Winners and Losers at the German Grand Prix
22 July 2014 – Hockenheim played host to the 10th round of the season as Nico Rosberg claimed a comfortable victory, while Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton charged from 20th on the grid to the final podium position after disaster in qualifying. Here, GPUpdate.net presents its winners and losers from the German Grand Prix.
Nico Rosberg's month started badly when he suffered his first retirement of the year at Silverstone, but since then he's had the time of his life. He married long-term girlfriend Vivian Sibold and then witnessed his beloved German national football team triumph over Argentina in the World Cup final – although his own helmet tribute had to be amended after FIFA kicked up a fuss. He then signed a new 'multi-year' deal, tying him to the iconic Mercedes brand, as well as a quick car, for the next few seasons. In practice he was fairly matched with team-mate Lewis Hamilton across one lap on Friday, although he had concerns over braking, which he believed to be exacerbated by the removal of the FRIC system. On Saturday, he took pole position, albeit aided by Hamilton's demise, and was never challenged once the lights went out in the race. Hamilton was able to recover, but Rosberg nonetheless extended his points lead, claimed a home win (well, technically his second 'home' win of the year) and did so in a Mercedes (albeit one designed and built five miles down the road from Silverstone). If it's possible for a Formula 1 driver to have a better few weeks on and off track, we'd like to know.
Throughout 2013, those in the know could see that Valtteri Bottas had enormous potential and that it was being masked by the recalcitrant Williams FW36. He had his moments, but he spent his first year in the sport facing a steep learning curve, one which he took with enormous maturity. In 2014, his patience has been rewarded and the German Grand Prix was perhaps his finest drive to date. There was none of the spectacular overtaking as in Britain – he simply did the maximum possible with the equipment at his disposal. Having given Rosberg a minor scare during Q3, he recovered from a slow getaway to retain second into the first corner and from there he managed his pace well. There was no point trying to live with Rosberg's speed, so he ensured that he optimised the strategy. He executed his two stop strategy and when a surging Hamilton – on fresher option tyres – arrived on the tail of the Williams, he was met with a brick wall of Finnish resistance. Whereas rivals struggled on used tyres, Bottas ensured that he nailed the exits of crucial corners – such as Turns 3 and 6 – and didn't destroy his tyres in the process. It was a sublime second place, his third podium in a row, and if anyone can halt the Mercedes juggernaut in 2014, it should be him.
There were a few drivers worthy of the third spot on the list but no-one who witnessed the German Grand Prix could deny that the racing was a real winner at Hockenheim. Formula 1 2014 started slightly on the back foot as teams and drivers got to grips with the demands of the new regulations and as a result, the racing suffered. But matters improved significantly and in Germany there was action up and down the field – perhaps aided by improved stewarding which takes a more lenient approach and understands that sometimes, a collision is simply a racing incident. Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo's charges through the field were superb, with Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso's battle at the end of the race worthy of its place in any season montage. The DRS zones were placed perfectly to permit racing without passes becoming simple or artificial. On a number of occasions there were drivers running three wide approaching the hairpin – one time, it was three drivers each with a different Power Unit in the back. The currently regulations have certainly improved the quality of racing.
Whereas Bottas claimed his third successive podium, Felipe Massa has taken just 30 points across the opening 10 races of the season. The Brazilian has endured significant misfortune this season but in Germany it was difficult to reflect on Massa's frightening first corner action without questioning his tactics. Bottas bogged down at the start, which provided Massa and Magnussen with the sniff of a chance at moving up to second. But the Williams was soon back on course, followed closely by Magnussen, with Massa on the outside. Massa tried to sweep from the outside of the corner for a better exit but he did so without consideration for Magnussen. The stewards deemed that neither driver was to blame but it was a silly move to make by Massa as it belied his experience in the sport and cost Williams a huge bagful of points. Massa doesn't help himself by consistently denying his part in the wrongdoing – discretion is sometimes the better part of valour, but Massa rarely practices the former.
Kimi Räikkönen's miserable season continued at Hockenheim, leaving him marooned down the championship order. Räikkönen, who was fit to race after his enormous shunt at Silverstone, showed encouraging pace throughout practice, with team-mate Alonso a little at sea. But when it mattered in Q2, Räikkönen suffered a small lock-up into the hairpin which was sufficient enough to cost him a couple of tenths of a second. The result was 12th on the grid and facing another challenging Sunday. He made minor progress but Ferrari's strategy of running a long stint on primes before switching to options was compromised when he was hit firstly by Lewis Hamilton, and then squeezed between Vettel and Alonso. The damage to his Ferrari F14T – a missing endplate – was fairly small but it meant he was wearing out the front tyres at a rapid rate, especially on the Options, and he was consequently unable to make the strategy work, despite overtaking several rivals into the hairpin. What started out as a promising weekend ended with the Finn again unable to even make it into the top 10.
The racing has been excellent at recent events, especially last weekend, so ironically, and somewhat sadly, Hockenheim is a bit of a loser. It's biennial contract means that Formula 1 won't be back until 2016 – if at all, with the Nürburgring angling for an annual deal as it recovers from its financial collapse. Formula 1 arrived at Hockenheim off the back of two popular races, with fans cramming into the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone, along with the party atmosphere of Germany's World Cup win. Yet the grandstands were sparsely populated on Friday and matters only partially improved on Saturday. Official figures give 52,000 spectators for race day and 95,000 for the weekend in total – significantly down F1's last visit in 2012. Even DTM gets more spectators at Hockenheim, a damning indictment of Formula 1's ticket prices, accessibility and attitude towards fans. While money from ticket sales does not go into F1's pocket, a lack of spectators reflects badly on the sport and does little to attract sponsors. Those fans that did attend were vociferous in their support, but Germany has the champion of the last four years, the current leader and the dominant team, so a poor attendance was disappointing.