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F1 Reports 25

2012 German Grand Prix report

“At the Jerez test, before the season started,” said Fernando Alonso at Hockenheim, “we were two seconds off the pace. At Melbourne, the first race, it was 1.6. I think we saw again today that we are not the fastest in the dry, but it’s difficult to overtake here, and we were able to hold the position…”

He sells himself short. Upgrades have improved Ferrari’s F2012 to a point that it is now competitive, but if Fernando was right in stating that it is still not the quickest car, he was wide of the mark – perhaps being gratuitously modest – in suggesting that this latest victory had been nothing more than ‘holding position’. In fact, it was a tour de force by the best driver on earth, who now – at the halfway point in the World Championship – holds a 34-point lead.

reports  2012 German Grand Prix report

Alonso may not have the quickest car – by general consent Red Bull and McLaren had the edge of Ferrari at Hockenheim – but what he and his team currently do better than any of their rivals is make the absolute most of what they have to work with. A few weeks ago Jackie Stewart commented that the best thing about Ferrari was the man in the cockpit, and that remains so, even though now the car has been significantly improved. Fernando may have controlled the German Grand Prix, but at different times he was under fierce pressure from Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull and Jenson Button’s McLaren, and for only a handful of the 67 laps did he lead by more than a couple of seconds.

Had qualifying been dry, the likelihood is that Vettel – just a few miles from his home town – would have taken pole position, as at Valencia, where he left everyone behind until his car’s alternator failed. Perhaps the superiority of the Red Bull was amplified at a circuit which might have been designed for it, but there is little doubt that, race for race, Adrian Newey’s latest creation has the edge on anything else, with McLaren – who had plenty of effective upgrades in Germany – not far behind.

If Red Bull has the greatest designer, however, Ferrari has the greatest driver – a fact that few rival team principals would dispute. That said, if his virtuosity in the wet put him on the pole (as at Silverstone), most expected a victory in the dry for Vettel.

Once they knew he was definitely to take part, that is. On race day morning the FIA issued a report by its F1 Technical Delegate Jo Bauer, which stopped the paddock in its tracks.

“Having examined the engine base torque map of car numbers 1 and 2,” Bauer’s report read, “it became apparent that the maximum torque output of both engines is significantly less in the mid-rpm range than previously seen for these engines at other events.

“In my opinion, this is therefore a breach of Article 5.5.3 of the 2012 Formula 1 Technical Regulations, as the engines are able to deliver more torque at a given engine speed in the mid-rpm range.

“Furthermore, this new torque map will artificially alter the aerodynamic characteristics of both cars which is also in contravention of TD036-11.”

This last was a presumed reference to ‘blown diffusers’, which were effectively – supposedly – done away with before the start of the season.

“I am referring this matter,” Bauer’s statement concluded, “to the stewards for their consideration.”

On the face of it, this was serious stuff, but while that may have been Bauer’s opinion, it cut no ice – or not much, anyway – with the stewards. There was some considerable surprise when, only an hour or so before the start, they issued a statement, saying that they had decided ‘to take no further action’.

That said, the tone of the statement rather implied ‘not proven’, rather than ‘not guilty’. Having met with representatives of both Red Bull and Renault, the stewards said, they ‘did not accept all the arguments of the team’, but their conclusion was that  ‘as the regulation is written, the map presented does not breach the text of Article 5.3.3 of the Formula 1 Technical Regulations’. Putting it another way, Red Bull’s actions may have been contrary to the intention – the spirit – of the regulation, but did not strictly contravene it, given the way it had been written.

reports  2012 German Grand Prix report

In the paddock the stewards’ decision left everyone a little lost for words, but the fact was that the Red Bulls would be starting from their correct grid positions, rather from the pit lane, as some had suggested – and they would not, either, be racing ‘under appeal’: no action of any kind was being taken.

On to the German Grand Prix, from which World Champion, local boy, and Red Bull driver, Sebastian Vettel would be starting from the front row. No fewer than four drivers – Webber, Grosjean, Rosberg and Perez – had five-place grid penalties, the first three for gearbox changes, the last for impeding other drivers during qualifying.

When the lights went out, Alonso got away perfectly, and had a clear lead at the first corner. At the end of the opening lap he led by a second and a half, but next time round Vettel had halved that, and when DRS was ‘activated’ after three laps, it looked likely that the Red Bull would pounce.

Overtaking at Hockenheim, though, is not easy, as Alonso pointed out. The DRS zone, approaching the hairpin, is quite long – but the corner before it is very quick, so that closely following another car through there is nigh impossible: try it, and your downforce is swept away in the ‘dirty air’, and you run wide. As lap succeeded lap, Alonso first stabilised his lead, then began gradually to increase it.

The Pirelli compounds available this weekend were medium and soft, and it was on the soft that all the front runners chose to start – even the Q3 drivers had the luxury of choice because qualifying had been conducted on either intermediates or full wets.

Behind Alonso and Vettel in the early laps ran Schumacher’s Mercedes, as in the British Grand Prix, but this time Michael did not constitute a mobile chicane. While unable to live with the leaders’ pace, he held off Hulkenberg’s Force India, Button’s McLaren and Maldonado’s Williams. Already effectively out of the picture was Hamilton, who picked up a puncture on accident debris (from Massa’s Ferrari or Senna’s Williams), and although he made it to the pits for a tyre change, the floor of the McLaren had also been damaged. Lewis thereafter found the car handling strangely, and eventually he retired with differential problems. Another bad day for his World Championship aspirations.

At the front Alonso and Vettel continued to trade new fastest laps, and this looked like another two-horse race, just as at Silverstone. Later in the afternoon Button would join in, but for now he concentrated on picking off Hulkenberg and Schumacher. By lap 11 he was into third place, six seconds behind Vettel, but not losing any more time to him.

Raikkonen started the first round of pit stops on lap 11, remaining on the soft tyres, but the leaders stayed out, Alonso coming in on lap 18, Vettel on 20. Both switched to the medium Pirellis, and Alonso maintained his position at the front. Again, though, Vettel quickly reduced the Ferrari’s lead, and seemed to have pace to spare.  Surely it was only a matter of time before he made a move at the hairpin…

He never did, though, and as this second stint of the race got longer Alonso actually began to increase his lead again – while Button, at the same time, began to move in on second place. Hamilton, still circulating but without hope of any points, was asked on the radio to look out for his team-mate in his mirrors, and not inadvertently hold him up. This Lewis duly did, but Vettel was enraged at losing time behind him. By lap 35 Button was but a second and a half from the Red Bull, and looking threatening.

reports  2012 German Grand Prix report

On lap 40 Jenson made his final stop, and a shatteringly quick one it was – to the point that when both Alonso and Vettel made their last stops a lap later, he was able to leap-frog Sebastian. Now the McLaren was second, but there was no respite for Alonso, merely a different driver looking to separate him from first place. Button really had the hammer down, and closed to within half a second of the Ferrari.

The gap stayed like that for several laps, but it was as close as Jenson was to get, and he admitted later that maybe he took too much out of his tyres during the early laps of the stint, as he sought to put pressure on Alonso. Meantime, Fernando was concentrating on keeping his Pirellis in good shape, so as to have something left for the late laps, should he need it.

As the race went into its last 20 laps Button began to fall back, little by little – and into the sights of Vettel. Gradually the gap between them closed, and on lap 66 – with one to the flag – the Red Bull passed the McLaren at the hairpin.

Not exactly on the road, though. Vettel went off it at the exit of the corner, claiming that he was wasn’t exactly sure where Button was, and was trying to ensure that both had plenty of racing room. In effect, he was off the track when he took the place, and Jenson was incensed.

The stewards weren’t too impressed, either. Long after the finish, after Vettel had been on the podium with Alonso and Button, they announced that Sebastian had ‘left the track and gained an advantage when he rejoined’. That being so, they were punishing him with a retrospective ‘drive through’, which they reckoned equated to a 20-second penalty, and thus Vettel was demoted from second to fifth place, behind not only Button, but also the Lotus of Raikkonen and the Sauber of Kobayashi.

A very tense Grand Prix, this one, with the leader never in front by much. Alonso is riding a wave at the moment, making no mistakes, and simply driving better than anyone else. “My God,” said a former Grand Prix winner in the paddock, “If Fernando was in a Red Bull, there’d be no point in anyone else turning up…”

If he drove a perfect race at Hockenheim, perhaps the seeds of the victory were sown the day before, when it rained. Had it not, the likelihood is that Vettel or maybe Hamilton would have taken pole position, and overtaking at Hockenheim is not easily done. In Q3, though, when the rain was beating down, only two laps under 1m 41s were recorded – and both were by Alonso. That put him at the front, and there he stayed.

reports  2012 German Grand Prix report

“It was a tough race,” Fernando allowed. “Not easy at all, with a lot of pressure from Sebastian and Jenson. However, we are OK on traction and top speed now, and it wasn’t like that at the start of the season, so that’s good. I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect of the tyres today – like at Silverstone, we had hardly any dry running in practice – but everything worked out.”

His own role Alonso played down. Close to the mark, though, was Pat Fry’s opening remark in Ferrari’s post-race press release: “Once again Fernando was fantastic…”

Add your comments

25 comments on 2012 German Grand Prix report

  1. John B, 23 July 2012 11:33

    Great race and while a penalty for Vettel seemed clear it does seem harsh given he was never out of the top 3 all race. Demotion to 3rd may have been more appropriate (and I’m a Webber fan!).
    Perhaps the real point is why the Tarmac runoff in the first place? Put in a gravel trap or at least grass to punish any driver error and not make this kind of move possible.

  2. Michael Spitale, 23 July 2012 12:28

    Good race to watch. If Lotus and Kimi could qualy top 6 each race I really think they would be fighting at the front. As is when you start 10 getting up to 4 is still great but by the time you get there the leaders are long gone…

  3. Bill, 23 July 2012 12:29

    Nice race report. They oughta give this Roebuck chap a permanent contract ;)

    Maybe Hamilton oughta copy more of Alonsos qualifying strategies. It seems his own are failing. Id say he also needs to copy some of Alonsos starting tactics, as he messed up big time, and found himself in harms way and got a puncture. Somehow this never happens to Alonso…

  4. hamfan, 23 July 2012 13:18

    The best bit of this race was the Lauda podium interview – the irony of his interviewing a Spaniard sponsored by Santander and who drives an Italian car (designed by a Greek) in Germany of all places was delicious. Will be very interesting to see how things are for Santander/Ferrari come the end of the season. That’s if Spain and Italy still exist as first world nations.

    Alonso drove a very competent race, but never under any real threat. Vettel was obviously on eggshells re the furore over the car’s illegality (did they even have to alter the engine maps, by the way?) and Button, as usual, lacked any killer instinct. Kobayashi did great.

    As for NR’s OTT ‘greatest driver’ gushiness (again), all I’d say (again) is: Singapore 08 Crashgate – was FA innocent? Straight answer. Cheats can’t be ‘the greatest’, can they, isn’t that the reason NR always gives for Schuey not being the best?

    Bill. No, Alonso’s never had a bad start or qually. Never written the car off in FP3 and had to sit out the whole session. Never jump-started. Buzzcut? Tattoos?..

    Hungary is a big race now. Fernando wins and the title is his to lose (that car has been damn good for seven or eight races now – just looks bad because Massa’s having a ‘mare of a time). Hamilton and Kimi the dark horse need to win it to have any hope. RB are the jokers. Is that car legal or not?..

  5. Douglas Kent, 23 July 2012 14:23

    Vettel’s punishment does seem excessive, but the same could be said of the decision to demote Lewis Hamilton to the back of the grid instead of 10th place when he ran short of fuel in final qualifying in the Spanish Grand Prix.
    At least the stewards are being consistent in their harshness.

  6. Piero Dessimone, 23 July 2012 14:40

    Interesting race but as usual Farce1 at its best: the penalty to Vettel is totally inappropriate as it was the penalty to Lewis Hamilton when he ran out of fuel.

  7. Ray T, 23 July 2012 16:44

    Alonso showed why he’s paid so well, but the rumours that Massa will be re-signed for 2013 are horrifying.

    To mildly understand modern F1, an engineering degree is helpful, but to really understand modern F1, a law degree is required.

    I really liked the use of Lauda on the podium -he came right out and asked about Vettel’s move. The move was illegal, but I was shocked at how fast he managed to take off with no traction loss on that runoff area.

    As for RBR, they are clearly revving the engines to make high velocity exhaust gas, which means they have some form of blown diffuser at work.

    Meanwhile..what’s up with Alonso’s radio chatter now in Italian? And what’s up with these ridiculous penalties? If Ferrari International Assistance (FIA) back?

  8. N. Weingart, 23 July 2012 20:13

    What an exciting and strategic race. Alonso is superb and a joy to watch. Performances like this no doubt inspire the whole Ferrari workforce to develop a better car for his use in coming races. I feel that the teams are finally understanding the tires and this will lead to even closer racing, what a brilliant season! it is also encouaging to see the FIA actively monitoring the technical side of F1. It’s needed now more than ever.

  9. Andrew Scoley, 23 July 2012 21:19

    Magnificent race, a brilliant chase by the Arrows and more impressively by the Surtees, but the Tyrell won by a whisker in the end. The wonderous sound of multiple DFVs, the gorgeous Williams FW07s and 8s, and the Ensign of course. What a wonderful race meeting. No stoppages, Group C, oodles of wonderful cars, Rod Jolley’s Cooper three wheel drifting through Copse corner.

    Must have been dreaming, there were 58 F40s going past, together. Ah, Silverstone. Was there a Grand Prix this weekend?

  10. chris b, 24 July 2012 04:40

    Jenson lacking a killer instinct, appears I watch different races to someone else. if you wish to disagree think Canada – think Monza when MS was at his obstructive worst / best depending on your viewpoint with Lewis and Jenson sailed past them both- also was Alonso sentenced for Singapore? i seem to remember not and unless international law has changed – although do prefer Scottish law – i.e. not proven- Fernando isn’t defined as a cheat and quite frankly Nigel is spot on, he is simply the best at this time,

    on the one hand i think we are so blessed with such awesome driving talent – these drivers are the best I’ve seen for 20 years – most are fair – some hang on – unfortunately in my opinion, some certain German driver would be welcome to retire – i really don’t like his driving style- on the other hand, the cars are dreadful, still the ugliest – the engines really are not of the Gods, oh for an open engine regulation with a MPG limit – to go to more economic engines and fly away more often really doesn’t add up environmentally
    ahh the race, as I refuse to pander to Mr Murdoch i will not watch his programe so highlights on Beeb it was – how welcome Lee is, seemingly much more mature and so less boys own, grown up the other one, but well, Hockenheim, doesn’t exactly enthrall does it – but Alonso – great

  11. John Read, 24 July 2012 06:29

    The Vettel penalty is logical otherwise if he is just relegated to 3rd there is no risk for him doing it again next week. In other words it’s a ‘Shot to nothing’.

    Also on Oz TV we saw Button ask Vettel about the off-track pass as they were on the way to the podium. Vettel said something like “I couldn’t see where you were…..”

    Lauda then asked Vettel on the podium about it and Vettel said that Button didn’t mention it to him………

    Don’t believe everything you hear from the mouths of racing drivers.

  12. Andrew Scoley, 24 July 2012 07:49

    I was probably being a little facetious in my previous post, but late 70s early 80s F1 cars are my thing. And we had a really terrific day’s entertainment.

    Chris B-agree with everything you’ve said there.

  13. hamfan, 24 July 2012 07:55

    chris, twelve or thirteen seasons to choose from and you choose two comedy tyres races (one in the wet, where JB got away with murder, punting both LH and FA off, as well as getting lucky with the tyres) to illustrate your ‘point’. If always choosing the different tyre strategy, hoping it’ll pay off if the front runners falter, if cruising around hoping the car(s) ahead see their tyres go off, as was the case this Sunday (I know you only watched the highlights, which by definition probably made it seem more entertaining than it was – lap after lap of following, but…), then what you appear to think of as killer instinct I’d call simple opportunism. Opportunism is fine, it’s a valid strategy, but there’s nothing killer or instinctive about it. So many instances of this killer instinct manifesting itself during the BAR-Honda years, aren’t there? And maybe, ooh, one instance per season in the Mclaren car? Keep believing, you might even see another instance or two before he decides to retire…

    He is a good driver, but I doubt even he’d agree that a ‘killer instinct’ label fits. He’s a Coulthard with a WDC, and there’s no shame in that. Different strokes..

  14. Alex Milligan, 24 July 2012 08:09

    Good post Chris, unfortunate comments by Hamfan, sounds rather like sour grapes. Alonso is simply in a class of his own and a joy to watch at every race.
    Pleased for Button – he needed this drive badly and let us hoipe that his poor run is behind him now foir the remainder of the season.
    Lewis has certainly upset the gods surely, or crossed paths with many black cats for his poor run of luck sems to have no end, but his driving this year has been far more assured than last season.
    Poor form from Vettel whining about Hamilton unlapping himself – what would he expect of a competitor? He seems to think that he has a divine right to drive around unchallenged, time for him to grow up some more I think.
    Great report as usual from Mr Roebuck. I am really enjoying this season and despite having a preference for Button, can see the title heading Mr Alonso’s way again – and deservedly so based on the form so far.

  15. Carlos Sanchez, 24 July 2012 09:30

    Piero, I am glad I am not the only one to notice how penalties are double harsh when they are inflicted to anything other than a Ferrari, and shame it has been like that for years now… And that mars Ferrari’s reputation, even when they truly deserve credit, like this time with Fernando Alonso.

  16. Michael Spitale, 24 July 2012 12:33

    McLaren had to be thinking… “Why could that not be Lewis instead of Jenson” when the chase was on for Alonso. Button is the most timid driver in F1 by a LONG shot…. He gets lots of praise for his win in Canada but Vettel made the error, it was not Jenson passing him

  17. dave cubbedge, 24 July 2012 12:34

    Well put on Seb, Alex. I am getting weary of the fist shaking when someone doesn’t capitulate immediately to the World Champ as much as I am weary of the “I am #1 finger” when he takes pole….fortuantely we haven’t seen as much of that this year. To be expected I guess from someone not too far removed from Hot Wheels…

    But….this is now Alonso’s era. He is the complete package and I don’t care about Singapore ’08 anymore. Nelsinho is driving trucks, his daddy is no longer hanging about in the F1 paddock, all is well in the world. Bravo Fernando!!! I hope he takes it in 2012. No one else deserves it more.

  18. Ray T, 24 July 2012 14:17

    Nelsinho is racing trucks, but he should be driving a lorry filled with cabbages.

  19. John, 24 July 2012 15:28

    I must have watched a different race from everyone else … oh, hang on, I probably did. The BBC coverage of this one was absurd: is it really necessary to show us replays of every overtaking move from three different camera angles? It’s not like many of them mean a lot in the first place in these DRS days, after all. Whether it was a better race if you saw the whole thing on Sky, I can’t say, but those watching the BBC coverage saw about a quarter of the race, twice.
    F1 seems to me to be rapidly disappearing up its own arse. The powers that be, and many fans, appear to have confused “overtaking” with “racing”. There are far too many factors which mitigate against the possibility of flat out balls to the wall driving by talented drivers; anyone who tries that nowadays is likely to find himself on a set of worn out tyres being picked off by the likes of Toro Rosso and Force India. What overtaking there is is now almost exclusively DRS aided, which is entirely predictable and remarkably dull. If I want to see one vehicle overtaking another because of artificially imposed constraints, I can go and stand on the nearest motorway overbridge and watch cars overtaking lorries.
    Having spent the day before watching the race at Croft Circuit watching all sorts of racing from 2007 – spec Formula Renaults to Citroen 2cvs, I know what I’d rather see, and what will take the place of F1 when it finally goes entirely to Sky. I’m watching the races out of habit now but I can’t say I’m getting much out of it any more …

  20. John Saviano, 24 July 2012 16:10

    As always, my point is, and I believe I’m correct, this is about RACING. Therefore, if a “slower” car can pass a “faster” car, then go for it. There is NOTHING wrong with LH trying to unlap himself – it’s part of all forms of motor racing. If SV can’t seem to deal with the waters not parting in front of him, then too bad. In my opinion, blue flags shouldn’t exist (but blocking should be penalized). And as far as SV’s penalty – the rules are quite clear, he violated them, so a drive thru would have been appropriate. As I’ve said, if the rules are wrong, they should be changed, but leaving the circuit and gaining advantage should not be allowed (couldn’t happen around Monaco1). SV’s little tantrums are getting a bit old.

  21. Mikey, 24 July 2012 19:17

    You have to admire the achievements of Red Bull and SV but this weekend illustrated the point that both need to be reigned in for the greater good of the “sport”. What next? Traction control by the back door? SV’s penalty was fair but only serves to highlight the inconsistency of the FIA. Remember Kimi at Spa running outrageously wide at La Source? He got a run and passed Fisi on his way to victory. Surely the technology exists so that if a car leaves the track as defined by the white lines, sensors cut the maximum engine revs to, say 10,000 for 10 seconds. That might curb their readiness to disregard the rules. Stirling kept it on the island because the penalty was often fatal. This would be a penalty without physical pain as requested by (I think) Pirro in the Goodwood podcast. What do you think?

  22. hamfan, 24 July 2012 19:35

    What John says about DRS and tyres – spot on. Overtaking isn’t equivalent to racing. But why do so many fall for it?

    @Alex, Sour grapes, no, but frustration, yes. I support Mclaren more than either driver but enduring this 15-year run of mediocrity (they fluked 99 with Schuey’s injury, blew 05 for Kimi, fluked 08 on the last corner and with a suspect Spygate car anyway) is testing my patience. If anything I detect a deterioration in the Whitmarsh era – after all, they have two WDC drivers.

    Jenson grates a bit because he really should just have a go more often. Watching him cruise around all race on Sunday, with nothing to lose and even within DRS distance for a few laps, but not even making a single attack, was close to a last straw as far as this long-standing fan of the team is concerned. Maybe he felt he just needed a podium for his confidence. Here’s hoping both Mclaren boys are back on form, and in luck, next weekend…

  23. chris b, 24 July 2012 20:49

    I’ll move on from previous and highlight something that I don’t know quite how to take, namely Red Bull’s engine mapping, what with allegedly flexible wings, triple exhausting diffusers or similar or whatever else the fertile brain of Mr Newey dreams up next, so, was it cheating? or outside the spirit of the rules? and therefore will be banned henceforth- will that rain the RB’s in?

  24. Rich Snape, 24 July 2012 22:21

    I enjoyed the race as I have most of the Grands Prix this year. Whilst there’s a lot of talk about the Tyres potentially causing “false results” ultimately the cream will rise to the top and Alonso is simply in a class of his own this season. To out-drive your car to the extent he has this year is something I can’t remember anyone else doing. Vettel’s great when his car’s great, Hamilton is capable of raising the bar of his car but not with the consistency that Alonso is doing so. It seems to be a combination of talent, speed and experience all coming together – like Prost with a bit more “turbo”.
    Whilst I’ll always support the Brits, I hope Fernando carries on in the same vein and wins the WDC this year, so we can see, in a sport where the best driver can’t always show he’s the best, a winner who won the title through being the best and beating faster cars with sheer quality.

    I think Alonso’s biggest fan may well want to take up a good 75% of the December 2012 issue of Motorsport with his Reflections to lavish praise on Fernando if that happened!

  25. David Bingham, 25 July 2012 16:48

    Roebuck has matured into the new Jenks with a good dose of Setright. My first read in the magazine every month.
    Needs a beard though to make him look wise.

    Hope you are paying him enough?

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Nigel-Roebuck-2011

Nigel Roebuck

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