HOCKENHEIM, Germany, July 28 (Reuters) - Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel celebrated second place at his home German Grand Prix on Sunday as if it were almost a victory, and with reason.
Starting last on the grid, and a year on from crashing out of the lead, the four times world champion confronted more than a few demons and came out smiling even if Max Verstappen was the winner for Red Bull.
The 32-year-old failed to set a time in qualifying due to a turbocharger issue but fought his way up through the field in assured style, biding his time when he needed to and pouncing on opportunities as they opened up.
On a chaotic and rain-hit afternoon of ever-changing fortunes, the race came as a contrast to last year when Vettel had been wrong-footed by a sudden rain shower and skidded off track.
Vettel did nothing wrong, having gone into the weekend under intense scrutiny after running into the back of Verstappen at the last race in Britain.
Under threat from young team mate Charles Leclerc, it was Vettel who kept his footing this time while the Monegasque crashed out while in second place.
Last year’s German winner Lewis Hamilton, who started on pole this time, was lucky to score just two points after finishing 11th on the track but then being promoted after the Alfa Romeo drivers were penalised.
“I know that Max finished first so it’s not a victory,” declared Vettel.
“But starting last, I think, with the race that we had, I think we can certainly be very happy recovering. I think it was a very tough race, easy to lose focus or momentum but we kept it throughout.”
The result could not mask the fact that it was still a bittersweet weekend for Ferrari, whose bid for pole unravelled spectacularly with both Vettel and Leclerc sidelined by power unit problems.
The team were also fined in the race for releasing Leclerc into the path of another car during a pitstop.
“It’s certainly a tough time for us as Ferrari with days like yesterday because it shows that we have things that we need to sort out, we have things that we need to do better,” said Vettel.
“We know what we can improve and that’s where we are working on but in the meantime I hope that people are a bit patient and give us that freedom in that time.
“But yeah, in that regard it feels like a small victory today.”
Leclerc, who had started the weekend hoping to overtake Vettel in the standings, was for once the one left feeling the pain.
“I feel very bad for the team, for the fans, for everyone that has been working also to put the car back together for today,” said the youngster. “I take full responsibility for it.” (Editing by Alan Baldwin/Toby Davis)