HOCKENHEIM: Lewis Hamilton regained the championship lead in unexpected and dramatic fashion on Sunday, winning the German Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel crashed while leading near the end.
Heavy rain played havoc late on at the Hockenheimring as Vettel misjudged a basic entry into a turn and slid over the gravel into the barriers with 15 laps to go.
The four-time Formula One champion started from pole position and seemed in control. He was livid with himself, kicking the gravel in frustration as he stepped out his car.
His mishap opened the door wide open for Hamilton.
The British driver was fourth at the time of the crash, having started from 14th on the grid because of a hydraulic problem in qualifying.
“It’s obviously very difficult from that position and highly unlikely but you’ve got to believe,” Hamilton said. “I did a long prayer before the race. I wanted to stay collected, stay calm. The team did such a great job today. I kept believing and it happened so I manifested my dream today. A big, big thanks to God.
“Conditions were perfect for business time. When it rained, I knew I would have a good position.
“You never knew what was going to happen after the safety car. I hope this solidifies their belief in me, and I hope this solidified my belief in them. For those who didn’t know me before, now you do.”
Valtteri Bottas started and finished second on a great day for Mercedes, with Kimi Raikkonen taking third on a bad one for Ferrari.
Vettel’s incident led to a safety car coming out for several laps.
When the race resumed, with about 10 laps left, Bottas almost overtook Hamilton.
That did not go down well at a nervy Mercedes. Shortly after, Bottas was firmly told on team radio to “hold position” and not challenge Hamilton, who secured his fourth win of the season and 66th overall.
“As a driver a win is what we are after, when Seb went off I think there was a good chance,” Bottas said. “Taking positives, as a team it is a perfect result for us. We had a bit of a battle lap one after the safety car. I didn’t get past and I got told to minimize the risk but I understand. I think we have certain rules but it wasn’t clear enough. It was a moment in the race where I needed to stop.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff justified the team orders afterwards.
“It’s two things,” he said. “We didn’t have the quickest car and we need to prepare for the next races. It was still raining at the time and the fight was so intense. With the bad luck we had, we didn’t want to take chances.”
Raikkonen finished third after also having to comply with team orders, move over and let Ferrari teammate Vettel through. “I think we have certain rules but it wasn’t clear enough,” he said. “It was a moment in the race where I needed to stop.”
Ferrari were holding a one-two for a lot of the race, but had to settle for a third and a DNF. Rain caused havoc toward the end and provided a real test of the drivers’ mettle and skill.
“In the past, it’s been difficult in the rain and I was surprised with how the grip reacted,” said Raikkonen. “It didn’t really change an awful lot in the end. It was a tricky race. I had a problem with one of the lappers, the Sauber. It was a tricky race but we try next time.”