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.



McLaren fixes Button’s Issues?


McLaren hopeful it has identified cause of Button's struggles

via ESPN Staff

June 20, 2012« Vettel and Alonso 'could coexist' at Ferrari – Domenicali


McLaren's operations director Simon Roberts is hopeful that the team has discovered some “very subtle” differences between its cars that could help solve Jenson Button's recent problems

Jenson Button struggles with his McLaren in Friday Practice 1. Image by ph-stop via Flickr

Button has only scored two points in the last four grands prix and has failed to make it in to the final part of qualifying in the last three. Button's struggles were accentuated when he finished 16th in Canada while Lewis Hamilton won the race, but Roberts told a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in that the team had discovered some potential causes ahead of the European Grand Prix.

“I think Canada was very interesting because fundamentally we run the same car for both drivers and they both have the same parts available,” Roberts said. “Although we allow them to adapt the set-up to their driving style, clearly we had something fundamentally different in terms of the tyre performance and car performance. We've been able to actually capitalise on that and there's been a huge amount of work back at the factory analysing the data and just checking that everything was as we thought it was.

“We're pretty sure at the moment that there was nothing untoward with Jenson's car and actually nothing fundamentally wrong with the set-up, but in the subtlety of these cars at the moment there are differences, and I think going in to Valencia we're quite optimistic that – having identified that – I think we can have a slightly different way of getting Jenson's car under him for qualifying and for the race.”

When asked what the differences are, Roberts refused to go in to detail, but stressed it was so small that the team was cautious how much progress it would make with Button in Valencia.

“I'm not going to go in to exactly what they were but they are very very subtle. This isn't big stuff like fundamentally running a different aero balance or anything like that, this is absolutely down buried in the detail and I think you've seen already this year how teams can get right in the sweet spot of the tyres or miss it. I don't think we were far off (in Canada), there was nothing fundamentally wrong with his set-up but on the day it clearly delivered a different level of performance. So we think we're a step nearer to understanding it all, but whether we've got it cracked yet only time will tell. Definitely a painful but interesting learning exercise for us.”