Alonso achieving Pirelli tyre consistency in third win
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso controlled the race from pole to win at Hockenheim’s German Grand Prix, securing a third victory this year, and beginning to suggest that he is the man most ready to tame the unpredictability of Formula One. Since the season began, seven different drivers have finished first; with half of the 20 scheduled Grands Prix completed, Alonso leads the only other multiple race winner, Red Bull’s Mark Webber, by 34 points – more than a race victory. Webber, victorious two weeks previously at the British Grand Prix, “just found himself slightly out of that sweet spot with these tyres” according to Red Bull boss Christian Horner. The team principal also suggested that the reduced time for dry running in practice had impeded Webber’s Hockenheim preparations. The Australian was 47 seconds off Alonso’s pace, finishing eighth.
The victory also represented Alonso’s 22nd consecutive points finish. The Spaniard used a two-stop strategy to control the race, only conceding the lead when he made his pit stops. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel passed McLaren’s Jenson Button with two laps to go to claim second place, but was later demoted to fifth after being penalised 20 seconds for taking a distinct off-track approach to rounding Button. Though Horner told broadcasters that the team thought the move was justified by Button’s track position exiting the bend, his rather sheepish defence focused more on the severity of the penalty, giving Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus the bottom step of the podium and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi fourth.
Vettel also labelled Lewis Hamilton’s move against his Red Bull to un-lap himself “stupid”, though the McLaren driver was running faster on fresher tyres following a puncture that effectively wrecked his race. The move was perfectly legal – indeed, Pirelli held up Hamilton’s pace as an example of the importance of being “on the right tyres at the right time – and Vettel’s strong reaction was tempered by Horner’s admission that it had been frustrating for the team. In what was an unpredictable season, it appears cool-headed Alonso’s major challengers from Red Bull continue to find attempts to make the best use of Pirelli’s tyres, and the ability to control a notoriously hot temper obstacles in keeping up with the leading Ferrari.
Tyre strategy “flexible” after damp practice
After a wet qualifying session, the drivers were given free choice of starting on the P Zero White medium or P Zero Yellow soft: the two compounds nominated for the German Grand Prix. The top 10 qualifiers, led by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, all started on the soft tyre with just five cars starting on the medium: the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi, the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg (who started 21st on the grid following a gearbox change penalty) and the two Marussias of Timo Glock and Charles Pic.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “The teams had to take quite a flexible approach to their strategies, with so little dry running up to today, and as a result we saw a wide variety of ideas and tactics coming into play.”
The race got underway in ambient temperatures of 21°C, with the teams having limited information about the slick tyres at Hockenheim following two days of intermittent rain. This meant however that most drivers had their full allocation of practically unused soft tyres available, which had only run in the final free practice session on Saturday – as well as in the first qualifying round for some teams.
“The strategies meant that we saw an extremely finely balanced race,” said Hembery, “with the leaders rarely separated by more than a handful of seconds. With 20 laps still to go the top three were covered by less than three seconds and it stayed close to the end.”
Alonso held the lead from the beginning, while pit stop strategy gained Jenson Button a place on his third and final stop on lap 40, when he pitted a lap earlier than Alonso and Vettel for his final set of mediums. The two leaders reacted by pitting one lap later for the same compound, but Button’s lap in the meantime was fast enough for him to displace Vettel into second. Vettel passed Button with a dramatic, but illegal, move in the closing stages, which eventually cost him three places.
The top six all adopted a two-stop strategy, with Michael Schumacher, who made a late stop for soft tyres, the highest-placed three-stopper in seventh – having also set fastest lap. His team mate Nico Rosberg also used a three-stop strategy to make up 11 places and finish 10th, taking the final drivers’ point.
“The majority of teams opted for a two-stop strategy, running their two final stints on the medium tyre. The last stint was particularly crucial, with the drivers having to look after their tyres carefully in order to ensure consistent performance all the way to the finish. The top three drivers all showed great determination to maximise the potential of the medium tyres to the end.”