Great drivers give you options. Michael Schumacher’s four-stop strategy en route to victory at Magny Cours in 2004 was one such example, and Lewis Hamilton’s dominant display at Hockenheim yesterday was another.
Lewis pulverised the opposition for the first 35 laps of yesterday’s race, opening up an 18-second lead, and it took a second superhuman effort in the closing stages to take victory after the team failed to pit him for his second stop during the Safety Car period. By pitting under green flag conditions on lap 50, Lewis lost 23 seconds to his pursuers and dropped to fifth place. That he retook the lead on lap 60 was a mark of the man and the driver.
Few others could have delivered this result. Heikki Kovalainen struggled to finish fifth in the same car and my guess is that Kimi Raikkonen, who was out to lunch all weekend, wouldn’t have done so either. Lewis was that good. He’s now sitting pretty at the top of the standings, driving what is probably the best car, as we enter the back nine on the calendar.
If Lewis’s was the drive of the day, another guy to impress was Sebastian Vettel. On the weekend that he was announced as David Coulthard’s replacement at Red Bull Racing next year, he drove a storming race to eighth place. He jumped his ’09 team-mate Mark Webber at the start and appeared to give Fernando Alonso a driving lesson when the double world champion followed him for 22 laps and failed to find a way past.
Vettel versus Webber will be a fascinating intra-team scrap next year. Mark has yet to be beaten by a team-mate in F1 because (a) he’s bloody quick and (b) he’s a master at playing mind games. In the past he’s bigged up his new team-mates and even let them beat him during winter testing, only to crush and demoralise them in qualifying at the first race.
Already Mark’s talking up Sebastian – “to get Sebastian is a real coup for Red Bull” – and he’ll no doubt let the new boy beat him by 0.2s during testing. But will he crush Vettel in Melbourne next March? On the evidence of Hockenheim ’08, that will be a big ask.
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