- German Grand Prix - The Final Stint
Alonso uber alles
A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2012 German Grand Prix
Red Bull's torque is cheapRed Bull is used to the legality of its car being questioned, but rarely have team members been called to the stewards' office on the morning of a grand prix to argue their case. On Sunday morning Christian Horner, Adrian Newey and Renault Sport engineers marched down the paddock to face accusations an engine map was in breach of the regulations. FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer had flagged an issue he'd spotted with the Red Bull's engine map this weekend, but the team batted the argument away on what appears to have been a technicality. In their verdict the stewards made a point of saying they "do not accept all the arguments of the team" but admitted "the map presented does not breach the text" of the regulations. Put simply, Red Bull's car was legal but not in the spirit of the regulations. But as Christian Horner pointed out after the race: "There's no clause in the regulations that refers to the spirit of the regulations". The sport's Technical Working Group is meeting on Monday and could offer a clarification in the rules ahead of the next race. One thing is for sure, the other teams will not let the issue slip.
McLaren back in the gameHaving spoken so much about them in the build-up to the weekend, McLaren desperately needed its updates to work after dropping to fourth in the constructors' championship at Silverstone. Friday morning appeared too early to judge, but proved to be an indicator that the team is now as quick as its rivals in the dry. Button carved past Maldonado, Hulkenberg and Schumacher in the opening stint and showed the sort of pace that made him a real contender for victory until the closing few laps. Hamilton too displayed speed - albeit a lap down - in a damaged car when he unlapped himself on Vettel and hustled Alonso before he retired. And there lies the problem. The updates have made it competitive again, but Hamilton didn't score and is now 62 points behind Alonso. He needs two victories and a fourth place, all with Alonso not scoring, just to draw level. And that chasing a driver who hasn't failed to score points for 22 consecutive races. Button is even further adrift, and while McLaren's car is now a challenger, realistically its drivers' title aspirations are hanging by a very thin thread.
The Story of the Weekend
- Shock Sauber - after a poor qualifying that saw its drivers in 11th and 17th places, Sauber's pace in the dry was mightily impressive. 20 points for fourth and sixth is the team's best result since 2009 and moves it well clear of Williams and Force India
- Shocker Sebastian Vettel - Nothing wrong with his performance until the penultimate lap, before an illegal overtake cost him at least third place and leaves him 44 points adrift in his attempts to defend his title
- Best overtake Kimi Raikkonen - Climbing through the field from tenth, Raikkonen went round the outside of Paul di Resta at turn eight before having the inside line in turn ten to complete the move
- Best lap Jenson Button - Pitting at the end of lap 40, after a 2.4s stop Button nailed his out-lap on lap 41 to jump Vettel for second place
- Worst lap Nico Hulkenberg - having started ninth Hulkenberg always seemed to be going backwards, losing out to both Perez and Webber in the space of a lap as DRS made him a sitting duck at times
- Drive of the day Jenson Button - Following recent poor results, Button insisted his confidence never wavered and he proved it with a combination of strong moves and impressive pace that put him in contention to win the race, ultimately taking his first podium since China.
Ferrari to the foreAfter Alonso's victory, Stefano Domenicali said: "It was like a 67 lap qualifying run! I find it hard to remember watching from the pit wall such a tight race from the start to the chequered flag. Fernando was perfect: not one mistake, not one hesitation, pushing to the maximum for an hour and a half. What a driver! The team were also great, managing everything to perfection ... We know we still have a lot of work to do, because we are still not the fastest."
At what point does Ferrari admit that it may not be the quickest over one lap, but it has the best all-round car? The race at Hockenheim was run in dry conditions, with all teams having plenty of new tyres available due to the wet qualifying and both Alonso and Vettel doing identical strategies. Ferrari beat Red Bull and McLaren in a straight fight, and has now outscored Red Bull by 14 points since the constructors' champions introduced its impressive upgrade in Valencia. If Massa had half the points of Alonso then Ferrari would lead both championships, and it is now challenging for pole position and victory in all conditions. However Maranello tries to spin it, Alonso's 34-point lead is starting to look slightly commanding, and the F2012 only seems to be getting quicker...
Lotus gets innovativeKimi Raikkonen's garage was the centre of attention in first practice as news spread that Lotus was debuting its version of a double DRS. Mercedes pioneered the concept, which uses the DRS to duct air to other parts of the car for aerodynamic effect much like 2010's F-ducts. Lotus lodged a protest against Mercedes but it was rejected and that appears to have been the stimulus for James Allison and his design team to work on their own design. The result hit the track on Friday and according to the team there were encouraging signs. But such systems are not the work of a moment, as several teams found out in 2010 with F-duct development, and Lotus feels it needs more testing to get the system race worthy. It will return in Budapest, but the straight-line speed advantage will be most useful in Spa Francorchamps and Monza so presumably that's the aim.
Harsh or fair?Sebastian Vettel looked like he had settled for third place with ten laps to go but picked up the pace late on and in the final four laps it looked inevitable that he'd pass Jenson Button for second. His DRS attack on the penultimate lap was his first real go, and Button made it hard for him by hugging the inside line in to the hairpin. As Button made the apex, Vettel could see he was going to be hung out to dry and picked up the throttle early in order to out-drag the McLaren, despite having to run wide off the track to do so. It was a clear case of gaining an advantage - if Vettel stayed on the track he wouldn't have passed - but did the punishment fit the crime? There was little time for the FIA to order Vettel to relinquish the place, but his Red Bull team should have taken the initiative. He deserved third, he's classified fifth, but perhaps the penalty will change both his and Red Bull's attitude towards such an incident in future.