Max Verstappen kept his head as all around him lost theirs to take victory in a dramatic German Grand Prix that saw Sebastian Vettel charge from P2 to P20, Daniil Kvyat score a podium and Charles Leclerc, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton all crash.

In a race that went from wet to dry and back again twice, featured four Safety Car periods and had just 13 finishers, Verstappen was able to seize control at mid-distance after a rare mistake from Hamilton and pit miscue from Mercedes, charging to his second win in three races.

Rain in the lead-up to lights out prompted officials to start the race behind the Safety Car until it was deemed safe enough for a standing start. Complaints were quick to come from a number of drivers, but it was not until four formation laps had been completed that the signal was given for the race to get underway properly.

Hamilton made a clean start from pole to retain his lead as Max Verstappen bogged down in P2, allowing Valtteri Bottas and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen to jump ahead. Verstappen retook third on the second lap as a number of drivers tested the limits of grip afforded in the spray, with Sebastian Vettel making up seven places on the opening lap after starting last.

The Safety Car returned at the start of Lap 3 after Sergio Perez spun into the wall exiting Turn 11, bringing his day to an early end, as well as triggering a flurry of pits stops as most moved from Wet to Intermediate tyres. Hamilton was able to retain his lead ahead of Bottas and Verstappen in the pits, with Kevin Magnussen rising up to second place after deciding to stay out on Wets.

Magnussen was a sitting duck on the restart as the Intermediate proved to be the better compound for the conditions, with the likes of Bottas, Verstappen and the recovering Charles Leclerc – who had started ninth – all sailing past. Nico Hulkenberg also moved up into the top five, while Vettel was had worked his way up to seventh nearing one-third race distance.

Hamilton found a good rhythm at the front of the pack to open up a healthy buffer to Bottas behind, who found himself being tailed closely by Verstappen. The Red Bull driver attempted a move on Lap 17, only to lose grip at the hairpin and run wide, but continued to pile on the pressure.

Charles Leclerc was also able to bring himself into the fight after Ferrari pitted him under a brief Virtual Safety Car called following an engine failure for Daniel Ricciardo to take a free stop and fit fresh Intermediate tyres, allowing him to close the gap.

Despite fears of the rain intensifying, a drying line emerged on the track that prompted a number of teams to switch to slick tyres. Magnussen and Vettel were among the first drivers to make the switch, with their times giving the leaders confidence to also make the change. Verstappen took on Mediums, but lost a place after spinning, complaining that he should have been given Softs, while Leclerc was able to jump Bottas after making his switch under the VSC again.

Leclerc looked poised to run race leader Hamilton close as the Mercedes pitted, only for disaster to strike for both drivers. Leclerc slid off the circuit at Turn 16 as the VSC ended, struggling for grip on the Softs, causing him to hit the wall and beach his car in the gravel. The Monegasque youngster slammed his steering wheel and yelled into his team radio, knowing his chances of a fightback victory had ended.

Hamilton was able to retain his lead as a result, but it lasted just one more lap as he too slid off as the penultimate corner, clipping the barrier and damaging his front wing. The Briton limped his car back to the pits, only to find his Mercedes crew still scrambling for Intermediate tyres and without a front wing ready. Hamilton remained stationary for 50 seconds, dropping him to P5, and also landed a five-second time penalty for not staying to the right-hand side of the bollard when entering the pits.

Mercedes lost the lead completely after failing to pit Bottas at the earliest opportunity, causing him to drop to third and hand control of the race the to Verstappen, with Nico Hulkenberg running second for Renault after staying out on Intermediates.

Verstappen led the field away to green on Lap 34, quickly dropping the rest of the field. By the time Bottas had overtaken Hulkenberg three laps later, the Red Bull driver was already eight seconds up the road. Hamilton was able to follow suit on the following lap, but faced another investigation for allegedly driving too slowly under the Safety Car.

Verstappen’s buffer was wiped away on Lap 41 when the Safety Car was deployed for the third time when Hulkenberg crashed out from fourth place, throwing away a shot at his maiden F1 podium as he slid into the wall at the final sector. Despite losing his lead, Verstappen had enough time to pit for a fresh set of Intermediates, with Bottas and Hamilton opting to stay out to retain their on-track position ahead of Alexander Albon and Carlos Sainz, who had capitalised on the drama to both rise into the top five.

The race returned to green on Lap 46, with the drivers finding the track to be dry enough to switch back to slick tyres yet again. Verstappen lost the lead momentarily to Racing Point’s Lance Stroll – the only driver to switch to Softs under the Safety Car – but regained the place on the run to the hairpin, while Hamilton dropped all the way down to P12 after being forced to serve his earlier time penalty.

Verstappen entered the final 15 laps of the race leading from Stroll and Daniil Kvyat, who began their unlikely scrap for second place. Kvyat took advantage of a lock-up from Stroll to take P2 on the run to the hairpin, dropping the Racing Point driver into the clutches of Bottas behind.

Hamilton’s day had taken another hit as he spun at Turn 1, causing him to drop down to last place, but there was worse to come for Mercedes when Bottas crashed out of fourth place with eight laps to go, sparking yet another Safety Car period.

Bottas’ car was recovered, allowing the race to resume with five laps to go. Verstappen nailed his restart once again to ditch Kvyat and Stroll, leaving them powerless to keep the flying Vettel at bay as the Ferrari driver picked them off along with Carlos Sainz in the final sprint.

Verstappen took the chequered flag at the shortened 64-lap distance to record his second win of the season, finishing seven seconds clear of Vettel in P2, while a jubilant Kvyat scored the third podium of his career and just the second in Toro Rosso's 14-year history by hanging on to P3.

Stroll was left to settle for P4, nevertheless marking Racing Point's best result of the season, while Sainz brought home some points for McLaren despite an earlier spin in fifth place.

Alexander Albon gave Toro Rosso a double-points finish by crossing the line sixth, albeit under investigation after a late clash with Pierre Gasly that resulted in the Red Bull driver retiring with three laps to go, while Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi took seventh and eighth.

Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen held on for P9 and P10 despite almost hitting each other on the final restart, while Hamilton was left to limp home in 11th, only beating the Williams duo of Robert Kubica and George Russell.

More to follow...

 

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