German GP - Sunday - Race Report
Alonso wins tight Hockenheim battle
BY TONY DODGINS
Fernando Alonso's third win of the season, in the German GP at Hockenheim, has given him a 34-point lead at the top of the championship table, maintaining ing his 100% scoring record in 2012.
The 2005-2006 champion said coming into the weekend that he thinks he is driving as well as ever, feels 100% fit and has only made one mistake this year, in Q2 at Albert Park over four months ago.
His Hockenheim performance lived up to that. After a superb pole position in varying track conditions on Saturday, he controlled the race from beginning to end without ever being able to open up a comfortable margin over Sebastian Vettel and, in the final stint, Jenson Button.
"It was tough," he said. "It wasn't an easy one because maybe we were not the quickest but I was competitive enough to maintain the lead. There were some good calls by the team and when Jenson stopped we had to react. He was putting pressure on but the car felt good on traction and top speed and I could defend into the Turn 6 hairpin."
"The tyres were always going to be a question mark for everyone because we didn't do enough laps in the dry to understand them and we didn't come here last year with Pirelli."
Button ended a run of uncompetitive races when he finished second in a heavily upgraded McLaren MP4-27. An early second stop from third position forced Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to respond next time around, but a record 2.31s pit stop by McLaren meant that Button jumped the Red Bull into second place.
Vettel re-passed on the penultimate lap by running off the circuit on the exit of the Turn 6 hairpin but race stewards ruled that he had illegally gained an advantage and the resulting 20 seconds added to Vettel's race time dropped the double champion to fifth in the overall classification (see separate story).
There had already been a degree of controversy between the two teams as Lewis Hamilton rejoined just behind the leading duo after suffering an opening lap puncture when he ran over debris from Felipe Massa's front wing, then made his second stop around 10 laps before the leaders.
He came out behind Vettel and ahead of Button but clearly had enough pace to run as quick or quicker than the leading duo. The McLaren radio message told him to either pass the leaders or let Button by.
Being a racing driver, he elected for the first option and promptly outbraked Vettel into the Turn 6 hairpin.
"It wasn't nice of him," Vettel said. "I don't see the point of him trying to race us. If he wanted to go fast he could have dropped back, found a gap and gone fast there. But it was a bit stupid to disturb the leaders. I think that potentially lost us the position to Jenson."
Predictably, McLaren sporting director Sam Michael saw it very differently.
"There is nothing in the rules to say that a driver can't unlap himself," Michael said. "Lewis left Sebastian behind when he'd passed him, so didn't hold him up. You always want to unlap yourself if you can in case there's a Safety Car. Okay, you are now allowed to unlap yourself behind the Safety Car but you would always prefer to do it yourself because, if a Safety Car is only out for a couple of laps, you might not catch the tail of the field even if you are waved by."
Hamilton was wheel-to-wheel with Alonso once he'd passed the Red Bull but Alonso was not about to cede. Why not? Because a racer as shrewd as Fernando knew that with the pit stops fast-approaching it would work in his favour to have Lewis between his Ferrari and Vettel.
Kimi Raikkonen inherited third place when Vettel was penalised. Lotus operations chief Alan Permane tweeted on race morning that a podium was on for Raikkonen, even from 10th on the grid, but perhaps he didn't envisage claiming it quite like that.
Raikkonen was delayed in the early stages when Hamilton had a problem in front of him which, in turn, let Di Resta past the Lotus and it took time for Kimi to get the positions back. He has, however, scored points in the last seven races and is now fourth in the drivers' championship with only Alonso more than one win clear of him.
"If we had been able to qualify a bit better in the wet we might have been able to trouble the leaders but it is what it is," Kimi shrugged. Outscored by McLaren on the day, Lotus dropped back to fourth place, behind their Woking rivals, in the constructors' championship.
Of the championship front runners, it was a tough afternoon for Mark Webber, who was never happy with the pace of his Red Bull and particularly struggled on the prime tyre. He was compromised, of course, by his five place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change, which meant starting eighth, which is where he finished.
Vettel's penalty meant that Kamui Kobayashi achieved his best ever finish with fourth place, while team mate Sergio Perez's sixth, from 17th on the grid after a five place drop for impeding Alonso and Raikkonen in qualifying, gave the team a 20-point haul and closes them to within 25 points of fifth-placed Mercedes at the halfway point in the constructors championship.
Perez thought he might have done even better but for an earlier than planned first stop when he reported a strange feeling from the left side of the car, which compromised him later in the race.
Michael Schumacher qualified a superb third in the rain on Saturday but always knew he would struggle more in dry conditions, which was true of compatriot Nico Hulkenberg, who started fourth. The two home drivers ended up sandwiching Webber's Red Bull.
"I thought we'd be racing for P5-P7 and obviously P5 would have been better but I got the maximum out of the car today," Schumacher said. "I made a good start and enjoyed the early battle with Sebastian (Vettel) but we didn't have the ultimate pace."
"We always knew it was going to be tough to hang onto fourth place," Hulkenberg admitted, "because we didn't look especially quick in dry conditions on Saturday. We went for a three-stop race because a two-stop did not seem possible the way the tyres were degrading and it was good to get some points even if I was hoping for more."
Team mate Paul di Resta did try to make a two-stop work but struggled for pace in the middle of each stint and just missed out on the points, getting home 10s behind a three-stopping Nico Rosberg, who claimed the final point after a decent recovery drive from 21st on the grid after a gripless qualifying and a five place gearbox change penalty.
As the paddock heads straight for Hungaroring, where the second half of the season commences just seven days hence, Alonso's advantage is starting to look a little ominous for his pursuers. Fernando's 30th GP win continued a run of phenomenal consistency and his rivals must be hoping that somewhere, surely, there has to be a mistake or a DNF.
McLaren, though, can take most heart from Germany. Although Lewis Hamilton posted the race's only retirement, it was not before he and Button had proven the effectiveness of Mclaren's recent work.
"We are going to Budapest aiming to put the cars on the front row and win the race," Sam Michael said on Sunday evening, "and we're certainly not giving up on this championship."