By Abhishek Takle
HOCKENHEIM, Germany (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton cruised to an unchallenged victory in Sunday’s German Formula One Grand Prix to extend his lead over Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg at the top of the world championship standings.
Hamilton seized the advantage at the start from pole-sitter Rosberg, who drove an underwhelming race in front of his home fans, and was never overtaken.
The Briton crossed the line 6.9 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who was on the podium for the second race in a row on his 100th grand prix appearance.
His team mate Max Verstappen finished third, his fourth top-three result, to give Red Bull their first double rostrum in more than a year.
Rosberg, who had looked unbeatable after topping every practice session, was only fourth after falling back at the start and collecting a five-second time penalty for forcing Verstappen off the track.
It was Hamilton’s sixth victory in the last seven races and fourth in succession. The 49th win of the reigning champion’s career left him two adrift of Frenchman Alain Prost’s mark of 51.
He now leads Rosberg by 19 points in the standings with nine rounds of a record 21-race season remaining.
“It’s been a hard slog for everyone in the team, for the whole year and obviously with ups and downs and the difficulties that we’ve had,” said Hamilton, who trailed Rosberg by 43 points after May’s Spanish Grand Prix.
“The real strength that we’ve shown, through and through, these last races has been inspiring for me.”
Red Bull’s strong finish on Sunday was their first double-podium result since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix and moves them ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ standings behind dominant Mercedes.
“This is two weekends in a row now with a podium,” said Australian Ricciardo. “So it’s awesome to close out the first part of the season.”
Ferrari’s form has faded over recent races and the best Sebastian Vettel could manage on his first appearance for the team on his home soil was a distant fifth ahead of stablemate Kimi Raikkonen.
Nico Hulkenberg finished seventh for Force India, ahead of Jenson Button who brought home points for McLaren in eighth.
Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was ninth ahead of Sergio Perez who gave Force India a double-points finish with 10th.
Rosberg had set a scorching pace under pressure to seize pole position in qualifying on Saturday but the German’s weekend began unraveling as soon as the lights went out.
He was beaten off the line by Hamilton and the Red Bulls and, struggling for pace throughout the race, was unable to make up the lost ground.
Even the stopwatch malfunctioned when he came in to serve his penalty, leaving him stationary for eight rather than five seconds.
“The clutch was too much engaged, but it caught me by surprise also,” Rosberg, who won the opening four races of the season but has not triumphed since last month’s European Grand Prix in Baku, said of his start.
“I didn’t expect that at all especially after the formation-lap start, where it felt good.”
Formula One now heads into its annual summer break before reconvening for the Belgian Grand Prix on Aug. 28.
Sunday’s result gave Hamilton the psychological edge in the title battle heading into the second half of the season.
The Briton won at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit last year.
(Editing by Ed Osmond and Clare Fallon)