Sunday, 24 July 2011

German GP Report: Lewis beats the Matador and the Bull in the Ring

So, Lewis is back. Suddenly all of amateur psychology seen in print in past weeks seems like it was written in another age, as he claimed the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in fine style after a tight and exciting battle with Fernando Alonso's Ferrari and Mark Webber's Red Bull.

It was another classic race, with the three drivers out front in close company throughout and everyone else part of the landscape. Us viewers are certainly being spoiled in 2011.

Lewis drove brilliantly at the Nurburgring
Credit: formulasantander.com / CC
And it was a flawless performance from Lewis: precise, decisive in battle and bloody quick, there was none of the desperation and frustration seen occasionally from him, on and off the track, this season. Sometimes F1 watchers are quick to write people off, today serves as a reminder that form is temporary and class in permanent.

It was a slightly curious race of two halves, as while Lewis led off the line (Webber again failing to turn pole into a first corner lead) for the first half of the race Webber seemed to have the legs of his rivals and looked the most likely victor. He stalked Lewis in the first stint (leading him briefly) and then took the lead properly by employing the undercut at the first stops and showed every intention of keeping it. Still, Lewis and Fernando clung to his coattails, and Webber oddly found himself down to third after the second round of stops, despite pitting sooner than the other two.

Lewis took that lead at this point and then put a major shift on. It was hard to envisage him being headed from then on and despite Alonso chasing gamely, as you'd expect, the gap stayed around the three second mark. Webber faded somewhat at the same time, which the Australian himself seemed to struggle to explain post-race, and was upwards of five seconds shy even of Alonso most of the time. He had to settle for third at the end, which was probably not his anticipated reward from this race. The late run on the (supposedly) slower prime tyres was very much a dog that didn't bark, doing nothing to the order of the top three.

Although the anticipated rain stayed away just about, the un-summer like temperature in Germany was a major player. It may go a little way to explaining how Lewis managed to salvage a win from a weekend that he was close to writing off completely on Friday. Indeed the man himself commented post-race that 'we're able to switch our tyres on really well in cold conditions'. It also may explain why the overcut seemed to work better than the undercut on occasion, as drivers struggled to get new tyres up to operating temperature.

Alonso will be satisfied with second place
Credit: formulasantander.com / CC
They were temperatures that were meant to trip Ferrari up, and again they showed signs of struggling to get heat into new sets of tyres. This impeded them especially at pit stop time, and Alonso actually exited his second stop ahead of Lewis, only for Lewis to immediately glide around the outside of him at turn two, like Alonso was driving on ice. Still, Fernando and the Scuderia will be satisfied to claim a close second place in such circumstances, continuing their recent good form. Alonso again drove beautifully.

And of course I've got through all of these paragraphs with one glaring omission: Sebastian Vettel. The man who's spent virtually the entire season near or at the front had a conspicuous off day. He ran with the leaders early on, but having ceded third place to Alonso he then put a wheel out too wide going into turn 10 and spun. From that point on he was subdued, looking like he didn't fancy wheel to wheel battles (he relinquished a place to Massa rather easily, as he had with Alonso) as well as was a little ragged on occasion. Worse, he rarely kept pace with the leaders, and finished close to 50 seconds after Lewis. Still, he came alive somewhat towards the end, and managed to claim fourth place back from Massa in a final lap pit stop shoot out (neither fancied a long run on the hard tyres).

Mark Webber ended up chasing
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
It's a bit early for talk of 'I told you so' and of championship turning points, but Seb won't want many more weekends like this one this year. Otherwise he'll start to give the chasing pack a sniff. He does have an early opportunity to redeem himself, at the Hungaroring next weekend, which should suit the Red Bull more.

And kudos to Adrian Sutil, who out foxed the entire Mercedes team with a two-stop strategy which assisted him into sixth place at the finish. It's interesting that for all of the talk of Paul di Resta doing well this season, Sutil's currently outscoring him by 18 points to two.

But it was very much Lewis's day, and marked something of a redemption. Let's not write him off again.

Race result

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