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Germany 2012 - Ferrari claim 2012 hat trick at Hockenheim // Alonso's third victory shows pace that Ferrari continue to doubt

Published by Christine

Alonso leaves the garage in Germany
Credit: Pirelli S.p.A.

The German Grand Prix had the potential to provide a mixed up race, after penalties and wet weather played havoc with the qualifying results. However, come race day, it wasn’t all surprising but still fascinating as the strategies unfolded and the winner was decided. Fernando Alonso secured his third win of the year, and so it is with him, and Ferrari, that we shall begin.

Ferrari

Where Alonso missed out at Silverstone, he was rewarded with a relatively easy run to victory at Hockenheim. Starting from pole position, his closest rival both on Saturday and Sunday was Sebastian Vettel - the pair seemingly a step above the rest for this weekend. Button was also on hand to add some pressure towards the end of the race, but it was never enough to stop the Spaniard from sensing victory from the get-go.

Despite having three wins to his name for 2012, Alonso is still adamant that Ferrari do not have the fastest car on the grid. Strategy is what is winning it for them and, perhaps, the ability of Fernando to stay out of trouble. The same cannot be said for Felipe Massa. The Brazilian in 13th, and was foiled by the sudden braking of a Toro Rosso in front of him. Cue one front wing flying off and spilling carbon fibre debris all over the track, and another front wing waiting for him in the pitlane.

Considering the troubles, Massa didn’t do too badly in finishing 14th - just one place below where he started. However, when your teammate is winning races and adding another finish to his points-scoring consistency, it can only be disheartening.

Team boss Stefano Domenicali has been vocal with praise for his championship-leading driver, and suggests that his performance is spurring them on to keep developing ‘race-by-race.’ They’ll need to come up with something pretty spectacular if they want to get their hands on both titles this year, though, as a driver finishing 14th isn’t going to help them assail Red Bull’s lead.

9/10

McLaren

Some incredible pit stop work from McLaren (and a considerable change from their previous endeavours in that area) meant that Jenson Button found himself out in front of Sebastian Vettel as the German Grand Prix entered its closing stages. The Red Bull driver closed the gap and overtook on the penultimate lap, but unfortunately did so with all four wheels of his car over the circuit. The ensuing penalty handed second place back to Button.

Having started the race from sixth, progressing to the podium and an eventual second place is a good job in itself, but it is all the more impressive when compared to Button’s difficult season thus far. Qualifying well makes a difference, and the car has suddenly found pace for him. McLaren brought some significant changes to Hockenheim with a reported 80% new body surfaces on the car. Whatever new direction they’ve gone in, it is working in Button’s favour.

Whether it is working in Hamilton’s will have to wait to be seen until next week. The McLaren driver was outqualified by his teammate for the first time this year, albeit only by a single position and seven thousandths of a second. Hamilton’s did not have luck on his side this weekend, with a puncture from the on-track debris, followed by an unsettled stint in the car, followed by his retirement from the race. He was the only driver not to finish the Grand Prix this time. Hopefully, at Hungary, we’ll be able to see if the balance of power at McLaren has swung away from Hamilton, or if it is simply that Button has managed to draw level once more.

7/10

Lotus

The performance of Kimi Räikkönen at the German Grand Prix is the kind of thing the hype for his comeback was all about. The Finn looked completely fired up, he had a fast car underneath him and was on a charge. Overtaking move after audacious overtaking move followed, and it was something to sit back and watch. Unfortunately, he was starting from tenth on the grid, which meant there was a long way forward for him to go. With Vettel’s penalty, Kimi secured third place despite no podium appearance on the day. It was an impressive showing and another sign that the Lotus car really does have some untapped potential and pace.

The other half of the Lotus team was having a torrid time of it. Barely able to keep the car on the road throughout the weekend, Romain Grosjean started the race in nineteenth. A poor qualifying performance plus a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change meant there was a lot of work to be done on Sunday afternoon. He had a good start, but got caught up at the first corner and, like Massa before him, had to pit for a new front wing. By then, it was all over anyway, and 18th place was the best the Frenchman could do.

Despite a mixed result, team boss Éric Boullier is feeling very confident about the situation. The team were overtaken in the constructor’s standings by McLaren this weekend, but Boullier believes they will be able to keep up the fight for third place. As ever, their concentration is on improving qualifying to help give the race pace the start it deserves.

7/10

Sauber

Another team who believe qualifying better could be the answer to all their problems is Sauber, who managed to get both their drivers to finish in the points, and do it in style. A difficult qualifying session saw Kamui Kobayashi start the race in 12th place, whilst Sergio Pérez was handed a five place grid penalty for impeding. He began from 17th, sandwiched between the two Caterhams.

Despite the gap between the two cars at the start of the race, they soon closed up together and started to make their way forward as much as possible. Pérez noted a slight compromise with his strategy when he was forced to pit early due to a suspected puncture, but the problem was not so bad as to stop him finishing 6th. Kobayashi managed one place further, ending fifth.

At one point, the pair tag-teammed past another car, one going each side and both making the move stick. It was glorious to watch. Despite their relative youth and inexperience, the pair showed some impressive skills today, and if they can get their qualifying back on form, there could be much more to come.

The strong finish has improved the team’s standings position, with Sauber sitting out on their own in sixth place. There are 25 points to Mercedes ahead of them, and they have 33 over Williams behind.

7/10

Red Bull

For a brief moment, it looked as though both Red Bull drivers would finish the race where they began it - Sebastian Vettel in second place, and Mark Webber in eighth. Webber’s qualifying was hindered by a five place grid penalty for changing the gearbox, but even so, he was outqualified by his teammate who was enjoying performing at his home track.

Webber’s race was unspectacular, the man himself admitting that he lacked pace and was just hanging on to the position as best he could throughout. Vettel had a more eventful race, clinging to second place until McLaren’s pit stop strategy snuck Button ahead of him. With seemingly superior pace at the very end of the Grand Prix, Vettel got back past but was later penalised for it being an unsatisfactory move on the McLaren. Vettel was also involved in an incident with Lewis Hamilton, complaining vociferously when the other McLaren driver unlapped himself and cost Vettel a second or two of time.

The weekend didn’t work out as well as could be expected, particularly as the post-race drive through penalty seems particularly harsh in these circumstances. Dropping from 2nd to 5th must be hard to take, but the team have bigger things on their mind. Another row is brewing as the FIA and stewards took a close look at Red Bull’s engine mapping - the team having made yet another attempt at improving their rear downforce with throttle and exhaust gas manipulation. It’s legal, for now, but change could be on the cards. The cars appear to have found some extra pace for the last couple of races, but if an FIA clarification comes through, they may be on the back foot once more.

6/10

Mercedes

Mercedes had a lot of pressure on their shoulders coming into this race weekend - the self-styled German team hoping to do well in front of the passionate home fans. Michael Schumacher put on a great show on Saturday, clawing his Mercedes high into the top ten and finding himself third on the grid on Sunday.

Nico Rosberg was less convincing, caught out by the wet weather in qualifying and finding tyre management a significant issue. He was also facing a five place grid drop for a gearbox change (what is with all the gearboxes giving up this week?) which meant he started the race all the way down in 21st place, sandwiched between the two Marussia drivers.

Rosberg made a great start and continued to improve throughout the race, hauling himself up into the top ten. Schumacher also had a good start, but lost positions as the race went on. Both drivers were on a three-stop strategy, unlike seven of the other top ten finishers. Brawn admitted there wasn’t enough to say that two stopping would have been better for them, but they did find that the fresher tyres towards the end made no gains for them either.

With 7th and 10th securing a double points finish, things could have been a lot worse in front of the home crowd, but both drivers wish they could have done better for the German fans.

5/10

Force India

The Force India team showed a spark of something this weekend that has been missing from them almost all year. Whereas normal races will see them subdued and trundling around the midfield, this weekend both drivers showed great promise and some incredible skill. The only trouble is that the reason they were so prominent is because they were out of position.

Qualifying luck was firmly in Force India’s came on Saturday, with Nico Hülkenberg picking up fourth place on the grid. Paul di Resta wasn’t all that far behind, with ninth place - both drivers firmly into the top ten shootout. On Sunday, when conditions had changed again and the sun came out, the pair found themselves out of their depth.

As the race wore on, both were overtaken in all manner of ways, and whilst I was impressed with their ability to keep things incident-free, it was disappointing to see both of them going backwards. Hülkenberg later admitted he was hoping for more, but ninth place was the best he could achieve on the day. Di Resta slipped out of the point and finished 11th. Interestingly, Paul believes there is speed in the car that just wasn’t demonstrated in the race, whereas I would have thought it was that their pace was over-exaggerated on Saturday.

Despite the difficulties, Force India are now just one point away from Williams in the standings, with seventh place very much in their grasp.

5/10

Toro Rosso

When the rain started just at the very end of first qualifying, it felt for a moment as though we could be in for a surprise. Mark Webber was down near the drop zone, Michael Schumacher also in a similar position. For a change, might it be a driver who didn’t answer to the name of Jean-Éric Vergne who found himself knocked out and in 18th place? No such luck. Both the aforementioned drivers hauled themselves away from the drop zone and it was Toro Rosso who, once again, found themselves minus one driver for second qualifying.

Daniel Ricciardo was frustrated himself, just missing out on the top ten shootout and starting the race in 11th place. As it turns out, all the post-qualifying penalties meant Vergne was just four places behind his teammate when the lights went out on Sunday.

The gap between the two closed even more during the race, as Ricciardo dropped to 13th and Vergne improved to 14th. Ricciardo attributes his performance to the pace of the car not matching those around him, whilst Vergne managed to haul his Toro Rosso back up to 14th after dropping down the order due to a puncture at one point. A mixed result for the team who are desperately trying to find the direction that will bring them more significant improvements.

4/10

Williams

Pastor Maldonado was looking very strong around the Hockenheim circuit, as he ended second practice on Friday as the fastest driver, and managed to secure himself fifth place on the grid. Bruno Senna was struggling a little more, particularly on Saturday, where he found himself down in 14th. However, it has to be noted that he was the one handing over his car to Valtteri Bottas on Friday, and he was the one who was given a patched up model back when the young test driver crashed it.

Bruno also attributed his relatively slow qualifying pace to a problem getting the tyres up to temperature - and given the changeable conditions, that sounds like a reasonable excuse.

Unfortunately, both drivers suffered damage in the race - Senna making contact with another car on the first lap and having to pit early, Maldonado running over some debris with a real clonk and causing himself some car trouble. Both drivers feel like they had the pace to make up some good positions, but this time out, they just couldn’t do anything about it.

3/10

Caterham

The main issue Caterham are facing at the moment is a lack of dry running to test out their new upgrades. They brought it in at Silverstone and since then it’s been damp and difficult all the way. The pair qualified 19th and 20th, with Kovalainen ahead of Petrov but other driver penalties moved them up to 16th and 18th in the same order.

It was a quiet race for the pair, with Petrov keeping out of trouble and finishing 16th, two places ahead of his starting position and crucially keeping Bruno Senna behind him when on different tyre strategies in the final stint. Kovalainen found himself with an unexpected graining problem on the front tyres so they brought him in for an extra stop to change the front wing. He thinks it worked and the rest of the race was okay, whereas Technical Director Mark Smith suggests it didn’t work, and there is more to be learnt from the situation.

Either way, the team must be hoping for a dry Friday in Hungary, else they’ll go into the summer break still waiting on the weather.

2/10

Marussia

Charles Pic went into qualifying with limited Saturday running as the team were busy changing his engine during FP3. Despite that, he managed to qualify ahead of Timo Glock, who admitted he was struggling with the balance at the rear of the car.

From there, it was simply a matter of the team pushing their way through the race. Pic had a poor start, but retained his position relative to his teammate. Glock was still unhappy with the balance - something that the team are keen to investigate, particularly as it is on just one side of the garage.

Pic did make the point that “although we have not changed position, we continue to improve versus the Caterhams and pull away from the HRTs. This is positive, but not sufficient...”

3/10

HRT

It’s quite telling that Narain Karthikeyan was super happy post-qualifying that he had managed to finish just three tenths away from his teammate. He was bemoaning the lack of dry running, especially if he is to be compared to the more experienced Pedro de la Rosa. Either way, the team did very well in such changeable conditions to be safely inside the 107% cutoff time.

Whilst Karthikeyan was busy eyeing his teammate, De la Rosa set his sights on the Marussia cars, with Timo Glock specifically in this instance. Although we know Glock was struggling with balance on his car, Pedro saw an opportunity to overtake him at the end of the race and took it. The team still have a long way to go, but making the most of opportunities like this is their priority in the meantime.

2/10

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