Formula One: Alonso wins German Grand Prix as Hamilton antics provoke tension
Fernando Alonso drove a champion's race in Hockenheim to extend his lead in the drivers' standings as he withstood immense pressure and became the first man to win three times in 2012.
But while the Spaniard was happy, fellow podium finishers Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button each had a gripe. The German slated a delayed Lewis Hamilton for unlapping himself at the height of his own battle with Alonso, while Button was unhappy with the way Vettel repassed him on the penultimate lap after his tyres had lost their edge.
"We were the fastest in yesterday's wet conditions," Alonso beamed, "and I think that was the key factor today because it was difficult to overtake here. We were not the fastest but we kept the position. We had some good calls from the team on strategy, especially in our second pit stop when we had to react as Jenson pitted.
"We knew it was a long race after that, another 27 laps to end with Jenson putting on a lot of pressure, but the car was good on top speed and traction and I was able to control the tyres."
You wouldn't have put money on a Ferrari victory around the 45th of the 67 laps, however. The Spaniard kept Vettel at bay at the start, ahead of Michael Schumacher, but by the eighth lap Button had charged up to third to challenge them.
Alonso kept the lead after the first round of pit stops, but Hamilton came into play as they prepared for the second. On the third lap of his 100th race the McLaren driver struck debris from a first-lap collision between Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo and fell to the back of the field after limping back to the pits with a damaged rear tyre.
He then embarked upon a 28-lap stint on the harder compound tyre before taking a fresh set of them on the 31st lap. By this point Button was closing in on both Alonso and Vettel. But soon, on his newer rubber, Hamilton was hauling them all in as he prepared to unlap himself. Clearly he was faster than all of them. He overtook Button on the 35th lap, then Vettel, who waved his fist as the McLaren sliced cleanly by in the hairpin.
Vettel's Red Bull team had been up before the race stewards that morning accused of breaking regulations regarding use of throttle maps to influence aerodynamic downforce, but the stewards had allowed the cars to race not because they agreed with the team's explanation, but because the maps they used complied with the wording of the clause they had been accused of breaching.
After all that, it might have been more propitious for the German to keep his head down afterwards. But Vettel has an engaging honesty and spoke his mind.
"That was not nice of him," he said of Hamilton's decision to drive his own race and attack the leaders. "I could see no point of him trying to race us. It was stupid to disturb the leaders. I didn't expect him to attack, so I was surprised when I saw he was side by side with me.
"When he had passed me I saw Fernando defending against Lewis and that helped me to lose some time, which was especially important as we were approaching the pit stops."
Alonso tried unsuccessfully to suppress a smirk. "I didn't feel there was any risk racing Lewis to be honest. I knew he was close and going for it and I had no problems to leave the space.
"I knew he was not in the race and didn't want to risk anything, but I knew it was a good position to have Hamilton between Sebastian and me as we were approaching the next pit stops, so I was happy to try and keep him behind."
The situation resolved itself when Alonso pitted on lap 41, a lap after Button. Vettel followed Alonso in, but when the two rejoined, Button had got between them and the race was on. By lap 45 the McLaren was less than a second behind. But the challenge never happened. Every time he got close, Alonso just managed to eke out sufficient advantage.
"Fernando knows exactly where to use KERS to keep someone behind, not just in the DRS zone but in other places round the circuit," Button said.
Eventually his tyres lost their edge, and with a lap to go Vettel slipstreamed by on the outside going into the hairpin. Button complained that he ran off the track limits to do so, Vettel said he couldn't see where he was and left him room to ensure their safety and avoid contact. The stewards disagreed and applied a 20 second penalty which dropped him from second to fifth.
As Hamilton became the race's sole retirement, on the 57th lap, he said through gritted teeth: "I saw the debris come up and it damaged the rear floor of the car. It felt terrible after that. The only positive from this weekend is Jenson's result."
"It's nice to be back on the podium and get some good points," Button agreed. "This race gives me a lot of confidence and it feels good to be up here.
"We are there or thereabouts at the front again. Our second pit stop was phenomenally quick, and that's what put us in the fight for the win."
F1 German Grand Prix, Hockenheim (67 laps):
1 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1hr 31min 5.862sec
2 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:31:12.811
3 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:31:22.271
4 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:31:27.787
*5 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:31:09.594
6 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:31:33.758
7 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:31:34.832
8 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:31:52.803
9 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:31:54.024
10 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:31:54.751
11 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:32:05.089
12 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:32:17.290
13 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:32:22.691
14 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:32:22.827
15 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1 lap
16 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 1 lap
17 B Senna (Br) Williams 1 lap
18 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 1 lap
19 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 2 laps
20 C Pic (Fr) Marussia 2 laps
21 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 3 laps
22 T Glock (Ger) Marussia 3 laps,
23 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 3 laps:
Not classified: 24 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 56 laps completed.
*Vettel handed 20 second post-race penalty
1 F Alonso (Sp) 154pts
2 M Webber (Aus) 120
3 S Vettel (Ger) 110
4 K Raikkonen (Fin) 98
5 L Hamilton (GB) 92
6 N Rosberg (Ger) 76
7 J Button (GB) 68
8 R Grosjean (Fr) 61
9 S Perez (Mex) 47
10 K Kobayashi (Japan) 33
11 P Maldonado (Ven) 29
12 M Schumacher (Ger) 29
13 P di Resta (GB) 27
14 F Massa (Br) 23
15 N Hulkenberg (Ger) 19
16 B Senna (Br) 18
17 J-E Vergne (Fr) 4
18 D Ricciardo (Aus) 2
19 H Kovalainen (Fin) 0
20 V Petrov (Rus) 0
21 T Glock (Ger) 0
22 C Pic (Fr) 0
23 N Karthikeyan (India) 0
24 P de la Rosa (Sp) 0
1 Red Bull 230pts
2 Ferrari 177
3 McLaren 160
4 Lotus F1 Team 159
5 Mercedes GP 105
6 Sauber-Ferrari 80
7 Williams 47
8 Force India 46
9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 6
10 Caterham 0
11 Marussia 0
12 HRT-F1 0