Lewis Hamilton won the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring to take his tally to 91 race wins, and match the great Michael Schumacher.
The podium was completed by Max Verstappen in the Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo, with the ever-smiling Aussie taking his first podium since Monaco 2018 and Renault’s first podium as a constructor since Malaysia 2011. “No Bottas?!” I hear you ask. Well, more on that later.
Fourth place went to Sergio Perez in the Racing Point after a solid and impressive drive, with Carlos Sainz crossing the line fifth in his McLaren. Pierre Gasly took sixth place for AlphaTauri, with Charles LeClerc the first of the Ferrari’s in seventh, following on from a mega qualifying lap which meant he started fourth. Eighth place went to super-sub Nico Hulkenberg, standing in for Lance Stroll, who was taken ill on Saturday morning. Hulkenberg went from sipping coffee to driving an F1 car at the Nurburgring in a matter of hours, and even though he started last, he kept his nose clean and finished a very respectable eighth. Ninth and tenth went to Romain Grosjean for Haas and Antonio Giovinazzi for Alfa Romeo. Nine out of ten teams scoring points. The only team to not? You guessed it - Williams.
Grosjean was on the radio early on saying that a piece of gravel had been flicked up and hit his left index finger, but he drove a solid race and collected some valuable points for the struggling Haas team.
Valtteri Bottas started from pole position and it looked like he was going to lose out to his Mercedes team mate Hamilton right away, as Hamilton drew alongside and got ahead coming out of turn 1, but Bottas stuck his elbows out and passed his team mate to retake first place. It stayed that way for quite a few laps, with Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen pulling out a lead over the cars behind them, making up the top 3 we have grown to know oh so well this season.
Bottas suddenly locked up badly going into turn 1 however, which flat spotted his tyres and also meant he lost a position to Hamilton. As soon as Hamilton took the lead, it never looked like the winner was in doubt as he cruised away. Bottas had to pit for fresh rubber, but not long after he was on the radio complaining of no power. Mercedes tried to no avail to fix the car and he had to pull into the garage for what was a gut wrenching retirement for the Finnish driver and an extremely rare retirement for the normally bullet proof Mercedes car. With Hamilton now 69 points clear in the championship, it looks like Bottas’ retirement has more or less ended any hope of him challenging for this title, unless something drastic happens!
Verstappen took his place on the podium, very happy with second and able to match Mercedes’ pace more closely than in some previous races, but more attention was on the man in third. Daniel Ricciardo, who joined Renault ahead of the 2019 season, took his first podium in over two years, and Renault’s first since 2011. He had a bet on with his team principal, Cyril Abiteboul, that if he took a podium this season, then Cyril would have to get a tattoo of Ricciardo’s choosing. I really hope it’s a tattoo of a honey badger! Ricciardo will be moving to McLaren for 2021, a move which he may well be thinking about now, with Renault seemingly on an upward trend, and McLaren struggling somewhat in comparison and more inconsistent.
There was an issue with power loss during this race, with Bottas and Norris both dropping out because of it, with the latter’s retirement causing a safety car with just over 10 laps to go. Unfortunately, the safety car didn’t give us the photo finish we were all hoping for, and Lewis Hamilton sprinted away from Verstappen on the restart, who struggled to get heat into his tyres.
Elsewhere, Alex Albon also retired with a punctured radiator after clashing with Daniil Kvyat and almost hitting Pierre Gasly. George Russell was an innocent victim in an incident with Kimi Raikkonen, who was starting his 323rd Grand Prix. Raikkonen lost the back of his Alfa Romeo and slammed into the side of the Williams, sending Russell sideways on two wheels, and giving him a puncture, damaged floor, and ruined suspension.
Lewis Equals Another Record
Lewis Hamilton entered this weekend knowing that winning the race would put him equal on race wins with the great Michael Schumacher, with 91. He started second on the grid and was running in second during the early stages, and it looked like he would have to wait another week to match the number, but he was gifted the lead when Bottas locked up and cruised away from Verstappen with ease.
I am a Schumacher fan, but I’m taking nothing away from Lewis. He has driven fantastically since he entered the sport in 2007 and has won at least one race in every season, even in 2009 when McLaren gave him an absolute dog of a car. Yes, in recent seasons he has had by far the best package on the grid, but his consistency and racing skills have almost always given him the edge over his rivals. Jenson Button may have beaten him over the course of their three years together at McLaren and Rosberg may have pipped him to the title in 2016, but other than that he has been the dominant driver in his team.
He was clearly moved by equalling the record, evident when Michael’s son Mick presented him with one of his father’s helmets. He was emotional when he beat Ayrton Senna’s record of race wins, and this one will mean so much to him as well. It’s very likely that after the next race, we will have a new record holder with 92 race wins.
No Bemoaning Bottas, But Bemoaning Bottas’ Luck!
There’ll be no bemoaning Bottas this week. But his luck seemed to go against him. A race win at the last Grand Prix in Russia seemed to have lit a fire in his belly, and he was a quarter of a second quicker than his teammate in qualifying in Germany. His move to retake the lead from Lewis will have spurred him on too, but he cracked under pressure when he locked up, and then his car decided it had had enough.
It has more or less extinguished his already slim championship hopes, and I really hope he doesn’t slip back into being the Bottas we have moaned about repeatedly and can at least carry on taking the fight to Lewis until the end of the year, even if it does end up being in vain.
I feel sorry for the guy. He drove so well on Saturday and in Russia, but a large part of F1 is down to a roll of the dice and a big slice of luck. Unfortunately for him, his luck ran out.
Nico Hulkenberg caused quite a stir when he deputised for Sergio Perez at Silverstone earlier in the year, even more so when he put the car in third in qualifying.
So, many people were very happy when it was announced that he would be replacing Lance Stroll, who was taken ill hours before qualifying started. Despite the fact he missed the morning practice session and only had hours to prepare, Hulkenberg did very well. He started last, but not too far off the pace of getting into Q2 and drove a fantastic race to finish eighth. He was calm, collected, consistent and reliable. He is of a course a free agent for 2021, and I really hope he gets a seat. He deserves it.
With Alex Albon having yet another torrid weekend, I can’t help but wonder if maybe senior eyes at Red Bull are looking to Hulkenberg to give them some consistency and experience alongside Max Verstappen for 2021.
In my eyes, he deserves to be in a top team and any team who has him will be lucky to have him driving for them.
How Does The Championship Look Now?
Hamilton leads, with the championship all but sewn up. Bottas is 69 points behind in second, with Verstappen still third. Ricciardo moves up to fourth after the great podium with Perez fifth, Norris sixth and Albon second in the other Red Bull after yet another dismal weekend. LeClerc is eighth, Stroll ninth and Gasly rounds out the top 10.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel is down in a lowly thirteenth, having scored just 17 points all season. Nico Hulkenberg, who has driven in just two races this year, is only seven points behind his compatriot. Oh, dear.
As usual, Mercedes are running away with the constructors, with Red Bull second and Racing Point third, just four points ahead of McLaren. Renault are a further two points behind them. The battle for third is going to be very interesting!
Williams remains the only team yet to score and are now three points behind Haas following Grosjean’s solid ninth place. Sometimes, it’s really tough to be a Williams fan. Actually, it’s been tough for over a decade.
Where Are We Heading Next?
Portugal! A circuit which will be a new experience for every F1 driver. We head there on the 23rd October, so we have another rare week off this week.
Thank you very much for reading, and I hope you are all well. As always, take care, stay safe, and join us every Monday at 8 pm for the F1 Fans Show!