Lewis Hamilton’s voice was as fragile as a child’s as he tried to rationalise how the race had wrung the living daylights out of him, yet shown Formula One in all its captivating technicolour.
He was broken in the Mercedes motorhome, cursing himself, his team, the fates, the lot. ‘It was snakes and ladders, and I kept hitting the snakes,’ he lamented after Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the German Grand Prix. Rain had fallen steadily on the track for most of the afternoon, but nothing else was steady. It was bonkers. Aquaplaning, strategy blunders, pit-stop botches. Farce and upset abounded.
Hamilton, who pranged twice, finished 11th of 13 survivors, having spent nearly half the race in command from pole position.
It was a classic, one for the ages, but not for the championship leader or his Mercedes boys, who turned up here at their home track hoping to celebrate ‘125 years of motorsport’ with victory. Only a scintilla of compensation was derived on Sunday night when Hamilton was bumped up to ninth place as both Alfa Romeos were penalised for technical irregularities.
Indeed, adding insult to Mercedes’ injuries, Valtteri Bottas crashed out with second place a possibility.
Yes, the Silver Arrows were made to look silly. Hamilton even ran in last place for seven torrid laps.
This is what rain does to Formula One. It turns the tables so completely that the feet point to the sky. The pivotal moment came on lap 29 of 64, when Hamilton, whose lead had extended to 36 seconds only a couple of minutes before, ran wide and into the hoardings at the final corner, the wettest outpost of Hockenheim.
He fell from first to fifth in one slide. The previous lap he had been shod on slick tyres – like the rest – but that was a massive error.
His boffins had been seduced into thinking the track was dry enough for the switch. Oops, it wasn’t. It was a curate’s egg out there, with the last sector having perdition written all over it, even if other swathes of asphalt were easily passable.
Post-crash, Hamilton returned to the pits for wet tyres and a replacement for the front wing he had damaged. He did so via the wrong side of the bollards and was handed a five-second penalty for the misdemeanour.
Then came the most farcical of stops from the usually slick Mercedes team. Laurel and Hardy like, they were not ready for their champion.
Tyres were ferried in and out. Frantic hand signals were made. The semaphore only confused the issue more. One bloke appeared to hurt his back in the melee of desperation. Hamilton was stuck in the pit box for 50 seconds. The crowd, many in orange and supporting Verstappen, jeered in delight. Schadenfreude.
Mercedes were being humbled with their new president, Ola Kallenius, watching from the garage.
Hamilton emerged in fifth place and still with a chance of victory. Mistake piling on mistake, he pitted a lap late under a third safety car, called out to move Nico Hulkenberg’s crashed Renault, and was struggling in midfield when a massive cheer went up. The crowd had seen Hamilton tumble off again. It was now that he was shoved back to last place. Speaking later, Hamilton, who was suffering with a bug all weekend, said: ‘I am only human.
‘I don’t have anything to say about it. It was a mistake. Mistakes happen. ‘It has not been an easy weekend. I was leading the race and I was feeling good. It just wasn’t meant to be. It was more mental than physical today.
Daniil Kvyat came third for Toro Rosso, a day after the Russian’s girlfriend Kelly Piquet, daughter of triple world champion Nelson, gave birth to his first child, a daughter as yet to be named.
‘I’ve got to the podium again,’ said Kvyat. ‘The race was a horror movie mixed with black comedy.’ Even Lance Stroll, of Racing Point, led at one point. Good on him. He has been over-maligned just because his dad Lawrence is a billionaire and owns the team.
Despite the setback, Hamilton’s lead over Bottas is extended to 41 points thanks to his late upgrade.
‘We regroup now,’ he said on his way out. Any neutral simply celebrated a mad and radical race that will not readily be forgotten.