Sebastian Vettel finally ticked off two previously elusive career boxes on Sunday with a measured victory in the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. Although only a shadow of its older and more illustrious namesake, the circuit delivered a thrilling weekend of motor racing as the reigning World Champion strove to win his home race in his sixth attempt.
Qualifying saw Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton plant his Silver Arrow on pole position at the team’s home race, narrowly ahead of Vettel and his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. Nico Rosberg was left down in 11th after a mistake from his team in the second qualifying session meant he sat in the garage as others improved their times, knocking the German out of contention for the top positions.
Race day dawned sunny and warm, reigniting concern over whether tire manufacturer Pirelli’s rubber would last the distance as it failed to do the previous week in Silverstone. Off the line, Hamilton was swamped by Vettel and Webber and the duo quickly set about racing away at the front of the pack. When Ferrari’s Felipe Massa lost his gears and spun off the track at turn one, it was only the first in a series of events that had a significant impact on the race.
Jules Bianchi was climbing up the hill toward the final chicane when his Marussia car exploded in a sheet of flame and smoke, and the Frenchman hurriedly evacuated his cockpit as the onboard fire extinguishers smothered the flames. Unfortunately, he neglected to engage his parking brake and the stricken car rolled back across the circuit, narrowly avoiding the still-racing competitors.
This was enough to cause a safety car period, which saw the leading frontrunners pit. Mark Webber endured a nightmare pit stop when his RB9 was sent on its way with a loose right rear wheel, and the errant Pirelli scattered pit crews and journalists alike before it slammed into FOM cameraman Paul Allen. Allen was rushed to hospital, but escaped with only a broken shoulder and cracked ribs.
When racing resumed, the battle was on between Vettel and the advancing Lotus of French driver Romain Grosjean, whose teammate Kimi Raikkonen was also pulling himself into contention. Grosjean threw everything he had at reducing the gap between himself and the leading German, but eventually ran out of steam and Raikkonen swept into the lead as Vettel and Grosjean pitted for their final set of fresh tires.
It seemed the Finn, nicknamed "The Iceman" by his fans, was trying to make it to the end of the Grand Prix on his current set of Pirellis but the rapidly decaying rubber eventually forced him in with a handful of laps to go. He made rapid progress on his new, soft compound tires and soon caught Grosjean, the Frenchman not fighting too hard as Lotus bargained on Raikkonen having enough reserves left for a last-ditch attack on Vettel. Despite his own rubber beginning to fall away, Vettel repelled the Finn and crossed the line in triumphant style to claim his 30th career victory — his first on home soil.
Fernando Alonso persevered to take fourth for Ferrari, with pole man Lewis Hamilton claiming fifth for Mercedes. Jenson Button scored McLaren’s best result since Monaco with sixth place, ahead of the recovering Webber, Sergio Perez, Nico Rosberg and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg.
"I’m happy the race wasn’t two or three laps longer, as Kimi [Raikkonen] was a bit quicker towards the end. I’m very happy that it worked out and it’s very special. The team worked really hard to give me the chance to win this weekend and we got it," Vettel said.
"You don’t really think about where you are while you are racing, you can’t allow your mind to drift, but when the flag came out and the race was over I really let myself enjoy the parade lap and saw a lot of people in the grandstands cheering and waving flags. These pictures will remain in my head for a long, long time."