Halfway Through the 2012 F1 Season That Has Never Failed to Thrill

By BRAD SPURGEON via IHT, nytimes.com

F1 Drivers Parade: Fernando Alonso in an Austin Healey Image by Gregory Moine via Flickr

HOCKENHEIM, Germany — We have now arrived at the halfway point of the longest Formula One season in history — 20 races, ending at the end of November — and I think it is safe to say that there has not yet been a boring race.

Formula One
Formula One

A view from the paddock with Brad Spurgeon.

The German Grand Prix at Hockenheim on Sunday began looking as if it might end up a boring affair as Fernando Alonso scored pole position during a superb qualifying in treacherous, wet conditions and the Spaniard in the Ferrari looked set to hold onto the lead to the end. But with 25 laps left in the 67-lap race, a sudden teasing game began when Jenson Button in a McLaren managed to pass Sebastian Vettel in a Red Bull and take second position after starting sixth.

Button looked like he would capitalize on Alonso’s Ferrari’s frequent weakness: its tires’ performance at the end of races. As the British driver — who has not won since the first race of the season in Australia in March — pressured Alonso, at about a second behind him for many laps, the race became a scenario of suspense and guessing.

But guessing that this time it would be the McLaren that wore out its tires seemed unthinkable. Yet, suddenly, it was Button who became the prey to the rapidly attacking Vettel, who passed Button with less than three laps left and finished second.

Then, two hours after the race, there was more excitement as it was announced that Vettel had illegally passed Button by driving off the edge of the track at the hairpin to get past the McLaren driver, gaining an unfair advantage. Vettel was penalized, with 20 seconds added to his race time. He dropped to fifth in the race classification, which raised Kimi Raikkonen of the Lotus team to third place, and Button to second.

None of this changed the winner: Alonso claimed his third victory of the season — the only driver who can make that boast — proving once that again that he can capitalize on every opportunity that presents itself. He extended his lead in the series to 154 points. Mark Webber, in the other Red Bull, has only 120 points, while Vettel has 110.

But the race had the added benefit of showing what happens when the series’ five German drivers compete in their home race. Vettel, who has never won a race in July — and therefore never won his home Grand Prix — once again failed, with victory looking like it was teasing him, so close yet so far.

Michael Schumacher started third on the grid and finished seventh in a strong race which had the German driver outperforming his teammate — Nico Rosberg, another German, who finished 10th — for the third race in a row. And Nico Hulkenberg in a Force India, finished ninth.

The only German driver who did not finish in the top 10 was Timo Glock, in the inferior Marussia car that has not scored a point so far in its two and a half seasons in the series.

In the end, there was plenty to watch and dream about here, just as there has been at every race so far this year, and as the tight season no doubt promises for the next 10 races.

 

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F1 — Webber and Alonso emerging as favourites

 

By Alan Baldwin — via Reuters — LONDON, July 9 – After a wet and muddy British Grand Prix weekend at Silverstone, Formula One could see some sort of a pattern emerging in a season that has so far stood out for unpredictability.

Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso and Webber Image by nic_r via Flickr

Ferrari and Red Bull like the look of it but for McLaren, and their world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, it is not a pretty sight.

The long-suffering but loyal 125,000-strong crowd on Sunday saw Ferrari's Fernando Alonso start on pole position and Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber take the chequered flag and winner's champagne.

At the previous race in Valencia it had been a Red Bull on pole, this time with double world champion Sebastian Vettel at the wheel, while Alonso went on to triumph in front of his home Spanish fans.

Alonso and Webber are now the only two drivers to have won twice in the nine races so far this year and Silverstone's rain-soaked track handed both their teams their biggest points haul of the season from a single race.

The Spaniard has 129 points to Webber's 116 with Vettel the only other driver with a three figure tally on 100.

With three races in quick succession this month – Germany and Hungary are on back-to-back weekends – there is the danger that by the time the teams head into the August break the championship has gone from being wide open to a two-team tussle at the front.

McLaren tumbled from second to fourth overall with Hamilton now 37 points adrift of Alonso and behind both Red Bull drivers.

“A pattern is sort of starting to emerge but that could be thrown out of the window quite easily at the next race,” said ever-cautious Red Bull principal Christian Horner.

“I think it's far too early to write off anybody in this championship.”

FERRARI RECOVERY

That said, Red Bull and Ferrari have been consistent.

Alonso has now finished his last 21 races in the points while Webber has suffered only one retirement in the past 12 months and finished in the top four in seven of nine this season.

“I'm very proud of the Ferrari recovery in the last few weeks and now we have been fighting for the victory in the last three or four grands prix,” said Alonso after Sunday's race. “So we're heading in the right direction.”

Ferrari, celebrating a first pole since 2010 and fourth-placed Brazilian Felipe Massa's best result since that year, appear to be hitting their stride after a sluggish start to the season.

Red Bull, who had both their drivers on the podium together for the first time this year, have also figured out how to make their car go faster.

“Obviously we got some confidence with our car in Valencia. I think that before then, we'd been finding our way with the new regulations, but I think we understood a little bit more about the RB8 in Valencia, and that has been an on-going process here,” declared Webber.

McLaren, winners of the season-opener in Australia with Button, are finding the Pirelli tyres hard to fathom.

Hamilton won in Germany last year and Button in Hungary and team principal Martin Whitmarsh was hopeful that upgrades would help the team get back into contention.

“Sometimes you learn more from these weekends than the successful ones,” he told reporters.

“I'm not seriously worried. worry doesn't make your car go quicker,” added Whitmarsh. “There's no magic, you've got to work on developing the car and understanding the conditions.

“It is very tricky to go from being so strong in the first stint on one set of prime (tyres)…and about 15 minutes later you put them on again and they feel different. they respond differently yet you set the same pressures and temperatures.” (Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by John Mehaffey)