Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Hockenheimring, 2019

Verstappen spins and wins Mercedes’ race

2019 German Grand Prix review

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Ever-changing conditions made the German Grand Prix a lottery. Max Verstappen emerged from the carnage to give Red Bull-Honda their second win in three races.

Standing in the rain

It was as if the 2019 German Grand Prix had picked up five minutes after last year’s podium ceremony at the Hockenheimring. Lewis Hamilton was on top, and it was tipping down.

Driving their reconnaissance laps on a soaked circuit, Hamilton was one of a handful of drivers who braced the intermediate tyre. However when race control elected to send the field away behind the Safety Car, the question of which tyre to start on became moot. It would be ‘full’ wets all round.

Since 2017 the race director has had the option of ordering a standing start after commencing a race behind a Safety Car. But in the two-and-a-half years since the rule was introduced, many commentators appeared to have forgotten it, and led many fans to believe the race would have a rolling start. Instead, after three laps the field formed up on a still very wet grid to start the race.

Start, Hockenheimring, 2019
Hamilton led a delayed standing start
The field sent huge rooster tails of spray into the air as the lights went out. Everyone got away from their positions, though some markedly better than others. In particularly those starting off the racing line, where few if any drivers had thought to run during the pace laps, got away poorly. So Hamilton led the field from pole position followed by Valtteri Bottas from third and Kimi Raikkonen from fifth.

From the front row of the grid, Max Verstappen slipped to fourth place. Nico Hulkenberg emerged from the Spitzkehre a nose ahead of Romain Grosjean after winning a thrilling three-wide tussle with the Haas driver and Carlos Sainz Jnr’s McLaren.

Charles Leclerc capitalised on that fight to take up sixth behind Hulkenberg, followed by Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen and Sergio Perez. But the Racing Point driver’s race did not last much longer.

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Verstappen pressures Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hockenheimring, 2019
Hamilton led the first restart while Magnussen briefly ran second
Perez and Magnussen swapped 10th place on the second lap, but coming out of turn 10 the Racing Point driver swapped ends and planted the back end of his RP19 into the wall. The Safety Car was summoned. It was going to be a long afternoon for Bernd Maylander.

The track was still very wet but Pirelli’s full wet weather tyres are little loved by the drivers, and most of the field pitted to get rid of them. Magnussen, Lance Stroll, Lando Norris and the Williams drivers were the only exceptions.

This meant that when the race restarted Hamilton had the useful buffer of Magnussen’s Haas between him and the chasing pack. It wasn’t there long, however: The VF-19 was demoted by Bottas, then Verstappen, who had passed Raikkonen before the Safety Car appeared. Leclerc and Hulkenberg came next, having also dispatched Stroll’s Racing Point.

Over the next laps it looked like business as usual for Hamilton, who despite suffering what Mercedes described as “flu” gradually edged away from his pursuers. The team had decked its W10 chassis out in a retro livery and were wearing fifties-style kit, celebrating 125 years of motor sport at their home race. The prospects of another post-race celebration looked good.

Behind Hamilton, Verstappen was just about able to keep in touch with Bottas, and drew a little closer to the Mercedes after Daniel Ricciardo’s expired Renault power unit caused a brief Virtual Safety Car period.

But Mercedes came unstuck as the conditions became seriously tricky. The track was sufficiently dry for slick tyres to be a realistic option, but the radars were threatening further rain. This is one of the most challenging decisions teams can face in wet conditions.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Hockenheimring, 2019
A wet track and slick tyres caught Verstappen out
Verstappen went aggressive, not only pitting early but putting on a set of medium compound tyres. The harder rubber would take longer to warm up, but should have seen him through to the end had the track continued to dry. But he struggled to switch them on and performed a dramatic 360-degree spin in the Motodrom.

Bottas came in on the next lap, took the same tyres and rejoined the track ahead of Verstappen. Leclerc, who had taken a second set of intermediates during the VSC period and used them to close on the leaders, opted for the softs.

Hamilton was similarly unconvinced by Mercedes’ initial call for wet tyres. After some to-ing and fro-ing, the team agreed to fit softs instead. By the time he came in another VSC period had been triggered when Norris’s McLaren came to stop, but it cleared as Hamilton arrived in the pits, meaning he would lose more time relative to his rivals. But that soon proved the least of his troubles.

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Mercedes throw one-two away

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Hockenheimring, 2019
Leclerc threw away his victory chance
As Hamilton turned onto the Parabolika the Safety Car was scrambled. Leclerc, who had already skirted disaster at the end of the lap once before, pushed his luck too far on lap 28, and skidded into a barrier. “It’s still slippery as hell,” Hamilton remarked as he struggled to warm his soft slicks at reduced speed. “This tyre feels risky,” he added as he reached the Motodrom.

Rounding turn 15 he found no purchase at all and understeered off. For a moment it seemed he might smack into Leclerc’s empty Ferrari – its driver was walking away from the crash scene as Hamilton went off nearby – but he reduced his sped just enough to bounce lightly off the barrier and keep going. But his front wing was damaged, which meant a return visit to the pits. Rather than risk another painfully slow lap on his slicks, Hamilton bypassed the pit entry bollard to get to his team sooner, incurring a five-second time penalty.

Mercedes were waiting for Bottas at the time and had to scramble to find fresh tyres plus a new front wing for Hamilton. The result was a 50-second pit stop, which might have been a respectable time when they made their world championship debut in 1954, but left Hamilton down in fifth.

From there things just snowballed. Bottas missed out on his chance to take the lead as Verstappen got back onto intermediates the lap before him, jumping ahead. He and Hamilton missed a chance to take fresh sets of intermediates during a subsequent Safety Car period. Mercedes didn’t want Hamilton to lose further places by serving his five-second time penalty in the pits.

As the track dried further stops for slick tyres became unavoidable. But both drivers found the car a handful at turn one. Hamilton, his car still bearing damage from his off, nearly spun there once, then did lose control two laps later. At that point he urged the team to retire his car, but was told to press on.

Bottas’s race, and his chance to take a huge bite out of Hamilton’s points lead, ended at turn one on lap 57. He lost control of the car in much the same way Hamilton did, but Bottas made it all the way to the barrier.

This might have given Hamilton the opportunity to take a points finish ‘on the road’. However he lost precious seconds behind the Safety Car amid confusion over whether he was being waved past. That done, once he was able to close the gap he was almost on the tail of George Russell’s Williams as the race restarted. By the time the chequered flag dropped, the former race leader had made it back to 11th place.

Mixed fortunes at Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Hockenheimring, 2019
Vettel nearly threw second place away
Mercedes’ and Leclerc’s losses were Sebastian Vettel’s gain. But the Ferrari driver made halting progress on his climb from last on the grid to the second step on the podium.

His start was excellent, moving immediately up to 14th, which became seventh after the first Safety Car period. But from there he seemed unable to get any further.

Vettel admitted afterwards he wasn’t happy with the feel of his intermediate tyres. He spent half the race stuck behind his former team mate Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

It wasn’t until the track began to dry out properly that he came to life. He swept past the battling Magnussen and Gasly for seventh on lap 52. He took Alexander Albon next, the Toro Rosso driver having a superb run in his first ever wet F1 race.

After the Bottas-triggered Safety Car, Vettel relieved Carlos Sainz Jnr of fourth place. Unlike most of his rivals, the McLaren driver had made life easy for his pit crew, coming in just three times on a day when a five-stop strategy was typical.

Vettel’s next targets were two drivers who called the final pit stop perfectly and cashed in massively. Stroll was trailing around in 14th when he gambled on a Safety Car appearance to switch to soft tyres. His timing proved perfect – unlike, he admitted afterwards, all his other pit stops – and he briefly led the field (though not officially).

Stroll’s podium hopes ended when Vettel sailed past him two laps from home, DRS open, the pass completed long before the braking zone. The next time around Vettel did exactly the same to the unlikely occupant of second place: Daniil Kvyat, who had been running ninth before taking the same gamble as Stroll.

Kvyat nearly got his second place back on the final tour. Vettel ran wide as they came into the Mercedes arena, and the Toro Rosso was on his tail as they rounded turn 10. Kvyat chases him into the Motodrom where Vettel took it very cautiously. He backed off at turn 11 and again at turn 12 – the scene of his humiliating retirement from last year’s race – bringing Kvyat within touching distance of the SF90. There was no repeat of Vettel’s 2018 heartbreak, however, and he collected a deserved second place.

Midfielders seize their chance

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Hockenheimring, 2019
Hulkenberg lost another podium chance
Kvyat and Stroll were the big winners in the midfield. Sainz, who had spun off at 15 earlier in the race, recovered to take fifth.

The treacherous run-off at the outside of the corner, formed from a drag strip, proved a major talking point of the race. It became like an ice rink in the rain. As well as being the scenes of incidents for Leclerc and Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen also went off at the same corner.

The slippery surface also claimed Nico Hulkenberg. F1’s holder of the record for most race starts without a podium appearance chalked up another near-miss. Having run second at one stage he was holding fourth place when he touched the run-off and skated helplessly into a barrier.

That crash promoted Albon to fourth place, before he lost out to his team mate and Stroll’s pit stop gambles. Sixth place was a career-best result and an incredible achievement under the circumstances, but it wasn’t hard to understand why he felt a little deflated.

Albon robustly held off Gasly, the Red Bull stablemates tangling with three laps to go, ending Gasly’s race. After his fine run at Silverstone, this no-score meant the gap between him and Verstappen has reached 107 points.

That moved Raikkonen and team mate Antonio Giovinazzi up to seventh and eighth place. But after the race a technical inspection of their cars revealed their clutch performance during the start was outside acceptable parameters, intended to prevent teams mimicking traction control. Both were handed 30-second penalties.

This promoted the two Haas drivers who, incredibly, had managed to collide again. Grosjean had rocketed up behind his team mate and tried to pass him around the outside of the Spitzkehre. Magnussen ran wide and the pair made contact. “This guy is incredible,” fumed Grosjean, “He will never learn.”

“Let me by, guys,” Grosjean added. Team principal Guenther Steiner made the call. “Let Grosjean by,” Magnussen was instructed, with the words, “message from team principal” appended to the message. “Understood,” he replied, and blended out of the throttle on the next straight.

The Alfa penalties promoted Hamilton to ninth and Robert Kubica to the final points place, his first since returning to Formula 1. It was a bitter result for his team mate George Russell, however, who had been the lead Williams for much of the race and tried to persuade the team put slicks on his car at the same time Stroll and Kvyat did.

Auf Wiedersehen Hockenheim?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Hockenheimring, 2019
Verstappen took his second win in three races
For the second year in a row, rain at the Hockenheimring produced a race of pure drama. Verstappen’s victory and Vettel’s climb to second proved a popular result with the crowd, many of which were in Ferrari red or Verstappen orange.

But the chance Hockenheim will play host to F1 again next year seems slim. The race does not yet have a place on the 2020 F1 calendar. This year’s race was bankrolled by Mercedes, who took over title sponsorship of the race to promote their motorsport heritage.

In the rapidly-changing conditions Mercedes, who have made unflustered, error-free wins their trademark this year, finally came unglued. And once again it was not Ferrari who capitalised, but the inspired Verstappen and the rapidly-improving Red Bull-Honda.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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37 comments on “Verstappen spins and wins Mercedes’ race”

  1. That was one of those strange races where actually, thinking about it, there were no standout performers at all. Everyone got lucky somehow, or were being outclassed before conditions changed, or crashed out.

    1. That’s the downside to the more crazy rainy races. They’re entertaining, but there a huge amount of luck to them, both on the strategy and the driver performance side.

      E.g. in general Verstappen drove a great race, but he DID bodge the start, and he DID spin (partially due to Red Bull somehow thinking that hard-to-heat medium tyres were the way to go), which is not exactly a performance that has “rain specialist” written all over it.

      1. The start was compromised due to Honda/software issues… they just can’t get it right yet. Honda are still working on getting the engine modes working perfectly. Onboard footage showed the revs completely dropped…no lights on the dash, if the wheels would spin than there would be maximum revs.

        As for the spin… Max was on cold yellows which was tricky and was searhing for limits where it would be the least risky.
        He didn’t go overboard in that significant high speed corner where about every driver went off, a meassured spin with no results whatsover.

        Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but it was the best drive of the day…especially pace wise

        1. Nice excuses @Matn, I haven’t heard those before…

          Verstappen is starting to mature, stop making excuses for him. He doesn’t need that help anymore. Next step first pole.

        2. ‘A measured spin’. What the hell is that? Is that like his ‘measured off’ he did after passing Seb at Copse. You know; the one where he passed Seb and then went completely off track which allowed Seb to catch him up and hit him up the rear? Or is that like his ‘measured starts’ where he drops back?
          Like Hamilton; and very few others, he goes at it eleven tenths, and then slowly dials it back. He has the skill to do that, and live with the consequences; good or bad, of pushing the envelope.
          After years of corporate we finally have another Hamilton; without even the smooth edges, to enjoy. So buckle up and enjoy the ride; he doesn’t need you or anyone else glossing over his errors and trying to turn him into someone he isn’t. ‘Measured spin’? Jeez.

      2. @losd plus he got really really lucky with the timing of the safety car when he jumped Bottas. If it hadn’t been for that he would have ended up way down the field. He struggled much more than any other driver at that stage. Apart from Leclerc and Hamilton, obviously…

        1. @tflb Oh really, lucky with the SC? So tell me, weren’t Bottas/Merc allowed to pit during that SC?

          It’s all about making the right decisions at the right moment, but more so decisions are easy to make if the team’s driver is on top of his game and in attack mode instead of being forced to defend all the time.

        2. He struggled much more than any other driver at that stage. Apart from Leclerc and Hamilton, obviously…

          .. read that again… and again. Its quite funny you now ;)
          Het struggled on his yellow tire, a bad choice from the team.
          He had three SC that every time cost him his large gap he builded. Three brilliant restarts ( two off wich excatly on the same spot and still surprising BOT ;)
          VER did a great drive.. his spin was neatly recovered and had no influence on the race whatsoever .

      3. @Losd
        When you can spin like that without leaving the track and pointing your car in exactly the right direction when you’re done spinning has “F1 racing monster wet and dry” written all over it.

      4. Agreed. Saw some sites call Max’s drive a “masterclass”, which for me is a reach. Max did the best of all those out there, but a true masterclass is when you don’t put a foot wrong. Hamilton in Brazil 2016 or Silverstone 2008 are true wet-weather masterclasses.

        1. Hamilton in Brazil 2016 was indeed flawless, but he had won from pole so he had no one in front: no spray, no overtakes to make, no tires to manage behind another car. Also, there was continuous rain (as far as I remember) which is always easier to judge than changing conditions like in Hockenheim. If anything was trully masterclass or worth remembering from that race in 2016, it was Max’s drive from 14 to 3rd in less than 10 laps.

          1. Hmm, being out front is a double edged sword. You don’t get the spray, but you’re also the first to have to go through track sections, that are changing lap to lap.

            If you re-watch that race, you’ll see that most of the front-running drivers spent the majority of their race with decent gaps in front of them, such that spray wasn’t much of a factor.

            Verstappen’s late charge was exciting, and just taking those laps I’d call it a masterclass. However, I was talking about masterclass *races*. As such, with Verstappen’s spin and near brush with wall in that race, as he was trying to chase down Hamilton (after disposing of Rosberg quite easily), I can’t classify that as a masterclass race.

            Hamilton though, was the *ONLY* driver to not make one single mistake that race. Every other driver did. Both Seb and Fernando had uncharacteristic spins heading up the hill at the end of the lap.

            In the end, it’s just my opinion on what constitutes a masterclass performance. Personally I think it should be a rare feat, while others are okay with watering down the criteria for it.

    2. Ah, taking away credits from the drivers who were mature enough to keep their car in 1 piece, unlike some world champions.. Was to be expected. A lottery? Right… Why not give credit where credit is due? HAM/BOT/LEC just botched it. HAM’s switch to softs happened even after VER started the whole slick parade when he switched to the even harder medium tyre and still didn’t botch it (with the exception of a controlled spin, similar to this Brasil save). HAM is great but he himself was lousy this GP. Can happen, but everyone (incl. HAM) is scrambling to put a big part of the blame on the team. Very very childish.

      1. Controlled spin – ROFL

        If that happened at any other corner on the circuit, he’d have been in the wall, like his ‘controlled spin’ in Austria.

        1. Yet it didn’t, and he won the race. I just loved how calm he was during the spin. No sudden jerks of the wheel to correct for it. Just let the car do it’s thing and a few wheel movements and carry on.

          1. Just like Hamiltons ‘Controlled, masterful spin’ in Turn 1?

            Verstappen got lucky, like Hamilton did.

          2. @N, HAM crashed his car.. nothing controlled about that. ( apart from lots of other small and bigger mistakes he survived) Btw, HAM was lucky because his speed was so low behind the SC. He almost hit the car of LEC..

          3. @erikje, @N specifically was talking about Hamilton’s spin coming out of turn 1. It was pure luck that Hamilton didn’t crash into the wall, but Valtteri did. They were near identical spins at an identical part of the track.

            Max’s spin was at the best possible spot, and even there, with his rear flying up over the curb, there could easily have been race-ending damage there. Sometimes you take a big whack and can keep going, while other times a glancing hit can put paid to your race.

  2. See Bernie was right.

    Just add sprinklers to “spice up the show” lol.

    I’m amazed Liberty haven’t got them on their agenda given that they are so he’ll bent on having a “show”.

  3. @dbradock They have it firmly on the agenda. Just fine tuning for unintended consequences like mucking up the A list celebs (or Lances’) hairdos.

    1. @jjohn – I’ve read in a few places a passing comment about Lances’ hairdo, what’s that all about? He’s not put BWT pink in his hair or something, has he?

      Disclaimer – I missed qualifying, and watched the race only from lights to flag, so if it was covered in any other part of the broadcast, I missed it.

  4. Sooo… With Renault now being beaten by Torro Rosso in the constructors standings, can we please get some heat on Abiteboul / the team in general? What on Earth is going on there. Ricciardo recently said there is investment taking place, and he has no idea what’s going on/why it’s not paying off…

    Does anybody??? For years now they’ve been painting the picture that they are moving forward, but this year is the clearest example that they’re dead still, if not falling backwards.

    To me, it’s perfectly clear, that Red Bull were right all along and Renault should have listened years ago with Ilien. Red Bull got hammered time and time again for saying the Renault engines were simply not good enough, yet here we are… Renault being beaten by the Honda powered Torro Rosso…

    1. @skipgamer – Renault are also being beaten by their customer (again!), so its not just the engine. The only thing in Renault’s favour are their drivers.

      1. You are right.. they have a lousy engine and a lousy chassis.
        Not to mention a lousy teammanager.

    2. Well put @skipgamer. So many people bagged RBR for saying how bad Renault were (or more particularly how unwilling Renault was to even come close to addressing their issues) but here we are – nothings really any different.

      Sooner or later Abiteboul has to go – they desperately need someone to push things along and not be satisfied with abject mediocrity.

    3. The rumour is that the next Honda iteration will add 25 bhp. Renault might then be the worst engine.

      Man, did Alonso ever screw McLaren in pushing them to ditch Honda. McLaren needs to be a factory team to get back to winning. They basically acted as a test bed for the Red Bull-Honda partnership. Big mistake.

  5. I don’t think the teammate scenario at Haas is as bad as everybody is making it seem, the contact was minor and the conditions were very tricky. Also Magnussen did let Grosjean through without any hassle.

    I’ll alsk reiterate how much Albon and Sainz deserved a podium chance. They were flawless (apart from Sainz spin which he more than made up for) throughout the entire race.

    It’s sad to see Mercedes getting the heat for the slicks call when it wasn’t their choice.

    1. Magnussen told the team on the radio to think about what they wanted to do because he’s not comfortable racing with Grosjean. I think it’s pretty clear HAAS must get rid of at least one of their drivers.

      1. @skipgamer

        Yea I heard those, but still I didn’t feel any extreme stuff… or maybe I’m just really downplaying it

        1. In the context of this race, their coming together was mild, I’ll admit. Put in context of their recent history, a different picture emerges – one of hot-headedness and an unwillingness to obey your principal, and that is rather damning.

    2. Albon’s defensive move on Gasly in closing stages was questionable at best. He certainly wasn’t as good as Kvyat on Sunday.

      1. True, that was a hiccup

    3. Magnussen did let Grosjean through without any hassle

      He got a call from the pitwall asking him to let Grosjean past, suffixed with “message from team principal”.

    4. Whose call was the slicks choice?

  6. Day after day it becomes clear that Verstappen is best race driver of the grid. The only question left is Leclerc.

  7. By the way.. i really enjoyed the perfectly performed slapstick pitstop by Mercedes.
    The running ” headless chickens” in the fitting cloths, fantastic choreography . Perfect performance!
    A truly fitting act to celebrate the 125 years motorsport by Mercedes. The board of directors will be pleased!

  8. Maxs race was once again saved by the red but pit strategy, god max and red bull are probably gonna ruin f1 worse then red bull and vettel did

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