Mastery & Miscalculation
2016 Grand Prix of Germany
Text | Richard Kelley
Translation | Henry Lau
Photography | Thomas Lam
Design | Ztephen Lee

The Expectations

The 2016 Grand Prix of Germany was the twelfth race of the season, with nine races remaining. Significantly, Germany was the 50th Grand Prix since the hybrid power unit rules were introduced to F1 with Mercedes having won 85.7% of the races.

Hockenheim would be the sixth circuit in eight weeks, and the grueling schedule and logistic nightmare had provided the teams challenging Mercedes no quarter; in fact, the end of the ordeal had delivered exceptionally bad news to one team in particular.

James Allison vacated his role as Ferrari technical director with immediate effect, after weeks of rumours predicting his future.

Allison had arrived at Ferrari mid-way through 2013 and helped engineer three wins and a second place finish to Mercedes. Allison’s 2016 season was struck with tragedy when his wife passed away suddenly after the Australian Grand Prix. He had spent several races away from the team afterward, and it was hinted that his absence made it difficult for the team to build momentum this season, with no wins in 11 races despite the confidence of a title challenge at the start of the season.  Ferrari is now rudderless as they push to stay ahead of the surging RedBull squad.

On July 28, the F1 Strategy Group agreed to ease team radio restrictions from Germany forwards by instituting a more practical interpretation of the rule that drivers must drive the car ‘alone and unaided.’ While the period between the start of the formation lap and the start of the race remains closed to communication, after that there are no limitations on messages teams send to their drivers either by radio or pit board. In fact, teams will now be required to provide unrestricted access to their radio messages at all times that their cars are out of the garage to improved content for fans and spectators.

Hockenheim is known for its “old” surface, having not been repaved for years. It seems to be a perfect match for the Red Bull chassis as teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen ended qualifying just 0.5s behind Rosberg’s Mercedes pole time. Asked by NBC Sports to account for his team’s stepped-up pace, team principal Christian Horner admitted, “I have no idea why we’re so close.” He went on the say, “ Pirelli’s tires are so complicated that depending on the abrasion of the track surface, heat, downforce and a number of other factors you are either fast or not from race to race.” The mystery continues.

The Overview

Lewis Hamilton may have lost pole position to his teammate, but from the instant he launched his W07 at the start, Hamilton demonstrated complete mastery at Hockenheim.

As polesitter Nico Rosberg spun his tires, Hamilton overwhelmed the German, charging into the lead alongside both the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Verstappen had a better run around the outside of the turn and claimed second, barely avoiding an unforced collision with Ricciardo. Rosberg fell to fourth, challenged by swarming Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

By the third lap, Hamilton looked untouchable. He was. Thanks to his controlling pace and perfect pit stops, he never lost the lead.

Behind Hamilton, Rosberg was battling to return to the front and on lap 30 the German botched a clumsy pass on Verstappen at the hairpin. The teenager instantly called foul after being forced off the track and following a stewards inquiry Rosberg received a five-second penalty, which the German served at his final stop on the 44th lap. He dropped back to fourth, but from that point on Rosberg couldn’t muster the pace to overhaul the Red Bulls.

A few laps from the end, scattered rain drops were reported but had no effect, and Hamilton eased across the line 6.9-seconds ahead of the charging Ricciardo who had passed Verstappen as the Dutchman struggled on both soft and super-soft tyres.

It was Hamilton’s sixth win in the last seven races.

Ferrari ran an inconsequential race with Sebastian Vettel fifth, 32.5-seconds behind Hamilton with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen 4.4 seconds further back. Nico Hulkenberg was seventh ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button. William’s Valtteri Bottas started strongly but lost considerable speed during his soft tyre runs to finish ninth. Sergio Perez snuck past Fernando Alonso with three laps to go to finish 10th.

The Domination

Hamilton’s 49th career victory expanded his championship lead to 19 points while raising Mercedes winning percentage domination of the hybrid power unit formula to a full 86%, an overwhelming average judged by any standards, especially when two of the seven races not won by Mercedes were the result of contact between team’s drivers.

The Swap

Ferrari fell to third in the constructions championship. 14 points behind Red Bull after they claimed their first double podium since Hungary 2015.

The Decision

Reports had former Ferrari Team Principal, Ross Brawn observed in several airports and on his way to Maranello following the sudden departure of James Allison. While it came to nothing substantial, it is commonly agreed that there is no one with more knowledge of Ferrari and their technological abilities who might be a better choice. Mr. Brawn has won 16 titles in Formula One, eight drivers’ and eight constructors’. It should also be noted that under his total leadership, Ferrari won six consecutive constructors’ titles. It would be fair to say that Mr. Brawn would have no desire to leave his beloved fly fishing for another rebuilding exercise at Maranello without the ironclad assurance of again being in total control of every aspect of the team; otherwise, it’s “been there, done that.” If not Ross, then who? The delicate decision is now in the hands of Ferrari’s equally dominate CEO Sergio Marchionne.

The Circle

Nico Rosberg was carrying an extra lap’s worth of fuel when he crossed the line setting a benchmark time of 1:14.363 for his 27th career pole in F1 – exactly thirty years to the day after his father, Keke, won his final pole position F1.

The Miscalculation

Nico Rosberg’s controversial pass of Max Verstappen on lap 30 earned the German a five-second penalty which dropped him from contention. Rosberg waited to brake until the last second and then made a lunge down the inside of Verstappen. Choosing a similar move as he had used against Hamilton in Austria, Rosberg appeared to drive straight on instead of turning into the corner, forcing Verstappen to bail out in the runoff area on the outside of the turn. In-car video presented a view of Rosberg’s hands pointed straight; adding no lock to the wheel until reaching the edge of the track. Rosberg’s defense was that he was at full lock; unfortunately, that was after driving three zip codes past the apex.

The Second Season

The 2016 F1 season resumes at Belgium’s spectacular Spa Circuit August 26-28.

Rumours suggest Rio Haryanto race seat at Manor may be taken over by loaned McLaren protege Stoffel Vandooren. Further, former Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat is under fire at Toro Rosso and is trying desperately to hold on to his seat until the “Summer Break” ends.

And then there is Ferrari, looking for a proven leader to rally the team for a push past Red Bull this season while in the midst of finalising their 2017 season challenger that’s already been started. F1 never sleeps.

See you at Spa.