Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won, rather easily, from pole at the 2012 Grand Prix of Germany — on a track that finally dried out — with Jenson Button 2nd after Sebastian Vettel’s pass was deemed illegal by the stewards and the German assessed a 20s post-race penalty. Fernando now leads the World Championship by 34 points over Red Bull’s Mark Webber (8th at Hockenheim), becoming the only driver to win three Grands Prix this season. Oh, and Michael Schumacher, starting 3rd and finishing 7th, posted his record 77th fastest lap, and the first for the seven-time German champion since Brazil in 2006.
Alonso was never very far in front but was always able to stay just far enough ahead of first Vettel and then Button to ensure they could not use their DRS overtaking aids to pass him into the hairpin at Turn 6. It led to a tense grand prix in which the identity of the winner was always in doubt until Alonso took the chequered flag.
Fernando Alonso may have taken a flawless win from pole to chequered flag but this was anything but a procession in Hockenheim – the Spaniard simply kept just ahead of the controversy. Behind him the crowd was in thrall to multiple overtakes and in a thrilling finale to a gripping race, Sebastian Vettel went past Jenson Button on the penultimate lap with a manoeuvre in which the German had to go off the track and in doing so put the final standings in doubt.
It pushed Button from second to third and provoked both drivers to claim they were in the right, leaving a pregnant pause across the paddock as the stewards investigated the incident until, two hours later, Vettel was given a 20-second drive-through penalty, demoting him to fifth and a rightly vindicated Button back to second.
Button was blunt afterwards, convinced that Vettel had left the track. When asked about the incident and having watched a replay immediately after the race, he was clearly confident the decision would go his way, commenting only that: “There’s nothing to say really, I think the TV cameras say it all.”
Vettel made the case that he was just giving his rival room. “I didn’t want to close and turn in too early, I wanted to leave him some space,” he said, adding: “So then I decided to go off the circuit to make it safe for both of us.”
But the TV cameras did say it all and the stewards concurred – Button had his first podium since China and was happier to expand. “I drove into the pits and they were just putting on the replay,” he said. “You could see that he overtook me off the circuit and he got such a good exit because he knew he could drive off the circuit.”
While Alonso, the centre of a team orders controversy when the race was held here in 2010, kept out of it all with a consummate, error-free drive, behind him there had been much ado. Button had powered off from sixth on the grid and, 11 laps in, passed Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg and Michael Schumacher to go third, to the elation of McLaren, watching the upgrades that they brought to Germany having full effect. Having taken second place from Vettel during the last stops, Button looked to be in a fight to the finish with Alonso.
Yet the Briton lost his grip at the death and fell into the clutches of Vettel, who went round him at turn six. Button squeezed the German wide and, immediately aware of what had happened, told his pit crew: “He just passed me off the circuit”. A call that was confirmed several hours later. Vettel had already tangled with the other McLaren of Lewis Hamilton, and he claimed that fed into his tussle with Button. An early stop after picking up a puncture on debris had effectively ended Hamilton’s challenge and he retired ten laps from the end, but not before he was lapped under blue flags by Vettel. On fresher rubber, he promptly unlapped himself. A legal move but one that the team principal, Christian Horner, thought was unnecessary and that cost his driver a full second.
“It’s a bit stupid to disturb the leaders,” Vettel said afterwards. “I think that potentially lost us the position to Jenson.” But while it might have been enough to help Button past, his team’s 2.31-second pit stop, the fastest ever, was just as crucial. Hamilton, in turn, insisted that he was just racing. He said: “I don’t think I’ve made any silly decisions throughout the race. I never give up, so I’m not going to back off and let everyone past me when I’ve got the pace to go past the guy in front.”
It had not been Red Bull’s day, then; perhaps they had used up their luck before the race when cleared by the letter of the law, but no more, of an FIA charge of using engine mapping. While McLaren will leave buoyed by the pace of their car, Alonso goes to Hungary on top of the pile. As the first driver to gain three wins this season, with a 34-point lead in the championship at the halfway point, he is the man on track who steers clear of trouble and has put his nose in front for the title.
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