By Shwetha Surendran
BU News Service
A race weekend that began shrouded in fog and rain at the Nürburgring gave way to clear skies on Sunday as Lewis Hamilton clinched his 91st podium victory, extending his championship lead to 69-points over teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton is no stranger to breaking records, and this Grand Prix was no different.
In a perfect world, the cameras would have cut to a beaming Michael Schumacher in the paddock as he watched Hamilton equal his record of 91 podium wins on Schumacher’s home turf. But in an equally poignant moment, the crowds applauded as Schumacher’s son and current FIA Formula Two championship leader, Mick Schumacher, gifted a visibly-moved Hamilton his father’s 2012 Mercedes crash helmet.
“It’s an incredible honor, but I could not have done it without this incredible team,” said Hamilton in his post-race interview with David Coulthard. “A big thank you and huge respect to Michael.”
With the weather playing spoilsport for both of Friday’s practice sessions, teams were left scrambling for race and tire analysis data as they went into Saturday’s qualifying session with only an hour of practice on a track that hasn’t been on the Formula One calendar since 2013.
Building off the momentum from his win in Russia, Bottas won the qualifying session, storming to an emphatic pole position and starting first on the grid for Sunday’s race. Hamilton took second place in the qualifying, making for yet another Mercedes front-row lockout. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc continued his stellar form, taking place on the second row of the grid, splitting the Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon.
Nico Hülkenberg, looking at a relaxed Saturday at the Formula One media center, was called up for racing duty once more, as Racing Point’s Lance Stroll came down with stomach issues. Incredibly, Hülkenberg finished in points on Sunday, despite jumping into the car with no practice whatsoever.
Unlike other starts this season, the 60-lap race began on a fairly straightforward note – all 20 cars managed to make it through the first lap in one piece. There was no contact despite most drivers running wide at turn one because of the cold tire temperatures.
At the start, Bottas made a bold move around Hamilton’s outside, retaining his race position on the opening lap. But a car issue ended his race early, along with any hope of contending for the World Championship.
With Bottas out, the third step on the podium was suddenly up for grabs, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez, and McLaren’s Lando Norris all vying for that final spot.
The Nürburgring, an old-school circuit, brought with it a slew of unreliability issues – Norris, Esteban Ocon, and Albon all retired because of mechanical problems with their cars. Albon’s retirement came with other self-inflicted setbacks, such as an early tire change and a five-second penalty for colliding with AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat.
Albon complained about the radio that AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was racing him too hard, but he might have more important things to worry about in 2021. Red Bull might consider super substitute Hülkenberg for a seat if Albon continues his poor show of form.
Also driving for Red Bull, Verstappen was in a league of his own. He continued to outperform his car and his teammate Albon, finishing P2 and grabbing the extra point for the fastest lap.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen, who qualified on the grid at P19, drove a lackluster race, only ending up at P12 after he took a 10-second penalty for a collision with Williams driver George Russell. Nevertheless, it was a record-breaking weekend. Räikkönen is now the driver with the most race starts in Formula One history – 323, to be exact.
Räikkönen’s teammate added to the celebration as well – Antonio Giovinazzi got his first point of the 2020 Formula One season.
Despite taking small steps towards regaining their usually blistering pace, Ferrari still has their work cut out for them. Leclerc remains their sole hope and points provider in the championship. Sebastian Vettel had yet another dismal weekend at his home Grand Prix, locking up while trying to overtake Giovinazzi and spinning yet again.
The record books opened for Hamilton and Räikkönen, but Ricciardo’s weekend was just as sweet. The beaming Australian took the final spot on the podium for Renault, fending off a rapid Pérez. This is the first podium for Ricciardo since Monaco in 2018 and the first podium for Renault since 2011.
As for the classic Danny Ric “shoey,” he forgot about it on the podium. But better late than never – he took to his Instagram for the shoe-juice instead.
A new era
As the sun set on the Nürburgring, a track steeped in Formula One history, it also marked the end of the Schumacher-era. But, another Schumacher is very much in line to reclaim it all for the family name. With Formula Two drivers Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott, and Robert Schwartzman all in line for prospective Formula One seat in 2021, the next decade is on the way.
The drama continues Oct. 23-25 on the legendary tarmac of Imola at the Formula One Heineken Grande Prémio De Portugal 2020.