2010 German Grand Prix – Click above for high-res image galleryThe Formula One World Championship passed the halfway point with the British Grand Prix two weeks ago, and while Red Bull and McLaren have been the teams to beat of late, several others are showing signs of marked improvement, Ferrari being but one of them. Heading into qualifying for the German Grand Prix, the Maranello squad was telling anyone who would listen that they were in it to the very end. After all, the Scuderia had taken the top step of the podium in the first round of the season and Fernando Alonso was fifth in the drivers' standings.
Of course, there were still two Red Bull drivers and two McLaren drivers ahead of him, none of whom are mailing it in for the remaining nine races. Vettel, Hamilton and Button have each racked up two wins in 2010, and last week's victor, Mark Webber, has posted three. If Ferrari, and Alonso in particular, were going to get back into the hunt, they needed a great showing in Hockenheim. There was good news for the tifosi: Fernando was quickest through much of practice heading into the Sunday feature. Would his speed hold through qualifying? And would Ferrari truly take that big step everyone has been anticipating? Follow the jump to read how things went down.
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[Images: Matthias Schrader, Martin Meissner, Michael Probst, Jens Meyer, /AP | Guillaume Baptiste/AFP/Getty Images]
Qualifying was a nail-biter, with patchy rain leaving puddles in spots around the track. Poor Tonio Liuzi found one of them, which sent his car into the wall. The usual suspects were out in Q1 and Q2 looked much like previous races this year as well. Michael Schumacher found himself less than a tenth of a second out of the running for the pole after being bumped by Nico Hulkenberg. The German crowd would have loved to see Michael regain his championship form, but it was going to be up to one of the other German drivers to make a run for P1.
Q3 turned out to be one of the more exciting qualifying sessions of the year, with the possibility of rain forcing everyone out early to bank a good lap time while the surface was still dry. After Mark Webber put up the early time to beat, Alonso eclipsed it by several tenths to take it away. Nobody else caught him right away, but after a short respite, the pole contestants emerged on the super-soft Bridgestones.
Vettel headed out first followed by Hamilton, Button, Webber, Massa and Alonso. Vettel cranked out a 1:13.791, which Lewis and Jenson couldn't match. Neither could Webber, who seemed to have a bit of a problem on his hot lap. That left the two Ferraris.When Felipe Massa sailed across the stripe, the board flashed P2, but getting a tow behind him, Alonso's time read 1:13.793! So close. Ferrari had to settle for second and third positions, with Alonso just two-one-thousandths of a second behind Vettel. That's a difference of five inches separating the two cars after a 2.84 mile lap around the Hockenheimring.
Liuzzi was back on the grid with his rebuilt Force India racer following his qualifying crash. Vettel was surrounded by red at the front, with Alonso to his right and Massa behind him. Webber was in fourth, looking at the backside of that Ferrari sandwich, and right behind them were the McLarens, waiting for their chance should the front four get too frisky going into Turn 1.
At the start, it was Massa who came out in first. Vettel was a little too aggressive trying to block Alonso and Felipe just sailed around the outside of them. Alonso tucked in behind him for second with Vettel chasing in third. Hamilton got a good launch as well, and sailed into fourth before Buemi, Alguersuari and Sutil collided to bring out the first yellow of the day. A lap later it was Liuzzi and Alguersuari who were making contact. Both pitted and nearly collided again.
While Massa was out front, Schumacher made a great start and was up to eighth, the local hero soon challenging Kubica for seventh. It would be interesting to see if Alonso could challenge Massa for the lead, or if Ferrari would tell its number two driver to step aside. Alonso had been much faster than his teammate all season and still had a better chance at the drivers championship, so it wouldn't be surprising to see that call made, even though team orders had been banned some time ago. But every time Alonso looked to be closing the gap, Massa would put in another fast lap to extend it again. Massa looked as if he were trying prove a point, readying himself for the inevitable by showing he could still lead and win an F1 race in 2010.
Behind the leading Ferraris, it was Vettel, Hamilton and Webber. On Lap 13, Vettel was the first to pit for the switch to the hard tires. He rejoined ahead of Kubica in sixth. A lap later, Alonso came in along with Webber, the latter of whom came back out sandwiched between Rosberg and Kobayashi in ninth. Massa pitted the next time around and stayed ahead of Alonso and Vettel.
If team orders were indeed in effect, Alonso would have to make the pass on track. Massa's cold tires could easily mask any deliberate swapping of positions by the teammates, but he held Alonso off a little longer. Behind them, Vettel was closing the gap. After Kubica pitted from fifth, he came out just ahead of Schumacher, who tried entertainingly but unsuccessfully to make a move going into the hairpin.
Button was the last of the frontrunners to stop, giving up the lead and returning in fifth, just ahead of Webber and behind Hamilton. Alonso, meanwhile, was having a tough time passing his sidekick, prompting him to utter into the radio, "this is ridiculous." How long would Ferrari let this stand? Massa set the new fastest lap to shut his teammate up, but Alonso was now being reeled in by Vettel. Or was he? It looked like Alonso was just trying to give himself some clean air behind Massa as the Spaniard took back the fast-lap honors.
Further back, a pair of battles erupted between the Mercedes-Benzes and Renaults, with Rosberg closing on Kubica and Petrov fighting with Schumacher. Just ahead of them was the surprising Pedro de la Rosa, who was battling Hulkenberg for seventh (neither had pitted yet). Even though he was on the hard tires and Hulkenberg was on the softs, de la Rosa
got past at the hairpin with a great move.
The Ferraris traded fast laps as the pair worked through backmarkers, but on Lap 48 Rob Smedley was finally telling Massa very clearly, "Fernando is faster than you. Did you understand that message?" On Lap 49, Alonso finally passed Massa far too easily and Smedley was back on the squawk box, saying, "Okay. Good lad. Just stick with him now."
As Alonso pulled away, Vettel started to close the gap with Massa. Was the Red Bull driver that much quicker? Was Massa just dejected? Or was he slowing to help assure a comfortable safety margin for his teammate?
De La Rosa and Hulkenberg were putting on a good show for thirteenth and soon reeled in Barrichello as well. On Lap 59, however, De la Rosa lost a sizable part of his front wing trying to lap Kovalainen and had to pit for a new nose. Back up front, Alonso was almost four seconds up on Massa while Vettel now had the gap down to just a second behind Felipe. Vettel was much quicker through the circuit's first sector, but Massa made it up through sectors two and three. Vettel pushed until the penultimate lap, when he apparently resigned himself to third and backed off a notch for the final lap.
Alonso took the win, his second of the season, as Massa made it Ferrari's second one-two. Vettel finished third, followed by Hamilton, Button and Webber. Massa barely gave Alonso a hug as they got out their cars, the young Brazilian clearly stung by Alonso's "pass." The win moves Alonso closer to Hamilton in the drivers' race, but the gap remains huge at 34 points and Button, Webber and Vettel still stand between them. The one-two finish also moves Ferrari closer to McLaren and Red Bull Racing in the constructors' championship, but the gaps are still sizable at 92 and 64 points respectively. The circus next heads to Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix on August 1.