HOCKENHEIM, Germany (AP) — Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton surged ahead at the start of the German Grand Prix on Sunday and held on to win the last race before the summer break and increase his championship lead.
Hamilton, second on the grid, was faster off the mark than teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg, who started from pole but dropped to fourth before the first corner.
Hamilton, a three-time Formula One champion who has won the title the last two seasons, now takes a 19-point lead over Rosberg into the four-week break, after trailing Rosberg by 43 points earlier in the season.
Hamilton has won six of the past seven races and now has 49 career victories.
“What a race, what a fantastic start. It was just about keeping it cool and looking after the engine,” Hamilton said after his third German GP win.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his German Grand Prix victory. Picture/AP
Daniel Ricciardo was second, ahead of Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, the first time these two Red Bull drivers shared the podium.
Red Bull pushed past Ferrari into second place in the constructors’ standings.
Rosberg also picked up a five-second penalty for pushing Verstappen off the course and had to settle for fourth, after winning the Hockenheim race two years ago from pole, and said the punishment cost him a podium place.
“It is a tough one, really difficult,” Rosberg said.
“The start went completely wrong, none of it was good,” said Rosberg, who swept the first four races of the season but has won only one since.
“Without the penalty I was in front of the Red Bulls; with the penalty I couldn’t challenge them. Finishing fourth was down to the penalty. I was very surprised by the penalty, I didn’t expect it at all. I thought the battle with Max was good, that’s about it,” Rosberg said.
He sat out the penalty on his third pit stop but the team appeared to have kept him behind for longer than the five seconds. Team chief Toto Wolff blamed the delay on a faulty stopwatch.
“When a day goes completely wrong all those things come together,” Rosberg said, adding that being 19 points behind was not tough to take.
“Tough is losing the race in the way I did today. That’s going to take some time to digest over the next few days.
”The incident came on lap 29 after both Rosberg and Verstappen had pitted. There was a lot of wheel-to-wheel racing before Rosberg went wide and forced Verstappen off the track.
“He pushed me off the track,” Verstappen shouted over the team radio.
Rosberg responded by saying that Verstappen had moved under braking, a forbidden maneuver, and that he had “full steering lock,” but the stewards took Verstappen’s side.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen during a practice session for the German Grand Prix. Picture/AP
“He braked really late and at one point I thought he was going to run into me, so I opened up and he didn’t turn in,” Verstappen said.
“I had to go straight and I had to go off track, otherwise we would have crashed.”
Hamilton started behind Rosberg at the Hungarian Grand Prix one week ago but beat him to the first corner, winning the race and taking the overall lead for the first time this season.
Sebastian Vettel finished fifth Sunday, ahead of Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
A four-time champion when he was still with Red Bull, Vettel is still without a win in Hockenheim, although he was born and raised in nearby Heppenheim and knows the track well.
“It’s of course disappointing not to make the podium at home,” Vettel said.
“There is a lot work ahead of us, the last few races have not been smooth.”
Hamilton got off to a super start, moving past Rosberg, who also saw the two Red Bulls leave him behind.
Verstappen overtook Ricciardo from the outside as they raced into the first corner but Ricciardo later regained the second place to finish 6.9 seconds behind Hamilton, who covered the 67 laps on the 4.574-kilometer (2.84-mile) track in 1 hour, 30 minutes, 44.200 seconds.
Lewis Hamilton steers his Mercedes to victory during the German Grand Prix. Picture/AP
“We had two different strategies so I let him by,” Verstappen said.
“I think we played well as a team."
The Dutch teenager is the only driver to win a race this season apart from Hamilton and Rosberg and finished 13.4 seconds behind Hamilton.
Ricciardo celebrated his second place by drinking champagne from his boot on the podium.
“That is two weeks in a row I’ve been on the podium and it is great to have the race back here in Germany,” Ricciardo said.
“This is the first double podium for us in over a year and it is awesome to close out the first part of the season like this.”
The next race is the Belgian Grand Prix on Aug. 28.