Max Verstappen again proved he’s a true “rain master” by taking an epic victory in the chaotic 2019 German Grand Prix,
one of the most action-packed Grands Prix in F1 history.
In a Grand Prix bursting with meteoric charges, heartbreaking errors and countless overtakes, Verstappen kept his concentration while Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc fell by the wayside. It was his second win in 2019 (and his second in the last three Grands Prix) for his seventh career victory.
Equally admirable were his fellow podium mates, Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat, who both overcame their own past demons to resurrect their 2019 season’s records.
Here’s how the 2019 German Grand Prix became “one for the ages.”
The first hint of a Grand Prix like few others occurred at the beginning of Q1.
Sebastian Vettel had reeled off just one Q1 warmup lap when his Ferrari stopped with a turbo cooling failure. Meanwhile, teammate Charles Leclerc lifted the Scuderia’s spirits with his devastating speed in both Q1 and Q2 that put him as a sure bet for pole position. Then, with no warning, his F90 also failed at the beginning of Q3. He would start in the tenth spot.
Down the pitlane, rival Mercedes was struggling with lack of rear grip, and only Max Verstappen’s Red Bull suggested anything of leading pace. With Leclerc’s misfortune, both teams received a lifeline. In the end, what had been a sure Ferrari one-two became a Hamilton-Verstappen front row. Bottas would start third, with the suddenly overachieving Pierre Gasly hauling his Red Bull up to fourth.
There was one more variable remaining for race day. Rain was predicted to arrive and last through more than half the Grand Prix. With Hochenheim’s funding woes looking more and more like this would its final German Grand Prix, track management had delayed pavement improvements. Now, that worn pavement would play a significant roll in an instantly classic Grand Prix.
With the dawn came the predicted rain, and every car arrived on the starting grid fitted on full-wet tyres. Warm-up laps had been inconclusive – barely wet enough for full wets, but not dry enough for intermediate rains. At lights out, the Safety Car led four “formation laps”. With the drivers now fully informed of the challenge ahead, the Safety Car returned to the pits and the cars lined up for the actual start. The four “formation” laps were removed from the full race distance, leaving 64 before the checkers.
At lights out, Hamilton bolted away as Verstappen barely moved, his engine mode allowing too much wheel spin. Raikkonen jumped from fifth to second as Verstappen fell to fourth. The race had hardly settled before Sergio Perez crashed out of the race on Lap 4. The Safety Car took over as the leaders descended on pit lane to change from full-wet to intermediate wet-weather tyres. Hamilton was first in and out maintained the lead. Magnussen’s Haas stayed out on the full wets betting on track position (and more rain), rising to second place.
At the restart, Hamilton took advantage of a clear track to sprint away. Meanwhile, Magnussen lost positions to numerous Intermediate-shod cars – by Lap 9 he’d had enough and stopped for Inters as well. He dropped to last.
Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault engine exploded on Lap 15, leaving a trail of oil on top of the drying track. A Virtual Safety Car period slowed the cars to remove his car.
By Lap 21, the track had a nearly dry groove, and Haas again gambled, calling Magnussen in first for dry tyres. Three laps later, Vettel pitted from ninth for dry tyres and rejoined in 11th.
Verstappen stopped two laps later but was fitted with Mediums which would last longer but offer less grip. Red Bull apparently believed Verstappen’s mythic handling skills would make the difference. It didn’t as he spun 360 degrees on the next lap. The Dutchman ran a few more tempered laps before picking up his pace.
All seemed settled down until Norris’ McLaren seized on Lap 28 and triggering a second Virtual Safety Car. Ferrari was on top of the moment, bringing in Leclerc for soft tyres. He rejoined in second place ahead of Bottas. Mercedes was slower to act, calling in Hamilton a lap later, just as the VSC ended. Hamilton’s stop was slow, but the Brit emerged with the lead. And with that, the race turned into a free-for-all.
While Hamilton sat in the pits, Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari understeered off the final corner’s apex and then onto and off of the hyper-slick pavement used as the staging area for Hochenheimring’s drag strip. Grip there is zero on the best of days – Leclerc’s SF90 buried in the gravel with no hope of extraction and retired on the spot.
He wouldn’t be the last.
A full Safety Car period was called to remove Leclerc’s car. With the track clear, Hamilton arrived at the same spot and promptly spun, saving the car, but not without a damaged front wing. To make matters worse, he entered the pits past the allowed point, picking up a 5-second penalty. His misery was not complete – Mercedes hadn’t expected him – thus, 50 seconds later, Hamilton rejoined in fifth place.
Bottas now led, but as the only driver on dry tyres, he was adrift on a newly soaked track. He pitted for intermediates and came out in third place behind an ecstatic second-placed Niko Hulkenberg. Verstappen now led and its only half-way. Hamilton, for his troubles, was now mired behind Albon’s Toro Rosso and struggling for grip.
Hulkenberg’s joy soon faded. On Lap 41, he arrived at the now infamous final corner, slipped off the circuit and aquaplaned into the barriers, triggering another Safety Car. Verstappen pitted for new intermediates and kept the lead.
At the same time, Racing Point quietly stopped Lance Stroll for dry tyres. He emerged in 13th place.
Three laps later, everyone pitted for drys – Stroll’s three laps in the here-to-for uncompetitive Racing Point had been electric. With everyone in the pits, Stroll inherited the lead.
Verstappen returned and passed Stroll for the lead a lap later. Another four laps and Kvyat’s Toro Rosso took Stroll for second place.
Through the carnage, Sebastian Vettel renewed his reputation as a great rain driver. He rose from starting 20th and passed Albon for fifth place with ten laps remaining.
Starting Lap 56, Bottas was told to push but left the track in Turn 1 a lap later while behind third-placed Stroll. The Finn slammed the outside barrier, taking off his front suspension. Out came the fourth Safety Car.
At the restart, Vettel only needed to pass Carlos Sainz’ (McLaren) and Stroll for the third podium spot. He accomplished that on Lap 62 and then went after Kvyat, claiming second place on Lap 63 before taking the checkers on Lap 64.
The Mercedes W10 was built to lead – it remains very sensitive to pitch, side winds and rain. Set up to take the pole in a dry Germany, it was not controllable on a wet, cool track. Watch: Russia, Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
Ferrari have immense speed at the cost of fragility. Once Charles Leclerc sheds his miscues and finds his zone, he will command races. Watch Spa, Monza, Suzuka.
Honda’s resurgence has given Red Bull and Max Verstappen a title contending car – leaving him just 63-points shy of Lewis Hamilton. Watch: Hungary, Singapore, Austin, Mexico and rain.