German GP 2018: Kimi on the podium, but heartbreak for Sebastian

Round 11 took place in Sebastian’s home country Germany, where Hockenheim Ring hosted the GP weekend. Qualifying held huge drama for Sebastian’s title rival Hamilton. After setting the fifth fastest time in Q1, the Briton’s FW09 crawled to a halt with a loss of hydraulic pressure. The desperate Hamilton tried to push his Mercedes to safety, but there was nothing the Briton could do. A moment earlier Hamilton had gone wide in Turn 1, bouncing heavily over the kerbs. It was heartbreak for Hamilton, whilst Kimi and Sebastian in their red cars were topping the timesheets. Although there were dark clouds lurking over Hockenheim Ring, the conditions stayed dry until the very end of the qualifying. As the tyre range included ultra-soft, soft and medium compounds, there was no variety in tyre strategy in Q2. To home crowd’s delight, Sebastian conquered pole at Hockenheim for the first time since 2010! Kimi’s second run was highly impressive, but since Bottas in his Mercedes managed to improve in the end, the Iceman was left third. Sebastian’s second sector was especially magical! The Red Bulls absolutely loved the third sector, but, in spite of that, Verstappen was left in P4, six tenths off pole-setter Sebastian’s pace. Ricciardo, on the other hand, had been given a 20-place grid penalty for multiple power unit elements change, and was to start to the race from the back of the pack.

The weather forecast predicted 60% chance of rain during the race, so there was extra tension in the air. All top ten drivers started to the race on the softest compound, whilst Red Bull’s Ricciardo was the only driver opting for the white-walled medium compound. Hamilton in P14, on the other hand, was to start to the race on the yellow-marked middle compound. This time the start was very smooth. Home hero Sebastian held on to his lead, followed by Bottas and teammate Kimi. Red Bull youngster Verstappen tried to challenge the Iceman, going into the first corners, but Kimi defended his position excellently. Hamilton started immediately to make his way through the field.

In only 15 laps Hamilton had made his way through the field; overtaking Haas’ Magnussen made him move fifth. Kimi opened the pit stop roulette on lap 15 and opted for a fresh set of soft Pirellis. This anticipated a two-stop strategy for the Finn. Teammate Sebastian pitted some ten laps later for a similar tyre choice. Kimi had benefitted from the undercut and was now ahead of his teammate. When Bottas and Verstappen pitted on the sequential laps, also for the soft Pirellis, the red-suited drivers had a double lead in the race. Meanwhile, Ricciardo’s race came to a premature end as the Australian’s RB14 was hit with a power unit issue. Once again, a reliability issue ruined the race for Red Bull!

Around the halfway point of the race Sebastian was right at his teammate’s tail. Sebastian complained on the team radio that his tyres were overheating and that he could set more competitive lap times had he been let past Kimi. Ferrari gave a team order, and Kimi let his teammate past. Sebastian was a man of his words, as he immediately started to set lap times, which were half-a-second faster than Kimi’s.

Hamilton pitted not until on lap 43. The team had planned an aggressive strategy for the Briton, as Hamilton opted for a fresh set of ultra-soft tyres. But only a lap later the predicted rain came! However, it was a very local shower, and it was raining only around Turn 6. Now all teams were facing the difficult dilemma; which would be the right tyre choice for the mixed conditions? Sauber called Leclerc in and the Monegasque switched to the green-walled intermediate tyres. Red Bull, too, called Verstappen in for a similar tyre choice. Toro Rosso’s Gasly even switched to the full-wets. However, the rain started to decrease soon, and the intermediates turned out to be a wrong call. So both Leclerc and Verstappen had to pit again for a new set of slicks. Both Ferrari and Mercedes kept their drivers out on the slicks.

By lap 50, Bottas had chased down his compatriot Kimi. They were hitting traffic and Kimi made a small mistake by going wide. Bottas used the opportunity right away and made it past Kimi, claiming P2. But what a dramatic and catastrophic turning point the lap 52 was! Sebastian had a secured 6-second lead in the race when he suddenly crashed out! The conditions were challenging and slippery, and he had braked a bit too late, which had caused a lock-up. It had all happened in quite low speed, but Sebastian’s SF71-H inevitably slid into the tyre wall. What a heart-breaking moment indeed! There seems to be a curse in terms of Sebastian and the Hockenheim Ring, as Sebastian has never won there. I felt absolutely heart-broken to see victory turning into a bitter DNF! He had had the most perfect weekend up until that moment...

Safety car was deployed due to Sebastian’s crash. The mixed conditions and the safety car episode caused a bizarre and messy situation at Mercedes. Hamilton was called in by the team, and the Briton had already headed to the pit entry. However, he saw Kimi staying out, so the last minute he took his FW09 to the grass and headed back to the track. Bottas did come in, but the team didn’t have the ultra-soft tyres ready for the Finn. This cost Bottas some valuable time. Kimi, too, pitted for a fresh set of ultra-soft Pirellis. Who could have believed that Hamilton was now leading the race, having started from P14?

At the re-start, Bottas was extremely hungry to challenge his teammate for victory. In a few corners there was tight wheel-to-wheel battle between the two silver cars, but then we saw a team order from Mercedes as well. The team told their drivers to hold their positions, so against all odds Hamilton made a miracle and crossed the finish line as the race winner. Bottas made it a very satisfying 1-2 for the Silver Arrows. Kimi continued his impressive streak of podium finishes, which I was extremely happy about. Verstappen finished fourth for Red Bull and the other home hero Hulkenberg finished fifth for Renault.

Sebastian’s mistake of his own had costly consequences. His 8-point lead in the drivers’ standings slipped through his fingers, and now Hamilton is leading the standings by 17 points. Ferrari lost their lead to Mercedes in the constructors’ standings as well, and they are now 8 points off the Silver Arrows. But I do believe in Sebastian, Kimi and the Red Team. They have what it takes to turn this difficult time into success again. Forza Ferrari - always!

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Jul 24, 2018