Hockenheim: Lewis Hamilton regained the championship lead in unexpected and dramatic fashion on Sunday, winning the German Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel crashed while leading near the end.
Heavy rain played havoc late on at the Hockenheimring as Vettel misjudged a basic entry into a turn and slid over the gravel into the barriers with 15 laps to go.
The four-time Formula One champion started from pole position and seemed in control. He was livid with himself, kicking the gravel in frustration as he stepped out his car. His mishap opened the door wide open for Hamilton.
The British driver was fourth at the time of the crash, having started from 14th on the grid because of a hydraulic problem in qualifying.
“You’ve always got to believe. I just wanted to stay collected, stay calm,” said a delighted Hamilton, adding defiantly. “For those who don’t know me, now you do.”
Valtteri Bottas started and finished second on a great day for Mercedes, with Kimi Raikkonen taking third on a bad one for Ferrari.
Vettel’s incident led to a safety car coming out for several laps.
There was confusion at Mercedes, even with Hamilton out in front.
Hamilton was told to come into the pits, but ignored his mechanic screaming “In, in, in, in!” at him.
When the race resumed, with about 10 laps left, Bottas almost overtook Hamilton.
That did not go down well at a nervy Mercedes.
Shortly after, Bottas was firmly told on team radio to “hold position” and not challenge Hamilton, who secured his fourth win of the season and 66th overall.
“We had a bit of a battle after the safety car… Taking positives as a team, perfect result for us,” said Bottas, who added — seemingly half-heartedly — that he “understood” the team’s call.
Ferrari had made a similar call earlier on, at Raikkonen’s expense.
With a little more than 20 of the 67 laps to go, Raikkonen was leading Vettel — who was complaining of his tires overheating.
Ferrari’s senior performance engineer, Jock Clear, told Raikkonen not to hold up Vettel.
Raikkonen replied “I’m sorry but can you be direct? What do you want?” and then, after another indirect suggestion to let Vettel through, Raikkonen said “So you want me to let him (past)? Please. Just tell me.”
He eventually did, ending Raikkonen’s hopes of a first win since the season-opening Australian GP in 2013.
Asked about the instructions moments after the race, a rueful Raikkonen said “it wasn’t clear. I had the speed.”
Earlier, Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff has said he was concerned by Ferrari’s recent surge in outright power that has given them the initiative in the Formula One world championship.
Wolff said Ferrari had a half-second time advantage on the straights at the Hockenheimring.
“We were looking good through all kinds of corners, but we are not able to match their straight-line performance.
“Valtteri was exceptional in the third sector and this is why he was even closer to pole, but we just have to look at things and try to improve.”
He said that Ferrari “have a great power unit and huge performances”.
Ferrari’s recent performances have followed their introduction of a new engine at the Canadian Grand Prix in June while Mercedes delayed their new unit until the French Grand Prix.
Champions Mercedes had previously enjoyed an overall power advantage, which has been a key factor in their domination in recent seasons.
Wolff was not keen to support any suggestions that the new Ferrari unit’s extra power has come from questionable means.
An investigation by ruling body the International Motoring Federation (FIA) earlier this season cleared Ferrari of any wrongdoing in relation to the battery. However, the Ferrari factory team and their F1 customer teams — Haas and Force India — all gained from the introduction of new MGU-K (motor generator unit — kinetic) and energy store systems in Germany.
“I want to look at Mercedes and say is there anything that we’ve missed?” said Wolff. “How can we increase our power output on the ICE or from the battery or from the MGU-H?
“Whatever we can look at in order to have more power because, if we want to win this championship, or stay in the hunt of the championship, we’ve got a severe warning in terms of what we’ve seen.”