Fernando Alonso has become this year’s first three-time Grand Prix winner to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
On a day that sadly saw more focus on off-track manoeuvring than was spent attending to the action on the track, the Spaniard led home Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button, with the German controversially passing McLaren driver on the penultimate lap, for which he would later earn a post-race time penalty that dropped him to fifth.
With fine weather conditions finally greeting the circuit, all the talk in the paddock was about Red Bull Racing being investigated by the FIA Stewards over the apparent use of an engine map configuration that – it is alleged – gave the RB8 the effect of using a form of traction control.
After a lengthy meeting with the stewards, the team’s figureheads were able to negotiate their way out of any penalty – the regulations hadn’t been written effectively enough, as it would turn out – meaning Sebastian Vettel would keep his front-row starting spot, while Mark Webber (already penalised five places for a gearbox change) would keep eighth.
If the pre-race drama wasn’t enough, then the opening sequence of laps simply served to continue the theme. While Alonso was easily able to convert pole position into the lead in the short sprint to Turn 1, behind him there was plenty of tears and tantrums.
Felipe Massa tagged the back of Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso as he tried to pick his way through the pack, which resulted in a damaged front wing for the Ferrari driver. Robbed of his front downforce and trying to limp back to the pits, the Brazilian then triggered more contact between Romain Grosjean and Bruno Senna as they tried to get by him along the back straight. All three pitted for repairs at the end of the opening lap.
With carbonfibre shards littering the approach to Turn 1, it seemed a matter of time before someone would pick up a puncture as they ran over the debris. And it was almost predictable that the man to come to grief would be Lewis Hamilton, who picked up a right-rear deflation.
As he limped back to the pits for some new rubber, the McLaren driver – making his 100th Grand Prix start this weekend – complained bitterly on the radio and even suggested he should retire from the race, thereby guaranteeing himself some unwanted airplay of yet another on-air tantrum.
Up at the front, Alonso continued to hold a narrow lead ahead of Vettel before and after the first round of pit stops – which saw the frontrunners, bar Michael Schumacher, switch from the soft Pirelli tyres to the medium rubber.
Behind them, two drivers were steadily making progress through the field. Jenson Button moved into third place with separate overtaking moves on Nico Hülkenberg and Michael Schumacher in the first dozen laps, while Kimi Räikkönen had climed to fourth shortly after his first pit stop.
Vettel seemed to be happier than Alonso in the second stint of the race on his medium-compound tyres, and progressively closed down Alonso’s lead at the rate of a few tenths of a second per lap. Behind them, Button and Räikkönen were closing on the pair of them at an even quicker rate.
By the time the second phase of pit stop came around, Button was right on the tail of the Alonso-Vettel scrap, and used a lightning quick second pit stop to leapfrog Vettel in the pit stop sequence.
For lap after lap, Button sat in Alonso’s wheeltracks, with the Spaniard doing just enough to keep the McLaren driver at arm’s length while the chasing Vettel struggled to keep pace, with his Red Bull engineers instructing him that he would not be able to deploy all of his KERS each lap.
In the closing laps, Button’s tyres started to fade and he dropped back into Vettel’s clutches, leaving a third race win all but assured for the Spaniard.
On the penultimate lap, Vettel finally got his man when he out-dragged Button exiting the hairpin – however, he would cause more controversy by completing the passing move using the corner’s run-off.
Vettel’s celebrations over winning second place were short-lived, with the FIA Stewards quickly ruling that the German had exceeded the track’s limits in his overtaking move on Button. The resulting 20-second time penalty imposed demoted him to fifth place.
The penalty gave Räikkönen another podium result, while behind the Finn the two Saubers of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Pérez clamed an excellent double-points haul for the Swiss team at what is effectively the outfit’s home race. Both drivers were engaged in an almost race-long battle with both Force Indias, eventually emerging on top at Nico Hülkengerg and Paul di Resta faded to finish ninth and eleventh, respectively. Kamui Kobayashi finished an excellent fourth, while Pérez was sixth.
While he may have held out hopes for a podium finish, Michael Schumacher finished a distant seventh after struggling with tyre wear in the race. A late pit stop gave him a lease of life and some extra speed, but he ran out laps to get ahead of the two Saubers ahead of him. Team-mate Nico Rosberg claimed the final point with tenth place.
A quiet and disappointing weekend was had by Mark Webber, who finished eighth on a circuit where he has never finished better than sixth. The Australian seemed ill at ease in his RB8 all race, and lacked a lot of confidence in the braking zones around the circuit. Having had such an outstanding performance just a fortnight ago at Silverstone, the result will be galling. Webber can ill afford such lacklustre performances if he wants to remain in the championship hunt.
For Alonso, his championship lead now extends to 34 points, meaning he will still be in the championship lead in a week’s time when the series takes a five-week summer break after next weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
But while fans will again celebrate an excellent day of racing once again, the focus will unfortunately be on team’s questionable interpretation of the rules.
2012 German Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (67 laps):
|1.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||67||1:31:05.862|
|2.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||67||+ 6.949|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||67||+ 16.409|
|4.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||67||+ 21.925|
|5.||Sebastian Vettel*||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||67||+ 23.732|
|6.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||67||+ 27.896|
|7.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||67||+ 28.960|
|8.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||67||+ 46.491|
|9.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||67||+ 48.162|
|10.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||67||+ 48.889|
|11.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||67||+ 59.227|
|12.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||67||+ 1:11.428|
|13.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||67||+ 1:16.829|
|14.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||67||+ 1:16.965|
|15.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||66||1 lap behind|
|16.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||66||1 lap behind|
|17.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||66||1 lap behind|
|18.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||66||1 lap behind|
|19.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||65||2 laps behind|
|20.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||65||2 laps behind|
|21.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||64||3 laps behind|
|22.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||64||3 laps behind|
|23.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||64||3 laps behind|
|DNF.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||57||Mechanical|
|Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:18.275|
* Denotes a 20-second time penalty was applied post-race for an illegal overtaking manoeuvre on Jenson Button on Lap 66.