It has hosted the German Grand Prix, the European Grand Prix, the Luxembourg Grand Prix and now the Nurburgring in the Eifel hills of Germany has held the Eifel Grand Prix. The legendary circuit was not on the 2020 schedule until the pandemic hit but it produced a great, historic race. Racing there in the summer can offer unpredictable weather at the best of times but in October it was a unique challenge in the autumn temperatures but also with a lack of running. Rain and fog meant there was no Friday practice running so the drivers and teams had only one session before Qualifying to practice set-up, race simulations and qualifying runs; effectively a pre-runner for Imola.
If Imola produces anything like the Nurburgring it will be a very good race indeed. The first visit since 2013 saw a late super-sub appearance from Nico Huldenberg who replaced the unwell Lance Stroll at Racing Point. Race day temperatures of 9 degrees Celcius meant tyre management was a huge issue for the drivers with frequent lock-ups but it was engine failures that helped define the race. It helped pave the way for Daniel Ricciardo to reach a podium for the first time since 2018; Kimi Raikkonen made history by starting his record 323rd Grand Prix but it was Lewis Hamilton [Pictured above; Image from Eurosport] who took the chequered flag for the record-equalling 91st time!
There is no other place to start than with Hamilton. The World Champion came off second best in Qualifying for the first time in five races but having won from 2nd in 2011 he knew ‘their will be lots of opportunities’ in the race. It looked that way from the start as he had the better launch off the grid to challenge Bottas into turn 1 before had to concede position at turn 2. From there, it was a patient game but when Bottas locked up heavily at the start of lap 14 he was there to pounce and from there you know what happens. Hamilton did not look back, pitting under the VSC and then again behind the full Safety Car for ‘cheap’ pitstops. The biggest challenge was the Safety car restart, keeping tyres optimal and from there he had it under control after the restart to take the win.
Hamilton secured race win 91 on the track that he grabbed his first win in GP2 back in 2006 and a fitting place to equal Michael Schumacher’s all-time win record. It is an amazing achievement for Hamilton and the gesture of giving him one of Schumacher’s race helmets was a nice gesture form the Schumacher family, fittingly given to him by his son; Mick. It’s a shame the man himself wasn’t there to witness it. 91 wins was a record I never expected to see matched, let alone beaten but that is an inevitability now. Hamilton himself could not believe it what he had achieved, saying it was ‘tough to put what this means into words. I remember watching Michael winning all those races when I was a kid and playing racing games with my brother and choosing to play as Michael. I dreamed of being there myself, but I don’t think anyone and especially me, imagined another driver getting anywhere near Michael’s records.’ Just where will Hamilton leave the benchmark? 100 plus? There is no doubt in my mind that Hamilton will go down as one of the all-time greats of the sport.
It was a troublesome weekend for Mercedes. They had two staff members test positive for Coronavirus and had to get a new pit crew thrown in. So, to come away with a front-row lockout; their 72nd in F1 and a race win was a fantastic result.
2020 Eifel Grand Prix Qualifying
Q1: 1st Max Verstappen 1:26.319……………15th Antonio Giovinazzi 1:27.532; 16th Romain Grosjean +0.020, 17th George Russell +0.032, 18th Nicholas Latifi +0.280, 19th Kimi Raikkonen +0.285, 20th Nico Hulkenberg +0.489
Q2: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:25.390………10th Esteban Ocon 1:26.364; 11th Sebastian Vettel +0.374, 12th Pierre Gasly +0.412, 13th Daniil Kvyat +0.484, 14th Antonio Giovinazzi +0.572, 15th Kevin Magnussen +0.761
Q3: 1st Valtteri Bottas 1:25.269, 2nd Lewis Hamilton +0.256, 3rd Max Verstappen +0.293, 4th Charles Leclerc +0.766, 5th Alex Albon +0.778, 6th Daniel Ricciardo +0.954, 7th Esteban Ocon +0.973, 8th Lando Norris +0.1.189, 9th Sergio Perez +1.435, 10th Carlos Sainz +1.440
However, we must spare a thought for Valtteri Bottas. Bottas seemed to hit the ground running in practice and was remarkably able to find half a second on Hamilton from Q2 to take pole position! The Finn did not get quite as good a getaway as Hamilton but did well to fend his teammate off in the opening corners and he looked to have Hamilton marshalled until his massive lock-up on lap 13. That allowed Hamilton through and even though he felt ‘Everything was still to play for‘, a power unit issue meant that he was soon forced to retire the car. The worst of the bad luck at Mercedes this season seems to be hitting Bottas and it would seem his title challenge is as good as dead.
Keeping Mercedes honest was Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. The Dutchman was quickest in Q1 but ultimately qualified 3rd with the narrowest gap to pole he’s had all season. They are defiantly getting closer and 3rd he had a great chance to attack the Mercedes into turn 1 but while they squabbled he couldn’t capitalise. Verstappen was the only one who could keep pace with the Mercedes pair, extracting everything he could from his Red Bull and was within 7s of Hamilton before the Safety Car. Tyre temperatures were a big issue for him on the restart which meant he had to fend off Ricciardo instead of attack Hamilton but was able to take the fastest lap point on the final tour to cap off an excellent performance.
Contrast that to Alex Albon. He has recognised in the past he needs to qualify better to have better race results and while he did that a bit at the Nurburgring, he qualified 5th, behind Leclerc and half a second adrift of Verstappen. From 5th on the grid, he locked up heavily into turn 1 and lost position to Ricciardo which prompted Red Bull to pit him earlier than expected on lap 8. That dropped him down the pack and led to some high profile incidents with the Alpha Tauri’s; chopping off in front of Kvyat and complaining of Gasly ‘racing too hard’ on team radio. He had already received a 5s penalty for the Kvyat incident when Red Bull retired him having spotted rising engine temperatures after ‘some debris had pierced the radiator system’. Not a good weekend for Albon.
Albon’s incident with Daniil Kvyat destroyed the latter’s race. Kvyat lost out in Qualifying to Gasly and then lost a couple of positions on the opening lap of the race but was starting to creep up the field when he had the contact with Albon on lap 16. Kvyat overcommitted to the chicane and went over the grass, Albon passed him but cut across the front of the Alpha Tauri, taking his front wing off. The Russian wasn’t impressed, ‘I don’t know what he wanted to do’. It cost him his front wing at the worst possible part of the lap; he had to go all the way around before he could get it replaced. Due to having less downforce and floor damage, he was left ‘hoping for rain or something’ but even the Safety Car hunching the grid up couldn’t prevent him from finishing last of the classified finishers.
It was a much better Grand Prix for Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman did not get into Q3 but outpaced Kvuyat; qualifying 12th. From 12th, he also lost a couple of places to Magnussen and Giovinazzi but recovered with an impressive opening stint, resisting the urge to stop behind the VSC and taking a set of soft tyres to lap 30. The fresher tyres helped him break back into the top 10 before using the full safety car for a ‘cheap’ pit stop on lap 44. He used his fresher tyres well to overtake Magnussen and Leclerc with an impressive move on the latter at turn 1 to finish an impressive 6th in the Alpha Tauri. With his 7th top 10 finish of the season, Gasly has definitely been one of the standout stars of 2020.
There is now a big question concerning Red Bull and Alpha Tauri and not just the driver situation; will Albon be retained? Will they opt for someone else? The other question is what will they do for 2022? Engine supplier Hoda announced their intention to withdraw from F1 after 2021 in order to pursue more alternative energy and to reach Carbon neutrality by 2050. Both teams recently signed a new Concord Agreement committing them to F1 until 2025 but they need an engine. Christian Horner had a feeling before the announcement so I wonder if this had anything to do with why they started referring to Alpha Tauri as a ‘sister’ team rather than ‘junior’.
That will leave Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes as the only engine manufacturers for 2022. Red Bull have raced with Ferrari engines before and were most recently with Renault but they have never worked with Mercedes. Toto Wolff ruled that out at the Nurburgring and under the current rules, the engine manufacturer supplying the least teams would be obliged to provide the Red Bull teams with engines. That would be Renault. Give the quite public nature of their fallout which culminated in 2018 with Red Bull opting for Honda, I cannot imagine either party being interested in that. Could Red Bull make their own engine? Perhaps. They could also opt to run Honda engines but under a different brand name like they did in 2018 with Renault engines; sorry Tag Heuer. Whatever Red Bull do though, they will need to make a choice as soon as possible to avoid it impacting too much on their 2022 car.
2020 Eifel Grand PrixRace Result
1st Lewis Hamilton 1:35:49.641, 2nd Max Vestappen +4.470, 3rd Daniel Ricciardo +14.613, 4th Sergio Perez +16.070, 5th Carlos Sainz +21.905, 6th Pierre Gasly +22.766, 7th Charles Leclerc +30.814, 8th Nico Hulkenberg +32.596, 9th Romain Grosjean +39.081, 10th Antonio Giovinazzi +40.035, 11th Sebastian Vettel +40.810, 12th Kimi Raikkonen +41.476, 13th Kevin Magnussen +49.585, 14th Nicholas Latifi +54.449, 15th Daniil Kvyat +55.588, Lando Norris DNF, Alex Albon DNF, Esteban Ocon DNF, Valtteri Bottas DNF, George Russell DNF
Fastest Lap: Max Verstappen
At Renault, he’s threatened it a few times this year but Daniel Ricciardo eventually got his elusive podium. The honeybadger out-qualified his teammate for 6th and had a great start leapfrogging Albon and bid his time slightly to pass Leclerc on lap 9 which as crucial to his race. At that stage, the top 3 had begun to pull away but everything fell his way with Bottas retiring. Pitting behind the VSC, he didn’t lose too much time and his pace was solid before the full safety car but he was facing the prospect of fighting Perez in the closing stages who had much fresher tyres. The safety Car allowed a ‘cheap’ pit stip and fresh tyres and while he could not stay close enough to Verstappen he had enough in the car to finish ahead of Perez and claim his first podium since his Monaco redemption victory in 2018.
It was Renault’s first podium since Nick Heidfeld in Malaysia 2011 but the Enstone team tend to do well at the Nurburgring. ‘It felt like the first time I ever got a podium’ remarked Ricciardo. The smile is irresistible even behind the face-covering and you can’t not feel happy for the guy. Will he be regretting his decision to leave Renault for McLaren next year? Not by the sounds of it but for now, a bet is a bet…it’s tattoo time Cyril!
It was a fantastic result for Renault but it came with disappointment for Esteban Ocon. The Frenchman wasn’t up to Ricciardo’s pace but wasn’t that far off in Qualifying as he qualified just behind in 7th. It was a decent effort but he has now been beaten in Qualifying for the 9th successive time. His race start wasn’t good though and he lost ground to Perez and Sainz on the opening lap. After that setback, he showed some decent pace and was running 5th when a hydraulics issue forced him to retire. Ocon felt there was ‘definetly in line for a top five finish’. I’m not so sure, I feel top 6 definitely so it is a big shame Ocon left the Nurbirhgring with nothing.
Sergio Perez had another strong performance in the Racing Point. The Mexican felt there was ‘more on the table’ despite qualifying 9th and he got to show that in the race. Perez had a decent start getting past Ocon and did extremely well managing his tyres taking them to lap 28 before pitting for Mediums. Being able to prolong the opening stint put him in an excellent position for the podium after he got past Norris and at the second time of asking Leclerc in the immediate laps after his stop. Unfortunately, the Safety Car nullified his advantage and Perez knew it as he said post-race, ‘I’m a little bit frustrated because I felt the podium was ours if we didn’t have the safety car’. Racing Point pitted him a lap later did not take the risk and Perez was then unable to pass Ricciardo as he finished 4th.
The Safety Car also robbed us of seeing how that would’ve panned out. However, the Mexican is arguably in the form of his career; that was his 15th successive points finish and his second successive top 4 finish but a podium in 2020 eludes him. It is a massive shame he does not have a seat as it stands for 2021.
However, what a weekend that was for Nico Hulkenberg! He was in Cologne expecting to be doing tv commentary at the Nurburgring when he got the call 11am (four hours before Qualifying) and ended up racing after Lance Stroll was taken unwell with a tummy bug. Given everything he had to do before Qualifying it would have been a hard task to get into Q2 and under the circumstances, 20th was to be expected. That makes the Germans race drive all the more remarkable. He just turned up, did Qualifying and finished 8th. It started with a clean start and superbly being able to take the Soft tyres 29 laps into the race and after the Safety Car hunched the pack together he only finished 1s shy of Leclerc. An impressive performance from Hulkenberg and surely he has put himself back in the shop window for 2021.
It says it all that in his two races, Hulkenberg has finished ahead of four-time Champion and compatriot Sebastian Vettel twice.
Vettel won at the Nurburgring in 2013 but it was a weekend to forget as he failed to reach Q3 for the 9th successive time; half a second adrift of Leclerc. The race didn’t get much better as not for the first time he appeared to jump the start but within the tolerances of the stewards. Seriously, he’s a four-time champion for crying out loud. That helped him lose ground to Giovinazzi and trying to regain it saw him lock up and spin on lap 10 on his own accord. It prompted an impromptu pit stop due and the decision to fit Hard tyres did not quite pay off for Vettel and was unfortunate pitting just before the Safety Car. After the restart, he managed to pass Latifi and Magnussen (forcefully) but did not have enough to pass Giovinazzi to finish in the points. ‘…a very difficult day’ indeed.
Charles Leclerc arguably put in the lap of the weekend as he put his Ferrari 4th in Qualifying. It looks like, in his hands at least Ferrari have made some movement forward but the race pace was not there. The Monegasque threatened Verstappen off the start but soon after started falling back and had to do some defensive driving against the likes of Ricciardo before pitting on lap 10. That committed Leclerc to a two-stopper. He felt the Mediums were a better tyre but Ferrari kept to their plan and were then slightly compromised by the safety car. Keeping him out on the same tyres meant he had a struggle on his hands against the likes of Gasly on fresher rubber as he finished 7th. Still, that is a very strong performance from Leclerc who felt ‘Seventh is the best we could do!’
2020 Eifel Grand Prix Points
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 25, Max Verstappen 19, Daniel Ricciardo 15, Sergio Perez 12, Carlos Sainz 10, Pierre Gasly 8, Charles Leclerc 6, Nico Hulkenberg 4, Romain Grosjean 2, Antonio Giovinazzi 1
Constructors: Mercedes 25, Red Bull 19, Racing Point 16, Renault 15, McLaren 10, Alpha Tauri 8, Ferrari 6, Haas 2, Alfa Romeo 1
In the midfield battle, McLaren didn’t have the best of weekends as the parts they brought to adapt a more Mercedes like nose concept (something I think more geared to 2021 when they use Mercedes engines). Lando Norris did not have those parts but he got the better of his teammate in Qualifying for the first time in 5 attempts. The Brit had a strong start too, passing Ocon and by not pitting during the VSC he was propelled to 3rd. So, he was well and truly in the mix for the podium and 2s ahead of Perez when a power unit issue just before pitting on lap 29 compromised him. He continued for as long as possible and pulling up on lap 44 prompted the full Safety Car. It’s a big disappointment for Norris as ‘We could’ve scored some good points today and we haven’t’.
Carlos Sainz spared McLaren’s blushes by finishing 5th with his first race finish since the podium in Monza but there are worrying signs for McLaren. Sainz was running the new parts and was beaten by Norris in Qualifying and then didn’t have the same pace in the race as he ‘never felt completely comfortable with the car’. The Spaniard did not have the pace to pass anyone; the only driver he passed was his teammate perhaps under team orders with his issues on lap 33. Maintaining position on the road until pitting on lap 29 pushed him up to 5th which is where he finished after the Safety Car restart which saw him battling to stay ahead of Gasly more than attacking Perez and Ricciardo ahead.
Romain Grosjean must really like the Nurburgring. The Frenchman got a podium when F1 last visited in 2013. While he didn’t reach the same heights in 2020, 9th will have felt like one. The Frenchman failed to get out of Q1 and a poor opening lap dropped him to the bottom of the field. He then had the misfortune of being hit by some gravel coming from Raikkonen; thankfully it didn’t break his finger. Haas don’t have the pace for points outright so they ‘have to take risks’, one stopping and not pitting behind either the VSC or full Safety Car. The latter call propelled him to 7th but after the restart, it meant there was some defending to do and while he was passed by Gasly and Hulkenberg on the first lap he ‘managed to hold on though’ to finish 9th. His first points finish since Germany last year.
It wasn’t such a good outcome for his teammate Kevin Magnussen though. The Danish driver had beaten Grosjean in Qualifying, made it to Q2 and 14th on the grid. He then had a very good opening lap passing both Alpha Tauri’s but ultimately strategy let him down. ‘ We chose the strategy that we thought was going to give us the best chance – but then the race just didn’t really come our way’. Haas pitted him behind the VSC and committed him to a two-stop strategy and pitted again on lap 34. They did not pit him again behind the full Safety Car and being on used tyres for the closing stages while everyone else was on fresh tyres disadvantaged him and came off second best against Vettel as he finished 12th.
At Alfa Romeo, while Lewis Hamilton was equalling the wins record, Kimi Raikkonen was breaking the record for most race starts but it was ‘a frustrating weekend’. Getting into Q2 would have been the aim in Qualifying but he started the record 323rd race from 19th. The race was disastrous and days like this would make you wonder if F1 really is a hobby for the 2007 Champion, why would he bother beyond this year? The Iceman ran wide on the opening lap and then on lap 11 shunted into Russell at turn 1 having gone in too deep and understeered into the Williams. For someone as experienced, there aren’t really many excuses and the 10s penalty was probably the right one. The Safety Car helped hunch everyone up but to finish 12th and just 1.4s off the points is not a bad result although he felt it cost him ‘a few positions’.
There have been questions over his teammates future but his performance at the Nurburgring couldn’t have come at a better time for Antonio Giovinazzi. The Italian got into Q2 for the first time this year and beat Magnussen for 14th. He had an excellent start climbing to 11th ad drove well in the early stages to keep ahead of Vettel although he was fortunate not to be taken out by the Ferrari. Giovinazzi pitted behind the VSC and but having already stopped a second time, he didn’t stop again behind the Safety Car which he felt cost him 8th. Despite having to reheat his tyres was able to hold on to finish in the top 10 despite the pressure from Vettel and Raikkonen behind as he got his first point since the season opener in Austria.
Could that be enough to save his F1 drive? Only time will tell but I think it unlikely. The Nurburgring was meant to see Ferrari juniors Mick Schumacher and Callum Illot make their FP1 debuts with Alfa Romeo and Haas respectively. Robert Schwartzman is due to get his chance in Abu Dhabi. The weather put paid to their first experience. It would have been interesting to see how they adapt to F1 machinery. Hopefully, they get a chance but the announcement of the plan indicated that both Haas and Alfa Romeo could be open to taking on a Ferrari junior for 2021 and that the decision on both teams driver line ups would not happen until after Abu Dhabi when all three have had their chance.
Is Mick Schumacher, currently leading the F2 championship going to replace Giovinazzi in the Ferrari nominated seat? Could Haas take one or even both of Illot or Schwartzman? If Raikkonen were to retire, could Alfa Romeo go for Perez or Hulke berg who have both raced for the team as Sauber? If Haas were to retain one of their drivers, my inclination would be that Magnussen is retained to be a mentor for the junior.
Nine teams scored points at the Nurburgring. Williams did not and they will feel this was a golden opportunity missed. George Russell maintained his perfect Qualifying record against teammates and he felt from ‘the way that this race has panned out there was definitely an opportunity there’. He had started well and was racing Vettel when Raikkonen crashed into him on lap 11? The contact gave him a puncture and the extensive damage to the floor forced him to become the first retirement of the race. Nicholas Latifi may not have won a qualifying battle yet but he still maintains a good finishing record. Willaims gambled on keeping him out during the Safety Car but did not have enough to keep pace with Raikkonen and Vettel ahead, he just described as ‘fun to have that fight‘, as he finished 14th and ahead of only the stricken Kvyat.
2020 Eifel Grand PrixRatings
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 9, Max Verstappen 9, Daniel Ricciardo 9.5, Sergio Perez 9, Carlos Sainz 7.5, Pierre Gasly 8.5, Charles Leclerc 8, Nico Hulkenberg 10, Romain Grosjean 8.5, Antonio Giovinazzi 8, Sebastian Vettel 4.5, Kimi Raikkonen 5, Kevin Magnussen 6, Nicholas Latifi 6, Daniil Kvyat 6, Lando Norris 7.5, Alex Albon 4.5, Esteban Ocon 6.5, Valtteri Bottas 7, George Russell 6
Constructors: Mercedes 8, Red Bull 7.5, Racing Point 9, Renault 8, McLaren 7.5, Alpha Tauri 7.5, Ferrari 6.5, Haas 7, Alfa Romeo 6.5, Williams 6
In terms of the Drivers Championship, Lewis Hamilton (230pts) after his record-equalling win now has a 69 point lead over Valtteri Bottas (161pts) after; almost three-race advantage with 156 points left on the table. Realistically, the battle is over and Hamilton will equal Schumacher’s 7 titles. Max Verstappen (147pts) courtesy of finishing 2nd and the fastest lap is now only 14 points adrift of Bottas. After his podium, Dabuel Ricciardo (78pts) climbed to 4th in the standings and is now 10 points ahead of Sergio Perez (68pts) and Lando Norris, courtesy of his DNF has slips to 6th (65pts) but only 5 points separate Perez in 5th and Charles Leclerc in 7th (63pts). Lance Stroll remains on 57 points having not raced and is now only 4 points ahead of Pierre Gasly who rounds off the top 10.
In the bottom half of the standings, Antonio Giovinazzi moves a point clear of his teammate Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean with his first points of the season leapfrogs Kevin Magnussen into 18th. The Willaims pair remain the only drivers who have not scored a point.
In the Constructors, Mercedes still power away and have a 180 point lead over Red Bull in 2nd. The main interest though is the battle for 3rd where only 6 points separate 3rd to 5th. As the only team to have both drivers score points, Racing Point climbs into 3rd (120pts) ahead of McLaren (116pts) while Ricciardo’s podium closed Renault up to two points behind (114pts). Ferrari remains 6th (80pts) ahead of Alpha Tauri in 7th (67pts). The bottom three remain in the same positions but Alfa Romeo now has 5pts and Haas 3pts. Williams remains bottom with zero points.
After the Eifel Grand Prix would I like to see the Nurburging retain a spot in F1? Absolutely but the question then becomes in a normal year, which circuit does it replace? The next race is at a circuit that was not originally on the 2020 schedule and given the opportunity to host a race due to the pandemic. That circuit too will be hoping to stake its claim for a more permanent spot. F1 races in Portugal for the first time since 1996 but not at Estoril but the Algarve International Circuit. Looking at the layout of the circuit, it looks like it could be an interesting race. Next, F1 is at Portimao in the Algarve for the Portuguese Grand Prix!