Lewis Hamilton equals Michael Schumacher’s F1 career victory record with his 91st win in the 2020 Aramco Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
Despite a safety car period called just 15 laps from the finish, Lewis Hamilton kept his cool, getting the jump on the restart in front of the tightened field. The Brit crossed the finish line 4.4 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to claim the 91st win of his remarkable career, 14 years and ten days after Schumacher’s final Grand Prix victory in China.
Following the Dutchman to take third place was former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in his resurgent Renault R.S. 20. It was Renault’s first podium since returning to the sport in 2016, and Ricciardo’s first since his 2018 Red Bull team victory at Monaco.
In 2007, Hamilton, then 22, claimed the Canadian Grand Prix. as his first triumph in just his sixth championship race with McLaren. Since then, he has won at least one race in each of the 14 seasons in which he has competed.
Mercedes claimed another front-row lockout, despite seeing six members of staff sidelined as a knock-on effect of two confirmed coronavirus cases within the team.
This time it was Valtteri Bottas who put together the three quickest sectors of the day when it counted most for his 14th career pole, beating Hamilton by 0.256s! Verstappen would line up third with a hustling Charles Leclerc taking fourth from Red Bull’s Alex Albon by just 0.012s.
Nico Hulkenberg received a call from Racing Point Saturday morning as he sipped coffee with a friend in Cologne – could he substitute for the unwell Lance Stroll? The team had already chosen Hulkenberg to fill in for Sergio Perez at the British and 70th Anniversary Grands Prix at Silverstone after the Mexican contracted coronavirus.
Abandoning his coffee and mate, Hulkenberg arrived at the Nurburgring following a 90-minute dash from Cologne, leaving less than three hours before qualifying.
After receiving his mandatory negative test for Covid-19, the German was too late to get any practice and qualified 20th and last, though only 0.4s short of getting through to Q2.
Finally, one spot ahead of him on the grid was Kimi Raikkonen, 40, who would start his 323rd F1 race, surpassing Rubens Barrichello as the most experienced driver in Grand Prix history.
The seasonally chilled Nurburging meant cold brakes and tyres at the start despite all attempts at heating them on the formation lap. Managing grip and late braking into Turn 1 would be the most important of the many keys to the race.
At lights out, Hamilton stepped off just ahead of Bottas. The Finn let Hamilton get the inside at Turn 1 as the Brit pushed him wide as they both got on the brakes. Not giving an inch, Bottas floored the throttle on the outside and authoritatively retook the lead at Turns 2/3 with some in-your-face aggression. That’s what’s been missing from his armoury this season.
Through Lap 3 of 60, Verstappen, Leclerc and Ricciardo held their positions as cold brakes limited any late braking. Bottas led Hamilton by 1.6s.
However, by Lap 4, Ricciardo was all over the back of Leclerc, while the Ferrari ace skilfully put his SF1000 where the Aussie expected to find a hole. It took him until Lap 9 to get through at Turn 2, but by now Ricciardo was 16s behind Verstappen.
By Lap 12 Hamilton was nearly within DRS range of Bottas. As they flew into Turn 1, the Finn’s brakes locked up, and he ran very deep, slashing back onto the track and nearly punting Hamilton as the Brit took the lead. Behind, Verstappen closed on both Mercedes.
Bottas pitted on Lap 14 and rejoined behind Ricciardo. Farther behind, Russell had just collided with Kimi Raikkonen, leaving the Williams driver limping back to the pits with a tyre hanging off its wheel. Race officials decided to forego any Mugello-like antics and deployed an ASC signal on Lap 16, slowing the field. Russell abandoned his Williams mid-course.
Hamilton pitted as a light rain covered the final two track sectors. He returned 4.3s ahead of Verstappen, while Bottas closed on Ricciardo’s tail.
And then suddenly, Bottas’ Mercedes slowed dramatically into “limp-home” mode. After frantic reboot messages from the Mercedes’ pit wall engineers, Bottas retired the car on team orders on Lap 19, leaving Hamilton calmly ahead of Verstappen by 2.4s. Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg had fought his way up to P11.
Beginning on Lap 23, a new series of cars have failures – Ocon’s Renault followed on Lap 26 by Albon’s Red Bull. With this kind of carnage and the stretched-out field, it seemed possible that Hamilton might be able to lap the field up to Verstappen.
That possibility ended on Lap 44, with Norris abandoning his McLaren MCL35 from P5 at the edge of a gravel trap, initiating a full Safety Car period. Instantly, every lead evaporated. Both Hamilton and Verstappen stopped on Lap 46, changing for softs and rejoining without any problems.
As the yellow flag period stretched on, the drivers’ thoughts once again focused on a “cold track, cold air” scenario behind the safety car. Upfront, Hamilton must have grinned – his team designed Mercedes’ Dual-Axis Steering for this exact moment.
On Lap 50, the Safety Car period ended, and thanks in part to the Dual-Axis, Hamilton’s restart caught the pack sleeping. Verstappen’s cold tyres, still needing heat, nearly allowed Ricciardo to try a move into Turn 1, but Dutchman held on to his P2. Hulkenberg moved into P8.
By Lap 51, Hamilton led Verstappen by 1.8s – with both back to full speed, leaving Ricciardo in the dust. Once Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri passed Leclerc for P6, the Ferrari ace was set upon by Hulkenberg – the Monegasque prevailed.
In the end, Nurburgring bestowed points to the needy. Perez took away 12, with Carlos Sainz receiving 10. Gasly claimed eight with Leclerc holding on for six, then two points for Grosjean, and one for Giovanazzi. And Nico Hulkenberg? He traded a so-so cup of coffee for four Grand Prix points and a sure seat with some team in 2021.
That’s as Formula 1 as it gets.