Lewis Hamilton was cancelling all engagements and planning to fly home and rest late Sunday night when he was handed a gift-wrapped ninth place and two precious points after a tumultuous German Grand Prix.
The 30-second penalties given to Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, more than five hours after the race, for data irregularities in their cars’ starting systems cost them seventh and eighth places respectively
They were relegated out of the top 10 as Mercedes’ defending five-time champion rose from 11th to ninth and Robert Kubica was lifted to 10th, thereby scoring the struggling Williams team’s first point this year.
The Alfa Romeo team said they would appeal the stewards’ decision, meaning that the final result will remain provisional pending the outcome of that action.
“We suffered a dysfunction of the clutch that was beyond our control and we will further investigate the issue,” said team chief Frederic Vasseur.
“We respect the FIA’s process and the stewards’ work, but will appeal this decision.”
The late drama, which means Hamilton actually extended his lead in the driver’s championship to 41 points ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas, came after many had left the circuit.
But it was an appropriate finale to an epic and chaotic race won with buccaneering style by Max Verstappen of Red Bull.
Even after five pit-stops and having survived a full 360-degrees spin on a rain-hit circuit, the 21-year-old Dutch tyro showed he had the talent and mental strength to triumph in all conditions.
As Hamilton, unwell and struggling with a sore throat, floundered, made two mistakes, survived a crash and pitted six times in a race of four Safety Car interventions, Verstappen concentrated and survived.
He was quick to praise and thank his father Jos, who had survived an infamous refuelling blaze in the Benetton pits 25 years’ earlier at the same event, for his tips on wet-weather racing.
“My dad helped me a lot, I think,” he said. “I had a lot of practice when I was young, in the wet. I worked many hours together with my dad who was also pretty decent in the wet.
“He gave me the right tips and not only about driving in the wet, but making decisions as well, while driving, and paying attention to what’s happening around you.
“And, of course, experience in life. In Formula One! I think if you do over 90 races, you have experienced a lot already and you can make better decisions.”
His sumptuous win ahead of Ferrari’s local hero Sebastian Vettel, who enjoyed some redemption for crashing out while leading in 2018, and third-placed Russian Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso was his second in three outings and the seventh of his career.
It also meant that the podium featured two Honda-powered drivers and one from Ferrari –- a rare Mercedes-free zone.
“It was very tricky out there,” said Verstappen.
“We had to stay very focused, we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. Now, after the race, I think I can say that I did that 360 for the crowd, but it was tricky!
“The communication between myself and the team was crucial and I think we made the right calls. That gave us the victory.”
Snakes and Ladders
As Verstappen flew home, giving new dad Kvyat a lift, Hamilton and his team boss Toto Wolff reflected on an “Armageddon” weekend that saw an unwell Hamilton give up what seemed a certain win as he spun twice and endured a chaotic 50-second pit stop.
“I was eight seconds in the lead at one stage, had it all under the control,” he said.
“But things are thrown at you all the time in conditions like that. It was like snakes and ladders and I was hitting the snakes.
“But, we win and we lose together. It shows you how easy it is to get a weekend wrong, processes wrong, but we stay united, we’ll pull together and we’ll regroup.”
The Briton deserves credit for getting into his car in the first place.
“I think he was not healthy and that was the case the whole weekend,” said team boss Toto Wolff.
“He did the most to get himself in an ok place to race -– and I think many of us would have not considered being in a racing car. But he did.”
The illness may have something to do with Hamilton’s off day at the wheel, his exertions certainly left him drained.
“I have cancelled everything I have for the next few days,” said Hamilton.
“So I’m going home. I will probably sleep the next few days and try and get over this bug.”
Hamilton has little time to recover before the Hungarian Grand Prix begins on Friday.