Vettel holds off Raikkonen charge to claim glory on home patch
This time there were no exploding tyres at 180mph, no boycott threats from angry drivers. The cheers for Sebastian Vettel were not laced with irony as they had been at Silverstone the previous week when his Red Bull ground to a halt while in the lead.
This time they were heartfelt and sustained as the brilliant 26-year-old German claimed his first win on home soil to extend his lead in the Formula One drivers' championship to 34 points and lay down an ominous marker to his rivals.
Vettel effectively led the German Grand Prix yesterday from start to finish, having passed the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton going into the very first corner. But to say that the race lacked drama or was in any way a procession from that point on would be grossly misleading.
On a day when a cameraman was knocked over by a flying wheel in the pits and a Marussia car burst into flames before rolling, now driverless, backwards across the track, Vettel had to contend with a safety car eating into his lead and the loss of his KERS energy-boost device towards the end of the race.
Fortunately for the German, it came back in the nick of time, allowing him to hold off the charging Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen. Without it, his team principal Christian Horner admitted,Vettel would have been toast.
Safety issues aside – Red Bull were fined €30,000 for their unsafe release of Mark Webber, which led to his right rear-tyre rolling down the pitlane and knocking over the aforementioned cameraman, who was subsequently flown to Koblenz with a suspected broken collarbone and rib – this was as good an advertisement as F1 could have hoped for for its current style of racing; one which is decided by tyre strategies and KERS-aided overtaking manoeuvres, which gradually unwinds as the different strategies play out, with any luck setting up a thrilling finale.
Yesterday's slow-burner was a classic of its kind. It saw Raikkonen pit for a new set of soft tyres with 12 laps remaining before passing his team-mate Romain Grosjean and hunting down Vettel, by then on a used set of mediums, closing to within a second as they began the final lap.
The Finn, sporting his new Mohican hairdo, could not quite land the killer blow, leaving Vettel to milk the applause of the home crowd. Remarkably, it was his first win in Europe since Monza 2011.
"It's a great relief and a special day," said the triple champion, who joined Michael and Ralf Schumacher as the only Germans to have won their home grand prix.
"It will take a little while to sink in, but I'm incredibly proud today, the team did a fantastic job for strategy and pitstops. It was so difficult – I pushed every single lap but it's so tough when you are on the edge. You cannot go over the (window for) tyres too much because then you won't reach the end of the stint, and you have to get through traffic as quick as you can."
Having lost the lead off the line, Hamilton struggled all afternoon with his tyres, only just managing to pip his erstwhile McLaren team-mate Jenson Button for fifth on the final lap.
For all that Button had a brilliant race, you know it must have been a sobering afternoon for the Mercedes driver to be engaged in a fight with the current McLaren for fifth.
Button said that he felt robbed, hitting out at the Caterhams of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde for not moving over quickly enough. "They destroyed our race in terms of fighting for fifth place," Button said.
"They're obviously racing for position, but when you get blue flags you have to move over. It was disappointing and I've spoken to them both and they didn't really think they did anything wrong."
Webber, meanwhile, recovered from his botched pitstop to make full use of the safety car, unlapping himself and finishing just behind Button in seventh.
His thoughts, though, as well as those of the sport in general, were on the cameraman, who sustained two broken ribs and a fractured collarbone and was lucky not to be hit on the head when Webber's wheel rolled through the McLaren garage towards Mercedes before hitting a wing gun and flying up into the air.
"It was scary," Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, said. "Those of us who were around 25 years ago without speed limits (in the pit-lanes) could smell the danger. We have become a little bit complacent." (© Daily Telegraph, London)