Germany has given a lot to the world of F1 - Michael Schumacher, the most successful driver in F1, Sebastian Vettel, a four-time World Champion besides Nico Rosberg who beat Hamilton in a tightly contested title battle in 2016. Who can forget the contributions of drivers such as Ralf Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Nick Heidfeld, Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil, Nico Hulkenberg, Andre Lotterer and Wolfgang von Trips!
Hockenheimring and Nurburgring were venues loved by the purists of the sport. The exclusion of the German GP from the 2020 F1 calendar was a shock to one and all. However, the onset of the pandemic COVID-19 brought about the rescheduling of the calendar with Nurburgring making an unlikely return after seven years. The legendary circuit would host what got known as "The Eifel GP".
The pandemic hit the F1 paddock again, this time two members of the Mercedes AMG F1 team testing positive. One test was inconclusive while four other team members weren't allowed to take any part for the rest of the weekend. Six replacements got called in by the team.
While Kimi Raikkonen would become the most experienced driver in the sport on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton was chasing his 91st victory to equal the number of wins of Michael Schumacher.
There was a lot of excitement and hype around the appearance of Mick Schumacher in FP1, a Ferrari Academy Driver and Michael Schumacher's son; the German slated to take the wheel of the Alfa Romeo C39. His academy mate Callum Ilott would get a chance to drive the 2020 Haas car, giving Ferrari an idea of the capabilities of the duo.
Nurburgring, like its older brother the Nordschleife, is a fast-flowing yet unforgiving circuit with changeable weather conditions. The majority of the field had never raced here in an F1 car which made the challenge even more daunting!
How did the teams and the driver fare at the Eifel GP? Time for a quick recap!
It wasn't the best time of the year to host an F1 race at Nurburgring. The 24 hours Nurburgring, the GT endurance event held a fortnight before the F1 weekend suffered from stoppages due to rain, and the signs of F1 suffering a similar fate seemed ominous.
Bad weather hit both the practice sessions on Friday with a heavy mist/fog settling over the circuit and its vicinity. Intermittent rainfall compounded matters, and the FIA delayed the start of the sessions multiple times. The medical helicopter wasn't able to fly due to the conditions prevalent over the track and the route to the nearest medical facility or hospital ( Koblensk ). As a result, running on Friday had to be called off, and the fans were left disappointed.
Schumacher Jr. and Ilott would need to wait for another day at another circuit to prove their F1 worthiness.
The cancellation of running on Friday meant that Free Practice on Saturday would be a busy affair for all teams. They would need to manage the tyre allocations to avoid jeopardizing the sets available for the race ( in the event of inclement weather ).
Clear skies greeted the teams on Saturday morning and what followed was a busy Free Practice 3. Racing Point had a difficult start to the day with Stroll reported as being unwell. Stroll's unavailability left them with Perez alone for FP3 and the need for calling in a replacement urgently.
Thankfully, Nico Hulkenberg made himself available and drove down to Nurburgring at short notice.
George Russell went sliding across the grass while Vettel and Latifi suffered a spin at the last chicane. The track temperatures were low due to the chilly weather around, and Hamilton had a couple of lock-ups while Norris needed something to keep his hands warm in the cockpit.
Bottas set the fastest time of FP3, a tenth clear of his team-mate Hamilton. Ferrari got upgrades to the track, and both cars were in the top 6, split by Verstappen. Norris was P7 for McLaren while Perez set the 8th fastest time in the lone Racing Point. Albon and Gasly completed the top 10. Ocon, Kvyat and Sainz finished just outside the top 10 in a closely contested midfield while Raikkonen was 14th for Alfa Romeo. The Haas drivers were 15th and 16th with Russell getting the better of Giovinazzi and Latifi.
The lack of data due to no running on Friday meant that all teams would need to adopt an aggressive approach to Qualifying. However, there seemed to be no threat to the Mercedes at the top with Bottas enjoying a cleaner session than Hamilton.
Racing Point officially announced Hulkenberg as Stroll's replacement for the weekend, the German driving the RP20 for the first time at Nurburgring in Qualifying. Hulkenberg needed to use Q1 for learning the limits of his car and wasn't likely to make it into Q2 which would compromise the chances of a strong weekend for Racing Point. The team had this driver pairing for the first time since 2016.
Q1 got underway with Russell and Perez opting for medium tyres while the rest of the field chose softs. Russell ditched his medium tyres after a sighting lap and switched to the softs as well. Gasly came to an abrupt stop outside his pit-box when a tyre warmer blanket got stuck to the left front tyre. Thankfully, the mechanics dislodged it in time. Kevin Magnussen had his lap time deleted due to exceeding of track limits at turn 4.
Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Leclerc, Albon and Ricciardo were the top 6 after the first runs with Magnussen, Raikkonen, Latifi, Giovinazzi and Hulkenberg in the drop zone. Many drivers had fuel for another run, and the track was evolving as more rubber got laid. Latifi improved to 13th before returning to pits. Barring the top 3, the rest of the field headed out again in the final five minutes of Q1. Grosjean set a quick lap only to have it deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 4.
Norris and Ricciardo got into the top 6 while Magnussen and Giovinazzi were into the top 16. Grosjean's lap time deletion cost him dearly as he failed to make it into Q2. Russell, Latifi, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg were the other eliminations.
Raikkonen would be disappointed to be on the last row of the grid for his record-breaking 323rd race start. Hulkenberg's predicament came as no surprise, the German doing his best with the limited running he got.
Giovinazzi made his first Q2 appearance of 2020, the Italian beating his more experienced team-mate as he fights for a racing seat in 2021.
The top teams had a tough decision to make at the start of Q2 and Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault ( with Ricciardo ) decided to roll the dice, sending their drivers out on medium tyres. Kvyat meanwhile, exited the pits with a used set of soft tyres for his first run. Verstappen, Hamilton, Albon, Norris, Ocon and Sainz were the top 6 at the end of the first runs with Vettel, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Kvyat and Gasly in the drop zone. The top 6 were separated by a second while Bottas, Leclerc and Ricciardo were on the cusp of elimination, their decision to use the medium tyres not bringing the desired result.
The Ferrari cars were carrying extra fuel onboard nevertheless, and both drivers decided to do another flying lap. However, they were unable to improve, eventually returning to the pits for a fresh set of tyres.
All drivers ( barring Albon ) were out on the soft tyres for the final minutes of Q2, Bottas trying to improve after a mediocre first attempt. Kvyat and Vettel fought over track position on their out-laps. The lap times improved thanks to "track evolution" and Hamilton set the fastest time of Q2, ahead of Verstappen and Bottas. Ricciardo and Leclerc improved to 4th and 5th while Albon got into Q3 with the 6th fastest time. Perez, Sainz and Ocon completed the top 10.
Vettel failed to make it into Q3 despite having the upgrades; the German would, however, have a free tyre choice come Sunday. Both the Alpha Tauri drivers got eliminated along with Giovinazzi and Magnussen at the end of Q2.
The final shootout got underway ( Q3 ) with everyone barring Perez exiting the pits to set banker laps. Verstappen drew first blood, going six hundredths clear of Bottas' best effort. Hamilton could only manage third on his banker lap, another two-hundredths adrift. Perez was out of sync with the rest of the field and set only one representative lap time.
Albon set the 4th fastest time from Leclerc and Perez followed by Renault powered cars of Ocon, Norris, Sainz and Ricciardo.
The battle for pole position was hotting up with the contenders on fresh tyres as the clock ran down. Everyone was improving on their final runs and Hamilton was the first to cross the line in what seemed to be another pole position for the Briton. However, Bottas had other ideas and pipped his team-mate to pole! Verstappen was on a quick lap as well, but a mediocre third sector relegated him to the second row. A stunning lap by Leclerc catapulted him to 4th in his Ferrari. Albon was a commendable 5th from Ricciardo and Ocon. Norris, Perez and Sainz completed the top 10.
Mercedes completed another front-row lockout despite the limited running on the weekend. Bottas had the best platform to fight for victory on Sunday and was going through a mini-resurgence. Hamilton would leave no stone unturned to make things right on Sunday while Verstappen knew he had a car which had the speed to fight for a win on race day. Albon ensured that his team-mate was not alone in the fight at the front. The upgrades brought in by Ferrari were doing wonders on the race track, and Leclerc hoped to capitalize on the opportunity. Vettel had a disappointing Qualifying but had the experience and talent to turn it around at his home race. Renault and McLaren had the chance of scoring more points than Racing Point in the Constructors' Championship. Alpha Tauri hoped to make it into the points scoring positions after a challenging day in Qualifying. Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams seemed destined to remain backmarkers in the race.
McLaren changed the Power Unit on Norris' car on Saturday night, and it was within his allocation for the season.
Pirelli chose the C2, C3 and C4 tyre compounds for the weekend and even though it was cloudy, the rain stayed away for the race start.
Vettel, Gasly, Kvyat and Grosjean chose the medium tyres while the rest of the drivers outside the top 10 were on the softs.
The race got underway, and Hamilton had a quicker getaway compared to that of Bottas. The Briton braked late and went wide at turn one, sending Bottas even wider. The latter didn't relent and kept his foot down into turn two, retaking the lead. Meanwhile, Verstappen came under intense pressure from Ricciardo but managed to hold onto third. It was a poor start for Albon who was down in 6th. Further down the field, Grosjean had lost four positions while Giovinazzi and Hulkenberg were up into P11 and P17 respectively.
Magnussen got past Gasly for P13 on ( lap 2 ) while Bottas pulled away from Hamilton, opening up a gap of 1.5 seconds. He then went on to set a series of fastest laps, pushing hard on the soft tyres. The trio at the front was pulling away while there was a train forming behind the Ferrari of Leclerc. Ricciardo was searching for a way past him, but the Monegasque positioned his car well on the track. Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on the 7th lap while Gasly went wheel-to-wheel with Magnussen for 13th but failed to get past.
McLaren informed Sainz that there was a prediction of light rain while Albon who had suffered a flat-spot on his left front tyre due to a lockup on the opening lap pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres on lap 8. He rejoined last after a slow stop with the front left tyre. On the track, Ricciardo got the job done, relegating Leclerc to 5th on lap 9. Norris came under pressure from Perez who tried an enthusiastic move at turn three only to back off later ( lap 10 ).
Leclerc, having flat-spotted his tyres from a mistake at turn one on lap 6, pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres, rejoining in 19th. Raikkonen followed suit rejoining in 20th and last. Gasly got past Magnussen for 10th while Vettel who was chasing Giovinazzi got spun around after he tried to take avoiding action from rear-ending the latter's car. His tyres got flat-spots as well, compromising his race strategy. The German pitted at the end of the lap for hard tyres, rejoining in 18th. Russell, in his Williams, switched to the medium tyres.
The lead at the front changed hands on lap 13! Bottas missed his braking point, had a massive lockup at turn one which allowed Hamilton to close up and muscle past him for the lead. The Finn had flat-spotted his tyres and needed to pit early to avoid compromising his race further. There was more drama at the back of the field. Vettel, Russell and Raikkonen were racing each other when Russell tried to get past Vettel at the turn one. The German held on, but Russell became vulnerable to an overtake from Raikkonen. Raikkonen to avoid hitting Vettel locked up his front tyre, losing the rear of his car and hitting the side of Russell's car when he tried to correct the slide; this sent Russell into a spin, the Briton suffering a puncture and rear suspension failure. The Stewards flagged the incident for investigation.
Bottas, unable to manage the flat spots on his tyres, pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres on lap 14, rejoining in 4th behind Ricciardo. Albon got past Magnussen for P12 while Gasly overtook Giovinazzi for 9th. Meanwhile, Leclerc relegated Grosjean to 17th. Magnussen and Latifi pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres while Bottas began his recovery drive with an overtake on Ricciardo for 3rd on lap 15. Giovinazzi pitted for medium tyres, rejoining in 15th while the Virtual Safety Car got deployed after Russell rolled to a stop at one of the run-off areas. Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo pitted under VSC, switching to the medium tyres with Verstappen having jumped Bottas after the first round of stops.
The Virtual Safety Car period was a brief one, and Kvyat ran onto the grass on turn 14, which compromised him into the final turn. Albon got past him for P10, but cut back across, ripping the front wing off the Russian's car. Kvyat now needed to complete an entire lap without his front wing, rapidly losing positions in the process. He switched to the hard tyres and a new front wing.
Disaster struck on lap 18. Bottas reported a loss of power and lost two places to Norris and Perez as he tried to arrest the issue with some changes in the settings. The problem seemed terminal, and the Finn returned to the pits and into retirement on lap 19. It was a Power Unit failure. Meanwhile, Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 20 while Leclerc got past Hulkenberg for P10.
Raikkonen got a ten-second time penalty for his incident with Russell earlier which the Finn served when he pitted for the second time in the race.
Hamilton, Verstappen, Norris, Perez, Ocon, Sainz, Ricciardo, Gasly, Albon and Leclerc were the top 10 at the end of lap 21.
The battle for 8th was hotting up with Albon trying to get past Gasly. The Frenchman put up a stoic defence causing Albon to lock up his tyres ( again ) at turn one. He suffered a flat spot on his second set of tyres and relayed to the team that the Alpha Tauri drivers were racing too hard with him. Ricciardo got past Ocon on lap 23 in what seemed to be a Renault going slow on track. Ocon had suffered a mechanical issue and limped back to the pits to retire from the race. Albon's mistake of taking out Kvyat's front wing got him a five-second time penalty which he wasn't able to serve as a stray stone had gotten into the exhaust of his car leading him to retire from the race on lap 25.
The powertrain issues continued to haunt other drivers, this time Norris reporting a loss of power ( lap 26 ), an issue which kept getting worse. McLaren discovered a sensor issue on the car and tried to guide Norris through some changes to the settings. The problem was worsening, and Norris got the instructions to manage it for the remainder of the race. Meanwhile, Leclerc got past Gasly for 7th ( lap 28 ).
Perez and Sainz pitted for a set of medium tyres on lap 29, rejoining in 7th and 9th respectively. Grosjean pitted for hard tyres, rejoining in 15th. Norris was due for his pit stop and switched to a fresh set of mediums on lap 30 while Hulkenberg followed suit a lap later. Perez got past Norris for 5th on lap 31 while Alpha Tauri called Gasly in to switch him to the medium tyres as well. Ferrari informed Leclerc that they were changing to "Plan C" while Hulkenberg overtook Latifi for 13th. Latifi lost another position to Grosjean a lap later while Norris was struggling with his issues as Sainz relegated him to 7th. Perez was now putting pressure on Leclerc for 4th and got past him just before the DRS Detection zone before the start-finish straight, but Leclerc fought back and reclaimed his position. Gasly overtook Magnussen for 11th while Latifi pitted for mediums, rejoining in 15th ( lap 35 ). Leclerc's defence didn't last long as Perez got past him before turn 13 on lap 36.
Hamilton reported issues of graining on his tyres while Leclerc and Magnussen ditched their existing sets for a new set of medium tyres. Giovinazzi who was doing a stellar job for Alfa Romeo in 7th pitted for another set of medium tyres on lap 38, rejoining in 13th. Meanwhile, Raikkonen lost three places in the span of two laps to Leclerc, Gasly and Hulkenberg as he tried to prolong his stint. Vettel suffered a similar fate to Raikkonen, the duo now out of the points-scoring positions. Vettel was also suffering from a flat spot on his hard tyres and switched to the soft tyres for his final stint on lap 43. Perez in 4th was honing in on Ricciardo, lap by lap, hoping to challenge him in the final stages of the race.
There was another twist on lap 44. Norris was unable to manage his sensor issue and came to a halt on the run-off area at turn 6 with smoke billowing out of the rear of his car. The Race Director decided to deploy the Safety Car!
Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Hulkenberg and Raikkonen all pitted under the Safety Car for a fresh set of soft tyres which would last them till the end of the race. Perez also switched to the same compound a lap later. The ten lapped cars were allowed to overtake and get back on the lead lap as the Safety Car did a few more laps around the track.
Racing resumed on lap 50, and it was a clean getaway for Hamilton. Verstappen got bogged down and came under pressure from Ricciardo, but managed to stay ahead. Grosjean, who hadn't pitted under Safety Car lost two places to Gasly and Hulkenberg while Leclerc got relegated to 7th by Gasly on lap 51. Hamilton set the fastest laps of the race ( back to back ) as he extended his lead at the front. DRS got enabled on lap 53, and Latifi lost 12th to Vettel and 13th to Raikkonen. Vettel was on the cusp of scoring points when he got past Magnussen on lap 55, the duo banging wheels in what was a feisty duel on track. Magnussen failed to fend off Raikkonen as well, getting relegated to 13th.
Hamilton set the fastest lap on the penultimate lap only to have it robbed off him by Verstappen on the final lap.
Nevertheless, no one could deny him the chance of equalling Michael Schumacher's record of wins in F1. The Briton took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Eifel GP, scoring the 91st win of his F1 career! Verstappen came home in 2nd, a few seconds adrift, and it was Ricciardo who took the final podium place, Renault returning to the podium for the first time since 2011! Perez was 4th for Racing Point, Sainz and Gasly completed the top 6. Leclerc was pleased with another strong showing for Ferrari in 7th while Hulkenberg finished a commendable 8th in the other Racing Point. It was the first points-scoring finish for Grosjean in 9th while Giovinazzi produced a stellar drive in his Alfa Romeo, fending off a late charge from Vettel to bag the final point. Vettel, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Latifi and Kvyat were the other classified finishers.
Hamilton and Verstappen were a class apart today. The duo would have lapped everyone up to P3 had there not been a Safety Car period. Bottas suffered another blow to his title aspirations with his Power Unit failure and needed to cover a deficit of 69 points in the upcoming rounds. Verstappen closed in on Bottas for P2 in the Championship, and it seems that this fight will go on till the end of the season. Ricciardo's hard work with Renault finally paid off, and the Australian would be hoping to do even better in the upcoming rounds. Perez did the best he could for Racing Point, but Hulkenberg, the "Driver of the Day", accomplished an unthinkable finish having spent less than 24 hours in the cockpit of the RP20 at Nurburgring. The German surely deserves a seat in the sport! Grosjean and Giovinazzi drove exceptionally well for their teams, and these drives will go a long way in improving their reputations within the paddock.
Mercedes had a bitter-sweet race with a chance of another one-two finish gone but extended their lead in the Constructors' Championship thanks to one Red Bull failing to finish the race due to mechanical issues. Renault was the 7th Constructor to score a podium finish in 2020; 2012 was the last time the sport had the same statistic. However, they lost points with Ocon's retirement. Racing Point would be pleased with the way their fortunes changed, especially with the finish Hulkenberg achieved, stepping in for Stroll who was unless. In a tightly contested midfield, McLaren would be ruing the retirement suffered by one of its cars. The double points-finish allowed Racing Point to jump to third in the Constructors' Championship. Ferrari's upgrades seem to be working, and the team would be hoping for better weekends in the upcoming races. Alpha Tauri capitalized on the slip-ups by the competitors while Haas and Alfa Romeo enjoyed a points-scoring weekend. Williams remains the only team yet to score a point in 2020.
Kimi Raikkonen completed 323 race starts, granting him the record of the "most experienced driver in F1." The Iceman keeps racing and doing what he loves.
Lewis Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher's record of race wins and was gifted a race-worn helmet ( from 2012 ) of Schumacher by Michael's son Mick Schumacher at parc-ferme. He could now become the most successful driver in the history of the sport with his next win.
The teams head to Portugal in a fortnight, to a track that has never hosted an F1 race before. One can only speculate the surprises in store for the contenders for the crown.
Bring on Portimao!!