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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hamilton takes commanding victory

Every time you think you have seen the best drive Lewis Hamilton has to offer, he pulls another rabbit out of his hat.

Two weeks ago it was a brilliant drive in the wet at Silverstone.

This time around, after the safety car appeared to rubbish his strategy, the Briton dispatched rival Felipe Massa and Nelson Piquet with relative ease to take a stunning victory in the German Grand Prix and take the lead in the drivers championship.

A big way to kick off the second half of the season, even if it didn’t exactly go as he would have scripted.

“I didn’t plan on doing that. I would have much preferred an easy comfortable afternoon out in front. But it didn’t work that way,” Hamilton said. “We had got off to a really good start. We had two very comfortable, two very decent stints and the team opted for me to stay out.”

Hamilton led from the start, beating Massa into turn one, and he quickly started building up a lead while Massa concentrated on keeping Kovalainen behind him.

“In the race in the first stint he was just half-a-second per lap quicker and when it is like that you cannot do anything,” Massa said.

As Hamilton continued to build his lead, some of the most interesting driving was happening behind Jarno Trulli. On the first lap, Robert Kubica moved up into fourth, taking advantage of a dice between Fernando Alonso and the Italian. Kimi Raikkonen would benefit similarly on lap four, picking off sixth from Alonso, while Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ran close behind.

Biggest loser at the start was David Coulthard, who dropped five places to 15th by then end of the first lap. The Scot began working to regain position, first taking Nico Rosberg on lap three, and getting Jenson Button’s Honda a few laps later.

Things began to settle into a comfortable pace as Hamilton looked to be in firm control of the race. Surprisingly, the McLaren was the first to make a pit stop, coming in on lap 18. Kubica also came in. Massa took the lead, which he held until making his own stop on lap 20.

Teammate Raikkonen came in on lap 23, rejoining in fourth.

By now, it was obvious Timo Glock, Rubens Barrichello and Nelson Piquet were playing around with their strategies a bit. Glock was the first to finally come in on lap 30, rejoining in seventh behind teammate Trulli, followed by Barrichello on lap 32.

Last would be Piquet on lap 36, and the timing would prove fortuitous, as just as Piquet was emerging Glock suffered a rear suspension failure that saw him shoot across the track, sliding back first into the pit wall, the sliding back across the track again before coming to rest in the grass.

The safety car deployed, but Piquet was out before the pitlane closed, so he would suffer no penalty. As Glock was walked away from the remnants of his Toyota, the field anxiously waited for the pit lane to reopen.

When it did, the majority of the frontrunners came in for their second stops, with the notable exception of Hamilton, who remained in the lead. The biggest beneficiary was Piquet, who suddenly found himself in second place after starting from 17th on the grid.

“I thought that had finished my weekend but obviously with these safety car rules you can get quite lucky. The team did a good decision by calling me in at the right time,” Piquet said. “Obviously before the race we had a bit of a gamble between one and two stops. We had an option open for when we started the race. I think that was the perfect strategy.”

As the suddenly crowded pit lane began to empty (Alonso and Vettel coming out side by side), Mark Webber emerged with smoke belching out of the back of his Red Bull. The Australian remained behind the safety car two more laps before throwing in the towel.

The safety car came in on lap 42, and Hamilton led the restart over Nick Heidfeld. He would now need to build a significant lead over Massa if he was going to come out of his second stop ahead of his rival.

“I guess they thought I could pull out a gap but it was a 23 second gap I needed and I only had seven laps or something, so I don’t know how that worked out. I kind of understood and I just kept pushing,” Hamilton said.

As Hamilton worked on building up his lead, Raikkonen sprang to life, picking off first Alonso, then Vettel, and then Trulli.

By lap 50, Hamilton was forced to make his stop, short of his goal. When he rejoined behind teammate Kovalainen in P5, it looked like a win was out of reach.

And when Heidfeld pitted four laps later, it was Nelson Piquet who suddenly found himself leading the German Grand Prix.

But Hamilton was on the move, making quick work of Kovalainen as the Finn appeared to suffer from that sort of mechanical issue which requires you to pull to one side and slow down just briefly.

“I have to say a big thank you to Heikki, he was a great teammate. He didn’t put up a huge fight and saw that I was quicker and enabled me to get past quicker. And so a big thank you to him,” Hamilton said.

Next up for Hamilton would be Massa, and that one wouldn’t be quite as easy.

The Briton found his opportunity on lap 57 at the hairpin, sweeping Massa into the runoff area to get past.

“With Felipe I saw that I was a lot quicker than him. I was told I was a second quicker than him at the time, so I just tried to keep up the pace. Obviously I was on the early few laps with my tyres and I knew I only had a small window to get past him before they began to grain and before they would slide around,” Hamilton explained. “I had to push to get as close to him as possible but the great thing about this track is that you can follow other people. Or so I found. So I was able to get quite close through the last two corners, follow him all the way down to turn two and slipstream him.”

Massa would try to battle back a couple of turns later, but this time was swept into the dirt by the McLaren.

“Again towards the end of the straight he sort of matched my speed and I found it difficult to get past, so I just had to do it on the brakes. He gave me plenty of room. I think it was quite a good battle. It was fun,” he continued.

Now the question was, could Hamilton get Piquet?

The answer was yes, as Hamilton quickly closed the gap and dusted off the young Renault driver, once again at the hairpin, taking the victory at Hockenheim.

Piquet would consolidate to finish second, his first F1 podium.

“When I was leading the race I knew Lewis was coming by quick and I knew Felipe wasn’t that much quicker than me, so I decided not to make it such a big fuss with Lewis,” Piquet said. “And he was so much quicker than us. If I would have fought it would have been a risk for maybe Felipe to arrive and he could have overtaken me. I just decided to have a safe second place than to have a third or fourth place and not be too happy.”

Massa would finish third in the Ferrari. It was the first time two Brazilians had been on the podium since 1991 at Spa, when Nelson Piquet Sr. and Ayrton Senna did it. Massa had kind words for his fellow countryman.

“I welcome Nelson. It is very nice. I am sure he is feeling a great time. The feeling to be on the podium the first time I remember,” Massa said. “It was two years ago at the Nürburgring and I was so happy, like a child, I am sure he is very happy and I welcome him to this nice place in F1.”

Nick Heidfeld hung on to fourth in the lead BMW Sauber, followed by Kovalainen in the second McLaren.

Raikkonen finished sixth, getting by Kubica in the closing laps to earn the extra point for Ferrari in the constructor’s championship. Kubica wound up seventh, and Sebastian Vettel led all in the Red Bull stable, taking the final points paying position.

The win puts Hamilton at the top of the drivers championship table at 58 points, a four point edge on Massa. Ferrari continues to lead the constructors, breaking the 100 point mark with 105. Second place BMW Sauber leads McLaren-Mercedes 89-86.

The circus heads next to Hungary in two weeks time.

“We are really on top of our game right now. But I think we have not to get too far ahead of ourselves,” Hamilton said. “We have got a lot of work to do for the rest of the season but if we can continue with this momentum we have got we are looking very good. So on to the next race and Hungary is a very good one for us, so fingers crossed.”
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so sick of Hammie.

Also, I feel sorry for Heikki---but I loved how he stuck those team orders right back in Ron's face.

Maybe that's just my American rebellious perspective, but it was satisfying...

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