McLaren