By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician
If 'ifs and buts' were candies and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.
Sebastian Vettel will be hoping to avoid spending his Yuletide living to regret the events that unfolded in the closing stages of Sunday’s German Grand Prix.
An elusive first Hockenheim success slipped from his grasp in the time it took for him to slip from the racetrack and into the Sachs Kurve tyre wall, triggering the events that handed the win to his biggest title rival Lewis Hamilton.
The weekend had gone so well for Vettel up to the fateful moment he got out of shape on lap 52, with a comfortable nine-second gap over Valtteri Bottas. Pole position on Saturday was his first on German soil since 2010, and it gave him the chance to erase the seemingly-impossible notion that he’d only previously led three laps at Hockenheim in his F1 career.
From agony to ecstasy, and ecstasy to agony - Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have been on an emotional rollercoaster in the last two races— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 23, 2018
See how the #GermanGP drama unfolded in the rain ⬇️https://t.co/NkKww2qfM1
He may have led 38 laps this time, but it wasn’t enough to land a first win at a circuit situated less than 35 miles from his hometown of Heppenheim. It was the fifth time that Vettel had retired from the race lead in his career, and that the chief beneficiary should be Hamilton gave the disappointment an added kick.
Conversely, Hamilton ended up with arguably the most unlikely win of his F1 career, after a mechanical failure in qualifying left him a lowly 14th on the grid. Although we’ve seen several podium finishes from such positions (including three at Hockenheim in the last seven races held here), a win was statistically far more unlikely.
Hamilton had never previously won a grand prix from outside the top six on the grid. Furthermore, nobody at all had won a race from as low as 14th since Fernando Alonso’s highly-controversial success in the 2008 Singapore GP, from 15th position.
Last but not least, the winner had come from the top three on the grid at every Hockenheim race since the track was reconfigured in 2002.
He was booed before the race, but Lewis Hamilton says he didn't let the negativity affect him as he claimed a dramatic victory in the wet at the #GermanGP— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 22, 2018
"I've come a long, long way - I've grown a lot," he told @LeeMcKenzieTV https://t.co/3A2A2KaoV4
Hamilton’s unexpected success was his fourth in a German GP, moving him level with Michael Schumacher’s race record. It was also his 125th career podium, and his 100th points finish for Mercedes, who made a little history of their own through this success.
Despite being the dominant force in grand prix racing in their original incarnation in 1954-55, and then redefining the very concept of domination from 2014 onwards, Mercedes had never scored a 1-2 finish in their home country until Sunday, as Bottas followed home his team-mate to seal a memorable day in the company’s history.
All five of the Finn’s podium finishes this season have been for second place, as well as both his career top-three placings at Hockenheim itself.
Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen were under no illusions about their roles as No. 2 drivers at the #GermanGP— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 22, 2018
"For sure, it never feels good. But I get the point," Valtteri told @LeeMcKenzieTV after taking P2 https://t.co/FJLpP8RVZ3
Of course, it may have been different – not necessarily in a good way – had Bottas not chosen to heed the orders from his team to cool his pursuit of Hamilton. His willingness to go along with the instructions might have a knock-on effect in both drivers’ and constructors’ championships by season’s end.
Ferrari ran 1-2 for 21 laps in this race, yet somehow ended up with nothing more than a third place by Kimi Raikkonen to show for their efforts.
The enigmatic Finn continued to nurture his run of podium finishes without actually winning – Sunday was his 28th time on the rostrum since taking victory at Melbourne 2013, and his fourth podium finish in a row.
I don't get overly dramatic about single events over the course of an entire season, but that Vettel crash today has seismic implications for the direction of this championship. He had it in the bag up until that point #GermanGP— Sean Kelly (@virtualstatman) July 22, 2018
While 2018 has undoubtedly been the closest we’ve yet come to having three teams genuinely competing for title honours, Red Bull were never truly on the pace at Hockenheim (Friday notwithstanding, as their session-topping times would prove to be a false dawn).
Max Verstappen qualified and finished a rather anonymous fourth, but that was still better than the horrible weekend that Daniel Ricciardo endured, as multiple power-unit penalties sent him to the back of the grid.
Logic would at least assume that with a raft of new parts on the car, reliability wouldn’t be an issue, but that was scotched when the Australian’s car broke down on lap 28, becoming the race’s first retirement in the process.
It’s worth noting that although switching from Renault to Honda may seem an odd move at face value, Red Bull as a team now have as many classified retirements this season as the Honda-powered Toro Rossos (6).
The top three were sheltered inside for interviews during the post-race downpour, but Max and Nico ventured out to talk to @LeeMcKenzieTV after the #GermanGP ️☔️— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 22, 2018
"I like these conditions," @HulkHulkenberg beamed after his best finish this season https://t.co/kZqeB52dPG
This week’s star performer in the 'best of the rest' championship was Nico Hulkenberg, as the German continues to be the reverse Sebastian Vettel when it comes to form at Hockenheim.
Sunday’s P5 was surprisingly his first top-five finish for Renault, a statistic that only seems incorrect because the Hulk has finished sixth for Renault no fewer than seven times! (He has, however, taken P4 with Force India and Sauber).
Romain Grosjean had never previously scored a point at Hockenheim, but sixth place gave the Frenchman only his second top-10 finish in 2018. After such a disastrous opening to his season, Grosjean is now only 10 points shy of being in the top 10 in the championship.
While speculation swirls over the long-term future for Force India, the team are starting to look like their old selves with regards to results as Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon both finished in the points for the third consecutive race.
After three races this season the team had but a single point to their name, but they are now fifth in the constructors’ championship as they seek a hat-trick of top-four finishes.
It's smiles all around for Mercedes after their first one-two finish on home soil, with the Silver Arrows back in the lead of the constructors' championship— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 22, 2018
But it's only an eight-point advantage and Hungary isn't necessarily a Mercedes stronghold #C4F1 #GermanGP pic.twitter.com/4eCJirp9wt
Marcus Ericsson has been somewhat overshadowed by Charles Leclerc in 2018 – and with good reason, as the rookie has scored more points finishes this year (5) than their Sauber team managed in all of the previous two seasons combined.
However, Sunday gave the Swede another moment in the spotlight as he came home ninth, to score for only the eighth time in his 87-race career. It matched his result in Bahrain in April, and came after finishing 10th in Austria two races ago.
For what it’s worth, Leclerc might have had a better time in this race had his team not made the bold – or perhaps foolhardy – decision to put him on intermediate tyres while the track was still almost totally dry.
Lewis Hamilton has now moved back into the lead of the drivers' championship, with the reigning champ 17 points clear of Sebastian Vettel— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 22, 2018
Valtteri Bottas has also leapfrogged Daniel Ricciardo to P4 as well #C4F1 #GermanGP pic.twitter.com/v0Dcl4RTcV
It wasn’t as bad as Toro Rosso’s decision to pit Pierre Gasly for full wets, but the result was largely the same for both drivers.
Gasly’s team-mate Brendon Hartley claimed the last point on offer on Sunday, although it was the second race in a row in which the driver who physically finished 10th on the road lost his point due to a post-race penalty.
At Silverstone it was Gasly who was penalised. In Germany it was the turn of Carlos Sainz, who received an extra 10 seconds for overtaking during the safety car period for Vettel’s accident.
Williams had the longest streak of races with at least 1 car finishing (their last double DNF was Austin 2015). That's about the only positive stat they had going for them, and now that's out the window too #GermanGP— Sean Kelly (@virtualstatman) July 22, 2018
We’ll never know for certain if Vettel would have won this race had the weather gods not intervened on Hamilton’s behalf, but we do know that the British driver left Germany with the championship lead, as it changed hands for the fifth time this season.
With Hamilton having taken a record five wins at the Hungaroring, he couldn’t be heading to a better place as F1’s summer break approaches.