Lewis Hamilton won as F1 returned to the Nürburgring, and his 91st career victory saw him equal the all-time record held by Michael Schumacher. It extends his championship lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas to 69 points, and puts him ever closer to another Schumacher record – his seventh world championship title.
The race initially looked as if it would be a battle between Hamilton and Bottas, as the Finnish driver had just pipped Hamilton in qualifying. There were signs that spectators would be in for a close race, although a Bottas mistake on lap 13 allowed Hamilton past.
Hamilton and Verstappen pitted for fresh tyres on lap 16 during a virtual safety car, and it was likely that Bottas would have struggled to regain his advantage, but the mechanics had something else planned – on lap 18, a suspected power unit failure forced Bottas to retire.
Lando Norris struggled with power issues for half the race, and was running fifth when his car finally gave out on lap 42. A virtual safety car brought the race a little closer together – Hamilton and Verstappen had been far ahead, the leader more than a minute and a half in front of third-placed Daniel Ricciardo. Verstappen nearly took out Hamilton on the restart, but both drivers remained on course.
Verstappen took the fight to Hamilton but was unable to pass him, finishing the race in second, although he did take the bonus point for fastest lap on his last run of the race. Bottas’ retirement left space on the podium for Daniel Ricciardo, who drove well and delivered Renault’s first podium finish since it returned to the sport as a constructor in 2016. The top five was rounded off by Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz.
It was a mixed day for the rest of the field. Nico Hulkenberg was forced to step in last minute for the ill Lance Stroll, starting from 20th after a tough qualifying session. But he rose through the ranks, delivering an impressive eighth place finish for Racing Point. Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi picked up their first points of the season in ninth and tenth place respectively.
Brake issues knocked Esteban Ocon out of the race on lap 22
Charles Leclerc, who began in fourth, was a victim of Ferrari’s decision not to stop for fresh tyres at the final safety car, which bumped him down into sixth – his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, struggled to 11th. There were also three more retirements, beginning with a George Russell crash with Kimi Raikkonen on lap 12, ending the Brit’s race. Brake issues knocked Esteban Ocon out of the race on lap 22, and Alexander Albon was forced to retire a lap later with engine issues.
In the post-race interviews, Hamilton reflected: “I had a good start to get alongside Valtteri. I tried to give him as much room as possible. He was in my blind spot so I moved out wide and he did an amazing job. I remember coming out of the corner thinking ‘good on you man’.”
In a touching moment, Hamilton was then presented with a helmet from Schumacher’s last F1 season by his son Mick. The six-time world champion added: “I don’t know what to say. When you grow up watching someone and you idolise them, really, for the quality of the driver they are and what they are continually able to do as a driver and with his team week on week.
“Seeing his dominance for so long and I don’t think anyone – especially me – thought he would get close to this record. It’s an incredible honour but I could not have done it without this incredible team. A big thank you and huge respect to Michael.”
Verstappen said: “Overall a good race. I just tried to follow Lewis. The pace was good and I just tried to do my own race. The Mercedes was just a little bit too fast for us but I managed to get that fastest lap for the extra point so I’m happy with that. We finished second, which was where we belonged.”
Ricciardo said: “It’s been a while. Honestly it feels like the first podium all over again. I think it’s been over two years, the feeling is good, still fresh. So happy and it’s great to see everyone. We’ve all waited a long time for this, so I think everyone is going to soak it up.”
In two weeks, F1 will return to Portugal for the first time since 1996, and on an entirely new track in Portimao. With the competition effectively over, will this fresh deliver lots of excitement? The drivers are keen and the weather conditions should certainly be better, so I wouldn’t rule it out.