Fernando Alonso had predicted that the German Grand Prix would prove crucial to reviving his championship aspirations, and the Spaniard led team-mate Felipe Massa in a Ferrari 1-2 at Hockenheim.
And while the team was effectively able to reinvigorate its difficult 2010 season, his win will be clouded more by the suggestion of team orders than actual skill on his part, with race-leader Massa backing off to allow the double World Champion through to take a lead he wouldn’t lose.
Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel finished third for Red Bull on home turf, followed home by the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, with team-mate Mark Webber rounding out the top-six.
A great start from the second row for Felipe Massa – helped by Vettel bogging it down off the line and trying his now-customary trick of trying to shove his faster-starting rivals into the pit wall – saw the likeable Brazilian take the lead, exactly a year on from his life-threatening accident at Hungary. Vettel’s attempts to keep Alonso at bay allowed Felipe to sweep around the outside of both drivers into Turn 1, while Vettel dropped down to third after the first corner shenanigans.
The trio ran in close company in the opening laps, and maintained their order after each pitted early in the race to switch from the Bridgestone super-soft tyres to the harder compound.
The Ferraris gradually began to ease away from Vettel thereafter, and Alonso seemed more comfortable on the harder rubber, drawing alongside his team-mate on the run into the hairpin as they lapped Bruno Senna and Timo Glock on the twentieth lap.
Perhaps feeling the threat of his (then) faster team-mate, Massa put pedal to the metal and started pulling away with a succession of fastest laps to open up a 3-second lead.
Alonso in turn responded with some quick laps of his own to redress the balance, and bringing the gap down to under one second once again.
On lap 47, Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley informed his charge that “Fernando is faster than you” – a well-known coded instruction to let your team-mate through – and asked Massa to confirm his acknowledgement.
On the next lap, Felipe lifted off the throttle as they exited the hairpin, and Alonso swept past, leaving Massa to fend off the recovering Vettel and denying the Paulista his first win of the season.
Despite a late surge from Vettel – which included the fastest lap on the final tour – it wasn’t enough to see him usurp Massa for second place.
Further behind, the McLarens were in a race of their own and unable to live with the speed of the leading three drivers. Despite this, both Hamilton and Button were still able to retain their 1-2 standing in the Drivers’ Championship. Hamilton managed to pass Webber after the Australian had a scruffy first lap, and Button in turn leapfrogged Webber after stopping for tyres later and using the clear track to his advantage.
Webber, worried by high oil consumption, had to ease off his charge and nurse his Red Bull home for sixth place, leaving him equal in the championship standings with Vettel.
Despite concerns that he would be uncompetitive this weekend without an ‘F-duct’ or blown diffuser being run by many of his rivals, Robert Kubica finished in seventh place – a lap down – and ahead of the Mercedes GP duo of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher.
Rounding out the points’ finishers was Vitaly Petrov, who took tenth place, who finished ahead of Kamui Kobayashi and the slow-starting Williams pair of Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hülkenberg.
Pedro de la Rosa’s bold strategy of running a 51-lap opening stint on the harder tyre compound backfired shortly after his late pit-stop, courtesy of a fumbling attempt to lap Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus at Turn 2. The Finn evidently didn’t see the Sauber driver in his mirrors, and chopped across the Spaniard’s bow, resulting in damage for both, which proved race-ending for Kovalainen, who had been leading the rookie teams’ battle at the rear of the field.
It was a race of high attrition in ‘Division 2’, with just Timo Glock’s Virgin and Bruno Senna’s HRT making it to the chequered flag. Both Lotus’ (Jarno Trulli’s gearbox packed up on lap two), the Virgin of Lucas di Grassi and the HRT of Sakon Yamamoto all retired.
It was a bad day in the Toro Rosso and Force India camps, with both teams seeing both cars pitting for repairs at the end of the opening lap after first-lap incidents. Jaime Alguersuari collected his team-mate Sébastien Buemi at the hairpin – an accident which saw the Swiss driver retire without a rear wing – and for Force India, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Adrian Sutil made multiple pit stops in their ill-handling Force Indias, which included a second early stop after each had been given the others’ tyres!
At the front end of the field, the stony faced expression Felipe Massa said it all, as both he and the fans would walk away from the German Grand Prix feeling rightly cheated of a deserved and popular comeback victory. To watch the Ferrari drivers try and BS their way through a strained press conference – the transcript for which you can read on our site – will no doubt see the team’s behaviour called into question by the World Motor Sports Council.
I will certainly be surprised if the team is not hit with sanctions of some description, possibly in the form of a hefty fine and being stripped of their Constructors’ Championship points.
I have my own feelings on team orders – an issue I will write on separately in the next day or so – but it certainly says something when the talking point coming out of a particularly dull race is this controversy.
At least Red Bull will be happy that the heat is off them for once!