(I intend to write separately about the team-orders issue)
I thought that was a fairly interesting race with some dull bits. Vettel’s attempts at the Schumacher-chop on the starts really are not working. The scarlet team’s return to form has to be the big news. Whilst I concede I dismissed Alonso’s utterances about how he could still win the World Championship after Silverstone’s race as just PR-talk, well I did miss their improved turn of speed amongst recent other problems, but the run of results they will need to win the title still looks improbable.
Alonso’s victory was his 23rd win, 17 for Renault, 4 for McLaren-Mercedes, and 2 for Ferrari. It was Ferrari’s 212th win, 81st 1-2, and their tenth F1 WC win at Hockenheim (Nicki Lauda 1977, Patrick Tambey 1982, Rene Arnoux 1983, Gerhard Berger 1994, Eddie Irvine 1999, Rubens Barrichello 2000, Michael Schumacher 2002 2004 2006).
It was sad to see Karun Chandhok sidelined by Yamamoto. With HRT’s obvious need for ready cash, and no reason to believe that will be abated any time soon, it is all too likely that the Indian’s season, and perhaps his F1 career as a driver, is over. It is perhaps then ironic (a word I generally try to avoid often using “paradoxical” instead) that it was the weekend just gone that I became a fan of Chandhok, deeply impressed when he was on Radio Five Live duty for Free Practice that he won fifty quid off Ted Kravitz, not for knowing that Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen had identical qualification times for the 1997 European GP at Jerez, but for being able to state the time to the nearest thousandth of a second. There have been many F1 drivers with little regard for the history of the sport, indeed as if it never existed before they arrived. The ugliest example I know is when Michael Schumacher won the 1998 French GP with team-mate Eddie Irvine second, and when asked about the one-two questioned whether it was Ferrari’s first! I am cynical about rumours that HRT will be running with Toyota technology next season. The remnants of the Toyota team have a 2010 car ready to go but probably no other potential customers, so may have told HRT they can have the package and the back-up if they can find the apparently required €15 million, without much expectation that they will.
When it was learnt Button was off to McLaren, many thought Hamilton would eat him alive, and Jenson has done much to impress by competing well against Lewis. Hamilton made a comment, after finishing second in China to Button, that Jenson was making it easy for himself whilst he was doing it the hard way, and that he needed to learn from that. Lewis than had a bad race in Spain after a puncture, Button had his engine fiasco in Monte Carlo, and in the five races since Lewis has beaten Jenson every time, albeit by only one position except Britain where it was two. Certainly, Jenson is keeping up better than Heikki Kovalainen did, and Hamilton’s rookie year against Alonso showed just how good he was, never mind any improvement since. Paradoxically, Jenson may be doing more this year to show he deserved a World Championship than last season, when the question of if it was the car or the driver deserving the wins raised its head. Ferrari have decided to use team-orders, Red Bull see their guys taking points off one another, whilst at McLaren they offer driver-parity but Button may as well have been the number-two driver in recent races with Hamilton taking twenty-five points, a race-win worth, in the last five outings. I think it is to be admired that Lewis was so positive about acquiring such a race-winning team-mate, and has looked to learn from it with the sort of humility that Schumacher or Alonso are not prone to. For Jenson, it looks ominous, and impressive though it is how he has done this season, that Lewis simply has the edge. There often seems to be a psychological need for drivers to believe they are faster than anyone, with a succession of excuses if bested by a team-mate, until sometimes the inevitable, that the other guy is just better, has to be accepted. If Hamilton keeps beating him considerably more often than not, Button’s confidence, and perhaps his results, may be badly dented. Jenson really needs to get one over Lewis in Hungary, or will have a three-week break to think about losing six-in-a-row.
There has been much mention of Vettel only winning once this season from the six races he has been on pole. Two of these were Bahrain and Australia, when the spark-plug and wheel issues respectively spoiled what otherwise looked likely to be dominating performances. The third was China when mixed weather conditions were a bigger factor. Last season, Vettel had four poles, three of which he converted to wins, and 2008 he had one pole for his debut win with STR at Monza. Essentially, from eleven pole positions, he has made a couple of weak starts. No wonder he looked annoyed when it was suggested to him that he should adopt the strategy of not getting pole in view of the one-in-six success rate.
Vettel managed to gain three points by finishing third ahead of Hamilton’s fourth. Of course, if Ferrari had been off the pace (or get disqualified), the difference between first and second would have been seven points. Sebastian has generally been beating the McLarens if things go well, and would be quite a few points ahead of Webber if not for the spark-plug, wheel and brake glitches that were the sort of one-offs no driver deserves more than one of a season. Ferrari’s resurgence could make it harder for Vettel to catch Hamilton with the points more shared around between the three teams. Button won last year because although he struggled for points later in the season, the other teams took too many points off each other to catch him. Of course, it might help Vettel if he can beat the McLarens sometimes with a Ferrari or two between him and the Woking cars. My feeling is that if Ferrari had remained off the pace, Vettel with a decent run of luck could have outscored the Brits often and by enough to win the title, but with Ferrari back in the fray, it gives Hamilton more chance of holding his lead to the season’s end.