Lewis Hamilton struck a huge psychological blow in his battle with Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg as he won the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
The reigning F1 champion started behind Rosberg on the grid, but took the lead at the first corner as Rosberg span his wheels – a terrible start to his home Grand Prix, and a major blow for a driver who had dominated proceedings all week.
Rosberg slipped back to fourth as the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciaro and Max Verstappen joined Hamilton in going past in the opening few yards.
And while Rosberg eventually regained second place, he lost it again via a five-second penalty handed to him by stewards for driving Verstappen off the track during an overly-aggressive overtaking manoeuvre.
Watch and judge for yourself as Nico Rosberg overtakes Max Verstappen https://t.co/34qHXgOCHf #SkyF1 #GermanGP pic.twitter.com/KLRrdbwKUI
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) July 31, 2016
“My engineers did an amazing job – the car was perfectly balanced and we got off to a great start,” said a buoyant Hamilton.
“Today I didn’t make any mistakes,” added the Englishman Hamilton, before being quizzed about the huge change in his demeanour. After qualifying on Saturday he looked utterly miserable, but has rarely looked more energised than he did on the podium in Hockenheim.
“Yesterday I made mistakes, but you learn from that,” said Hamilton.
“It’s a case of yesterday the glass being half-full – and today filling it up again.”
For his part, Rosberg complained bitterly over the pit radio about his five-second penalty: “I was at full steering lock, he moved under braking, that was the big problem. That’s completely not allowed.”
Mercedes’ own guru Niki Lauda didn’t see it that way: “Honestly, I think it [the penalty] was ok,” said Lauda. “He went too wide.”
LAUDA (on decision to penalise ROS): “Honestly, I think it was ok. He went too wide” #GermanGP 🇩🇪 #F1 pic.twitter.com/Xlqi6cDqq5
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 31, 2016
Rosberg’s failure to win from pole position for the second race in a row will be a serious blow to the German’s confidence – as will the fact that he heads into F1’s summer break 19 points behind his team-mate, a deficit that would have seemed unthinkable early in the season when he led the standings by 43 points.
Hamilton, by contrast, would scarcely have believed it possible that he would have such a big lead – just as he wouldn’t have believed on Saturday night that not only would he win this race, but also see his great rival finish outside the top three.
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) at the startImago
Behind the top four were the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, whose most exciting moment came as Vettel refused orders to pit at one point towards the end, saying that his car was running too well to do so.
Given Ferrari’s problems with strategy this season, it’s hard to blame the four-times world champion for taking things into his own hands.
Nico Hulkenberg came on strong at the end of the race to claim seventh place, while Jenson Button was eighth – good going for a man who had to go to hospital earlier in the week to have a piece of carbon removed from his eye.
But the day belonged to Hamilton, who bounced up and down on the podium giving the crowd huge thumbs-ups as the national anthems played… and then celebrated by launching the race trophy high into the air.
The rather desperate grab he made to catch it as it fell back down was as close to mishap as Hamilton suffered all afternoon – but he held on, and with the half-way point of the season now past it is hard to envision him not holding on to his world title by the time the final race in Abu Dhabi comes around.
1-Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2-Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
3-Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
4-Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
5-Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
6-Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
7-Nico Hulkenberg (Force India)
8-Jenson Button (McLaren)
9-Valtteri Bottas (Williams)
10-Sergio Perez (Force India)