The 2012 German Grand Prix was one of the best complete weekends that I have seen in a long time, from a fantastic qualifying, in which three different tyre setups were needed in three different stages, to the race, which contained close action right to the finish.
Fernando Alonso was able to take his third victory of the 2012 season and his second consecutive win at the Hokenheimring.
The weekend started with much promise, as the first three practice sessions provided different results in different weather conditions.
Qualifying began in dry conditions, but dark clouds were out in force. There was a mad rush to get out and set a time early on.
The track may have been dry, but a heavy downpour between the third final practice and the start of qualifying had washed away a lot of the grip, and drivers struggled to keep their cars under control.
The first session was close, and there were some good last-minute laps from struggling drivers including Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, but the first seven drivers to fall by the wayside were predictable. (Jean-Eric Vergne was the unlucky driver to join the "new teams" in the drop zone.)
Qualifying two was much better, as in the seven minutes between Q1 and Q2, the rain had begun to fall. Clearly, the first few laps on intermediate tyres would be crucial. The second session would be a fight involving a great deal of skill as well as a huge amount of luck.
The fight was close at the top and seemed to be between Schumacher, Alonso, the Red Bulls and the McLarens. These six drivers all made it through with arguably more skill than luck. However, both Saubers, Roman Grosjean and Felipe Massa all found themselves needing fast laps when the track was simply too wet to make a difference in the standings.
Nico Rosberg could do nothing to make an impact on the session and could finish no higher than P17. The star of Q2 was arguably Daniel Ricciardo, who managed an extremely respectable P11.
The final session was a straight fight on full wet tyres.
The battle would come down to who could stay out the longest to take advantage of a now rapidly drying track. Though the rain had stopped, nobody looked secure on track, and many drivers found themselves aquaplaning.
The McLarens fell by the wayside, and the fight for pole boiled down to Alonso vs. Red Bull. In the end, a clever decision from Alonso to pit and put on some fresh wet tyres made all the difference.
Alonso was so confident in his Ferrari that he not only held onto his provisional pole, but also felt he could push and set a final faster time when everyone else had given up.
Ironically, the race itself would prove to have no penalties, but qualifying was full of them. Webber, Rosberg and Grosjean all took five place penalties for gear box changes, and Perez was dropped five spots for blocking in practice.
Here are the positions as they stood without the penalties being applied:
Alonso, Vettel, Webber, Schumacher, Hulkenberg, Maldinado, Button, Hamilton, di Resta, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Perez Kobayashi, Massa, Grosjean, Senna, Rosberg, Vergne, Kovalainen, Petrov, Pic, Glock, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan.
The start was relatively clean. Alosno had his car slightly pointed towards Vettel to really cover the Red Bull driver off the line, but in the end Alonso’s caution was unneeded as his Ferrari sped off the line, leaving Vettel fighting really hard with Schumacher.
The Red Bull and Mercedes drivers battled for the first few corners, but Vettel was able to hold. The biggest winner off the start was Button, who was able to pass Maldinado very quickly and cleanly and was now heavily breathing down the neck of Hulkenberg.
The four big losers of the start were Massa, Grosjean, Senna and Hamilton. The first three all suffered some form of contact with other cars, and all were forced to pit, effectively ruining their races. Hamilton didn’t actually make any contact with any other cars but picked up a left rear puncture with over half a lap remaining after running over some debris.
Hamilton’s attitude at this point of the race was shocking, especially when you consider the fact that he is out of contract at the end of the year. The 2008 World Champion radioed his team to say "this is it, we should retire." This seemed amazingly premature, and his team rightfully sent him on his way after a quick stop.
However, Hamilton’s complaints didn’t stop, and he went on to make several more comments about handling and whether it would rain. It was such a shame to hear Hamilton talking like this, because it almost seemed as though he wasn’t prepared to race from the back.
Hamilton is a talented fighter—no one disputes that—but he really needs to think before he presses that radio button.
The following few laps contained some great racing. There were notable passes from Raikkonen and Perez, but the man to watch was Jenson Button. Something seemed to have clicked in the 2009 World Champion’s head as he quickly passed both Hulkenbeg and Schumacher.
Button had gone from seventh to third in just over 10 laps. Around lap nine, the first few stops began to occur, and it was very interesting to see which tyres the teams selected. The Hockenheimring was a complete unknown to all the teams, and so tyre choice was crucial and unpredictable. Whilst the likes of Alonso, Button and the Red Bulls all changed from softs to mediums, Schumacher and Raikkonen bucked the trend by sticking with soft tyres.
It looked initially as if these two guys had made the right choice. Whilst the drivers on the medium compound slowed slightly, Raikkonen went on a charge, and there began to be rumbles from his Lotus team that a podium was highly likely.
Unfortunately for Kimi, a short burst of excitement was quickly followed by the realisation that the right move was to be on the mediums.
There were some great passes and jostles, but the race really took a significant turn on Lap 33. By this time, Raikkonen’s charge for the podium had subsided, and the race was down to three guys: Alonso, Vettel and Button.
The front three cars had really started to bunch up in the laps leading up to 33, and things got really interesting when the front-runners moved to lap Hamilton.
Both Alonso and Vettel both seemed to have Hamilton lapped, but as the front two began to struggle on weakening tyres, the McLaren man came back at them and really sensed an opportunity to un-lap himself.
For Hamilton it was a case of pride, but for his team it was a real opportunity to play with the front two and bring Button heavily in contention for the win.
The battle was fascinating, and when Hamilton passed Vettel going into Turn 6, the result was completely thrown into the air. Hamilton was ultimately unable to pass Alonso, but he kept his 2007 teammate honest as they took to the winding turns of the German race.
Button pitted first of the top three on Lap 41. His out lap would now be crucial. Could he do enough to leapfrog Vettel and even challenge Alonso?
Vettel and Alonso had their hands forced by Button’s pace and stop, and both men pitted one lap later. Alonso rejoined comfortably in P1, but Vettel found himself neck and neck with Button as he exited the pits. The fight was close, exciting and fair. In the end, Button had done just enough and held on to take P2 as the two cars exited Turn 2.
Button could now sense a victory, and everyone knew that the McLaren had up to this point been much better at tyre management in the final laps.
The next 20 or so laps were great. The top three really bunched up, and although no passes were made or even attempted, it truly was edge-of-your-seat stuff. Ironically, by Lap 60 it was the McLaren’s tyres that were struggling. As Alonso sped off into the distance, Button found himself going from being the hunter to the hunted.
The next six laps were close. It was clear that if Vettel were going to get payback for Canada 2010, he would need to do something very similar on the final lap. As the two drivers took to the DRS zone, it was neck and neck. They entered Turn 6 beside each other with Vettel on the outside. It looked as if Button had position, but Vettel ran off the track and was able to make the pass stick.
Vettel’s car fully left the track, and the stewards were straight on the case. As I write this article, Vettel is still officially classified as finishing second, but it could be a different story this evening.
So the 2012 German Grand Prix was an entertaining one. Fernando Alonso gave the rest of the pack a master class in race management, and although it looked close in the final 20 laps, he was able to control the race from the first corner. Vettel clearly felt very lucky to have finished second, and that may yet be taken from him, and Button’s 2012 season has been knocked back on track after a great Sunday performance.
As we head to Hungary next weekend, Alonso will no doubt be looking for a great finish before the summer break and a pleasing 31st birthday present. It’s up to the rest of the pack to catch him.
Drivers’ Championship Top 3
Constructors’ Championship Top 3
Red Bull Racing 238
1) Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
2) Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault
3) Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes
4) Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault
5) Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber-Ferrari
6) Sergio Perez, Sauber-Ferrari
7) Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP
8) Mark Webber, Red Bull-Renault
9) Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes
10) Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP
11) Paul di Resta, Force India-Mercedes
12) Felipe Massa, Ferrari
13) Daniel Ricciardo, Torro Rosso-Ferrari
14) Jean-Eric Vergne, Torro Rosso-Ferrari
15) Pastor Maldinado, Williams-Renault
16) Vitaly Petrov, Caterham-Renault
17) Bruno Senna, Williams-Renault
18) Roman Grosjean, Lotus-Renault
19) Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham-Renault
20) Charles Pic, Marussia-Cosworth
21) Pedro de la Rossa, HRT-Cosworth
22) Timo Glock, Marussia-Cosworth
23) Narain Karthikeyan, HRT-Cosworth
DNF Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes (ret lap 56)