As befits a historic circuit, Hockenheimring delivered some stunning on-track action during the 2014 Formula 1 grand prix – but more so this particular year it rounded up a perfect sporting week for the hosts by handing the win to a German driver and a German team with a German engine – for the first time in history. But despite a predictable chequered flag result, the excitement of this year’s German Grand Prix was not exclusive to the local gentry.
Nico Rosberg can consider July 2014 one of the best months of his life – after getting married to his partner Vivian Sibold and celebrating Germany winning the World Cup, he then signed a new “multi-year” contract with Mercedes – to then go on and win his home grand prix for the first time. And he did so in a dominant fashion.
“…Getting married. That’s definitely the case. That was the best feeling,” he said in the post-race conference, and added: “But of course everything has been special… also this weekend with pole and the win. Just awesome.”
But the team radio did not record any crazy shouts of joy from the German – only a short and confident “Woohoo! Yes, thank you!” as he sealed a job well done.
With his team-mate rival Lewis Hamilton starting from the back of the grid, Rosberg’s only worry was the car reliability, remembering the painful gearbox failure a fortnight earlier that cut his championship lead to only four points’ advantage. But in Hockenheim everything ran smoothly for the German, from strong qualifying to a start-to-finish race lead on Sunday, when he crossed the line 20sec clear of Valtteri Bottas.
The Williams’ driver impressed once more with a collected yet determined approach that saw him claim his third podium finish in as many races. The delight was clear on his face when he received the trophy – unlike Hamilton, who looked rather uncomfortable on the third podium step, itching to make a runner.
In fact, the Brit drove a fantastic race, considering his disastrous Saturday session, when he crashed out of first stage of qualifying due to a break disc failure. By that time he had already managed to clock a fast enough time to promote him to Q2, but with an undriveable car he had to settle for 15. However, the brake problem resulted in damage to the gearbox which had to be changed, landing the Brit a five-place penalty, sending him further down the grid to a 20. start.
That didn’t faze the Brit as he charged forward and into the top 10 within the first half-dozen laps of the race. His side-to-side clashes with the Ferraris and the Red Bulls made for a gripping spectacle, while Hamilton’s fearless overtaking attempts came to show the Brit was in it to prove a point. But despite narrowing the gap to the front at a tremendous pace, his Mercedes eventually conceded to Bottas, crossing the line 2 sec adrift of the Finn.
As demonstrated in the last few races, Williams strengthened its position as as a serious title contender (if Mercedes were to suddenly lose all reliability at this stage of the season) when both of its drivers claimed the front row grid spots surrounding Rosberg on Saturday. It could well have been an equally successful Sunday afternoon if not for another strike of bad luck for Felipe Massa, who shot out of the competition on the first lap, when he collided with the McLaren of Kevin Magnussen in what the stewards deemed “a racing incident”. Terminology aside, the scene looked quite dangerous when the Williams flipped upside down and scraped the tarmac on the run-off area at the first corner, before flipping back onto its wheels. The Brazilian walked away unscathed, other than for the visible frustration for recording his third DNF (did not finish) this season – all on lap one and, seemingly, of no clear fault of his own.
“Luckily I am ok but I am not happy. I was in front going into the corner, and so to have another race ended by another driver is not easy.
“I am doing my best, the team are doing their best, and we just aren’t getting the chances we need,” Massa said after the race.
In the meantime, Magnussen drove away from the scene to finish in a rather unspectacular 9.place, right behind his team-mate Jenson Button, after raising the team’s hope for a podium finish with his 4. place qualifying.
Daniel Ricciardo was another causality in the Williams-McLaren crash as he had to run wide off track to avoid collision, costing him time and position; but he recuperated in the course of the afternoon from mid-grid on lap 3 to a 6. finish – only two spots behind his team-mate Sebastian Vettel, indicating Red Bull’s return to form in the championship battle – and demonstrating some unquestionable road skills of its drivers.
Indeed, a number of separate track action, involving all five world champions currently competing (and Ricciardo), held the spectators at the edge of their seats as the cars raced wheel-to-wheel, fighting for every position they could move up to – and not without causalities.
Kimi Raikkonen claimed that his performance was hampered by damage to his Ferrari from the squabbles: firstly on lap 12 when he fought for 8. position with Hamilton’s Mercedes and Ricciardo in a four-car train led by oblivious Nico Hulkenberg of Force India; and then two laps later, when the Finn was caught out by team-mate Alonso and Vettel.
A separate spat between former McLaren team-mates Button and Hamilton resulted in a front-wing damage to the Mercedes, which impacted his speed later in the race.
While in the closing stages Ricciardo kept trading places with Alonso for a number of laps, risking it all as sparks were seen flying underneath his chassis as he defended the 5. place, eventually having to give it away, just four laps from the finish. The Aussie didn’t let that one go easy, trying to reclaim the place and cross the line just 0.08 sec behind the Spaniard.
More than sparks affected Red Bull’s sister team when Danil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso caught fire on lap 44, forcing the Russian to flee the ball of fire his car had turned into. The young rookie was definitely more angry for the loss of potential points after his 8. place in qualifying than concerned for his life, as he punched the barriers on his pedestrianised exit from the track.
The two other DNFs retired in a less spectacular style: Romain Grosjean stopped off track on lap 26 due to a cooling system failure and subsequent loss of power; while Adrian Sutil spun his Sauber on the exit from the last corner on lap 47 – and his engine stopped. Unable to bring the car back into motion, the German vacated the machine leaving it in the middle of the track, for the safety team to clear up.
Now, the circus is moving a swift move eastwards as the Hungarian Grand Prix is only one week away; that’s one week for Rosberg to savour a month to remember – and one week for Hamilton to plan his counter-attack.