Alonso wins controversial German GP
Hamilton's title hopes punctured as Spaniard leads from start to finish; Button promoted to second after Vettel is penalised for illegal pass
Last Updated: 22/07/12 6:20pm
Fernando Alonso strengthened his grip on the World Championship race with a supreme victory in a controversial and action-packed German Grand Prix.
The Ferrari driver led from start to finish across a riveting 67 laps at Hockenheim, rebuffing first Sebastian Vettel and then Jenson Button after the much-improved MP4-27 snuck past the Red Bull when the German returned to the track at the second round of pit-stops following a record-breaking tyre-change by the much-maligned McLaren crew.
The duo's roles were reversed on the final lap when Vettel found a way past Button - a way that saw all four of the RB8's wheels off the track as it rounded the MP4-27. Despite Vettel's wide-eyed protestations of innocence when confronted by an unimpressed Button after the race, it was a move that immediately looked highly dubious and a stewards' investigation followed.
Two hours later and Vettel's second place had turned into a far less palatable fifth as the stewards ruled that his pass on Button had indeed been illegal and imposed a 20-second time penalty against the German which promoted Button back into second and Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen to the final podium position.
The penalty was also welcome news for Kamui Kobayashi who was confirmed in a career-best fourth best after both he and Sauber team-mate Sergio Perez had earlier impressed to finish fifth and sixth respectively on the road ahead of Michael Schumacher, who again slipped backwards in the under-performing Mercedes.
"I absolutely would penalise Vettel and move him back behind Button"
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle Quotes of the week
Vettel's penalty proved an unexpected sting in the tail for World Champions Red Bull who had earlier only escaped a pre-race penalty when the stewards were forced to concede that they had wriggled through an engine-mapping loophole.
No such controversy surrounded Alonso's 30th career victory, however. Despite never escaping from the close proximity of either Vettel or Button, the brilliant Spaniard remained unruffled throughout and always just far enough ahead to avoid a challenge for the lead of the race. Too quick, too clever, too good.
Too bad, though, for Lewis Hamilton after his McLaren ran over the debris left strewn across the first corner when Felipe Massa carelessly lost the front-wing of his Ferrari at the start of the race. By the time that Hamilton had returned to the track with his puncture repaired, Alonso was a full minute further up the road and the 2008 World Champion was once again facing a race of frustration.
But you can't keep a magnet for controversy out of the limelight for long, however, and Hamilton was launched back into the cut-and-thrust of the battle for the lead of the race when, out of sequence from the frontrunners after his second stop, he found himself tucked up behind Vettel, faster but also a lap down. The response was typical Hamilton as the McLaren driver swiftly unlapped himself, drawing an indignant reaction from Vettel that was repeated in the post-race press conference.
"It was stupid for him to disturb the leaders," complained the reigning World Champion. "That was not nice of him [Hamilton]. I don't see the point why he is trying to race us. If he wants to go fast then he can drop back, find a gap and go fast there."
Hamilton's day of misery ended with a tactical retirement on lap fifty-eight and since winning in Canada he has scored a paltry two points in three races. A pre-break fillip in Budapest next week is desperately required - for his confidence as much as his title aspirations.
The good news, then, is that the prospect of a McLaren victory is back within the realms of possibility with the MP4-27 a full match for both the Red Bull and Ferrari throughout the race and Button very nearly pulling off an unlikely victory until overcooking his tyres towards the end of his final stint.
"I had to push hard to try and catch Fernando, which meant I had nothing left for the end of the race," the 2009 World Champion reflected. "We pretty much ran out of rubber two laps before the chequered flag."
But after enduring arguably the worst slump of his career, Button was back to his stylish best this weekend, his quest for victory amounting to a finely-judged three-pronged attack interspersed between his two pit-stops: stage one) overtake Nico Hulkenberg and Schumacher to follow in the wake of the two leaders; stage two) pass Vettel for second, under-cutting the Red Bull with a faster lap on fresh rubber and an ultra-fast pit-stop that saw McLaren set an unofficial world record; stage three) overtake Alonso for the lead of the race.
Close but not quite - and trust Alonso to be the only fly in the ointment as Button finally rediscovered the zip that saw him take victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
McLaren are back, but it is Ferrari's resident genius who remains out in front.