Welcome to the Sports Obsessive F1 report for Sunday’s Eifel Grand Prix. An exciting race saw a mixture of tyre strategies and several retirements lead to a constant supply of interest, overtakes and events throughout the race. Oh, and, of course, #hulkenback! Both Mercedes cars got away well, Hamilton pushing his teammate wide on turn one to seemingly take the lead, only for an aggressive Bottas to come back at the Brit for turn two. Gritty and gutsy racing from Bottas gave him a deserved lead in the early part of the race. Verstappen settled into third and behind him Leclerc converted his excellent qualifying position into a fourth place. Further back, we were treated to a good battle between Norris, Perez, Ocon and Sainz in the opening laps for seventh place. Giovinazzi and Hulkenberg both got great starts, each making up three places from their starting position.
Bottas’ tyres began to lose grip and, after a lock up, lead him to run wide on lap thirteen, whilst Hamilton took the lead. Bottas pitted shortly after, and his day then went from bad to worse as his Mercedes lost power, forcing him to retire the car on lap nineteen. Another bit of bad luck for the Finn, who was competitive this weekend, beating Hamilton to pole by quarter of a second.
Hamilton continued to lead the race, with Verstappen behind. The Red Bull kept the Mercedes honest but never really challenged for the lead. It’s clear the Red Bull team have found pace and are able to almost keep up with the Mercedes now, Hamilton even proclaiming in his post race interview that the “Red Bull’s are so fast” and that Mercedes have a “serious fight on their hands.” Personally, I’m not convinced that the Red Bull’s speed would consistently beat the Mercedes without a big heap of luck on their side.
Further down the field, positions were almost constantly changing as teams played with different tyre strategies. Those cars staying out—doing longer stints on tyres— gained track positions only to be caught, and usually overtaken, by those who had pitted and dropped down the order but were now on faster rubber. This constant changing saw some good overtakes, defensive drives and familiar battles from this year, including Leclerc and Gasley, as well as Norris, Ricciardo and Perez.
Ultimately, Ricciardo came best of the rest, thanks to a short safety car period toward the end of the race. This allowed him—and several others—to make an additional cheeky pitstop. Before this, Perez, on his newer tyres in fourth, had been hunting down Ricciardo and would have undoubtedly got that last step on the podium. Unlucky, Sergio, but still he equalled his best result this year in fourth. For Ricciardo and Renault it was a great result: his first podium with the team, and Renaults first podium since retuning to the sport in 2016.
Most overtakes came in turn one or two, but the move of the day came from Kimi Raikkonen around the outside of Magnussen at the hairpin turn seven. Granted, the Finn was on faster tyres, but still a beautiful overtake to watch. A mixed day for Raikkonen, as he also received a ten second penalty for causing a collision earlier on in the race. Whilst battling with Russell and Vettel, the Finn locked his front right into turn one and ran into the side of Russell’s Williams, leading to the Brit to have to retire the car. For me, it was a racing incident—racers need to go hard and fast and sometimes tyres lock up—but it was an understandable penalty, as it did cause a retirement for the Williams team. Raikkonen managed to finish twelfth overall in a race where he equalled Rueben Barrichello’s record of the most F1 race starts, with 326 under his belt. Raikkonens teammate Giovinazzi put in his best performance of the season, finishing with a point in tenth. A much-needed good drive for the Italian, who’s F1 future is currently uncertain.
Perez put in yet another solid performance and was unlucky not to get a podium, his last minute teammate putting in an incredible performance to finish eighth. Eighth may not sound amazing, but bear in mind Hulkenberg was called up for this race Saturday morning, regular driver Stroll being taken unwell. The Hulk completed a handful of laps in qualifying and was then thrown straight into an F1 race where, from a twentieth place start, he came in eighth—just amazing. The only travesty here is that both of these drivers have no seat in F1 currently next year.
This result elevates Racing Point to third in the Constructors Championship this year, ahead of Renault and Mclaren in what is turning out to be a close battle between the three. Mclaren are only four points behind Racing Point, and another solid drive from Sainz—who finished fifth—gave the team important points. Unfortunately, Norris suffered a technical issue, seemingly a re-occurrence of Sainz’s engine problem from Belgium—at least the team spread the bad luck between drivers. After several laps of attempting to Ctrl+Alt+Delete the Mclaren with various settings at 100MPH around the Nurburgring, Norris succumbed to his first retirement of the season.
Gasley picked up sixth after a good drive, including battles with Albon and Leclerc, cementing him as one of the drivers of the season. Not such a great race for the other Alpha Tauri, though, as Kyvat, taking too much speed into the corner, cut a chicane and, upon returning to the track, had his front wing clipped by Albon. The Red Bull driver was given an—ultimately pointless—five second penalty, as he retired shortly afterwards. None of that helped Kyvat, who lost vast amounts of time limping around to the pits to receive a new nose, the Russian coming in at the end of the race as fifteenth out of fifteen finishers.
One racer in contention for driver of the season for me is Charles Leclerc, and yet again he out performed the Ferrari to finish in seventh. The team took a gamble on a one stop strategy for Vettel, running the harder compound tyre, which no team had run over the race weekend due to free practices one and two being cancelled on Friday. A risk worth taking, as it seemed they were unlikely to get points with Vettel anyway, and the German finished eleventh—just out of the points.
The Haas team also rolled the dice on a tyre strategy, opting to keep Grosjean out whilst others pitted under the safety car. Although many with faster tyres did overtake, the gamble paid off and the Frenchman finished in the points for the first time in twenty races—ninth place for Grosjean in his best drive of the season.
So, many take always from this race, but mainly: why don’t we come here more often!? With a history of memorable incidents and races, why has it been seven years since our last F1 race at the Nurburgring!? Also, a Congratulations to both Raikkonen—equalling that record number of race starts—and Hamilton, equalling Michael Schumacher’s record 91 race wins in a career. Can’t wait to see them both break the records, undoubtedly within the season.
Driver of the day: Hulkenberg.
Honourable mentions: Ricciardo, Perez, Giovinazzi
Eifel Grand Prix Race Results
- Verstappen (Fastest Lap)
Next up: another new circuit for F1 at the Algarve international circuit! Very exciting, a rollercoaster track likened to Austin, one on which Hamilton always does well—will we see his 92nd victory here?
Where to watch:
USA: Sunday 25th October Live on ESPN race start at 10:10am EST
UK: Sunday 25th September Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 1:10pm GMT
Highlights on Sky Sports one (time TBC) and Channel Four at 6:30pm Sunday 25th October