The German Grand Prix seems to have been a real crowd pleaser because it gave us three of the top F1 drivers all in closely matched cars and it came down to a straight fight on the track. It was driver versus driver and that’s what F1 fans want to see.
As with all the best F1 races it is the details that make the difference; for example the tyre warm up up issue on the Ferrari meant that even though Alonso managed to jump Hamilton for the lead at the second stop, he couldn’t resist him in Turn 2 when the McLaren driver on his second lap on new tyres, attacked.
All three drivers made fascinating comments after the race, trying to work out what the race means in terms of the relative competitiveness of the cars. So which is the quickest car in F1 now?
It’s a curious season in many ways because on the one hand Red Bull has dominated qualifying and hasn’t been beaten to pole in 10 Grands Prix, while Sebastian Vettel has six wins and a huge lead in the championship, which indicates Red Bull dominance.
But on the other hand most of the ten race days have been competitively fought out with Hamilton winning China and Germany, Vettel under intense pressure at the end of the race in Barcelona, Monaco and Canada (where he lost the win to Button) and then in the last two races, Red Bull has been beaten on race pace by Ferrari and now McLaren. As Mark Webber said, “Sunday’s are more of a handful for us at the moment. I think we were more dominant last year than we are this year. It’s just that we always put things together and we’ve always been there at the end. Seb had a good run, but close victories, not winning by twenty seconds.”
This is undoubtedly true; Red Bull had a bigger race day advantage last season. This year Vettel has used their undoubted qualifying advantage as a platform for his six wins and three second places and he’s managed it very well. But the performance gap from Saturday to Sunday, where they lose the edge they get from engine mapping and the DRS wing is becoming more pronounced relative to McLaren and Ferrari.
Lewis Hamilton was bemused by his car’s competitiveness this weekend. There were a few updates on the car and a lot of work was done on braking by McLaren with new brake ducts and changes of brake disc material to give Hamilton what he needed to nail the key braking zones of the Nurburgring. The three changes of engine map rules from Canada to Valencia to Silverstone and then Germany has also complicated their life more than the others, it seems. But the new standard clearly suits them,
“We didn’t really think we would be so fast and I’m not quite sure what we’ve done, because we’ve not really brought much here. I don’t know if it’s the conditions. I think we were competitive in Montreal and in Monaco and in Valencia, in hot temperatures, we are less competitive. We obviously went to Silverstone with the rule changes which was a big problem for us, and then we come back here to where we were, really, in cool conditions. I think we’re there or thereabouts but I do still feel that the overall performance of the two guys here, particularly the Red Bulls, is slightly better than ours.”
How much of Sunday’s win was about the McLaren and how much was Hamilton? There does seem to have been an element here of Hamilton being inspired. He outperformed team mate Button comprehensively and seemed afterwards to suggest that he had been on a mission to put right some of the things which had been said and done in recent months, “My Dad always told me when I was growing up to do my talking on the track and it is very difficult to stick with that because sometimes you want to let off steam off the track, which I have. But today I did all my talking on the track.”
As well as soaking up criticism of his aggressive driving, he has also been publicly critical of the team’s tactics and lack of development, “letting off steam” in a different way. And then there was his meeting with Christian Horner which didn’t help team morale. He described this win as “payback” and clearly means that on a number of levels, including perhaps paying back the team as a kind of apology.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh has taken all this in his stride and was quick to praise his driver on both Saturday and Sunday nights for performances which exceeded anyone’s expectations, “What can I say? Lewis was perfect in qualifying and perfect in the race, and the result was perfect too,” Whitmarsh added.
Mark Webber took pole position for the second race in a row, but again lost out to a rival both at the start and at the chequered flag. The starts are becoming a real problem for him, he’s lost 13 places on aggregate now over 10 races, but the race pace wasn’t there and neither was the tyre life,
“We weren’t quick enough today,” he said. “I did everything I could. I was happy with how I drove. I think these guys just had that little extra margin when they needed to do it, especially at the back part of the stints. A little bit more range and that made us a little bit exposed on strategy.”
Webber stopped two laps before Hamilton and Alonso first time around and at the second stop he came in a lap before Hamilton and two before Alonso. Red Bull has tended to anticipate stops this season, but lately they have appeared to be taking a little more out of the tyres than the other two teams on Sundays.
Red Bull is the more consistent car across the different kinds of tracks and different weather conditions, whereas the McLaren works better than the Ferrari in chilly conditions and vice versa. Part of this is getting the front tyres warmed up quickly in qualifying and straight after a pit stop, something which the Ferrari doesn’t do as well. This was decisive yesterday in Hamilton’s battle with Alonso, as the Spaniard admitted,
“One thing that we maybe missed this weekend,” said Alonso, “In the pit stops, when we were very close to overtaking them, especially the second pit stop when I was first in the first corner and I lost the position in the second and in one lap I think I lost two seconds so the warm-up on the out lap was very, very bad, so that’s something that we need to keep working on.”
Alonso is deligthted that the Ferrari has now been competitive on three totally different types of track; Valencia, Silverstone and Nurburgring and he has a win and two second places to show for it.
He’s clear what is required for him to have any chance of fighting for the title and that is a continuation of what we saw yesterday, with two strong teams taking points off Red Bull, “If we have a small chance to recover the gap in the championship, if we do races like today, we are on the podium and he (Vettel) isn’t,” said Alonso.
“To have that combination in our case, we need the best possible performance from our teammates, as I said yesterday, in my case, we need the best McLaren performance as well, to see the McLarens very, very strong and taking points from Red Bull.”