Three-time defending Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel surged ahead in his Red Bull at the start of the German Grand Prix on Sunday and held off a strong challenge from the two Lotus cars to win his first race on home soil.
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There were no tire blowouts but the race had its share of bizarre incidents, with a loose wheel flying through the air in the pit lane and an abandoned car drifting on its own down the track.
Vettel started second behind pole sitter Lewis Hamilton and powered past the Mercedes driver into the first bend.
The German then held off the Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean for his fourth win of the season. Raikkonen was second, only a second behind, and Grosjean third, 5.8 seconds off. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso took fourth, 7.7 seconds behind.
"I am happy the race was 60 laps and not 61 or 62, the Lotus were incredibly fast and pushing very hard and Kimi was putting a lot of pressure on me at the end," Vettel said.
"It’s incredible to win at home, a great relief. It’s sweet to win here but at the end it’s just another race. I’m happy to take (the) win and score some points."
Vettel had been without a win in Europe for 22 months and — more obscurely — had never won a race in July.
Vettel’s 30th career victory extended his championship lead over Alonso to 34 points — 157 vs. 123. Raikkonen moved up to third with 116.
Hamilton struggled with his tires and finished fifth as Mercedes again failed to live up to the promise of a fast qualifying.
Hamilton was also passed by the other Red Bull of Mark Webber before the first bend, who went past Hamilton on the outside as Vettel drove by inside.
But Webber lost a wheel when he was released from his first pit stop too soon and finished seventh after dropping to the back of the field after the incident. The flying wheel struck British cameraman Paul Allen in the left side. He remained conscious and was treated at the circuit before being taken to a hospital for observation. Race officials later said he had a cracked rib and a fracture in his shoulder.
Red Bull was fined $38,650 for releasing Webber too soon.
While the tires held and made the threat of a drivers’ boycott redundant, another scary incident took place when Jules Bianchi’s Marussia spewed smoke and caught fire briefly. Bianchi got out of the car, which started freewheeling down the track on its own. There were no other cars coming as the driverless vehicle ended up on grass, hit a trackside billboard and came to a halt as stewards rushed to control it.
That brought on the safety car for five laps, which brought the Lotus cars closer to Vettel.
Despite coming close, neither Lotus managed to get past Vettel. Raikkonen went for his third and final pit stop with 10 laps remaining and overtook Grosjean five laps later, on team orders.
"Maybe we should have gambled, the tires were good," Raikkonen said about his late pit stop. "I wonder if we should have gone to the end.
"But I had massive problem with the radio. I could hear the team but they couldn’t hear me."
The tires became an issue after a series of blowouts at last week’s British Grand Prix, prompting drivers to threaten with a pullout if the problems persisted in Germany.
Tire supplier Pirelli made some changes and the tires held, before the Italian manufacturer provides a new compound to be used for the first time at the next Grand Prix in Hungary in three weeks.
Raikkonen is being mentioned as Vettel’s possible future teammate. The drivers are friends off and on the track but were non-committal when asked Sunday about such a move.
"At the end, it’s not my decision," Vettel said.
Webber is leaving the team at the end of the season to join Porsche’s sports program. The Australian finished seventh, behind McLaren’s Jenson Button, after having to fight from the back of the field following his pit-lane accident.