Formula 1 Eifel Grand Prix
Circuit: Nürburgring (Grand Prix Layout)
Grand Prix racing hasn’t been run on the notorious ‘Green Hell’ that is the 20.8km Nordschleife-Nurburgring since Niki Lauda’s fiery accident in 1976, but this modern ‘GP Strecke’ version of the Nurburgring is still well-regarded as an old-school circuit, even if it does lack the character of it’s notorious bigger brother.
I’d like to think plenty of my fellow Australians will forever cherish the Nurburgring, simply because of Mark Webber ending the 28-year wait for an Australian F1 race winner in 2009, and celebrating like any Australian would… By crying out “****IN’ BEAUTY!”
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 11: Eifel, Eiffel, either way, the French love it
For the first time since 2013, the World Championship returned to the fabled Nurburgring, nestled away in the Eifel region of Germany for which the Grand Prix was hastily named, and being in the thick of mainland Europe in October, it was lucky to reach 10 degrees Celsius all weekend.
Of course, there are plenty of survivors from the last F1 visit to the Nurburgring – Sebastian Vettel won the race for Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean finished on the podium for Lotus (Now Renault), Lewis Hamilton started on pole for Mercedes, Sergio Perez had his ill-fated year with McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo finished 12th for Toro Rosso, and Valtteri Bottas was a rookie at Williams.
The biggest piece of Formula One news since Russia a fortnight ago:
It’s pretty much par for the course with the duration of Honda’s other F1 stints – 1964-68, 1983-92, 2000-08, and now 2015-2021.
So that’s left Red Bull in the awkward and karmic situation of possibly having to reunite with Renault in 2022, because Mercedes are already contracted for 4 teams, Ferrari are lepers, which means under the regulations, Renault, as the supplier with the fewest engine partners, would have to supply the Milton Keynes team – Which Cyril Abiteboul has said Renault will adhere to.
They should give them a couple of shitty little Clio engines and let them reap what they sow.
It was also forecast to be a record-breaking weekend, because Lewis Hamilton could claim his 91st win and tie Michael Schumacher’s all-time record, fittingly in Germany, and Kimi Raikkonen was set for his 323rd race start, breaking a tie with Rubens Barrichello to become the most experienced driver in Formula 1 history.
As a tribute, here’s the Iceman with a simple answer as to why he couldn’t be bothered seeing Pelé give Schumi a trophy on his first retirement in 2006.
It was also meant to be an ‘exciting’ glimpse into the future for Ferrari and the Tifosi, because their F2 academy drivers Mick Schumacher and Callum Illott were due to appear in an official F1 session for the first time – Mick in an Alfa Romeo, and Illott in a Haas.
Then, Practice 1 rolls around, and conditions (Rain and low fog) are too unsafe for the medical chopper to fly in, meaning nobody could drive on safety grounds, and we’ll have to wait until Abu Dhabi to see either of them, by which time the F2 title will have been decided.
Practice 2 was also a no-show for the same reasons, meaning it was an unofficial 2 day race weekend, giving teams a taste of what it’ll be like at Imola at the end of the month.
Saturday was Murray Walker’s 97th birthday, and thankfully the sun shined on the voice of Formula 1, because conditions cleared up and the cars finally got on track.
Racing Point haven’t exactly had the best of luck with driver health in 2020, and this time, Lance Stroll came down with a flu-like symptoms (He tested negative for COVID-19) and was “On the toilet the whole time“, forcing the team to abruptly recall Nico Hulkenberg, who was due to be at the circuit as a pundit for RTL, and was having a coffee in Cologne that morning when he got the call to get his arse to Nurburg.
So Lance couldn’t get off the toilet eh… What a shitty situation.
Unlike Silverstone where he had time to adjust to the car in Practice, Hulkenberg was thrown in the deep end for Qualifying, and as a consequence, started from last with only 4 flying laps.
If Stroll had been unwell since Russia, it makes you wonder why Racing Point didn’t have Hulk, or even Stoffel Vandoorne, preparing in a simulator in the event that the Canadian couldn’t race.
As for the rest of the session, Valtteri Bottas backed up his FP3 pace and claimed pole from Lewis Hamilton, as Max Verstappen filled out that stereotypical Top 3 in the Red Bull, Charles LeClerc put Ferrari’s aero upgrades to good use and started 4th, Alex Albon was starting at the pointy end in 5th, Daniel Ricciardo started 6th, just ahead of Renault teammate Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s upgrades didn’t seem to work for Lando Norris or Carlos Sainz, while Sergio Perez was left to start 9th in his upgraded Racing Point, after the team had to use an extra set of Softs to get out Q1, leaving him only able to set a single lap on that set in Q3.
For reference, the old F1 lap record of the circuit was Takuma Sato, who set a 1.27.691 in Q1 for the 2004 European Grand Prix driving a V10 BAR-Honda – 17 out of the 20 drivers cleared that bar with ease.
Race (60 Laps)
Just as it had been on Friday and Saturday, Sunday at the Nurburgring saw some of the coldest conditions seen in F1 since the 1978 Canadian GP in Montreal was run in 5 degree temperatures.
Even with the rain staying away, the air temperature barely topped 10 degrees Celsius, and the track temperature was lucky to reach 19 Celsius, making it a nightmare to keep heat in the tyres.
At the start, Bottas and Hamilton both ran wide, but the Finn came out on top and took the lead, Verstappen and LeClerc stayed 3rd and 4th, Ricciardo got 5th and had a brush with Albon on cold tyres, as the field managed to get through the opening lap without incident, despite pretty much everyone missing the Turn 1 apex.
On that opening lap, Romain Grosjean was hit on his index finger by a piece of gravel kicked up by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo, but despite fearing he’d broken the finger, Grosjean carried on.
As the Top 3 cleared away by several seconds per lap, Ricciardo was all over the back of LeClerc, who still had the deficiency in straight line speed with the Ferrari, but was able to keep the Renault behind through better cornering speed.
Ricciardo put the pressure on to start Lap 6, forcing LeClerc to lock up into Turn 1, but Ricciardo didn’t attack into Turns 2-3, which allowed Albon to stay within a second.
On Lap 8, Albon was first driver to pit for Medium tyres, mainly to get rid of a flat-spotted left front tyre which had started giving vibrations of the bad variety, and to get him out from behind the Ricciarco-LeClerc fight, but all it did was put him back out in traffic.
On Lap 9, Ricciardo finally got close enough with the DRS to attack LeClerc into Turn 1, but the Ferrari forced him around the outside, but the Honey Badger tasted blood, cut back and went around the outside at Turn 2 to get the pass done, and 4th place was his for the time being, with Verstappen already some 17 seconds up the road.
In the meantime, light rain had arrived in the pit straight, but it never seemed to develop beyond small drops.
On Lap 11, LeClerc pitted, right as his teammate Vettel had a massive spin at Turn 1 after almost wiping out Tonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo, but the German continued, forcing him into an unscheduled stop after starting on the Medium tyre, and in a strategic ploy, he became the first driver to run on the Hard tyre all weekend.
He was the canary in the coal mine, or in this case, the prancing horse in the coal mine.
On Lap 12, Hamilton set another fastest lap, and starting Lap 13, Bottas locked up his right front into Turn 1, running wide and allowing the Brit to sweep into the lead out of Turn 2, forcing Bottas to pit right as Verstappen was beginning to apply pressure, dropping the Finn back behind Ricciardo, although not for long with the difference in car speed.
That same lap, George Russell, right behind Vettel, was wiped out by Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 1, causing terminal rear suspension damage and putting the Williams out after pulling off at Turn 6, earning Raikkonen a 10-second penalty.
That forced the Virtual Safety Car to be deployed while the crane removed the stricken Williams, giving Hamilton a cheap pit stop, while Ricciardo pitted right as the caution period ended, which would seemingly only be disadvantage if there was another VSC in the laps before the likes of Norris and Perez pitted, which didn’t happen.
Just as Ricciardo was re-emerging, an Albon vs Kvyat duel became messy after Kvyat missed the chicane, allowing Albon to line up a fairly simple pass into the final corner, but the Thai driver wasn’t completely ahead when he merged back on to the racing line, and clumsily cut off the Alpha Tauri’s front wing at the worst possible part of the track, forcing the Russian to drive an entire lap with a disabled car, as Albon somehow dodged a rear puncture.
Then, on Lap 18, BOTTAS REPORTED HE’D LOST POWER, abruptly droppin behind Norris and Perez, and just as he’d seemingly restarted the Championship battle with the Russian victory and the pole in Germany, the Finn would have to retire!
His first DNF of 2020, and he was certain to lose another 25 points to Lewis Hamilton.
If the title wasn’t done already, it is now.
From a biased standpoint, what that meant was…
THE BATTLE FOR 3RD WAS ON AGAIN, and Duncraig Dan was in a very good position!
While the stewards were preapring to give Albon a whack for the Kvyat incident, the Red Bull driver now found himself fighting the sister Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly, but on Lap 22, the Red Bull locked up AGAIN into Turn 1, thankfully avoiding wiping out the Frenchman, but this latest lockup would force Albon back in for another unscheduled pitstop, and he would also receive a 5-second penalty for wiping out Kvyat.
It was also it this time that Albon moaned that “They (Alpha Tauris) race me SO HARD,” which Martin Brundle responded to with a simple “Welcome to Formula One.”
ALEX, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT – YOU’RE IN THE PINNACLE OF WORLD MOTORSPORT, DRIVING THE UNDISPUTED 2ND-BEST CAR ON THE GRID AGAINST TWO DRIVERS WHO WERE DEMOTED FROM YOUR SEAT.
Albon would come in to serve his penalty on Lap 24, but something nobody expected was that Red Bull would retire the car – The team said it was a power unit problem, specifically a punctured radiator.
I do feel for Alex – He’s just a young fella low on confidence, in a team not exactly kind to drivers with low confidence.
Anyway, the retirements kept flying in, because Ricciardo had closed up to his teammate Ocon, only for the Frenchman to report a hydraylic problem with the car, forcing him into yet another mechanical retirement from a points position, robbing Renault of valuable points in the fight for 3rd in the Constructors.
As they all went down together, on Lap 26, Norris, who had replaced his power unit on Sunday morning, reported a loss of power thanks a sensor issue, allowing Perez to close right up to the struggling McLaren, who would do well to score points.
The old Hockenheimring was a notorious car-breaker…. I don’t think anyone expected the modern Nurburgring to cause so many reliability retirements.
Defying Pirelli’s forecasts for the Soft tyre, Perez was able to stay out until Lap 29 on his set, setting him up nicely for a shot at Ricciardo at the end of the race, while Norris looked like he was going retire after trying Default 03 to no good effect, but the Brit kept going after stopping on Lap 30, promoting Ricciardo to 3rd at halfway, some 54 seconds behind Hamilton, who was absolutely relentless out in front, slowly breaking Verstappen’s will.
With the tyre advantage Perez had, getting lapped might have been a good thing for Daniel.
After his stop, Perez was battling LeClerc for 4th, but the Ferrari was proving a nuisance, especially after getting the DRS down the pit straight when Perez had edged ahead just before the detection line to end Lap 33.
That allowed Ricciardo to build a couple of extra seconds while managing his tyres, and by the time Perez finally got the move done for good, Ricciardo was ahead by around 17 seconds with 24 laps to go, but that gap was going to be whittled down in no time.
LeClerc pitted again on Lap 37, dropping back to 10th and racing Gasly in the scrap for the final points positions, in a group that included Giovinazzi, Vettel and Raikkonen.
On Lap 44, Norris, having been comfortably cleared by teammate Sainz, finally called it a day after the battery pretty much carked it and burned from the inside, and with the car in a seemingly precarious spot, the full Safety Car was deployed by Michael Masi, right as Perez had closed to within 10 seconds, giving Ricciardo the priceless tyre change he needed.
Having been audibly annoyed all afternoon, Norris decided to continue the McLaren driver tradition of retreating to the comfort of a deck chair.
So that wiped out Hamilton’s massive lead over everyone, Perez temporarily had track position over Ricciardo, but the Mexican pitted a lap later under the SC and dropped back in behind Dan without losing a spot to Carlos Sainz, as it took a good 4 laps to get the lapped cars back in order and bunch the pack up, which meant you’d had drivers circling around on stone cold tyres, while others had circled around at racing speed catching up, giving them an apparent advantage.
In the pit activity, Grosjean stayed out on a set of Hard tyres and jumped to 7th, now seemingly a good chance of scoring his first points of 2020, and Nico Hulkenberg was 9th!
The race restarted on Lap 50, as Hamilton jumped everyone and cleared off again, Ricciardo attacked a flat-footed Verstappen, leaving the Aussie vulnerable to Perez, who tried an audacious move around the outside at Turn 4, but the Renault held on, and set about clearing out of DRS range.
They may have been on cold tyres, but Hamilton and Verstappen immediately began pumping out the fastest laps of the race, while Ricciardo crucially got himself out of DRS range of Perez, as the Renault podium was almost a reality.
Meantime, Gasly deprived LeClerc of 6th place, as Magnussen, Raikkonen and Vettel were having an entertaining scrap outside of the points, highlighted by Vettel and Magnussen banging wheels and running each other off the road at Turns 2 & 4, but it was ultimately Vettel who got back to 11th, as Raikkonen later chimed in and took 12th from the Dane.
Other than that, it was a smooth run to the end.
So on a momentous day for Formula 1, LEWIS HAMILTON MOVED ALONGSIDE MICHAEL SCHUMACHER ON 91 WINS, while Verstappen did have the last laugh on the fastest lap bonus point battle and set a lap record on the final lap…
AND AFTER 2 AND A HALF YEARS, DANIEL RICCIARDO WAS BACK ON THE PODIUM!
LOOKS LIKE TATTOOS ARE ON THE MENU!
Dan’s first since that 2018 Monaco grand Prix win for Red Bull, Renault’s first podium as Renault since Nick Heidfeld at Malaysia in 2011, and the first for the Enstone team since Romain Grosjean at Spa in 2015, when they were still Lotus.
To be honest, after all the shit I gave them during the disappointment of last year, it’s very rich of me to be celebrating like this, but that’s a fantastic achievement, and one that’s been 4 years in the making for Cyril and his team, who I imagine will thoroughly enjoy the celebratory tattoo Dan will give him.
7 teams have now stood on the podium in 2020, while 9 teams (Williams the unlucky bastards again) scored points on Sunday, only the second time that’s happened in the current points system (2010-), alongside Azerbaijan 2017.
Of greater importance than a 3rd placing, as a way of marking one of the more historic moments in Formula One, Mick Schumacher presented Lewis with the helmet his dad wore in his last race at Brazil in 2012, which featured the message “Life is about passions, thank you for sharing mine.”
Man, he’s a lucky dude – He’s got a genuine Ayrton Senna helmet, a genuine Sebastian Vettel helmet, a genuine Michael Schumacher helmet, and a genuine Lewis Hamilton helmet!
If only Michael could’ve been there in person.
Nico Hulkenberg proved once again that he is a superb talent.
He gets called up to drive on Saturday afternoon with no time to practice, leading to him starting from last in a car he hasn’t driven for some 2 months…
AND HE FINISHED 8TH.
Think about this – He’s officially started in only 3 races…. and has as many Top 8 finishes in 2020 as Sebastian Vettel.
Not bad for a TV commentator.
On another note, while Hamilton new leads Bottas by a very healthy 69 points (giggity), the ‘F1.5’ championship battles have taken another wild twist.
Racing Point, with the double points finish, have finally overhauled McLaren to get back to 3rd spot in the Constructors, as the Woking team really have dropped off in the last month, Renault are only 6 points behind RP in 5th, while in the Drivers standings, Daniel Ricciardo is now 4th, 10 points ahead of Sergio Perez!
By the way, Daniel didn’t produce a shoey on the podium because it was so cold that he forgot, but don’t worry, he did one.
Up next: Portimao in a fortnight, for the first Portuguese Grand Prix in 24 years!