In an unpredictable season, Fernando Alonso is proving to be the one to beat.
The Spaniard took the top podium step for the third time this season, the first driver to do so, and was so dominant in the torrential qualifying session he built a 0.4 second gap between himself and second place man Sebastian Vettel.
During the race, Alonso looked under pressure from both Vettel and Jenson Button, but Ferrari's number one driver proved why he has that title, keeping his cool and making it look like an almost effortless run from start to finish.
To put it into context, Ferrari started out the season at the back of the front-runner pack. Fernando Alonso now leads the Drivers’ Championship by 34 points and is 131 points ahead of his team mate Felipe Massa.
Massa had another race to forget this weekend and pitted minus his front wing in the first lap after a coming together on the first corner. However his contact impacted on more than just his race.
Lewis Hamilton’s right rear tyre was punctured after he ran over the carbon fibre that littered the track from the incident, which oddly never caused the safety car to come out.
Hamilton, who started his 100th Grand Prix this weekend, limped back to the pits and bizarrely radioed the team to say "we should retire”. McLaren didn't agree, though, and he was issued a new set of the medium compound tyres and sent on his way.
Despite an almost continuous radio stream of encouragement, to the extent it was almost like the team were having to baby the previous world champion, Hamilton never really seemed to recover mentally. This is despite the fact he appeared to have the pace; he logged some of the fastest laps as the race progressed. However he finally retired just nine laps from the chequered flag.
Hamilton only briefly seemed to perk up was when he was lapped by front runners Alonso and Vettel and was about to be lapped by his team mate, Jenson Button. He moved out of the way when the blue flags were waved, but then proceeded to un-lap himself by overtaking Vettel and racing Alonso.
It was quite a bizarre turn of events, as while the back markers are perfectly entitled to do this, they usually don't have the pace to compete with the fastest cars at the front. To have a situation where the winners were lapping someone who effectively had the same pace as them, and could race them, caused tempers to flare, and it was obvious that Vettel was less than happy with it. He was very vocal about it in the post race interviews, calling Hamilton stupid.
It might not be in the "spirit" of F1 racing but it was within the rules - and anyone who has been following the Red Bull engine fight with the FIA this weekend would think the team could appreciate that.
Red Bull have been accused of running an illegal engine mapping system. To break it down to the basics, the problem is that the throttles are slightly more open on the Red Bull cars, allowing more air into the engine and as a result more air being blown out the exhaust system. This gives the cars more down-force.
There is a regulation banning teams from using exhausts for aerodynamic effect but because of a loophole in the wording, the Red Bull system is technically not covered and can therefore be used legally. The FIA are not happy with Red Bull's explanation for the system but can effectively do nothing as it is technically not a breach of the rule.
The objecting teams have complained bitterly about this, which is their right, but really this is what F1 is all about now, pushing the rules to the limit and finding the loopholes to find a way to better the other teams. At the end of the day, they will all be wishing they had thought of it. It's predicted there will soon be a clarification of the regulation however, and Red Bull may be forced to change the design.
The Red Bull team ended up in front of the stewards twice this weekend. Once to defend their engine, the second time to defend Vettel's controversial pass on Jenson Button just two laps from the end of the race.
The McLaren and Red Bull were running second and third respectively after a world record breaking pit stop for Button allowed him to jump the German. Button was stationary for only 2.31 seconds in his last stop. It looked like the Brit could have made a play for the victory but the team tried to be tactical and had deduced that Alonso's tyres would "fall off the cliff" three laps before there, and that would be the time to strike.
Good, if very boring, in theory, except for when the time came Jenson didn't have the grip to attack either. This left him a sitting duck for Vettel who was running behind him on slightly newer tyres.
However, when Vettel finally made the pass he did so using a tarmac'd run-off area and by the looks of every camera angle I saw, had all four wheels off the track when he finally put his foot down to make the pass. This is against FIA rules.
The overtake was investigated after the race but Vettel was allowed to take his second place podium step while it was looked into, which will have thrilled his home crowd. However, the stewards later decided to issue the equivalent of a drive through penalty to Vettel's time, which means he had 20 seconds added onto his finish time, dropping him down to fifth position. This meant the results changed to Alonso first, Button second and Raikonnen moved up to third.
I don't really like having the podium changed after a race, but in this case I agree with the decision. It seemed clear that Vettel received an advantage and wouldn't have been able to pass if he had stayed on the track, so therefore he should be penalised.
The Hockenheim home crowd had quite a start to the race though, as after the list of penalties were handed out three of the top four starting positions were taken by German drivers, Vettel in P2, Michael Schumacher in P3 and Nico Hulkenberg in P4.
Mark Webber would have started in P3 but a gearbox change earned him a five place grid penalty and he lined up in P8. He wasn't the only one with a gearbox change though, Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean also swapped theirs and started in P21 and P19 respectively after they were given the penalties.
Sergio Perez was also dropped five grid places after he held up Kimi Raikonnen and Alonso during qualifying, and he started in P17.
The Saubers however drove a sterling race with Kamui Kobayashi finishing in fifth place and Perez just behind him in P6. The Force Indias, who showed such promise at the start of the year, could only manage P9 finish from Nico Hulkenberg and P11 from Paul di Resta. Not the result they will have hoped for.
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