The race that was…the 2013 German Grand Prix

This weekend Formula One heads to the mighty Nurburgring for the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix. As it’s been seven years since F1 last raced at the Ring, we’re throwing things back to its most recent visit—the 2013 German Grand Prix.

Taking a quick glance down the grid, 2013 doesn’t look too far removed from present-day F1. There are seven drivers from 2013 that are still racing in F1 today: Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez (or eight, if you include Racing Point stand-in Nico Hulkenberg).

Of those that aren’t, Fernando Alonso will be returning next year, and it wasn’t that long since we last saw the likes of Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg either.

But of those seven drivers still in F1 today, only Hamilton at Mercedes is still with the same team as in 2013. Back then, Vettel was still the reigning champion at Red Bull-Renault, while his future Ferrari teammate Raikkonen was in the second year of his F1 comeback partnering Grosjean at Lotus.

Meanwhile, Bottas was a rookie at Williams, Perez was enduring his ill-fated McLaren season, and Ricciardo was still cutting his teeth in a Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso before his Red Bull break a year later.

As for F1’s current crop of drivers, the likes of Carlos Sainz, Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon were all racing in Formula Renault categories in 2013. As for Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and George Russell, they were all still in karts.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG)

One thing that will be familiar for today’s F1 viewers is that the 2013 German Grand Prix started with Hamilton on pole for Mercedes. However, the Mercedes W04 was a far cry from the juggernauts that its turbo-hybrid successors would be.

The W04 was undoubtedly fast, and between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had taken six of the season’s nine pole positions at that time. But a common theme of 2013 was Mercedes qualifying well only to struggle with tyre temperatures early on in the race and fall back through the field.

And that’s exactly what happened at the Nurburgring, as Vettel and Mark Webber (starting from second and third respectively) both got the jump on Hamilton into Turn 1. Meanwhile, Hamilton dropped back behind Grosjean and Raikkonen, whose James Allison-designed Lotuses were famously very gentle on their Pirelli tyres compared to the Mercedes.

With Vettel and Webber’s pace out front, Red Bull looked set for another 1–2 finish. But that fell apart when Webber came in to change tyres on lap 14 and left his pitbox with his right-rear not properly attached.

As Webber got away, the wheel detached and bounced down the pitlane—it hit FOM cameraman Paul Allen, who suffered a broken shoulder and cracked ribs and was taken to nearby Koblenz hospital for treatment. Allen later recovered fully and Red Bull were given a €30,000 fine for the incident.

Mark Webber, Red Bull (Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

Webber was able to rejoin the race, as he stopped just outside his pitbox and was promptly wheeled back and fitted with new tyres. But when he returned to the track he was a lap down on Vettel, while Grosjean and Raikkonen were closing in after setting multiple fastest laps.

On lap 23 the safety car was deployed when Jules Bianchi had to stop his Marussia with an engine fire. This allowed Webber to get back onto the lead lap. But after making initial progress when the race resumed, Webber then got stuck behind Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez for ten laps, and was forced to make another stop after eating through his tyres trying to get by.

Raikkonen took the lead of the race on lap 41 when Vettel and Grosjean both made their third stops, and Lotus extended his stint until lap 49. This left Raikkonen with much fresher soft tyres for the final laps of the race and gave him the best chance of hunting down Vettel for the win. With this and the championship in mind (Raikkonen was then third in the standings behind Vettel and Alonso), Lotus instructed Grosjean to let the quicker Raikkonen by for second.

But despite his pace, Raikkonen was unable to stop Vettel taking his first home Grand Prix victory. The win was also the 30th of Vettel’s career, making him only the sixth driver in F1 history at the time to score more than 30 wins (the others being Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Fernando Alonso and Nigel Mansell).

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean (Lotus) (Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

Raikkonen finished second and Grosjean third ahead of Alonso. Hamilton’s race stabilised in fifth, while Webber recovered to seventh between the McLarens of Button and Perez. Rosberg and Hulkenberg rounded out the points for Mercedes and Sauber respectively. Williams had looked set to finish in the points in what was their 600th Grand Prix, only for wheel gun problems in the pit stops to drop Pastor Maldonado and Bottas down to 15th and 16th place respectively.

The 2013 German Grand Prix was an enthralling race, but it was also a fascinating look back at F1’s recent history. It shows a Sebastian Vettel at his peak en route to a fourth consecutive World Championship. It shows the early signs of the Mercedes success to come, back when Lewis Hamilton only had one title and 21 wins to his name.

But more importantly for F1 today, it shows that the Nurburgring can provide some excellent racing and drama throughout the field, which can only bode well for the Eifel Grand Prix on Sunday.

Three Years Since Bianchi’s Death – What Has F1 Learned From the Horror Crash?

5th October 2014 was a dark day that holds many painful memories for the world of Formula One. It was the day that French racing driver Jules Bianchi – a man so talented he was tipped to be a multi-world champion – crashed into a recovery vehicle at turn seven at Suzuka and, after a long battle, eventually succumbed to his injuries on the 17th July 2015.

Jules Bianchi at Silverstone 09/07/2014
Image courtesy of FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO X FERRARI

Exactly what has Formula One learned since Jules’ passing? First of all, we have to look at the marshals and the stewards. Regardless of whose responsibility it was, a recovery vehicle was deployed under a yellow flag in incredibly wet conditions. Not a safety car or a red flag, but a yellow flag. This, plainly and simply, should never have happened.

As a result of this recovery vehicle deployment, the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was invented so as to keep the drivers to a delta time after an incident. This would mean that drivers would slow down immediately, and there would not be the confusion that is otherwise presented by localised yellows. This is not to say that localised yellows no longer exist, but Adrian Sutil’s accident in Suzuka – the reason the recovery vehicle was deployed – would have seen a VSC brought out instead. The VSC was first used at Monaco in 2015 when Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean crashed at Sainte Devote.

However, the most concerning aspect of the incident is not the yellow flags, but rather the fact that the recovery vehicle was allowed out on track under such circumstances. In 2008 at the Nurburgring, a recovery vehicle was deployed after several spins at turn one, and it was hit by a Toro Rosso. Thankfully it was a small impact and no harm was done as a result, but surely you would think that Charlie Whiting would learn from something so dangerous. As it was, he didn’t, and once again he allowed the recovery vehicle to be let out onto the track at Suzuka. This time, the decision resulted in a fatal accident.

This negligence is the reason Jules’ father, Philippe Bianchi, decided to sue Formula One, then-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, FOM (Formula One Management) and the Marussia Formula One Team for whom Jules had been racing. He later retracted this because, realistically, he could receive all the money in the world, but he would not get his son back.

Jules Bianchi. Image courtesy of Ferrari media

Our sport has come a long way since Bianchi’s death, and steps have been taken to prevent the same thing happening again. In fairness, Charlie Whiting has since taken precautions to avoid similar circumstances to the ones to which he contributed nearly four years ago.

They say the good die young, but Jules was not just good. He was on another level, but unfortunately these safety advances came too late for one of Formula One’s brightest ever stars.

 

 

Featured image © FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO X FERRARI