Sebastian Vettel is currently showing why he is so highly regarded in Formula One. Just five races ago, Vettel trailed Fernando Alonso by 42 points in the Drivers’ Championship. Since the mid-season break, however, Vettel has turned that deficit into a six point lead and is now the favourite to be World Champion for the third consecutive year – a feat only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have achieved in the history of Formula One.
Vettel qualified second for Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix, and after beating his pole-sitting team-mate into turn one was unstoppable. This is his third victory in as many races, and puts him in the lead of the World Championship, a position he looks unlikely to relinquish. Webber’s second place was largely the result of yet another mediocre start from the Australian, and he seemed disappointed with his own performance after the race.
Ferrari had no answer to the pace of Red Bull and had to settle for third and fourth, with Alonso finishing just ahead of Massa. It was the first time this season that Massa has looked quicker in a race than his team-mate, but despite catching Alonso quite easily, the Brazilian dutifully played the part of number two and stayed behind to allow Alonso to take as many points as possible and keep his title hopes alive. Massa’s driving seems to have been transformed in the last five races, and he now looks almost certain to keep his seat at Ferrari for 2013.
McLaren had a day to forget. Button was taken out by an error from Kobayashi under braking for turn three on the first lap, and Hamilton suffered a rear anti-roll bar failure on lap 18 which made his McLaren extremely difficult to drive. Nonetheless, Hamilton showed his enormous skill by driving around the problem and managed to earn a single point for tenth place. Unfortunately for Hamilton and McLaren, any hopes of championship glory in 2012 have now effectively been wiped out. It is still mathematically possible for them to take both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, but they would have to rely on substantial misfortune for Red Bull and Ferrari.
For Mercedes, the race was borderline embarrassing. Despite qualifying both cars in the top 10, race pace was nowhere to be found, as Michael Schumacher struggled to keep his tyres up to temperature. It seems that the tyre management issues of early in the season have not been solved after all. Even Schumacher’s prodigious defensive skill was not enough to keep him in the points, and he finished the race down in 13th place. Nico Rosberg was unfortunate to be caught up in the same incident with Kobayashi that took out Button on the first lap and retired with a damaged radiator. It’s the second consecutive race that has seen Rosberg eliminated through another driver’s error, which will doubtless be extremely frustrating for the young German.
While Mercedes seem to be going backwards, Toro Rosso have made great strides forward, and finished with both cars in the points for only the second time this season. Vergne and Ricciardo made the most of Hamilton’s mechanical woes to finish ahead of the McLaren driver, and earlier in the race made the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher look positively pedestrian. The Toro Rosso was the quickest car in a straight line all weekend, which greatly aided overtaking on the long straight between turns two and three. Vergne finished eighth, just ahead of team-mate Ricciardo.
Perhaps the most impressive drive of the day came from Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who split the Lotus cars of Raikkonen and Grosjean to take sixth place. The drive was further confirmation, if any was needed, of Hulkenberg’s significant talent. There are rumours linking him to a drive with Sauber for 2013, which would be a step towards more competitive results if the team’s form this year carries over to next season.
Raikkonen’s title challenge has more or less faded by now, as he could only manage fifth place and now lies 48 points – almost two race wins – off the championship lead with just four races remaining. Nonetheless, the consistency displayed by the Finn on his return to Formula One continues to be impressive, and he will no doubt continue to be a threat next year. Romain Grosjean is probably the most relieved man on the grid, as he managed to navigate the first lap without incident. The Frenchman has been under substantial pressure to rein in his early-race enthusiasm, and he looks to have made some progress in that regard.
The Drivers’ Championship is now a two horse race, with only Vettel and Alonso realistically in with a chance of title honours. Red Bull certainly appear to have the faster car, and momentum is with Vettel after his three consecutive victories. Nonetheless, Alonso can never be counted out as long as he has a car to drive. Ferrari will be working tirelessly to improve the performance of their car, which should lead to a tense and thrilling last four races of the season.
Sebastian Vettel needed a bit of fortune to put him in touch with Fernando Alonso in the championship fight, and he received just that today. Contact between Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen at the start resulted in a puncture for the Ferrari driver that ended his race in a first corner spin. Vettel won the race from pole position, ensuring that he maximised the opportunity to take points off the championship leader.
Vettel’s drive was masterful, reminiscent of 2011 when he was streets ahead of everyone else. He pushed when he wanted to, although he never really needed to, and finished the race 20 seconds clear of Felipe Massa, who stood on the podium for the first time since 2010. Kamui Kobayashi became the first Japanese driver to feature on the podium at his home race since 1990 by finishing third, holding off the advances of Jenson Button in the final stages of the race.
Romain Grosjean covered himself in anything but glory by causing yet another first lap incident. The Frenchman appeared to be distracted by a Sauber on his outside when he should have been braking for turn two, and hit the Red Bull of Mark Webber, causing Webber to spin in the middle of the track and doing some minor damage to both cars. In the aftermath of the incident, Bruno Senna touched the back of Nico Rosberg’s car, causing damage to the nose and front wing of the Williams and putting Rosberg out of the race with a puncture. Grosjean received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty – the harshest penalty available to the stewards short of disqualification. Considering the frequency with which he initiates pile-ups, Grosjean could find himself out of a job fairly soon if he doesn’t clean up his act.
McLaren had a surprisingly uncompetitive day, with Jenson Button unable to make an impression on the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi in the latter stages of the race. Button finished fourth, ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton complained of understeer in his car throughout the weekend, but found some pace late in the race as the balance of the car improved. After having easily the quickest car at the last four races, Mclaren will be disappointed at not even making the podium, although Alonso failing to score will certainly give them some consolation.
Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher had a competitive yet unrewarded drive from 23rd on the grid to finish 11th, missing out on a point only through some skillful defending by Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne in the closing stages of the race. Although Mercedes did not achieve the results they would have wanted from the weekend, they will nonetheless be reassured by the pace of the car in race trim. Schumacher set the sixth fastest lap of the race and was quick throughout the second half of the race. Rosberg’s race lasted only 22 seconds, but he had made a good start and would probably have scored points if not for the first lap drama.
Alonso’s lead in the championship has now been reduced to just four points, with Sebastian Vettel breathing down his neck in the Drivers’ Championship. Considering the form displayed today by Red Bull and the lack of pace from Ferrari in the last few races, Vettel is now the favourite to take this year’s title and thereby become only the third driver in history to win three championships in a row. Of course, with five races remaining anything can still happen, and a single retirement for Vettel would swing the balance firmly back towards Alonso.
Fernando Alonso has taken his third win of the season with a fairly uneventful victory from pole position in Germany.
After making a good start, Alonso led almost continually to the flag, surrendering the lead for only a couple of laps when he made his first pitstop. Although he never had to defend too vigorously, there was always a challenger close behind. In the early stages of the race it was Sebastian Vettel who was chasing the Spaniard, and then after Button passed Vettel in the second round of pitstops, the Briton kept Alonso honest until Vettel took the place back while he was outside the limits of the track. The stewards ruled that Vettel’s pass was illegal, and he was handed a 20-second penalty after the race was completed, but he crossed the line second with Button close behind in third.
Kimi Raikkonen came home fourth after a fairly strong afternoon that included a good pass on Michael Schumacher. Kamui Kobayashi finished fifth ahead of his Sauber team-mate Sergio Perez, and the pair of them were followed by Schumacher, who struggled for pace over the race distance but managed to collect his 77th career fastest lap. Mark Webber came home eighth after a race in which he lacked performance for no apparent reason. Nico Hulkenberg finished ninth for Force India followed by the second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg in tenth.
Lewis Hamilton was hoping for a strong race in dry conditions after struggling in yesterday’s wet qualifying session, but the McLaren driver was unfortunate to pick up a puncture in the early stages of the race that put him out of contention. He eventually retired his car with 11 laps remaining after providing some entertainment by passing Sebastian Vettel to unlap himself. Despite Hamilton’s tough day the team will be reassured by the pace of the car after a significant upgrade for this race.
There were no points for Williams and Toro Rosso today, continuing the run of bad form both teams have experienced recently. Pastor Maldonado in particular must be wondering what he has to do to achieve decent results – since winning in Barcelona over two months ago, the Venezuelan has not finished in the top ten.
Vettel’s post-race penalty pushes him back to fifth position, giving Kimi Raikkonen his fourth podium of the season, and promoting Kamui Kobayashi to fourth place. Vettel is gradually falling back in the Drivers’ Championship, a situation he will want to remedy in a hurry.
Alonso has now extended his championship lead to 34 points over Mark Webber, with Vettel a further ten points back. Kimi Raikkonen has moved up into fourth place in the table, albeit 56 points behind Alonso.
Formula One now heads to Budapest for next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Alonso will be keen to consolidate his championship lead ahead of the mid-season break, but he will face stiff competition from Red Bull and the resurgent McLarens.
The Valencia circuit has been criticised for providing boring, processional races. Not so this year. The 2012 European Grand Prix was an overtaking fest, mostly due to the high degradation of the Pirelli tyres in the Spanish summer heat. Fernando Alonso produced arguably one of the finest drives in his career to win the race, with Kimi Raikkonen second and Michael Schumacher third for his first podium since returning to Formula One in 2010.
At the start it was all Vettel, as the World Champion rocketed away from Lewis Hamilton at the start, building up a 20 second lead before the first round of pitstops. It was not to be Vettel’s day, however, as his Red Bull coasted to a halt with an engine related issue on lap 34.
Alonso got away well from 11th on the grid to run eighth on the opening lap. Some good overtaking meant he was running third by the time a safety car emerged on lap 29 when an incident between Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen left pieces of wheel, tyre and floor littered all over the track. At the restart, Alonso managed to pass Romain Grosjean to take second, and inherited the lead when Sebastian Vettel retired from the race. Grosjean kept up with Alonso and looked likely to challenge for the lead until his alternator failed, putting him out of the race. From that point, Alonso had only to manage his tyres to the finish, which he duly did to become the first repeat winner of 2012.
Raikkonen finished second to take his third podium of the season. He has been accused of lacking aggression in the early part of the season, but answered that charge with some skillful overtaking, including a classy move around the outside of Lewis Hamilton. Raikkonen never looked in contention for the victory, however, but will be happy with a good haul of 18 points which puts him firmly sixth in the Drivers’ Championship.
Schumacher had attempted to make a one stop strategy work, which meant he was a bit slow in the early part of the race while managing tyre wear. When it became clear that the degradation was higher than expected, the team switched him to a two stop strategy, and he duly unleashed the speed available in this year’s Mercedes. After his second stop, Schumacher was running 11th, but made a late charge, passing several cars to run fifth on the penultimate lap. Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado tangled while they were running third and fourth, putting Hamilton out of the race and taking off Maldonado’s front wing. Schumacher made quick work of the damaged Williams to snatch third place. The podium is certainly deserved after a very difficult start to the season for the illustrious German. In his own words, “For all my boys – we’ve been criticised lately – it’s just the best answer to give, to get on the podium.”
Mark Webber drove an impressive race to finish fourth, after starting 19th. He was Schumacher’s shadow for most of the race, never really looking like passing the German, but never too far behind.
Force India produced their best result of the season, as Hulkenberg and di Resta finished fifth and seventh respectively. It’s an encouraging result for a team that has been steadily improving over the last few races. They will be hoping to carry on that trend at the British Grand Prix in just under two weeks’ time.
The other promising performance of the day came from Caterham. After the safety car, Vitaly Petrov was running tenth until he lost his front wing against the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo. He still managed to finish 13th, ahead of team-mate Heikko Kovalainen. Caterham have been consistently well clear of Marussia and HRT, and fighting with the Toro Rossos. Their first point still eludes the team, but it cannot be far away.
Alonso’s win gives him a healthy lead in the championship, 20 points clear of Mark Webber in second place. After Hamilton and Vettel failed to finish the race, they are now third and fourth in the standings, with Nico Rosberg close behind in fifth. The Lotus pair of Raikkonen and Grosjean are sixth and seventh, followed by Button, Perez and Maldonado.