Lewis Hamilton said he’d “never been in a race like this” after his stunning victory in a spectacular rain-hit German Grand Prix which saw title rival Sebastian Vettel crash out of contention.
Three days after confirmation of his blockbuster two-year contract extension, the defending four-time world champion delivered a near-miracle for Mercedes as he and teammate Valtteri Bottas notched the team’s first one-two finish on German soil.
The Briton was subject to a lengthy steward’s investigation for swerving out of the pit entry lane when his team suddenly aborted a tyre change while the safety car was out. In a statement stewards said there was clearly an infringement, but decided only to issue a reprimand.
Hamilton started 14th on the grid after a catastrophic qualifying on Saturday, but a combination of his skill, speed and tactical acumen enabled him to profit from what seemed to be divine intervention when the heavens opened.
“It’s obviously very difficult from that position and highly unlikely but you’ve got to believe,” said Hamilton. “I did a long prayer before the race. I wanted to stay collected, stay calm and the team did such a great job today.
“When it rained, I knew I would have a good position,” he said. “You never knew what was going to happen after the safety car.”
“After racing for so many years, you never know where you’re going to have a race as good as your best. This was up there with them.”
It was Hamilton’s fourth win this year, his 44th for Mercedes and the 66th of his career, leap-frogging him from eight points behind German Vettel of Ferrari to 17 points ahead.
Mercedes also regained the initiative in the constructors’ championship, much to the delight of company chairman Dieter Zetsche who embraced the Englishman in the unbridled euphoria in the rain that followed the race.
Mercedes lead with 310 points to Ferrari on 302 points while in the drivers’ Hamilton has 188 and Vettel has 171.
It was also a 150th podium for Mercedes since returning to F1 in 2010.
The luckless Vettel, still seeking his first victory on his “home” track 30 kilometres from his birthplace, was left to reflect on a near-perfect weekend wrecked by one split-second mistake on lap 52.
‘PUNCHING THE AIR’
The German, locked in a yo-yo duel with Hamilton to be the first to claim a fifth title, was leading when he slid off in the rain. After hitting the barriers, he punched his steering wheel in frustration.
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff expressed sympathy for Vettel, noting how quickly fortunes can change in Formula One.
“Yesterday, we saw how bad it can be and in 24 hours, it can all turn around. So, I feel for Vettel because it’s his home Grand Prix.
“But it was the moment that gave us the win and we were punching the air in our garage, but I can still feel sympathy for him.
“I think Ferrari were over the moon at Silverstone two weeks ago and maybe we should be here. It’s great for Mercedes to win at Hockenheim.”
Dutchman Max Verstappen finished fourth for Red Bull ahead of German Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Romain Grosjean of Haas, Sergio Perez and his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon.
Marcus Ericsson was ninth for Sauber and New Zealander Brendon Hartley 10th for Toro Rosso.
GERMAN GP RESULTS
1. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1hr 32min 29.845
2. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes) at 4.535
3. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Ferrari) 6.732
4. Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Renault) 7.654
5. Nico Hülkenberg (GER/Renault) 26.609
6. Romain Grosjean (FRA/Haas-Ferrari) 28.871
7. Sergio Pérez (MEX/Force India-Mercedes) 30.556
8. Esteban Ocon (FRA/Force India-Mercedes) 31.750
9. Marcus Ericsson (SWE/Sauber-Ferrari) 32.362
10. Brendon Hartley (NZL/Toro Rosso-Honda) 34.197
11. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari) 34.919
12. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Renault) 43.069
13. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL/McLaren-Renault) 46.617
14. Pierre Gasly (FRA/Toro Rosso-Honda) 1 lap
15. Charles Leclerc (MON/Sauber-Ferrari) 1 lap
16. Fernando Alonso (ESP/McLaren-Renault) 1 lap
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Red Bull-Renault)
Sergey Sirotkin (RUS/Williams)
Sebastian Vettel (GER/Ferrari)
Lance Stroll (CAN/Williams)