HOCKENHEIM, Germany -- Max Verstappen claimed an astonishing win at a rain-affected German Grand Prix filled with remarkable drama from start to finish.
In a race which seemed to get more unbelievable by the lap, Verstappen was the man who emerged first to the delight of a frenzied Dutch contingent who had made the short trip from the Netherlands. Both Mercedes drivers failed to score a point -- championship leader Lewis Hamilton made several uncharacteristic errors after spinning out of the lead, while Valtteri Bottas crashed out in the closing stages when a chance to reignite the title fight appeared to be his for the taking.
That left a podium no-one would have predicted two hours earlier. Sebastian Vettel turned in a stunning drive from 20th to the second spot on the podium a day, while Daniil Kvyat recorded third position the day after the birth of his first daughter, giving Honda a one-three finish and Toro Rosso its first podium since Vettel won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.
The race started under wet conditions but had been unfolding without major drama until the mid-way point, when a flurry of stops for dry-weather tyres prompted madness across the order. First Charles Leclerc, running second and catching race leader Lewis Hamilton, aquaplaned into the barrier at the final corner shortly after stopping for soft tyres. It had appeared as though the race was about to swing Leclerc's way -- he had stopped for those tyres just before McLaren's Lando Norris stopped at the side of the race track, prompting a Virtual Safety Car period which ended just as Hamilton stopped for a dry-tyre change of his own. However, the final part of the track was still soaking wet and Leclerc had no way of stopping his slide into the barrier.
Hamilton usually excels in those conditions but he got caught out on the same point on the circuit on the next lap, having, as he spun out and damaged his front wing on the shortly after a Safety Car had been deployed for Leclerc's crash. Hamilton's car somehow survived the incident, although it left him with a badly damaged front wing.
Hamilton crawled into the pit-lane -- the wrong side of a bollard, incurring a five-second penalty he served at a pit-stop later in the race -- for a 50-second pit stop (his Mercedes mechanics had not been ready for him) to briefly hand the lead to Bottas. However, Bottas now found himself as the only man still on dry tyres, as everyone had switched back to inters, and was forced to pit himself, propelling Verstappen into the lead of the race.
The drama for Mercedes was not over there. Hamilton had another high-speed spin at Turn 1 which forced him into another pit-stop and briefly relegated him behind the Williams drivers -- a baffled Hamilton at one point opened his radio channel to ask simply: "How has this gone so bad!?" He finished the race having visited the pits a remarkable six times.
It appeared to be the perfect moment for Bottas to change the narrative of this season's championship fight, but in the closing stages he lost control of his car at the same point and slammed into the wall. It means Hamilton retains a 39-point lead over Bottas.
Verstappen looked to have the race in control from there, making a well-timed switch back to dry tyres as the conditions changed in the final portion of the grand prix. Behind him was another star performer, with Vettel storming through the field in the final stint to claim second position. The Ferrari driver started 20th after being thwarted by engine troubles in qualifying Saturday afternoon and had an eventful race. He found himself well positioned after the fourth and final Safety Car restart of the race, carving through Carlos Sainz, Lance Stroll and then Daniil Kvyat to claim a memorable podium for Ferrari.
Bottas wasn't the only man to crack under the pressure of the intense race. Nico Hülkenberg, the man with the most race starts without a podium finish to his name, seemed to be well placed to end that unenviable record. The German driver ran as high as second position after beautifully managing the mid-race drama, only to slide off the circuit at the same corner which had caught out Leclerc and Hamilton -- the Renault driver aquaplaned off the circuit and into the wall on lap 41 of 63. TV cameras later showed Hulkenberg sitting on the side of the race track with his head in his hands.
Behind the podium, Racing Point's Lance Stroll finished fourth. The Canadian driver had led the race for the briefest of moments after being the first to make the switch over to dry tyres for the final time, something which elevated him from the back of the pack to the front on lap 48. Verstappen soon picked him off and Stroll was unable to fend off Kvyat or Vettel in the closing stages, but it's a result Racing Point would have snatched with both hands before the race.
McLaren's Carlos Sainz recovered from an early spin off the race track to finish fifth ahead of Alexander Albon in the other Toro Rosso. Albon had at one stage been running higher up the order, but his hopes of any last-lap heroics were thwarted by a late collision with Red Bull's Pierre Gasly, who made a desperate attempt to pass. Gasly retired with a puncture -- in a race which saw the other three contracted Red Bull drivers excel, it will only heighten the speculation that he won't remain with the senior team much longer.
Alfa Romeo pair Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi finished seventh and eighth ahead of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, who ended Haas' long wait without a point. That result won't come without headaches for the team, as the two drivers collided for the second race in succession while vying for position in the final laps.