Mercedes' Glorious Homecoming
The last race before the summer break saw a number of changes. Most notably, the radio restrictions were totally lifted after Button's penalty in Hungary. Ferrari also had a personnel change with James Allison leaving the Prancing Horse to spend time with his kids after his wife's death earlier in the year. We at FOFA wish him well.
Hamilton was investigated after FP3 for an unsafe release and received a 10,000 Euro fine. Grosjean was given a 5-place penalty for a gearbox change.
Mercedes and Red Bull wanted freedom to exceed track limits at the first corner but a Force India suspension failure at that corner ended any hope of that.
A clean Q1 saw both Saubers falling along with the Manors, Kvyat and Magnussen just dropping as Sainz saved his own skin.
Sainz was put under investigation for impeding Massa in Q2. The session saw Palmer falling 16th, behind Grosjean, Alonso, Sainz, Button and Gutierrez who so nearly got into Q3. All the same, Esteban did beat his teammate in qualifying even before the penalty was applied.
Rosberg took pole leaving Hamilton 2nd after a locked tyre on his last lap. Ricciardo led Verstappen on row 2, Raikkonen heading a Ferrari lockout on row 3. Hulkenberg, Bottas, Perez and Massa rounded out the top 10.
For blocking Massa, Sainz dropped 3 places to 16th, promoting Alonso and Magnussen. Palmer didn't gain a place as Grosjean technically was the third driver to benefit from that penalty, but his own demotion saved Sainz a place. Hulkenberg was also dropped a place for giving back the wrong tyres after FP3 – not something they actually did, per se, but they supplied Pirelli with the wrong barcode.
Gutierrez was the only driver to start on softs, the rest of the field on supers.
Hamilton took the lead ahead of the two Red Bulls, Rosberg dropping to 4th ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen. Further down the order, Kvyat had climbed to 15th.
Palmer took soft tyres as early as the end of lap 2, dropped to the back but given clean air. He had hit Massa on the opening lap but not done too much damage to either car. The Brazilian lost 10th to Alonso on lap 6, outdragged by the Honda motor and a presumably skinny McLaren.
Wehrlein tried to hold off Haryanto but knocked his teammate's front wing endplate off.
Kvyat stopped on lap 7, while his teammate was desperately trying to not drive into the back of Massa's apparently ailing Williams. Sainz made the move a lap later and Magnussen also took advantage. Sainz and Massa both pitted at the end of the lap. The Williams was stopped for 2 seconds, Sainz for 6.1 with a slow front tyre.
Verstappen pitted on lap 11, followed by Rosberg who was trying to attack Ricciardo and hold off Vettel. Both drivers took another set of supers. The flurry of stops thus followed.
As things started to settle down the top 6 were unchanged with 10 seconds between the Mercedes on pair lap 25. Bottas, Hulkenberg, Button and Alonso completed the top 10.
Gutierrez dropped to 13th, then yielded to Grosjean as he continued to struggle with his strategy. He finally pitted at the end of lap 25 and dropped well down the order.
Palmer took a new nose and some super soft tyres on lap 26, replacing the damaged wing from his earlier contact with Massa. The Williams was in a lap later for a check of the rear, being released after almost 20 seconds stationary. Rosberg, a lap ahead almost of the Williams, pitted in also.
Verstappen came in a lap later than the number 6 Mercedes, covering Max against an attack. However, DRS and some bold braking was too much for Verstappen to fend off. The FIA put the move under investigation since Rosberg went almost to the outer white line before turning – rather akin to what he did to Hamilton in Austria.
Vettel stopped on lap 31, falling behind Bottas as he narrowly missed a nice chunk of open air. The Williams was forced aside by Vettel. Raikkonen pitted and released Rosberg on the following lap.
Rosberg was given a 5 second time penalty for his move on Verstappen.
Ricciardo pitted on lap 33 to cover Raikkonen, rejoining behind his teammate. Another lap went by and another leader pitted, this time Hamilton coming in and retaining his lead. Ericsson, a lap down, also stopped.
Grosjean returned the yielding favour to his teammate, the Mexican romping away as the strategy worked more for him around the midpoint of the race.
Massa was called in to retire as the Williams refused to run at a respectable pace.
Verstappen made no effort to defend as Ricciardo made the move with better tyres and the DRS advantage.
Lap 44 saw Rosberg pit and take his penalty, the car for some reason left for an extra 3 seconds. On track, Ferrari were calling Vettel in and Vettel was refusing. Verstappen was in a lap later to cover Rosberg, Ricciardo pitting on lap 46 along with Vettel. As before, Hamilton gave Ricciardo only one lap of undercut, but with a decent gap as he rejoined the undercut was a bit academic. Raikkonen, who had been artificially promoted to 2nd, pitted and rejoined 6th.
Nasr tried to retire the Sauber in the pits but the car refused to go further than the FIA's Weighbridge station.
Hulkenberg finally made up for the grid penalty as he scythed past Bottas with far younger tyres, taking 7th.
With McLaren seemingly struggling, Perez in 11th was looking good for sneaking some points in the dying laps. Whether the few spots of rain Hamilton was reporting made a difference was hard to say.
Perez made the move on Alonso and took the final point from the driver who had scored every time he visited Hockenheim aside from his Minardi rookie year in 2001. The sister McLaren was passing Bottas, the Williams struggling to stay on track with finished tyres.
Hamilton won from Ricciardo, Verstappen, Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Button, Bottas and Perez. Gutierrez led Alonso, Grosjean, Sainz, Kvyat, Magnussen, Wehrlein, Ericsson, Palmer and Haryanto to non-scoring finishes. Nasr and Massa both retired in a bad day for the Brazilian drivers.
Going into the summer break, Hamilton now had a 19 point lead over Rosberg. Vettel was now only 2 points behind Raikkonen, Ricciardo leading Verstappen by 18 points. Red Bull had a 14 point lead over Ferrari. Force India overhauled Williams at the top of the midfield, leading into the summer break by 5 points.
Massa's DNF allowed Bottas to pull out the lead over his teammate to 20 points, while Hulkenberg closed to only 15 from Perez. Toro Rosso, only 3 points ahead of McLaren, had Sainz leading Kvyat by 7 points with the Russian now knowing he would not drive a Red Bull-liveried car in F1 in 2017. Alonso was leading Button by 7 points at McLaren – Vandoorne also holding a point from Bahrain – as the fight between the two former champions heated up.
Grosjean was responsible for every one of the 28 points Haas had scored, Gutierrez plagued by bad luck at some points in the season, but also his own driving ability letting him down at times. Behind them Wehrlein had taken the only point in the fight between Manor and Sauber, possibly the most fraught battle outside of the Mercedes civil war due to the money involved.
After the summer break, F1 heads to Belgium and the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit where Hamilton will be looking to pull further away from Rosberg at a track the world champion traditionally goes well at.