Lewis Hamilton’s emotional home victory at the British Grand Prix has brought him firmly back into the title fight after slipping 29 points behind teammate Nico Rosberg at the top of the standings.
His win at Silverstone reduced the margin to just four, and both sides of the Mercedes garage will have their sights set on the championship lead at this weekend’s German Grand Prix. It’s a near repeat of the situation in 2008 when, after winning at home, Lewis doubled up in Germany. With that in mind, plus the fact that this is set to be the last GP at the circuit for the next six years, it’s the right time to head back to 2008 as Lewis produced one of his finest drives to win at Hockenheim.
The ability to dig in and pull a win out of nowhere is a trait that marked Lewis Hamilton’s early F1 career, but is also one that we haven’t seen a great deal of over the past few years. In 2014 though, he has done so on a number of occasions, fighting off Rosberg at the front of the field in Bahrain and Spain.
Throwing things back to 2008, it was Felipe Massa who was enjoying the co-lead role alongside Hamilton. For the second year in a row, Ferrari and McLaren were going toe-to-toe for both titles, with BMW also getting itself in the mix thanks to the brilliant Robert Kubica. Heading to Hockenheim, Hamilton, Massa and defending champion Kimi Raikkonen were tied on 48 points with Kubica a further two points adrift.
Qualifying went the way of Hamilton as Massa and McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen put up the stiffest – albeit lacking – challenge to the Briton at the front of the field. The lead trio held position off the line as Kubica made a good start to run fourth, two places ahead of the slow starting Raikkonen. Hamilton held onto his lead through the first round of pit stops, with Massa dropping some eleven seconds back ahead of Toyota’s Timo Glock, who was trying to make a long first stint work to make up for his Q2 elimination.
However, Glock’s race came to an abrupt end on lap 35 of the race. The German driver, racing on home soil for the first time in F1, overcooked it coming through the final sweeping corner, the Sudkurve. After running wide onto the astrotuf, his car speared to the right and into the pit wall with some force, warranting a safety car to clear up the debris. He was taken away on a stretcher due to pain in his back, but was declared fit for the next race in Hungary where he recorded his best ever F1 finish in second place.
The safety car coincided with the second pit window, prompting the majority of the field to dive into the pits for a fresh set of tyres and to top the tank up. Renault’s Nelson Piquet Jr. had pitted just before the safety car, allowing him to jump up the order and into third place behind BMW’s Nick Heidfeld, who elected not to pit, and Hamilton, who also hadn’t stopped.
It seemed to be a major flaw in McLaren’s master strategy plan. Had they thrown away a sure-fire win? Massa was sitting fourth, and it appeared to be his race for the taking.
Hamilton had other ideas. McLaren ambitiously told him to put his foot down and try to eke out a lead big enough so he could stop and come back out in the lead. As the team had fuelled him for longer for the second stint, plan B was to bring him in once he had pulled out a lead, and with low fuel, make up any lost time.
After seven laps, Hamilton dived into the pits and came back out in fifth place, handing the lead to Heidfeld. The Briton made light work of Kovalainen in the sister McLaren, and moved into third when Heidfeld pitted. Massa was firmly in his sights.
The Brazilian didn’t last long. With his tyres failing to get up to temperature and struggling for grip, Massa was duped by Hamilton into the hairpin and had no answer to the McLaren.
Three laps later, Piquet became Hamilton’s last victim of the race, and all was as it should have been. The Briton had made up for a dud strategic call to win his fourth race of the season and open up a four point lead over Massa at the top of the standings.
“When the team told me I had to build a 23 second gap in seven laps, I knew I had to drive over the limit,” Hamilton said. “It didn’t quite work, but we had the pace in the car to keep pushing.” Game, set and match to Lewis in Germany.
After running down in 18th for much of the first stint, Piquet was elated. “I’m very happy!” he said. “After qualifying, I thought my weekend was over, but we went for an aggressive strategy and we made great decisions when the safety car came out.”
Of course, it would all turn sour for Nelson five races later in Singapore when he helped to fix the first ever nightime grand prix for Renault, but this was undoubtedly the high of his career.
Heading to Hockenheim this time around, Lewis will know that a similar victory could be equally as important. The championship is finely balanced, but to win on Nico’s home soil – and to be the man to take Mercedes’ first home win since Fangio in 1954 – would be momentous.
2008 German Grand Prix Result – Hockenheim (18-20 July 2008)
|2||Nelson Piquet Jr.||Renault||67||+5.6s||8|
|8||Sebastian Vettel||Toro Rosso||67||+33.2s||1|
|12||Sebastien Bourdais||Toro Rosso||67||+39.1s|
|13||David Coulthard||Red Bull||67||+54.9s|
|15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||67||+69.5s|
|16||Giancarlo Fisichella||Force India||67||+84.0s|
|17||Jenson Button||Honda||66||+ 1 lap|
|Retired||Mark Webber||Red Bull||40||Oil leak|
Images courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari and Lotus/LAT.