German Grand Prix 2016: Winners and Losers from Hockenheim Race
As at last weekend's Hungarian GP, the British driver missed out on pole position at the climax of a fiercely contested qualifying session, but enjoyed yet another strong start to pass Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg and dominate from the front.
Joining Hamilton on the podium were Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who worked together to secure Red Bull's first double-podium finish in more than a year on a day Ferrari were confirmed as the third-best team on the 2016 grid.
With a look at a strong result for Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, a day to forget for Williams' Felipe Massa and a bittersweet afternoon for McLaren-Honda, here are the main winners and losers from Germany.
Winner: Lewis Hamilton
Just a few years ago, Hamilton was the Formula One driver who did everything at one speed: fast.
So it was fascinating to see the new-and-improved, more measured, mature and methodical Hamilton operating at the peak of his powers at the German GP.
Being outpaced by Rosberg in all three practice sessions felt like part of the plan, for Hamilton was simply easing into the weekend and building himself up for the time to strike.
That time came in qualifying, and after beating his team-mate in the first two segments, he was disappointed not to finish the job in Q3, when he came within 0.107 seconds of pole position after locking up at the hairpin.
Having won from second on the grid in Hungary a week ago, however, the three-time world champion told Sky Sports' James Galloway how he would "make a difference" on race day, and he once again delivered on his promise.
The key to his victory, as at the Hungaroring, was his approach to the end of the formation lap, when he deliberately eased his pace and allowed his team-mate to saunter alone to his grid spot, interfering with Rosberg's tyre, brake, clutch and engine temperatures.
Even with a relatively short run to Turn 1, that almost certainly contributed to Rosberg's second stuttered start in the space of seven days, with the German's fall to fourth effectively sealing Hamilton's latest victory as early as the opening lap.
From there, Hamilton—under orders to maintain a gap of six seconds to the cars behind, as he told the post-race FIA press conference—preserved his tyres and "saved" his power unit at every available opportunity, fully aware of the prospect of engine-related grid penalties in the second half of the season.
With the three-time world champion's sixth win in the last seven races extending his points advantage over Rosberg to 19, never let it be said again that Professor Hamilton lacks the intelligence of his closest rivals.
Loser: Nico Rosberg
For the second weekend in succession, Rosberg was unable to stop himself falling into the trap set by his team-mate.
His failure to counteract Hamilton's plot by slowing his own pace and bunching up the pack at the end of the formation lap led to his latest substandard getaway and, unlike in Hungary, there was nothing and nobody to rescue him.
In tumbling from first to fourth at the first corner, Rosberg had fallen behind two of the most effective wheel-to-wheel racers on the grid in Ricciardo and Verstappen. His chances, then, of recovering to the podium suffered a huge early blow.
When his attempt to undercut Verstappen during the second round of pit stops failed, Rosberg took matters into his own hands and fought fire with fire, passing the teenager with a bold, Max-like move under braking for the Turn 6 hairpin.
Although it was among the most spectacular overtaking manoeuvres of 2016 so far, the stewards had a different—anti-racing?—view and wasted no time in handing Rosberg a five-second time penalty.
That became an eight-second time penalty when Mercedes suffered a "stopwatch failure" during Rosberg's next pit stop, as team boss Toto Wolff later told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper, dropping him even further behind.
Fitted with soft-compound tyres for the final stint, while both Red Bulls were on the less durable supersofts, Rosberg had one last opportunity to recover to his customary runner-up spot in the closing laps of the race.
Yet the German almost seemed to have been shrouded in self-pity at that stage, with Rosberg ultimately crossing the line more than two seconds behind Verstappen and nine adrift of Ricciardo.
With Hamilton traditionally excelling in the second half of a given season, Rosberg—43 points ahead of his team-mate barely two months ago—will need a lot of luck if he is to win his first world championship from here.
Winner: Red Bull
Whenever Ferrari and Williams have found themselves splitting—or even in front of—the Mercedes drivers in recent years, they have rarely been able to resist the might of the Silver Arrows in the end.
As Sebastian Vettel discovered in Australia and Canada earlier this season, Mercedes will occasionally allow their rivals to have a little fun in the early stages of the race and perhaps even "win" the first stint.
But the world champions have become so formidable that they spook and pressurise their challengers into uncharacteristic mistakes, winning races and salvaging strong results from precarious positions.
Even Red Bull themselves were on the receiving end of that in 2016, most memorably at Monaco, where their pit-stop mix-up cost Ricciardo a near-certain victory.
But as the second-most successful team in the modern era of grand prix racing, they are the only ones truly capable of standing up to Mercedes and winning.
And when Ricciardo and Verstappen both nudged ahead of Rosberg at the first corner in Hockenheim, where they just managed to avoid hitting each other, the drivers and their team were never going to concede their positions without a fight.
As team principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports' Simeon Gholam, Red Bull entered the race intending to pull off a two-stop strategy with at least one driver, but high degradation encouraged them to convert to three-stoppers, with Ricciardo and Verstappen on contrasting compounds.
Such was the way that those strategies played out that Verstappen, who famously refused to obey team orders in Singapore last year, gifted his position to his team-mate on Lap 40, when Ricciardo was approaching the end of his third stint on supersofts.
That switch allowed both drivers to beat Rosberg to the podium, with Red Bull's first double-podium finish since Hungary 2015 seeing them overtake Ferrari for second place in the constructors' standings.
After an encouraging weekend in Hungary, where they were beaten by Red Bull but were close enough to be optimistic for the races ahead, Ferrari were expected to return to some kind of form in Germany.
With the Hockenheim circuit featuring a mix of high-speed and technical sections, compared to the enlarged go-kart track we know and love as the Hungaroring, the team should have regained their status as the closest challengers to Mercedes.
In his first home appearance as a Ferrari driver, Vettel provided a little optimism on Friday afternoon by finishing as the best-of-the-rest behind Rosberg and Hamilton.
Yet, as always, the team were unable to sustain that form throughout the weekend.
For the second time in three races, Vettel was beaten by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, whose fastest time in the final part of qualifying was 0.779 seconds slower than Rosberg's pole time.
As Vettel told the team's official website, Ferrari are "usually faster" over long runs than in one-lap conditions. However, their pain continued in the race, when the SF16-H car—lacking the downforce of Mercedes' W07 and Red Bull's RB12—was "sliding around too much."
That had an obvious impact on tyre degradation, and Vettel—not for the first time in recent months—challenged the pit wall's strategy calls.
Although Vettel later admitted he was "too conservative" in overruling his race engineer's decision, he felt compelled to question the wisdom behind his proposed strategy was indicative of the lack of faith he currently has in his underperforming team.
A team who are now, without doubt, third in the competitive order.
Winner: Nico Hulkenberg
With Sergio Perez receiving much attention for his recent podium finishes in Monaco and Azerbaijan, are we in danger of taking Hulkenberg—so deserving of a front-running car for so long in the eyes of many—for granted?
Perez's rise to prominence over the last 12 months has at times had the effect of casting his team-mate in the light of a No. 2 driver at Force India.
But Hulkenberg, perhaps with the benefit of home advantage, was undoubtedly the lead driver throughout the German GP weekend, when he secured the team's equal-best finish at Hockenheim.
After winning the Williams-Force India scrap by qualifying seventh, just 0.195 seconds behind Vettel, Hulkenberg was unfortunate to be handed a one-place grid penalty for the team's latest operational error, relating to the tyre-returns rule.
That dropped him behind Valtteri Bottas, who Hulkenberg managed to defeat in what he later referred to as a "lonely and straightforward" race, per the team's official website.
While Force India utilised a three-stop strategy, Williams made what proved to be a mistake in attempting to complete the race with just two tyre changes.
Bottas' final stop at the halfway stage meant he had to complete a 34-lap final stint on the soft tyres, whereas Hulkenberg—having made his last visit to the pits on Lap 44—needed to spend only 23 laps on the same compound.
The two tyre strategies aligned on Lap 61, when Hulkenberg completed a simple pass on a struggling Bottas at Turn 10 to take back the position he earned in qualifying.
His seventh-place finish—"probably the best result available to us today," as he told the team's official website—was important against the backdrop of the constructors' championship, with Force India now just 15 points behind Williams in the fight for fourth.
Loser: Felipe Massa
The season may have only reached its halfway stage, but it is increasingly obvious that Massa will not be driving for Williams beyond 2016.
After starting the year as the only driver to score points in the first six races, the Brazilian has been restricted to just one point in the last six events, unable to remind the team of his qualities at a time when they—as Claire Williams told Sky Sports' Pete Gill and Craig Slater—are openly "talking to a lot of drivers in the paddock."
And at the place where he began to fall out of love with Ferrari six years ago, Massa's season plunged to a new low this weekend.
As he told the team's official website, a mistake at Turn 12 on his final run on Saturday saw him qualify as the slowest in the four-car battle between the Williams and Force India drivers—albeit by a small margin—with another error on the exit of Turn 2 on the opening lap hurting his speed down the long back stretch.
At the next braking zone, the right-hand hairpin of Turn 6, the Williams driver's right-rear tyre was clipped by Renault's Jolyon Palmer, signalling the beginning of the end of his afternoon.
With a suspected "toe issue," as he told the team's official website, Massa was "suffering massively" with an "undriveable" car. He floundered at the rear of the field before Williams did the decent thing and put him out of his misery, retiring the No. 19 car on Lap 36.
Given the 35-year-old's drastic loss of form in recent months, it would be no surprise if the team decide to send Massa into a more permanent form of retirement at the end of this season.
In pure results terms, this was yet another one of those encouraging weekends for the McLaren-Honda partnership.
Although their recent run of Q3 appearances came to an end on Saturday at Hockenheim, Jenson Button's mature drive from 12th on the grid allowed the team to secure their second successive points finish and their ninth top-10 result in the first 12 races of 2016.
Yet we also saw why McLaren, for all the improvements made to the MP4-31 car in recent months, will not be emerging from the obscurity of the midfield anytime soon.
While the reliability and power output of their Honda engine is now semi-satisfactory, efficiency remains a major weakness for McLaren. Such frailties were exposed on an afternoon with no safety-car periods at a circuit where fuel consumption is relatively high.
Lifting and coasting had no impact on the end result for Button—who told the team's official website how the demands of fuel-saving led to him running off track in the final laps due to "stone cold" brakes—but it significantly hindered team-mate Fernando Alonso.
Running 10th with less than three laps to go, the Spaniard was on course to complete only McLaren's third double-points finish of the season.
But the debilitating effect of fuel-saving left him defenceless against first Perez and then Haas' Esteban Gutierrez, who punted Alonso down to 12th ahead of the chequered flag.
On a day Toro Rosso failed to score, Button's eighth-place finish has moved McLaren to within two points of the Red Bull B-team in the fight for sixth in the constructors' standings.
The way Alonso's race ended, however, has only reminded the team of how much more work is needed for them to progress to the next level.