Max Verstappen emerged victorious from a truly remarkable German Grand Prix in which Mercedes failed to score, Sebastian Vettel climbed from last to second, and Daniil Kvyat scored a podium.
Wet conditions made for a chaotic afternoon at Hockenheim, and championship leader Lewis Hamilton led the first part before falling victim to the weather. Two crashes and a penalty resulted in Hamilton finishing 11th, while his teammate Valtteri Bottas crashed out in the closing stages.
Hardly any drivers escaped without making at least one error, including Verstappen, who had a spin but avoided damage, and won after making five pit stops.
There were four Safety Car periods and numerous Virtual Safety Car spells as well, the last of which coming when Bottas crashed at Turn 1 while chasing Kvyat in second and Lance Stroll in third.
When the race restarted with five laps to go, Verstappen eased away while Vettel scythed past Kvyat and Stroll to take second. Carlos Sainz came home fifth ahead of Alexander Albon – driving an F1 car in the wet for the first time – although the second Toro Rosso collided with Pierre Gasly on the penultimate lap, causing Gasly to retire, and is under investigation.
Kimi Raikkonen was third on the opening lap but finished seventh after going off, with Antonio Giovinazzi eighth ahead of the Haas pair of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, the latter holding off Hamilton on the final lap for P10. That the Haas teammates collided again is just a side note to a remarkable afternoon.
The race was shortened by three laps after a number of formation laps took place behind the Safety Car to check conditions for the first wet running of the year before a standing start took place. Hamilton and Bottas instantly pulled away, while both Verstappen and teammate Gasly struggled off the line.
Raikkonen jumped up to third place at that stage but was soon passed by Verstappen, while Charles Leclerc rose to sixth from 10th on the grid, and Vettel was 14th after starting last.
On Lap 2, Sergio Perez became the first casualty when he crashed exiting Turn 11, bringing out the first Safety Car of the day. Most drivers took the opportunity to switch to intermediate tires and the busy pit lane caught out Ferrari, which picked up a fine for releasing Leclerc into the path of Grosjean.
The race restarted on the fifth lap and Magnussen, who had stayed out on full wet tires, initially ran second but soon dropped back. That meant Leclerc and Nico Hulkenberg rose to fourth and fifth but couldn’t make progress compared to the top three, until Daniel Ricciardo’s retirement — due to a suspected exhaust issue — resulted in the Virtual Safety Car being deployed.
Leclerc and Hulkenberg both pitted for new intermediates and it proved to be a clever strategic call — they were instantly quick when the race restarted; Hulkenberg swapping places with Raikkonen while Leclerc reeled in the leaders at three seconds per lap.
On Lap 18, Sainz slid off at the penultimate corner — a spot that would soon spawn more drama — and dropped from eighth to 14th, just as Vettel complained that the intermediate tires were wearing out as the track dried. Magnussen was first to gamble on slicks three laps later and Vettel followed suit next time around, but the track conditions were about to bite hard.
Verstappen opted for mediums that he hoped would take him to the end of the race but spun in the stadium section. He kept the car on the road, and complained to the team that the tires were too hard.
Lando Norris then retired due to a loss of power after his stop, while elsewhere, a number of drivers switched to slicks, and during the resulting VSC Leclerc opted for softs — like Vettel — and rejoined in second place as a result of having to pit later than Verstappen and Bottas, who were both on mediums.
Hamilton came in from a comfortable lead and switched to softs, but his right-front tire was slow going on. Just as it looked like Leclerc was going to be within a few seconds of the leader, the Ferrari youngster crashed at the final corner when the VSC ended, sliding off and into the barrier, and out of the race.
The Safety Car was required to recover Leclerc’s car, but as drivers slowed the rain started to fall again and tire temperatures dropped. Hamilton slid off at the exact same spot as Leclerc just one lap later. Hamilton avoided the stranded Ferrari but broke his front wing against the barrier, and then cut into the pits from across the track and earned a five-second time penalty for not using the pit entry.
Mercedes was not ready for the championship leader, and amid the chaos of scrabbling for a new front wing, the team took a long time to decide to go back onto intermediate tires — something Verstappen had already done. Hamilton was stationary for some 50 seconds but only dropped to fifth due to the Safety Car being deployed, while Verstappen was promoted into the lead when Bottas pitted for inters a lap later.
The race restarted on Lap 34 — just beyond halfway — with Verstappen leading Hulkenberg, Bottas, Albon, Hamilton, Sainz, Raikkonen and the squabbling Vettel and Gasly. The Mercedes pair soon rose to second and third, while Raikkonen dropped to ninth place behind Gasly, before Hulkenberg became the latest to fall foul of the penultimate corner.
Hulkenberg only ran slightly wide, but the run-off area was soaking and had far less grip than other sections of the track, and he couldn’t slow the car or turn before reaching the barrier and getting stuck.
The Safety Car was required again with 24 laps remaining, and Verstappen pitted for fresh intermediates while retaining the lead while Mercedes stayed out. A number of other drivers also pitted ,but by the end of the Safety Car period the track was slightly drier and the rain stopped, so Racing Point called Stroll in before the restart to switch to slicks for his battle with the Williams pair at the back.
It proved to be an inspired move, and Kvyat and Magnussen also pitted for softs at the end of the first racing lap. As the rest of the field followed suit, Stroll rose into the lead for half a lap before Verstappen – now on softs – retook the position with 16 laps to go.
Kvyat’s early stop had also helped as he ran third, passing Stroll for second place three laps after Verstappen. At the same time, Vettel despatched Gasly and Magnussen on the same lap to run seventh, while Hamilton was now out of the points in 12th due to his five-second time penalty having to be taken in the pits.
Just was Hamilton was asking Mercedes how his afternoon had gone so wrong, he suffered a high-speed spin at Turn 1 that he just kept out of the barrier. Damaged tires required a sixth pit stop and demoted Hamilton 30 seconds away from the points, before Bottas gave his teammate half a chance of scoring.
Moments after the Haas pair bumped wheels for the second consecutive race at the hairpin — escaping without damage — Bottas spun at Turn 1 while struggling to find a way past Stroll in third and buried the front end in the barrier.
The Safety Car bunched the pack up for one final five-lap sprint, and Vettel duly overtook Sainz on the restart and then both Stroll and Kvyat using DRS to run second. Verstappen, meanwhile, was four seconds up the road, and safe.
It was Verstappen, Red Bull, and Honda’s second win in three races, while a delighted Vettel finished second after failing to take part in qualifying and Kvyat had enough pace to keep Stroll at bay to take Toro Rosso’s first podium since the 2008 Italian Grand Prix. That made for a double-podium for Honda, while Kvyat took his own first podium since China 2016, the day after he became a father.
While Kvyat celebrates a remarkable 24 hours, Mercedes is left to rue a disastrous result at a race that it sponsors, and on the weekend it marked 125 years of motorsport with a special livery, after provisionally failing to score for the first time since Austria last year.
The drama didn’t end with the checkered flag, either, as the race start data of the two Alfa Romeos was found not to be in compliance with the regulations by the FIA technical delegate, meaning the pair are at risk of a penalty that could promote Hamilton to ninth and Robert Kubica into the points for Williams.