How Verstappen got the better of Hamilton, Vettel and everyone else at the German GP

HOCKENHEIM, Germany -- The German Grand Prix was one of the most exciting Formula One races in recent memory, not least because five drivers had a genuine shot at victory. Below, we look at the fine margins that made the difference and how Max Verstappen came out on top.

Lewis Hamilton

Started: Pole

Finished: Ninth (after penalties for Alfa Romeo)

Key moment: Pit stop on lap 28

Race in three words: Not his day

For the first 29 laps of the German Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was doing what he does best in wet conditions. After the early Safety Car for Sergio Perez's accident, he held a comfortable nine-second lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas, only for it to be wiped out by a second Safety Car for Charles Leclerc on lap 28. It was then eliminated completely when Hamilton had a copycat accident at the same corner a lap later and came into the pits for a calamitous pit stop.

But the key moment of his race was not the 50-second disaster-stop but the pit stop that came the lap before. At the start of lap 28, Hamilton could see the rain falling as he led the race on 25-lap-old intermediate tyres. The cars behind him had all stopped for slick tyres with varying degrees of success over the last few laps, and a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) for Lando Norris' retirement had opened a window for a pit stop. Mercedes was a bit slow on the uptake -- the VSC ended as Hamilton entered the pits -- but it was the decision to fit slicks that led to disaster.

"The turning point is when they put slicks on me when it was still wet," a subdued Hamilton said after the race. "And it was difficult because other people had put slicks on, but I stayed out because it was still wet and kept going for as far as I could on the inters, and they pulled me in.

"I could see there was more rain coming down, but they have usually more knowledge than I do, and if I had said to put the inters on, and it was the wrong call, it could have been costly.

"Turns out, by not telling them to put inters on, despite others having slicks on and doing OK, I think it just happened that they put my slicks on at the same time as when Leclerc went off, and it had just started to rain more, so it was just that timing was off."

Had Hamilton piped up on the team radio, he would have either stayed out and retained the lead with a free pit stop when the Safety Car for Leclerc was called or had fresh intermediate tyres fitted that would have taken him for another 20 laps into the race. Crucially, either of those circumstances would have kept him in the lead.

As it transpired, he lost control on his slick tyres, broke his front wing against the barrier at the Sud Kruve, went the wrong side of the pit lane entry bollard, endured a farcical 50-second pit stop, was given a five-second penalty, dropped to 12th when he served the penalty and spun off at Turn 1 on lap 53.

While it's clear that Hamilton could have won the race without the series of incidents triggered by his switch to slicks on lap 28, in a race when he was suffering flu-like symptoms and Mercedes was always one lap behind on strategy calls, perhaps it just wasn't meant to be.

Valtteri Bottas

Started: Third

Finished: DNF

Key moment: Falling behind Verstappen under the Safety Car

Race in three words: Huge missed opportunity

Bottas was off the pace of teammate Hamilton all weekend at Hockenheim, yet he could have salvaged a surprise win had things worked out differently. For the first 26 laps of the race, he was fully occupied with keeping Verstappen behind him, but from the evidence of their head-to-head battles, he just about had the pace to do it. He wasn't a match for Hamilton in those early stages, but had he been on an identical strategy to Verstappen, there is an argument that he could have kept the Red Bull behind and won the race.

Just like Hamilton, the key moment rests on the first switch to slick tyres -- in Bottas' case on lap 26 and with the medium compound. At that point, he was reacting to Verstappen, who did the same a lap earlier, but it was a disastrous call, as it put both drivers on slick tyres just before the rain came and on a compound that was even harder to get up to temperature than the softs used by most other drivers.

Red Bull realised its error at the end of lap 29 and called Verstappen in for intermediates under the Safety Car, but because Hamilton's 50-second pit stop was going on at that time, Bottas couldn't do the same and had to pit a lap later on lap 30. At that point, he lost positions to both Verstappen and Nico Hulkenberg, and though he was quick enough to pass Hulkenberg, he was never going to catch Verstappen from that point onward. However, had he been able to pit at the same time as Verstappen and come out in the lead, he might just have had the pace to keep the Red Bull behind.

Things took another turn for the worse after the final Safety Car period, when early switches back to slick tyres for Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat propelled the two midfield drivers up the order. Bottas, who pitted two laps later than Stroll and one lap later than Kvyat, fell to fourth and spun into the barriers while chasing Stroll for the final podium position.

He might have been a little bit unlucky earlier in the race, but Bottas never looked comfortable and ultimately had only himself to blame for a result that has all but ended his championship hopes.

"Well, I learned a lot," Bottas said after the race. "I made a mistake myself, for sure the team also told me to push harder, and I was pushing as hard as I could to get to the podium. Obviously, I pushed a bit too much in that corner, lost the rear-end.

"It was my mistake, and maybe I should have tried to stay more calm and take my time, but maybe if I didn't try that hard, maybe I wouldn't have reached the podium, but at least I could have got some points, which would have been important. For sure lots to learn."

Charles Leclerc

Started: 10th

Finished: DNF

Key moment: Crashing out on lap 28

Race in three words: "I am stupid"

As he exited the pits on lap 28, Leclerc was running second and was in a better position to win the race than Verstappen. A well-timed Virtual Safety Car had allowed him to enter the pits, switch his intermediates for soft tyres and jump ahead of Bottas and Verstappen. With the benefit of hindsight, the switch to soft tyres was a disaster, as it led to his race-ending mistake further around the lap, but at the time, it was in line with his rivals' strategies.

Hamilton was still ahead of Leclerc on the track, but he too was about to make the switch to slicks, and he would have had to do it under normal racing conditions rather than a VSC, costing him eight seconds more than Leclerc's VSC pit stop. What's more, the Ferrari had looked like the fastest car in terms of outright pace all weekend, and Leclerc had looked like the faster of the two Ferrari drivers.

Then came a snap of oversteer entering the penultimate corner, a correction at the wheel and a complete loss of control as his car slithered across the drag-strip run-off area and into the barriers. Because the incident triggered a pivotal Safety Car period (in which Hamilton also crashed and Verstappen went from fourth to first), it's hard to know exactly how the race would have panned out for Leclerc had he stayed on track, but assuming that Ferrari made the right calls from the pit wall, he would have been ahead of Verstappen.

Put simply, it was another missed opportunity for Leclerc to take his maiden F1 victory.

Sebastian Vettel

Started: 20th

Finished: Second

Key moment: Not rolling the dice under the final Safety Car

Race in three words: Should have gambled

Sebastian Vettel had a lot to celebrate Sunday evening. Twelve months after the incident that triggered a downward spiral in his form, he put in his most convincing performance of 2019 and secured a second-place finish from last on the grid. However, it could have been even better.

For starters, a functioning car in qualifying would have likely put him somewhere on the front two rows of the grid. In Leclerc's hands, it looked like the Ferrari had the pace for pole position, and Vettel wasn't a million miles off in practice. Unfortunately, a turbo intake issue scuppered his qualifying before it had even started, and he was forced to start from the very back of the grid. Vettel's race was well measured compared to some of his recent performances, and there is every reason to believe that he would have had the car to challenge Verstappen for victory had he started in the vicinity of the front row.

But even with the back-of-the-grid start, there was a way Vettel could have won on Sunday. Lance Stroll made the inspired decision of a switch to slicks under the final Safety Car, dropping him to the back of the order but putting him on the perfect tyre for the sprint to the finish. During that same Safety Car period, Vettel dropped to 10th when he initially stopped for intermediates, and a similar switch to softs would have cost him five more places. That might seem like a lot, but the potential payoff was huge.

Stroll ended up briefly leading the race from Verstappen as a result of his strategy, and had Vettel done the same, he could have had the pace to hold off the Red Bull to the flag. It seems a bit unfair to poke holes in Ferrari's strategy after a second-place finish from last on the grid, but Vettel made the majority of his places up on the track and on a better strategy could have had a shot at winning.

Max Verstappen

Started: Second

Finished: First

Key moment: Taking advantage of mistakes by Mercedes and Leclerc

Race in three words: A deserving winner

All of the above should not take away from Verstappen's victory on Sunday. While the other teams and drivers were left with ifs, buts and maybes, the Red Bull driver left Hockenheim with a truly deserved winner's trophy.

He was quick when it mattered, made the most of Red Bull's good strategy calls and limited the mistakes after the bad ones. The sketchiest moment came on lap 27, when the rain intensified, and he pirouetted through 360 degrees in the stadium section, but the fact that he gathered it together without leaving the confines of the track speaks volumes about his epic car control.

With that scare behind him and intermediate tyres back on his car two laps later, he took the lead of the race and never really looked under threat. Stroll made use of a well-timed pit stop to get ahead of the Red Bull, but Verstappen made light work of the Racing Point within the same lap.

It says an awful lot about Verstappen that he now has as many race wins as Bottas this year and trails the Finn by just 22 points in the drivers' standings. It's no exaggeration to say that he looks like the only driver capable of taking the fight to Hamilton over a full season, but as things stand, he doesn't quite have the car to do it.