2013 German GP: Sebastian Vettel wins on home soil to stretch championship lead
World Champ fends off Lotus pair as Mercedes' tyre woes return
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 07/07/13 6:25pm
On an afternoon which highlighted fresh safety concerns for the sport after a cameraman suffered broken ribs after being struck by a flying tyre in the pitlane, on the track Vettel fended off the advances of Lotus to stretch his World Championship lead back to in excess of a full race victory just seven days on from his shock first retirement of the season at Silverstone.
But although he immediately seized the race lead from polesitter Lewis Hamilton at the start - whose hopes of a maiden Mercedes win soon plummeted again as he finished fifth - Vettel's route to his 30th career victory and fourth of the season was anything but straightforward as Lotus's season finally reignited in spectacular style.
Although it was initially Romain Grosjean, without a point since Bahrain, who impressively hauled in the World Champion, it was team leader and championship contender Kimi Raikkonen who rolled the strategy dice in the closing stages after a mid-race safety car had bunched up the field.
After taking over the lead via a longer second stint, when Raikkonen did pit he took on the faster soft tyres and set about catching the leading pair back in over the closing ten laps.
But although Lotus effectively instructed Grosjean to let their senior driver through five laps later, by the time Raikkonen was up to the back of Vettel he had run out of superior tyre life, and crucially time, to deny the World Champion his maiden win in Germany.
"It's unbelievable. I'm very, very happy," said Vettel after winning in the month of July at the 'lucky' 13th attempt. "Kimi was pushing us very hard at the end with different compounds, but we had a very solid race and I was pushing on every single lap except for those behind the Safety Car. It's incredible to win my home race."
Fernando Alonso, who had locked himself into a reverse tyre strategy following qualifying, arguably finished more strongly than anyone but his usual Sunday recovery nonetheless only took him to fourth, which means he slips 34 points off Vettel in the championship pace with one race to go before the summer break.
But while it proved a joyous Sunday at home for Germany's star driver, the country's leading F1 constructor experienced a sharp reversal in fortunes just a week on from Nico Rosberg's victory at Silverstone
The Brackley team's winning performance last weekend had suggested that they were finally on top of their long-term tyre problems but the heat that shrouded the famous old Nurburgring for race day only served to reawaken their Achilles' heel.
Having been swamped by both Red Bulls at the lights, Hamilton was the first of the frontrunners to shed the soft tyres on lap seven but on his return to the track got boxed up behind team-mate Rosberg, who was running a longer first stint on the mediums after his shock Q2 exit on Saturday.
However, although told over the radio to not hold the sister W04 car up given they were on opposing tyre strategies, the British GP victor spent several laps in front of Hamilton before the Briton eventually made his way past down the main straight.
After an early second stop, Hamilton slipped down the order but did at least manage to make up ground in the final stint on the two-stopping runners - passing former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button on the final lap to come home fifth.
However, the fact he finished 26 seconds behind the man he started alongside on the front row, perhaps provides conclusive evidence that Mercedes aren't quite ready for a full-on title assault over the second half of the season.
McLaren would love to even have such an outside chance of achieving such a feat this season but Button's fine drive to sixth, with Sergio Perez eighth, will surely lift spirits at the Woking team after two point-less races.
Mark Webber, meanwhile, came home seventh in the second Red Bull after the most up-and-down of afternoons in which at one point he had been last and a lap down after a botched Red Bull pitstop had seen him drive off with his right-rear tyre not properly attached.
As Webber exited his pit box, the tyre detached and went on a frightening collision course with the FOM cameraman, later named as Paul Allen, who was knocked to the floor when the tyre hit him from behind.
After being immediately attended to by medical teams in the pitlane, Allen, who escaped serious injury, was taken to the local hospital for further checks.
"During the German GP, an FOM cameraman in pit lane was struck by a loose wheel. Paul Allen was hit on the left hand side," an FIA statement read after the race.
"Remaining conscious, he was treated at the circuit medical centre and then transported by helicopter to Koblenz Hospital. The Briton has been kept there, under observation."
There was a second safety concern later in the race when Jules Bianchi's stricken Marussia, which the Frenchman had just parked up and evacuated after smoke starting billowing from the back of it, started rolling down back across the track on the backstraight before coming to rest against an advertising hoarding.