Wednesday , 16 October 2019
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Craig’s Column: F1’s double redemption tale

It appears difficult to pinpoint any one thing from the Formula 1 German Grand Prix last weekend that stands out from the rest in terms of its significance. Max Verstappen’s overdue wet-weather victory, an unwell Lewis Hamilton making not one – but two – major errors in an important race for Mercedes as it celebrated 125 years in motorsport, Valtteri Bottas failing to capitalise by crashing himself, Charles Leclerc undoing a rare excellent strategy call by Ferrari or even Williams finally securing its first point of the season. They all are big stories to talk about. But it’s the result for two drivers, in particular, that feels more poignant than the rest.

The ghosts of last year’s German Grand Prix may never be forgotten for Sebastian Vettel – after he went off clumsily in damp conditions while leading, turning his season and his championship hopes entirely upside down. After qualifying – in which he failed to set a time after a turbo problem destroyed his chances – he may have lost any hope of making up for his error last year. That was until the heavens opened on raceday.

Vettel’s race on Sunday was far from perfect, but there were moments of total brilliance. His opening laps on wet tyres were exemplary – carving his way through the lesser cars right into the thick of it. He struggled on intermediates – notably failing to pass former team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. But he succeeded where almost all of his rivals faltered. Not one noteworthy error throughout the race. Sure, it was a fortuitous second in a way, but he was absolutely clinical in difficult conditions at the start and right at the end when a podium was on offer.

It’s such an important result for Vettel, after three races in which he has been soundly thumped by his less-experienced team-mate Leclerc. Leclerc’s turnaround in form – notably on a Saturday – has coincided with Vettel’s dip ever since the cloud of controversy surrounding the Canadian Grand Prix. Vettel finished second on that day like he did on Sunday, but he will be infinitely more pleased with the latter. The momentum at Ferrari may just shift again this season.

Of intrigue, it was fascinating to see how the German crowd hurled support behind their countryman – in a region he has not always had a substantial amount of it in the past. All of this may just reignite something in Vettel that has clearly been missing ever since he was denied his first victory of the season at Ile Notre Dame.

This alone does not make up for the huge number of mistakes Vettel has made over the past 15 months or so – especially the one at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago which was arguably the worst of the lot. But what a wet Hockenheim showed is that nobody is immune to making mistakes and that Vettel can still produce a result that is pretty special. P20 to P2 has not been achieved often in any circumstance in F1. It makes him the first driver in history to take 50 podiums for two separate teams in F1.

Sharing the podium with Vettel was Verstappen – who after a slow start struggled to make his way past Bottas before being gifted the lead by Hamilton, and Daniil Kvyat. For Kvyat, who celebrated the birth of his first child just hours before the race, it was just his third appearance on an F1 rostrum but this one will be the most special. Again, it did not come without fortune.

The last time Vettel and Kvyat shared a podium the German was blasting the ‘Torpedo’ for his actions on the opening lap in the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix. It would be Kvyat’s penultimate appearance for Red Bull, although a result like this one will further cement his case for him to complete his redemption story and finish what is definitely unfinished business with the team that dumped him for Verstappen.

Three years ago, at Hockenheim, in the midst of coming to terms with his traumatic demotion back to Toro Rosso to make way for Verstappen, Kvyat was not in a good place. It was clear to see in his body language and in interviews that was the case. He was absolutely crushed on the track by Carlos Sainz Jr in the same equipment and, as a person, he was clearly crushed too.

What a remarkable turnaround it has been on and off the track for him. The race came to him after he made a little impact early on, but he was fantastic on slick tyres – which he stuck on a lap after Lance Stroll (who led) did in the Racing Point – in the closing laps. Stroll was easy meat and, while he lost out to Vettel’s superior machinery, could have finished second at the flag as he closed in on the Ferrari.

It’s easy to forget that Kvyat is just 25. By modern F1 standards that is fairly old but, in reality, he is still a young man. The challenges he has faced in the past three years have been mighty tough for anybody to face in sport or in life, let alone someone who was at the time totally undeveloped. The talent was always there, but he has had trouble unlocking it. He will obviously face new challenges as a father, but ones he is capable of mastering.

For reference, Kvyat has already scored more points in 2019 than he achieved in the almost three seasons with Toro Rosso in the past. He already has more points than in 2016 where he spent four races with Red Bull and has catapulted up the championship order in a Toro Rosso that has not always looked like a contender for points. He also scored Toro Rosso’s second podium in its history. The first? Vettel, Monza, 2008.

None of the drivers mentioned so far was the standout performer last Sunday. That honour goes to Alex Albon – a driver whose first experience of wet weather F1 racing was jaw-dropping for all the correct reasons. Sixth for Albon was not a worthy reward for dicing with Hamilton, charging up the pack and not making a single mistake aside for not pitting earlier towards the end.

The feel-good stories – Vettel taking a brilliant podium at home a year on from his most infamous of recent mistakes and new father Kvyat showing that he has come back to F1 a more complete human being three years after he was at his lowest – totally outweighs anything else from a wet and wild weekend at Hockenheim. It’s the humanity – especially from drivers who are sometimes taunted for being PR robots – that may outweigh even the most epic of drives. That these human tales have happened at a venue of past pain and heartbreak feels even more special.

About Craig Woollard

Motorsport historian and journalist Craig Woollard has had an unusual path to a career in motorsport. After graduating from the University of Essex with a degree in mathematics in 2013, he changed his career path immediately after discovering a talent for writing. After occasional freelance work in 2015 and 2016, he joined the Autosport Academy for 2017. In the same year, he became an archive digitiser at Motorsport Images - which is his full-time job to this date.

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