Photo: Getty Images
Another rainy weekend was waiting for the Formula 1 2012 teams in Hockenheim, Germany, for the German Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) prevailed to take poll position, with Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) second, and Mark Webber (Red Bull) third. Webber, however, was assigned a five-spot grid penalty for a gearbox change, ceding P3 to Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) in his home race. Schumi was joined on the second row by fellow German Nico Hulkenberg (Force India).
Schumacher had barely made it out of Q1, slotting in as 17th fastest, and though his end result was good, teammate and countryman Nico Rosberg fared less well, qualifying in P17 as the slowest car in Q2. Hulkenberg’s Force India teammate Paul di Resta also made it to Q3, qualifying P9.
Tire strategy was once again at work in the run up to the race. Sauber employed a split approach, putting Sergio Perez on softs and Kamui Kobayashi on mediums. Rosberg was on mediums, perhaps in an effort to extend his track time before his first stop.
Lots of clouds were in place at start time, but no further rain was expected. Alonso got off to a great start to hold onto P1. Teammate Felipe Massa, however, damaged his front wing back in P14. Romain Grosjean (Lotus) and Bruno Senna (Williams) also had to pit with first-lap damage. Massa moved to the harder tires, opening the possibility of not stopping again, perhaps the only plan that could get him back into the points.
Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) punctured a tire second time around on some of the Lap 1 debris, compounding a bad start on which he spun his wheels and dropped three places. Hamilton reported continued instability in his car following the pit stop but was turning lap times comparable to or better than Alonso. Meanwhile, his McLaren teammate Jenson Button took P4 from Hulkenberg on Lap 8 and P3 from Schumacher three laps later.
Hulkenberg leap-frogged Schumi on a Lap 15 pit stop but Schumacher took the spot back on track, with Hulkenberg losing enough momentum to get pipped by Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) as well. Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso) rose to P6 by Lap 17, but had yet to pit. Alonso pitted from first on Lap 18, with Vettel following suit two laps later.
Raikkonen continued to push toward the front, taking P5 from Schumacher on Lap 21. Kobayashi was in P3 but hadn’t stopped yet, with Button in P4. Kobayashi came in one lap later, the last to pit, emerging in P11 before taking tenth from Pastor Maldonado (Williams). Two laps later he put di Resta behind him for P9.
By lap 26 Rosberg had moved up to P11 and was closing on di Resta as well. Three laps later, the spot went to the German. At the front of field, Vettel pulled to within 1 sec of Alonso, with Button setting fastest lap in P3. Both Force India cars were having difficulty keeping up the pace. Sauber, meanwhile, was ascendant, Kobayashi taking P7 from Webber on Lap 33 and Sergio Perez also advancing.
As Button closed in on lapping Hamilton (P18), the latter was advised to make sure he didn’t hold his teammate up at all. Hamilton got out of the way by pitting, and his fresher tires allowed him to unlap himself when he retook the track. Vettel didn’t seem too pleased with the move! From P17 he continued to keep pace with the cars at the front. By Lap 39 the Top 5 stood as Alonso, Vettel, Button, Kobayashi, and Perez. Button pitted one lap later, and when Alonso and Vettel came in on Lap 41, took P2 on track while the German was still gathering his pace.
By Lap 46 (of 67) Button had closed to within 0.7 sec of Alonso. On Lap 50 Alonso’s engineer told him his tires would hold to the end of the race at their current wear rate, but concern started to be voiced elsewhere (@RacecarEngineer) regarding potentially low engine oil and KERS problems. Others (Jaime Alguersuari, BBC) translated the discussion as Alonso stating he wanted to use all KERS and all power for the last laps. Lap 53 saw a Top 5 of Alonso, Button, Vettel, Raikkonen, and Kobayashi.
Hamilton retired on Lap 59, the first car out of the race. Alonso stretched his lead out to 2 sec by Lap 64, while Vettel closed on Button. Alonso added 0.6 sec on Lap 65. Vettel passed Button on Lap 66, but left the track surface to do so. When Button asked if that had been noticed, the team told him the FIA had been notified. Meanwhile, Alonso pulled out to a 5 sec lead and took the win.
“Tonight we have some parties on the plane!,” said the Spanish driver from the cockpit after winning his third race of the season in wire-to-wire fashion, while FIA officials continued to investigate Vettel’s final-lap pass. In either event, the two-time defending champion remained winless in his home event. Sauber made good on their race pace, with Kobayashi and Perez finishing P5 and 6 after starting 14 and 15 respectively. Raikkonen finished fourth, overtaking Hamilton for fourth in the driver standings as well, even as Button’s performance moved McLaren up to third in the constructor standings, one step above Lotus.
Vettel’s second place finish was overturned and awarded to Button, with a 20 sec post-race penalty pushing Vettel down to P5..
Driver standings - Top 10
154 - Fernando Alonso (Spain) - Ferrari
120 - Mark Webber (Australia) - RBR-Renault
118 - Sebastian Vettel (Germany) - RBR-Renault
95 – Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) – Lotus-Renault
92 - Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
76 - Nico Rosberg (Germany) – Mercedes
65 - Jenson Button (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
61 – Romain Grosjean (France) – Lotus-Renault
47 – Sergio Perez (Mexico) – Sauber-Ferrari
31 – Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari
Constructor standings - Teams scoring points
238 - RBR-Renault - Vettel, Webber
177 - Ferrari - Alonso, Felipe Massa
157 - McLaren-Mercedes - Hamilton, Button
156 – Lotus-Renault – Raikkonen, Grosjean
105 - Mercedes - Rosberg, Michael Schumacher
78 - Sauber-Ferrari – Perez, Kobayashi
47 - Williams-Renault – Pastor Maldonado, Bruno Senna
46 – Force India-Mercedes – Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg
6 – STR-Ferrari – Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne
Next event: FORMULA 1 ENI MAGYAR NAGYDÍJ 2012 – Budapest, Hungary – July 27-29, 2012