Nico Rosberg was unchallenged as he led every lap of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, extending his championship lead with a first F1 victory on home soil.
At the end of the 67 laps the Mercedes man enjoyed a 20.7 second lead over Valtteri Bottas in second, the Finn having a similarly lonely race as he took his third consecutive podium finish. Aside from the obvious period shortly after the start of the race the only competition Bottas had for second throughout the afternoon was from Fernando Alonso shortly after his second pitstop and from Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps of the race.
Hamilton’s qualifying off, caused by a brake disc failure, did more than anything to smooth Rosberg’s path to victory. The team repaired the car, Hamilton allowed to change the manufacturer of his brake discs despite the Parc Ferme regulations that fall after qualifying. Marcus Ericsson was punished for similar offence, forced to start from the pitlane and serve a ten second penalty within the first three laps of the race. The only censure applied to Hamilton, however, was a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change that pushed him back to 20th.
If Rosberg’s solitary was to take the win, his team mate’s race was to take the attention for much of the race as the performance of the Mercedes was always likely to bring Hamilton back into the major points on offer, but his charge up the order was also fraught with risk.
The first incident of the race, though, happened at the opposite end of the grid at the first corner. While Rosberg made a near perfect start to what would be a near perfect race Bottas was slower away from second allowing Williams teammate Felipe Massa and Kevin Magnussen to range up on his left and right respectively on the run down towards the right hander.
Massa wisely let Bottas go before sweeping towards the apex behind him. There however, he found Magnussen, already pinned to the kerb by the tight line he had elected from the start. Contact between the two flicked Massa’s machine neatly over, scraping on the roll hoop across the run off before flipping back upright on the very edge of the gravel. Magnussen, though pulled around into a spin by contact escaped major damage to join the back of the field under the safety car that was immediately scrambled while Daniel Ricciardo was forced to skirt around the outside of the upside down Williams, tumbling down the order in the process.
The Red Bull driver became an early out rider of Hamilton as both cut their way through the lower end of the midfield but it was passing Ricciardo that gave the first hints of the tight spaces Hamilton was going to have to fight in.
Both men came upon Kimi Raikkonen at the same with Hamilton trying to pass both men at once with a move at the hairpin. The move was untidy, Hamilton arriving at the corner with brakes locked up as he clipped the front wing of the Ferrari but it succeeded in moving him past both the Finn and Ricciardo in one swoop. The Ferrari would be battered further after he was pinched between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel at the same corner later in the race, the damage compounding another difficult race with Raikonnen finishing down in eleventh.
The turn six hairpin would be the scene of the major flashpoint in Hamilton’s charge as he tried to pass Jenson Button for sixth place shortly before half way. Believing the McLaren driver was leaving room for him to take the place unchallenged Hamilton moved smartly to the inside. However, recovering from running deep into the corner Button moved back on line, the resulting contact ripping off much of the endplate and upper echelons from the left side of Hamilton’s front wing.
Still the Mercedes driver moved on, but the effects of the contact soon began to tell. Until the point of contact Hamilton had been on a two stop strategy mirroring that of Rosberg. While the German had had to carry the Super Soft Pirellis through from qualifying Hamilton’s longer first stint on the Soft compound had allowed him briefly take second on track before the different strategies began to unwind.
However, that meant he still had the Super Soft tyres to come as the expected rain held off and as he began to complain of excess tyre wear on the left front it became clear, if the Softs were crying no more, the less durable rubber would be unable to last the distance planned pre-race.
Mercedes’ answer was to shuffled Hamilton onto three stops, pulling him in early to give him a first set of red letter tyres with the intention off splitting the remaining 23 laps into two stints. That plan was further complicated when Adrian Sutil span out of the final corner, abandoning his Sauber in the middle of the track. Perhaps expecting a safety car Hamilton pitted three laps ahead of schedule, but as the stranded #99 was pulled behind the wall under furiously waved yellow flags the safety car that would have given Hamilton his only hope of challenging Rosberg failed to materialise while the longer stint left Hamilton struggling for grip in his late fight against Bottas to minimise the points loss.
The points for the win versus Hamilton’s third re-inflated the German’s advantage to 14 points.
Sebastian Vettel finished fourth, 44 seconds off the lead with Alonso and Ricciardo crossing the line nose-to-tail in fifth and sixth. Ricciardo’s race through the field was every bit as entertaining as Hamilton’s maybe even more so as the Aussie could not rely upon on the same car advantage as Hamilton. That left Ricciardo pulling off some of the more spectacular passes of the race, including his early pass on Raikkonen and a move to the inside in the stadium section that he made on both Alonso and Button, the Briton being made to protect the outside by a glorious dummy move by the Red Bull behind.
Button’s tyres faded badly in the late laps as he fell to eighth behind Nico Hulkenberg. Unable to show the same pace that had put him fourth in qualifying Magnussen could only take ninth with Sergio Perez taking the final point.
A quick turnaround for the F1 circus gives Hamilton his chance to recoup some of the ground lost at the Hungaroring next weekend (July 25-27).