On what was supposed to be a day of celebration, the rarest of sights in Formula One saw both Mercedes drivers struggle badly at the German Grand Prix as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took victory.
The 21-year-old Dutchman delivered a controlled drive in treacherous conditions that made for a wildly unpredictable race, forcing teams and drivers to fall back on their instincts.
This was Mercedes’ 200th Grand Prix as a constructor in what will probably be their last home race for some time, but Hamilton crossed the line in 11th - despite starting from pole position - and Valtteri Bottas crashed chasing a podium finish. Hamilton was later promoted to ninth place and earned two points after stewards handed post-race time penalties to Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
Otherwise it was a bad day for Hamilton, the drivers’ championship leader, who was suffering with a bug. That was perhaps best illustrated by a major spin on lap 52 where the Briton just held the car. His teammate Bottas did the same several laps later and ended in the wall, thus ending his challenge.
Hamilton still leads the championship by 41 points from Bottas. The win cements Verstappen’s strong third place, 63 points behind Hamilton, while Vettel languishes in fourth 21 points behind him.
End of the road for German Grand Prix
Sunday’s thriller could well be the last German Grand Prix as the race looks likely to drop off next year's Formula One calendar.
The Hockenheim circuit previously had a deal to host the event every alternate year, and was out of contract after last season's event before a last minute deal kept it on the 2019 calendar. Mercedes-Benz, parent company of the dominant Mercedes Formula One team, stepped in as title sponsor for this year but there has been no word on a fresh agreement.
Formula One chief executive Chase Carey recently told German media that talks regarding the race are “complicated”.
Liberty Media reportedly charges venues a fee of around US$50 million for the German Grand Prix, a sum that cannot be covered by ticket sales alone.
Mercedes Motorsport chief executive Toto Wolff revealed that his employers are not in a position to sponsor the race every year.
“I think (commercial rights holders) Liberty Media has a great problem in having more demand than supply which is good and also good for the teams as fundamentally we share a large part of the prize fund,” he said.
“We will encourage them to look at the German Grand Prix but it is (Formula One chief executive) Chase (Carey’s) call to decide where we go.”
Spanish extension not yet confirmed
Following media reports last week that a deal has been finalised for the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix, the race’s host, the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, told the Associated Press that "no agreement has been reached yet with Formula One in order to renew," adding that negotiations are "still open".
Attendance has fallen sharply at the Grand Prix from 140,000 spectators in 2007 to 90,000 in 2018.
Carey chasing a 22-race calendar for 2020
Liberty Media has been attempting to persuade teams into agreeing a record 22-race season for 2020.
According to UK tabloid the Sun, Carey met key figures within the paddock in Germany to outline the sport’s plans for next season that include the addition of Vietnam and Dutch Grands Prix, plus the potential retention of the Spanish race.
The Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit holds one of five races whose contracts run out this year and its future on the calendar remains up in the air.
Work is going on at both the road race in Hanoi and Zandvoort with both sites expected to meet the deadlines in order to host GPs next season.
Passion and shame
I hope that we don’t lose this race. I think not only for me and Nico [Hulkenberg] as German drivers, I think for the German crowd that we saw is very passionate, a lot of people turning up. It was sold out despite the weather. I think we had a great race and it would be a shame to lose it
Sebastian Vettel on potentially losing the German Grand Prix from the Formula One calendar
The Big Picture
A bus preparing to take ticket holders on a lap of the Hockenheim circuit took out the German Grand Prix start lights on Thursday after the driver misjudged his clearance