Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Germany 2012 - What We Learnt

By Jem Ruggera and David Galton-Fenzi

McLaren are back...?

McLaren looked to have genuine dry weather pace in Germany, which must come as a mighty relief to everyone at Woking, let alone the drivers of the MP4/27. For Jenson Button, it meant he had the car beneath him to convert sixth on the grid to second by the end of the race. The major upgrade package the team brought to Hockenheim introduced modified side-pods and exhaust, and they demonstrated speed superior to that even of the Red Bull.

This was amply demonstrated when we had the rather curious spectacle of a car unlapping himself. For Lewis Hamilton, the pace of his car meant nothing. He suffered a puncture after he, like most of the field, drove over the wreckage of a first-lap incident. Three-wheeling back to the pits Hamilton was talking retirement, but the team sent him out again just as the leaders passed the pit exit. On fresh tyres he was clearly faster than Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso who were running 1-2, and quickly caught the current world champion. At this stage many were wondering what the rules had to say on the subject of unlapping oneself. The rules said go for it, which the Briton duly did, cutting down the inside at the hairpin and grabbing the outside line into Turn 7. Vettel, clearly aggrieved that a lapped car was getting between him and Alonso, gesticulated wildly but conceded the corner.

After the race, Vettel complained, "That was not nice of Lewis. I don't see why he was racing us. If he wants to go fast he should drop back and find a gap. It was stupid as he was a lap down." What was stupid was that he tried to block Hamilton at all. Lewis was clearly faster, let him past, and get on with the job at hand, namely, trying to win the race. There are shades of Malaysia to his outburst. At that Grand Prix, Vettel made a complete hash of his attempt to lap Narain Karthikeyan, clipping the HRT’s front wing as he attempted to pull back on the line. After the race, Vettel called accused Karthikeyan of being a cucumber, although it was clearly the Germans fault. To add insult to injury, it was the innocent Karthikeyan who got a penalty!

It was another of those small reminders that Vettel, though a very, very fast driver, doesn’t have the same controlled on-track temperament of the other double champion out there. The one, it must be remembered, who won the race.

Speaking of...

In a world where all new discoveries and known scientific facts are constantly scrutinized and debated, whether it be the confirmation of the much theorized Higgs Boson, or the (subsequently incorrect) findings that neutrinos may have been going faster than the speed of light, it was nice to be reminded over the weekend that some things never change..... and he drives a Ferrari.

The new universal constant - Fernando Alonso

Alonso’s searing pace on Saturday left scorch marks in the sodden track as the rest of the field clambered over themselves trying to keep up. His Ferrari’s wet weather prowess already well proven in Malaysia and then again two weeks ago in the quagmire that was Silverstone qualifying. But unlike Silverstone, where he was eventually hunted down and passed in a dry race, Hockenheim validated Alonso’s claim to the 2012 throne as he delivered another faultless display to take maximum points.

On a day that promised the head to head between Vettel and Alonso we’ve been yearning for all year, I guess we got it, kind of, but it was hardly the wheel banging confrontation we all hoped it would be. Alonso was markedly assured pulling out from Vettel in the early stages, before doing just enough to keep a faster-at-the-time, lapped Hamilton behind.Then completed the day's lesson by driving away from a rejuvenated Jenson Button to put the result beyond all doubt.

At the halfway stage of the year Alonso has a very respectable championship lead of 34 points. Worryingly for the rest, and against the grain of current perception, he actually hasn’t managed to maximize his car every weekend. In Monaco the team were so preoccupied with jumping Lewis Hamilton in the pit stops they failed to notice everyone else struggling to turn the primes on, and missed a golden chance for Alonso to leapfrog everyone and win the race. Montreal saw their strategy gamble fail spectacularly as Alonso slid down the order on his rapidly disintegrating Pirellis. Like them all, he can recount tales of woe and lost points, but where does that leave us as we head to Hungary?

Can Lotus learn how to use their pace on a Saturday? Are McLaren back for real? What will happen about Red Bull’s torque mapping conundrum and how will it affect them? These are all questions to be answered in the second half of the championship, but I’ve one more, and this I pose to you directly.

What if Massa is still the same driver he was before his accident in 2009 and the team orders scandal from exactly two years ago? What if his slump is not a slump at all, but rather it’s the man on the opposite side of the garage so completely transcending his machinery to make Massa look entirely second rate? I don’t suppose we’ll ever truly know the answer, but we do know one thing;

Alonso is on form, and everyone else should be afraid.

And doesn’t he know it!

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