Vettel survives Lotus onslaught to win German Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel has taken his first ever home victory at the Nurburgring, defending valiantly against Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages.

Both Vettel and Mark Webber swamped pole sitter Lewis Hamilton at the start, Mark almost snatching the lead, but was quickly pushed wide at Turn 1 by his teammate. Felipe Massa made a decent start, moving up to 6th, but a self-inflicted spin on Lap 4 resulted in yet another embarrassment for the floundering Ferrari driver.

Fernando Alonso didn’t perform well in the opening stint either. He was only 7th after the start, and made little progress on his opening set of prime tyres. However he seemed to gain pace after the first stop, and soon began to catch the leaders.

Webber kept up with Vettel’s pace after the start, but yet another botched pit stop ruined his race. Again, the rear left wheel wasn’t secured, and disaster struck when it fell off and collided with an FOM cameraman in the pit lane. Mark was wheeled back into his box, dropping him a lap down, while the cameraman was sent to hospital for checks.

High track temperatures meant both Lotus drivers were on fine form, with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean putting heavy pressure on Hamilton in the first stint. An early pit stop for Grosjean propelled him into 2nd place, but Raikkonen wasn’t so lucky. He was stuck in the back of a train, led by Nico Rosberg, who hadn’t pitted quite as early, and held up his teammate and the Lotus up massively.

Nico was eventually instructed to release Lewis, which he eventually did on Lap 14, but the damage was done for Mercedes. Once Kimi got past the German, he quickly dispatched of Hamilton, and had to chase Grosjean down for 2nd.

In the middle of all these battles was Jenson Button. The McLaren driver ran a huge first stint, running as high as 4th up until Lap 20. The same strategy was applied by Nico Hulkenberg, another driver who appeared to be outperforming his car this weekend.

Romain had the advantage of a batter tyre strategy when chasing Vettel, but a Safety Car appearance ended that. It came out for a bizarre reason – after parking his Marussia with an engine failure, Jules Bianchi soon watched from the track barriers at the final chicane as his car began to roll across the track, almost colliding with race leader Vettel.

With all the frontrunners pitting earlier than expected, Grosjean’s advantage over Vettel was wiped out. Red Bull gained massively from the SC appearance, as Mark Webber was allowed to regain a lap, and was now able to fight his way back through the field.

Soon after the safety car, Vettel had to weather another problem – this time from his own car. His KERS began to malfunction, and Sebastian was forced to alternate between constant changes of the brake bias and occasional bursts of KERS to keep the system running. This allowed Grosjean and Raikkonen to close up on the leader.

Despite his KERS issues, Sebastian was able to fend off both Lotuses in his third stint. Lotus then opted for a split strategy to attack the Red Bull – Romain attempted to undercut Vettel, while Kimi ran a longer stint to outpace him.

Amazingly, neither worked. While Raikkonen may have been able to run until the finish, his team brought him in with 12 laps to go, surrendering the lead and possibly the win for a set of used soft tyres. Grosjean was ordered out of his teammate’s way, to allow a final attack.

Raikkonen wore down Vettel’s lead in the closing laps, getting tantalisingly close by the end, but was forced to concede defeat by the final corner. Sebastian extended his lead in the championship to 34 points, while Lotus took an impressive 2-3 finish, with Grosjean finally putting in another good drive this year.

Further back, Alonso put in blazingly fast laps on his last two stints to fight his way to 4th place, almost catching Grosjean in the process. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were locked in a last-lap battle for 5th, until a slow Caterham lost Button time and the position. Jenson was left fuming, saying: “When you’re fighting for position, you expect the backmarkers to move over, even if they’re fighting for position themselves.”

Off-camera, Mark Webber had a spirited drive, recovering all the way to 7th place. Sergio Perez and Nico Rosberg couldn’t keep up with their teammates at all, while Nico Hulkenberg blasted his way from 15th to 10th in the final few laps, after pitting late for the option tyre.

This was a stunning win for Vettel – in a car not as fast as the Lotus, or as reliable as the Ferrari. Despite an extremely tense 30-lap battle, Sebastian remained cool and composed throughout, and this victory will be a huge stepping stone towards a potential fourth championship.

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