How Ferrari and Vettel’s Weekend Imploded at the German Grand Prix
A tragic outing at Hockenheim has left Maranello up in arms. Here’s how it happened.
Up to this point, the collective Tifosi was welcoming the rain as if it had been plagued by drought, last being blessed by the holy water during the era of Schumacher who proudly toted the "Rainmaster" sobriquet. Comparisons of Maranello's contemporary liberator Sebastian Vettel to his childhood hero have rung throughout his tenure at the Scuderia, only now becoming fruitful as Seb has genuinely realized Ferrari's chances at a long-awaited Constructors' Championship. His deft approach to the chess match previously unrivaled, Vettel has since buckled to persistent rival Lewis Hamilton, a disheartening move that culminated at Hockenheim on July 22.
Leading his home race free and clear with just 15 laps to go, Vettel was set to extend his points lead to an unmatchable figure before Formula 1's summer break. His boot had seemingly squashed the Hamilton bug which has pestered him over the last five years, putting himself and his team in prime position for a fate-derived reclaiming. Tragically for Vettel, Mr. Arrivabene, and the onlooking Ferrari faithful, the rain that they formerly embraced caused the community's undoing when the No. 5 met gravel and, conclusively, the wall.
The looming precipitation had every strategist and team principal sweating beyond the point of distinction from the rain. Some were calling for the switch to intermediates while others, including Vettel and—yes, Hamilton—stayed out on slicks. Caution was key and Vettel had presumably nailed the procedure prior to his anguish at Sachs Kurve.
Hamilton drove by with a splash, the drops on his tinted visor perhaps hiding a smile behind it. Circumstances had rearranged themselves in the Silver Arrows' favor, leaving Vettel and Ferrari with widening deficits in both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Title pursuits.
Backing up a bit, Ferrari had just publicly agonized over the ill-health of its CEO Sergio Marchionne on Saturday. The Italian, whose machismo and nationally-inherent passion has flipped the path of the Prancing Horse 180 degrees from its old downtrodden stature, had suffered complications from a shoulder surgery that led to his inability to return to the company's roundtable.
With wavering leadership standings and spirits in the paddock, the boys in red were hoping for a comeback to make everyone at home proud. As displayed by Vettel's steering wheel punch sequence and swift kick to the gravel, that aforementioned feel-good victory was not in the cards.
"I'm sorry guys," Vettel lamented while his car sat beached outside Turn 12.
Instead of hearing the heavily-anticipated "Grazie Ragazzi!" over team radio, Ferrari diehards seethed as Hamilton thanked his fans and sprayed champagne on the podium while Vettel was stuck with no points, no glory, and no momentum. Once again, Mercedes & Co. had made itself a roadblock for Ferrari's hype train toward ending that pesky dry spell that the outfit was hoping to leave in the rearview mirror up until Lap 52.
Afterward, Vettel downplayed his woes by telling the media: "I don't think it was a huge mistake. It was a huge impact on the race because we retired, but it's not like tonight I will have difficulties to fall asleep because of what I've done wrong."
"I think it's disappointing because up to that point everything was sweet," he added, "but as I said we didn't need the rain. They did everything right, I had it in my hand. Small mistake, big disappointment.”
In the interim, Hamilton was explaining to reporters: "I feel like I drove the best I can remember."
Nico Rosberg, fellow German and 2016 F1 world champion, described the event as one of Vettel's "darkest moments ever" in a post-race vlog, bringing attention to the long-standing effect of the inopportune off.
So now, with one race to go before F1's month-long sabbatical, Seb and his teammate Kimi Raikkonen must look back on Hockenheim to tweak their performance at the Hungaroring. Ferrari sits eight points off of Mercedes' newfound lead in the Constructors' while Vettel has dropped 18 points behind Hamilton.
Hamilton will assuredly be difficult to surpass as he's riding high on his fourth world championship which he achieved last season, not to mention the mega $41 million per year contract he just inked with Mercedes that stretches through 2020. Vettel is the sole active driver that has the spunk to do it, but as the cliche goes: When it rains, it pours.
So, Vettel, put your gloves on and study the film, because the sky could open up at any time.