Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took advantage of Hamilton’s costly slip-up to win a frenetic rain-hit race which involved four safety cars and several high-profile accidents.
One of those involved Hamilton, who had looked set to claim his eighth victory of a dominant season before he hit the wall on lap 29 of 64 enthralling laps of drama at Hockenheim. He crossed the line 11th of the 13 classified runners, the first time he has completed a race and finished outside the points in more than six years.
“I am only human,” said Hamilton. “It was a mistake. Mistakes happen. It has been a bad day, a bad weekend, and probably the worst day I have had for a long, long time. I am glad it’s over.”
The world champion was enjoying a 36-second lead when he was called in by Mercedes to change to slick tyres despite persistent light rain.
On his first lap out of the pits, he ran off the road at the final corner, which had just claimed its first victim, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Hamilton pulled in for immediate repairs, but his Mercedes crew were caught off-guard. What ensued was a pit stop bordering on the farcical. His team, dressed in retro gear to celebrate 125 years of motorsport, ran around like headless chickens as they searched for spare parts. Hamilton was stationary for more than 50 seconds.
He emerged in fifth, but then dropped way down the order, stopping a lap late after the safety car was deployed for a third time when the last bend claimed another scalp, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Hamilton asked over the radio: “How has it gone this bad?” It was to get even worse.
A second spin followed, this time at the first corner, to the deafening cheers of the German crowd. In the space of 25 incredible laps, Hamilton had fallen from first to last.
“The turning point was when we put on slicks when it was still wet,” said Hamilton, taking aim at his Mercedes team.
“Things are going to be thrown at you on days like this, but it felt like one domino after another, like snakes and ladders, and I kept hitting the snakes today.”
Hamilton had been battling with flu throughout the weekend, raising eyebrows when he attended the pre-race drivers’ briefing wearing a winter jacket, despite the heatwave. He has cancelled personal commitments over the next few days to rest ahead of next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
A doctor from the FIA went to see Hamilton on the morning of yesterday’s race to give him the all-clear to compete.
“This weekend has just been mentally and physically challenging for me,” added the Briton. “I am going home [to Monaco] to sleep to try to get over this bug.”
Despite Hamilton’s poor weekend he leaves Hockenheim with his 39-point championship lead still intact after team-mate Valtteri Bottas crashed out when he should have finished second.
Verstappen, who stopped five times in the most topsy-turvy of races, took the chequered flag to claim his second win of the campaign.
The Dutchman, pictured, finished ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who fought back from last, and Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat, who dedicated the podium position to his girlfriend Kelly Piquet, who gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter, on Saturday night.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll led for the first time in his career, before finishing fourth. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was fifth ahead of London-born Thai Alexander Albon, who was a career-best sixth.
Vettel, who had started from the back of the grid after his engine broke in qualifying, made several moves in the final laps to seal the runner-up spot. He said: “It was a long race. At some stage it felt never-ending. It was very tough with the conditions. I am just happy.”
Verstappen added: “It was about trying not to make mistakes. It feels amazing to win. You learn over the years. I was very happy with the whole performance.”