The German Grand Prix revealed that, unequivocally, Red Bull now have the top car in Formula One. The car was by far the fastest in all three sectors, slow corners and fast corners alike, putting to bed the notion that Silverstone flattered the car during the British Grand Prix weekend. (There remains, however, the argument that the weather conditions, relatively speaking, at Silverstone and Nurburgring flattered the Red Bull. Both weekends were much cooler than hot weekends dominated by Brawn in Southern Europe and Southeast Asia earlier this season.)
The most impressive and perhaps revelatory performances of the weekend were made by the big-name, big-budget teams of McLaren, Renault, and Ferrari. The winners of every driver and constructor championship since 1998 have struggled in the mid-pack- and in McLaren's case, the back of the pack- the whole season, but both teams showed pace this weekend with upgrades indicating they may soon be taking the fight to the two front-running teams.
The most surprising development of the weekend was by far the performance of the McLaren. Electing to massage the car rather than introduce major upgrades in stages, they've struggled in the mid-pack for much of the year at circuits featuring high-speed, high-downforce corners and came nowhere close to matching the development pace of other teams.
The slow corners at Monaco and long straightaways and hard-braking corners of Bahrain flattered their car and allowed it to compete, but the opportunity at Monaco was blown by an awful mistake by Hamilton in Q1 and a wreck by Kovalainen in the race.
McLaren changed their developmental approach for the rest of the year. Bringing forward some new parts which were originally scheduled for Hungary, the team introduced a new front-wing, new sidepods, a new engine cover, a new floor, and a significantly revised double-decker diffuser, of which there was only one (Which was used by Hamilton).
The new approach has already paid off, as McLaren have gained 7-8 tenths of a second on a circuit which serves as a good indicator of the performance of the car. Both drivers made Q3 and had strong pace throughout the weekend, with Hamilton leading two practice sessions.
Both drivers got off to rocket starts, and Hamilton was poised to take the lead and possibly challenge for a podium before Mark Webber clipped his right-rear tire going into the first corner and ruined his race.
Renault showed to be the one team with perhaps the pace to begin challenging Red Bull and Brawn. And like McLaren, they took a big step forward in pace. Fernando Alonso showed tremendous pace in Q1, only to be thwarted by unlucky timing with weather in Q2.
Despite this development, he came from 12th starting spot to score a solid points finish in 7th, all the while setting the fastest lap of the race. Like McLaren, Renault introduced a horde of upgrades this weekend, with a new front wing, a new floor, and a revised diffuser.
Ferrari appeared to gain a step at Catalunya with a big upgrade, yet proceeded to fade to a middling performance in Istanbul. However, both drivers turned in strong performances last race in Silverstone, with each scoring points finishes. Massa came forward from a poor starting position to finish 4th after running a long and fast first stint.
The team introduced a new upgrade this weekend in the form of a modified diffuser, increasing the number of vertical fences. Massa turned in a similar performance to his Silverstone one this weekend, coming from tenth to finish third.
Raikkonen's day was ruined by an under-performing engine that began letting up 14 laps into the Grand Prix, a day that was not improved by his collision with Adrian Sutil in Turn One after Sutil exited the pits.
The hard work and untold (and unfathomable) millions spent this year by McLaren, Ferrari, and Renault to catch the pace set by the flying underdogs of Brawn and Red Bull seem to be starting to pay dividends.
They have already eclipsed the teams of Williams and Toyota, both of whom began the season very strong and shared Brawn's early advantage of a double-decker diffuser. With Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso each saying this weekend that they expect to be challenging for wins soon, perhaps Red Bull and Brawn are next.