Daniel Ricciardo Scores a Podium! F1 2020 Season Review: Eifel GP
Daniel Ricciardo finishes on the podium as Lewis Hamilton makes history!
The Eifel Grand Prix is done and dusted, and what a race that was! Many expected the first race at the infamous Nürburgring circuit to be a little bit on the boring side as the rain started to clear, following the cancellation of FP1 and FP2 on Friday. However, this was not the case; as we saw drama at the front of the pack, a tight midfield battle, as well as a sprint to the finish for the final podium place! Stay tuned to see how exactly exactly how the Eifel Grand Prix unfolded, as well as a little flashback to yesterday's qualifying session...
Qualifying at the Nürburgring was always going to be challenging for the field this year as 12 of the drivers racing had never driven on the circuit before; but the driver with the ultimate challenge was the returning Nico Hulkenberg - who replaced Lance Stroll, who wasn't feeling very well on Saturday morning. The German has been called to race at three races this year for the Racing Point, with the first two being for the British Grand Prix (when Sergio Perez caught COVID-19); however, this time Nico had a lot less time to prepare.
Q1 saw Nico Hulkenberg qualify in last place, which was expected as he had only driven four laps in his car - though he was happy with the laps that he had completed. Kimi Raikkonen, who has just broken the record for the most grand prix starts, qualified alongside Hulkenberg in nineteenth for his 323rd race start. The two Williams cars would start in seventeenth and eighteenth, with George Russell beating Nicolas Latifi by two-and-a-half tenths of a second. Romain Grosjean would be the final person to be eliminated from Q1, starting 16th after his fast lap was deleted due to track limits.
The story of Q2 was that Antonio Giovinazzi had made it through to the second session - which is the first time this year this has been achieved by the Italian. The number 99 would start in 14th place, ahead of Kevin Magnussen; and behind the two Alpha Tauris of Pierre Gasly in thirteenth, and Daniil Kvyat in fourteenth. Sebastian Vettel would start in 11th, four-tenths behind the nearest car, but with free-tyre choice for the race.
The third and final qualifying session of the weekend was topped by Valtteri Bottas, who beat teammate Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the second weekend in a row. Valtteri set a blisteringly quick time that was a quarter of a second faster than his six-time world champion teammate in second place. Max Verstappen would take his spot on the second row in third place, alongside Charles Leclerc, who put a fantastic lap time down to secure P4 for Ferrari - equalling his best qualifying position for the season. Alex Albon and Daniel Ricciardo would line up in fifth and sixth respectively, followed by Renault's Esteban Ocon in seventh and Lando Norris in eighth. Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz would start in ninth place and tenth, which would have been disappointing for two drivers in fast cars.
Now that we are all caught up with qualifying, let's move on to the race!
There was drama unfolding before the race had even started, with Lewis Hamilton complaining on the radio that there was some travel in his steering wheel that hadn't been fixed overnight (not to be confused with DAS). But thankfully for him, Mercedes were able to fix the issue before the start of the race though.
As the five red lights went out for the first F1 race held at the Nürburgring since 2013, it was Hamilton that got the better getaway to Bottas on pole position. The two black Mercedes cars were side-by-side going into the tight, downhill hairpin that is Turn 1, but Lewis ran wide, sending himself and Valtteri onto the run-off area. Both Mercedes' rejoined the track, and it looked like the reigning world champion had taken the lead, but Bottas got a much better drive and slipped down the inside of the half-throttle Turn 2.
Further behind them, Max Verstappen also ran deep into Turn 1 and went side-by-side with Charles Leclerc going through Turn Two, but was able to hold position. Behind them, Daniel Ricciardo followed, and Alex Albon had a massive lockup into Turn 3, narrowly avoiding the rear-left tyre of the Renault driver, but putting a tyre-killing flat spot onto his front-left. Hulkenberg and Giovinazzi both had excellent starts, with the pair gaining three places each on Lap 1.
A rather bizarre moment from the start of the race was when Grosjean reported on the radio that he had hurt his left index finger. Kimi Raikkonen had run wide and brought some gravel back onto the track, which flicked up and hit Romain's left hand as he was turning. The Frenchmen said that he could barely use the painful finger, and was concerned that he had broken it - though he carried on and finished the race.
Several laps later, and Daniel Ricciardo had finally got comfortable with his tyres and started to put pressure on Charles Leclerc, who had already dropped 11.3 seconds behind Max Verstappen by Lap 7. Ricciardo made the switch-back move at Turn 1 on lap nine, finally clearing the Ferrari and putting him into P4. Meanwhile, Alex Albon pitted on Lap 8 to switch his flat-spotted Soft tyres for a set of Medium tyres.
Lap 11 was a busy one for Ferrari, as Leclerc heads into the puts and switches his Soft tyres for a set of Mediums, while Sebastian Vettel has a peculiar half-spin at the end of the pit straight. The German was attempting a switch to the outside in the braking-zone to pass Antonio Giovinazzi, but touched the white pit exit line and half-spun into the run-off zone. The four-time world champion reported on the radio that he had flat-spotted his tyres, then pitted for a set of Hard tyres to go deep into the race.
Lap 13 quickly cuts to Lewis Hamilton overtaking Valtteri Bottas at Turn 2, which was caused by a heavy lockup for the Finn that sent him off-track at the exit of Turn 1. Valtteri will have been kicking himself for making a mistake in the lead of the race when Hamilton is so far ahead of him in the championship standings. Following his lock-up, the number 77 was immediately under pressure from Max Verstappen's Red Bull; so he pitted at the end of the lap for a set of Medium tyres.
George Russell was seen in the run-off area at Turn 1, and almost spun at Turn 2 when re-joining the track. There had been a collision between Russell and Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 1, as the Finn tried to go down the inside of the Williams driver, but lost the back end and steered into the Briton's car. Russell's car launched about forty-five degrees onto its side, before landing back on four wheels and puncturing the rear-left wheel of George's car. Russell would end up pulling off to the side and retiring on Lap 15 due to damage to the floor and suspension.
Right at the time of this collision, droplets of rain started to fall and it looked like there was going to be a shower, with a chance of the field switching to the intermediate tyre. This looked to be very badly timed for Valtteri Bottas - who had just pitted after making a mistake - though the rain was never heavy enough for the intermediates to be necessary.
Bottas was able to make his way past Daniel Ricciardo at the Turn 13 and Turn 14 chicane, just before the Virtual Safety Car was deployed to recover George Russell's Williams. Hamilton and Verstappen pitted during the Virtual Safety Car period, with the pair switching on to the Medium tyre, and extending their lead to Valtteri Bottas, who was now in a podium position again. Upon the restart, Daniil Kvyat ran wide and cut the final chicane, only to be hit by Albon and lose his front wing when re-joining the track. Kvyat would limp around in a damaged Alpha Tauri, while the stewards put Albon under investigation for the incident.
At this point, the disappointing news that Bottas was losing power was heard over the radio, and the 31-year old lost places to Norris and Perez. Bottas would eventually retire on Lap 19, which is a huge blow on his world-championship chances. Ocon missed the final chicane on Lap 23, claiming he had no brakes or gears; which meant the Frenchman had to retire yet again, this time with a hydraulic problem. Alex Albon and Kimi Raikkonen receive five-second and ten-seconds respectively for their collisions earlier in the race, as Albon nearly hits the other Alpha Tauri at Turn 1, and flatspotted his second set of tyres. Albon would never serve this penalty, as he soon retired from the race.
Lando Norris starts losing power in the most heart-breaking way on Lap 26 of 60. The Briton was running in P3, but started to lose a lot of time on the straights to Perez, as he was frantically trying to make adjustments that his engineer recommended. The midfield then made their pitstops (Norris included), and the battle between the McLaren and the Racing Point continued. Perez finally passed Norris at the final chicane on Lap 31.
A couple of laps later, Perez and Leclerc would have a fantastic battle for P4, when Perez performed a switch-back at the final chicane and passed the Ferrari. However, Leclerc fought back and used DRS to assist him on the pit-straight, before taking his position back at Turn 1. Perez would make the move stick on Lap 35, at the same chicane, but forcing Leclerc a little wider to help him pull away.
On Lap 44, Norris' engine finally gave up and the 20-year old had to pull over at the side of the road, releasing the safety car. This safety car was at the wrong time for Perez, but the perfect time for Ricciardo; as the Renault driver was running in P3, but rapidly being hunted down by Perez on much faster tyres. The majority of the field would pit onto a set of Soft tyres during the safety car phase.
The safety car would pit on Lap 49, and Lewis Hamilton would perform another one of his signature restarts, creating a gap of over a second on Max Verstappen by the Lap 50 mark. Ricciardo started attacking Verstappen after a mistake, but was almost passed by a Perez in a fast Racing Point with equally-new Soft tyres. However, Ricciardo was able to maintain a gap of 1.2 to 1.6 seconds to Perez for the next few laps after Verstappen pulled away.
Gasly would make a move on Leclerc at Turn 1 on Lap 51, while Vettel overtook Latifi and Magnussen on Lap 51 and 54, making slight contact with the Haas driver in the process. Raikkonen would also prove that his skill is still there, with an impressive move around the outside at the Turn 7 hairpin.
The rest of the race went very smoothly and Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to take a record-equalling 91st victory at the Eifel Grand prix, adding to the statistic that the pole-sitter rarely wins a race at the Nürburgring. Bottas' unfortunate DNF has increased Hamilton's lead to almost 3-race wins, but the real star of the show was Daniel Ricciardo, who crossed the line to score his first podium since his win at Monaco in 2018 for Red Bull!
While Cyril Abiteboul's tattoo fate has been decided (after a bet with Daniel regarding a Renault podium), Max Verstappen was able to steal the fastest lap point of the final lap of the race, finishing in a well-deserved second place. Nico Hulkenberg was crowned 'Drive of the Day', after finishing in an incredible eighth place, starting from the very back of the grid. What a race!
After that action-packed race at the Nürburgring circuit; I would personally rate the race an 8 out of 10. There was (surprisingly) a lot of overtaking and on-track action, suggesting that the Nürburgring definitely deserves to make a return to the Formula One calendar. What did you think of the race? Be sure to let me know in the comments below. In the meantime, you can find the race results down below.
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