The German Grand Prix may have been an extraordinary mix of chance, skill, missed opportunities, strange strategies and basic errors but, at the end of a full-on hour and three quarters, the race story actually summed up the 2019 season so far.
Despite a 50-second pit stop, a spin, an off, a penalty, wrong choice of tyres and running last, Lewis Hamilton somehow managed to extend his lead of the championship. Valtteri Bottas, presented with a rare and golden opportunity to substantially cut back Hamilton’s lead, blew it. And Charles Leclerc made another small but crucial error on a day when, for once, Ferrari got their tactics perfect and Mercedes went into strategic meltdown.
Everyone makes mistakes. It was just unfortunate for Mercedes that they should make so many at a race track 90 minutes from the company HQ in Stuttgart.
In a recent interview, team boss Toto Wolff explained that Mercedes F1 learn more from losing than when winning. "The days we fail are the days we learn the most," said Wolff. "You never leave a track with a great victory saying: 'Why the hell did we win?' But you leave the track saying: 'Why the hell did we lose?' The diligence of the analysis to leave no stone unturned is much deeper and intense when you have lost.”
Having scored an average of 41 points through the previous 10 races, to come away with a miserable (and fortunate) two points on Sunday probably means they’ll be beating themselves with silver (of course) birch twigs between now and this time next week. In the middle of this painful process, I just hope they don’t lament a decision to mark their 200th F1 race with some style – in every sense of the expression.
It would have been easy to assume the F1 default mode of taking themselves too seriously and dismiss the celebration of such a distinguished past as frivolous. In these days of crisp uniforms paying homage to sponsors and creating an impression of efficiency and professionalism, it was fun to see no effort spared in decking out the race team in 1950’s garb. Smiles are generally not such common currency in the stern pit lane.
Of course, it was reasonable to assume that such an unconventional move would not sit well with everyone. It was also predictable that critics would jump at the chance to cite such perceived silliness as the reason behind the catastrophic failure in the pit lane.
Yet it is difficult to see how wearing a fedora hat, braces and a double-breasted jacket is going to prevent you from predicting Hamilton’s late entry to the pit lane with half the nose missing just as you are poised to service the other car. If anything – and we’ve said this before – the subsequent dithering was a product of total reliance on solutions generated by computers that lack the gut feeling sometimes necessary to make impromptu decisions on the hoof.
The one lesson for Ferrari and Red Bull is that Mercedes, despite an appearance of calm, are as susceptible as anyone else to cracking under pressure. The 2019 season has just passed the halfway point. While it seems to be a done deal for both championships, it has to be hoped that the second half sees Red Bull get another opportunity to think faster on their feet. And if they do it wearing alpine hats and lederhosen, who cares?
On another note, this is the last column before I start work on new project. Thanks for your company and comments during the past three years; it’s been a lot of fun.