In a fantastic display of pace control, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso held off the competition to win the FIA Formula One Grand Prix of Germany.
"The car was fantastic," the Spaniard said over the team radio. "Tonight we are going to party."
Ferrari was confident all weekend. They held out in practice only to set fast times on their first lap, and Alonso went fastest in a rain soaked qualifying to grab pole. They knew they had a car that could win, but they didn't know it would be this close.
"It was a very tough race," Stefano Domenicali said after the race. "We had good strategy, good teamwork and a fantastic drive from Fernando."
Vettel finished second, 3.7s back, and third place went to Button, 6.9s behind, but the official results changed within hours of the checkered flag. Race stewards ruled that Vettel went too wide on his last-lap pass of Jenson Button and made the pass while he was off the track. He earned a 20-second penalty after the race and fell from second to fifth.
Alonso started on pole and held off Vettel for much of the race, until Button benefited from the fastest ever recorded pit stop of 2.4s to leap frog Vettel during the last round of stops at lap 42.
Button attempted to close on Alonso, but the Spaniard kept the Briton at arm’s length and Vettel reentered the fray with three laps remaining. On the penultimate lap Vettel made a brave pass on the outside of Button in turn six. He went off track at exit, which caught the eye of race stewards who immediately began investigating the maneuver, and later ruled it to be illegal.
Button, the stewards and media mentioned the pass to Vettel after the race, but he defended his move. Vettel said he was in front and tried to avoid contact.
"I wasn't sure where he was. I couldn't see him so I decided to go off line, onto the slippery paint," Vettel said after the race. "The only intention was not to crash and to give enough room...I didn't want to squeeze him on the inside so that's why I opened up."
The only intention was not to crash and to give enough room...I didn't want to squeeze him (Jenson Button) on the inside so that's why I opened up.
Red Bull Team Principle Christian Horner also defended the move.
"I think it's unfair to say he got an advantage from that," he said. "I think it's a racing incident."
Vettel was in front when he went off track, and Button held the racing line. Vettel did not have many options and he felt he had already completed the pass. Until the stewards rule it is hard to speculate what the result will be.
During the first 40 laps of the race Alonso was able to stretch his lead to more than two seconds. As his tires went away Vettel regained much of that time on Alonso, but he never made a move for the lead.
After lap 42 it was Button's turn to take a crack at Alonso's Ferrari. Button got within a half second of Alonso, but every time he got close enough to make a move the Ferrari driver would extend the gap.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, in his 100th race, was the only driver to retire before the checkered flag. He had to pit on lap 3 with a punctured tire, and spent the rest of the race as a back marker. He eventually parked the car complaining of poor handling performance.
“My second-lap puncture was incredibly unfortunate: there was debris scattered across the full width of the track and I didn’t have any option other than to drive straight through it,” Hamilton reported. “What’s more frustrating is that, at the time, I was the eighth car through – so to be the one to get the puncture is just cruel luck. It was immediately clear that my car didn’t feel the same after the puncture. However, after a few laps, I was able to adapt my driving style, and the car had good pace during the middle stint. However, with the damage to the rear, I think we were lucky to get that far, to be honest.”
Hamilton did play his part in the race. He was able to de-lap himself from Vettel at the expense of the Red Bull driver. On lap 35 Hamilton had the fastest car on track. He had fresh tires and Vettel landed in his sites. He made a clean pass on Vettel, which may have been just enough to allow Button to pip Vettel at the next pit stop.
At the same time Vettel also had a malfunction that may have helped Button as well. Engineers told Vettel on lap 36 that the high energy setting on his Kinetic Energy Recovery System was not working.
"You've got to be kidding me," Vettel responded.
By lap 40 Vettel had fallen from less than a second behind Alonso to more than two seconds. On lap 42 Alonso and Vettel pitted, with Alonso getting a jump at the exit, then Button got Vettel going into turn two. Vettel tried to respond, but then settled back to pounce later in the race.
With five laps to go Button was ordered by engineers to change his engine mapping. McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh said they were conserving fuel, and as a result Button began to lose time to Alonso and Vettel. Moments later Vettel made his aggressive move down the outside of turn six.
Sauber's Sergio Perez had an impressive afternoon after being penalized five grid spots for impeding during qualifying. He started 17th and gained 11 spots to finish sixth.
With the end of the German Grand Prix the Formula One championship moves into the second half of the season. Alonso leads the drivers' championship with 154 points, 30 points ahead of his nearest rival Red Bull's Mark Webber. This was Alonso's third victory of the season and has hauled in 22 consecutive point-scoring finishes.
Ferrari has taken the second spot in the constructors' championship. With 177 points, Ferrari is 61 points adrift of Red Bull and 20 points ahead of McLaren. One-half the season is history. The deck is shuffling. This season is wide open and any of the top teams and drivers could win the championship.
Next teams pack up and head to Budapest, Hungary and the Hungaroring for the FIA Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix. Formula 1 cars will be on track again in less than one week. Then we'll enter the silly season as teams take a break in August. Only one thing is certain in this championship. It is shaping up to be extremely unpredictable and entertaining for fans.