x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Formula One: Sebastian Vettel claims maiden German Grand Prix title

With Mark Webber’s decision to leave Red Bull Racing still looming, Kimi Raikkonen chased Sebastain Vettel but a late pit stop made all the difference in Germany, writes Graham Caygill.

Red BullRacing's Sebastian Vettel.
Red BullRacing's Sebastian Vettel.

This is the time of year when “silly season” in Formula One usually goes up a gear.

That is the phrase used to describe the driver market as speculation begins on possible moves for the following season.

This summer’s period of speculation has been given extra spice with the confirmation that Mark Webber is departing Formula One at the end of the year, thus leaving a much-coveted seat free at Red Bull Racing.

Kimi Raikkonen was name-checked by Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, as one of three drivers, along with the Toro Rosso pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, who is being considered as Webber’s replacement next term.

This has put Raikkonen’s current employers, Lotus, on red alert, with the team publicly pledging their commitment to trying to retain the Finn.

Their chances may be hampered, however, after a wrong call by Raikkonen’s team saw him miss out on victory in Sunday’s German Grand Prix, the 2007 world champion eventually settling for second behind Sebastian Vettel at the Nurburgring.

Raikkonen had led with 10 laps to go before he was called in by Lotus for a third pit stop, which dropped him behind Vettel and his teammate Romain Grosjean.

After Grosjean had obeyed team orders to let Raikkonen through, he closed in rapidly on Vettel, but ran out of laps to make a serious move as the championship leader held on to win by a second.

A first podium in three races would have made the Finn happy, you would have thought?

Not so. He was irritated over the need for that final stop – something he did not believe was necessary – and blamed pit radio problems for the miscommunication that had led a probable victory slip away.

“I could run longer and we had to think about if we should try to run until the end,” said Raikkonen, who won the world championship in 2007 with Ferrari. “But I had massive problem with the radio. I could hear the team but they couldn’t hear me, apart from at two corners.

“I wonder if we should have gone to the end as the tyres were OK.”

Vettel was a relieved man having survived a race in which he had been under pressure, firstly from his Red Bull teammate Webber, then Grosjean and finally Raikkonen.

It was his first success in front of his home fans, at the sixth time of asking.

“It’s a great relief and a special day,” said Vettel, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Wednesday. “It will take a little while to sink in, but I’m incredibly proud today, the team did a fantastic job for strategy and pit stops.”

Vettel had led from the start as he outdragged pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton on the run down to the first corner, and he looked to be pacing himself to victory when a safety car period mid-race after Jules Bianchi’s Marussia, which had stopped with the car on fire, rolled back down the slope and onto the track.

This allowed Grosjean, who had moved up to second during the first round of pit stops after running fifth, and Raikkonen to move onto the back of Vettel’s car and they began hounding the triple world champion. But Vettel held firm, despite concerns over tyre wear.

“The safety car didn’t help us and Lotus was incredibly quick today,” said the German. “They were taking care of the tyres a bit better and gave us a good run for our money, so I am happy it worked out.”

After Red Bull’s problems with making the 2013-spec Pirelli last – which led to defeats in Australia, China and Spain – getting the better of Lotus and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who finished fourth, on a day of high tyre degradation is an enormous fillip to Vettel’s hopes of winning a fourth successive world title as he extended his championship over Alonso to 34 points.

It may well have been a Red Bull one-two, but for a disastrous first pit stop that wrecked Webber’s hopes.

His right rear tyre was not fitted on properly by Red Bull’s mechanics and the tyre looped off and bounced down the pit lane, striking television cameraman Paul Allen, who works for FOM, the sport’s in-house broadcaster.

Allen, who remained conscious, was taken to Koblenz Hospital, suffering from two broken ribs, a broken collarbone, concussion and bruises and was kept in overnight.

Webber was pulled back into his pit box by his Red Bull mechanics and sent back out, a lap down, and he showed the car’s pace by fighting back to take seventh, helped by being able to unlap himself during the safety car period.

Third matched Grosjean’s best result of the season, having finished there in Bahrain in April, and the Frenchman was understandably pleased with his return to form.

“The first stint was amazing, seeing P1 on the board, and the car was working much better than we thought on option [soft] tyres,” he said. “After the first pit stop we were ahead of everyone else. As a team we had to put different eggs in the same basket and choose different strategies.

“It appeared Kimi’s one worked better. But it’s good to be back on the podium.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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