By BRAD SPURGEON via IHT, nytimes.com
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.
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.
The possibility, however slim, of a Formula One race one day being held in the London Olympic Park left Green campaigner and environmentalist Jonathan Porritt boggling at the ironies of life on Wednesday.
Organisers of the Games, which open next week, are proud of their efforts to make the Olympics in east London as car-free as possible through an array of rail and bus links and secure bicycle parking.
At the same time, the London Legacy Development Corporation announced on Tuesday that one of the four bids to take over the Olympic stadium after the Games was from a little-known company acting in association with Formula One.
Premier League West Ham United remain the favourites to become tenants but F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who denies any direct involvement in the bid, has spoken in the past about his interest in hosting a race in London.
“Our life is full of irony isn't it,” smiled Olympic 'Sustainability Ambassador' Porritt, whose father Arthur was a bronze medallist for New Zealand in the 'Chariots of Fire' 100 metre race at the 1924 Paris Games.
“I find the whole story about F1 racing and sustainability quite difficult,” added the man whose focus has been on the sustainable design of Olympic venues and an environmentally-friendly legacy.
“F1 racing is a celebration of crazy, unsustainable use of cars in many ways and I would much rather that we would see more use of the park for cycling and all of those kind of things,” added the environmental activist and former director of the Friends of the Earth campaigning group.
The gas-guzzling sport of Formula One is trying to burnish its green credentials, with teams and factories offsetting their carbon footprint and the sport declaring itself carbon neutral.
Technical rules have been changed to make engines last longer, with bio-fuel and fuel efficiency set to be an increasingly important factor, while manufacturers are also keen to establish a link between racing and 'greener' road cars.
Organisers have pushed urban street circuits, such as Singapore or Montreal where spectators do not have to drive to grands prix, and compared the sport favourably to the Tour de France cycle race which is followed daily by a long caravan of vehicles.
The sport, however, depends on criss-crossing the globe, and teams fly cars in jumbo jets to circuits from Brazil to Australia to Singapore.
While the Formula One-angled bid for the London stadium looks a long-shot, the 2014 Winter Games in the Russian resort of Sochi has a grand prix as part of its legacy planning.
The first race there is scheduled for the months after the Games, using some of the same facilities built for the Olympics.
“One is bound to say that these things just sound dissonant,” said Porritt.
“Motor car racing just doesn't fit in that stable for me.
“To me it's extraordinary that anyone could think this could be on the side of the angels when it comes to sustainability but there we go,” he told Reuters.
Despite London's best efforts to limit car usage, something also pushed by fears of gridlock on narrow congested roads at Games time, VIP guests and Olympic officials will be whisked around town in a fleet of BMWs.
“They will be very noticeable to people living in central London because they will be whizzing up and down those specially designated lanes and probably making people a bit angry on that score,” conceded Porritt.
“Who knows, in 20 years time, maybe there will be no cars at all even for members of the IOC.” (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ossian Shine)
Image by Nick J Webb via Flickr