Nurburg – Fernando Alonso finished the German Grand Prix in fourth place for Scuderia Ferrari, while his team-mate Felipe Massa had to retire on lap 4, when he spun off the track and the engine on his F138 stalled. The race was won by Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull, who was flanked on the podium by the Lotus duo of second placed Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean in third.
When the lights went out, the two Red Bulls ambushed pole man Hamilton in the Mercedes so that Vettel immediately led from Webber, with the Mercedes now third ahead of the two Lotuses of Raikkonen and Grosjean. Next was Felipe who jumped Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso to take sixth, while Fernando was up one place to seventh.
Everything appeared to be going smoothly, but then Felipe had a spin at the first corner on lap 4, with the car stuck in gear and the F138 stalled, putting an end to the Brazilian’s race. The yellow flags from Massa’s incident appeared to prompt some very early pit stops with Di Resta and Vergne coming in on that lap, while Button and Ricciardo came in on lap 5, with Hamilton stopping on lap 6. Next time round, the leader Vettel pitted.
Lap 9 saw a dramatic incident as Webber pitted and was released, although one wheel had not been secured properly. It bounced dangerously down pit lane and hit a TV cameraman. Webber obviously had to stop in pit lane and was pushed back the garage, after which he was able to rejoin.
Lap 12 saw Fernando come in from second place, a late stop as the two Ferrari men opted to do yesterday’s Q3 on the harder Pirelli compound in order to use them to run a longer first stint today. However, the hotter weather completely changed the relative performance of the two types of tyre and nullified the strategt advantage the Scuderia had hoped for. He took on another set of Mediums and dropped down to eighth.
Grosjean pitted next lap and that eventually moved him up from fifth to second place and lap 14 saw the internal Mercedes battle go in favour of Hamilton as he made a hard move stick on Rosberg. Next it was Raikkonen’s turn to pass the German. Grosjean was flying and catching the leader Vettel, while in eighth place, Fernando was now right behind Rosberg, and he was 4 seconds off Raikkonen, on a similar strategy to the Ferrari man.
Gradually, the man from Oviedo was moving towards the front again and by lap 18 he was right behind Hamilton and Raikkonen and on lap 20 he nearly passed the Mercedes at the chicane and had another abortive attempt down the straight. There was more side by side action, until the Englishman pitted on lap 22, putting Fernando fourth behind Raikkonen.
Lap 25 saw the race neutralised, as the Safety Car came out, because Bianchi’s Marussia was parked on the side of the track, on fire. After the driver got out, it also started rolling down the hill, thankfully coming to a halt in a safer place. Lap 29 and the race was on again with the order Vettel, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Alonso in fourth, Button and Hulkenberg – these last two having stopped just once so far - with Hamilton seventh, followed by Maldonado, Perez and Sutil completing the top ten.
While the top three were lapping in the 1m 35s, Fernando was doing 1m 36s and dropping to 1.6 behind Raikkonen. The race order remained unchanged for a while, until Grosjean pitted for a third stop on lap 40, so that Raikkonen now led from Fernando by 3.2 seconds, with Button, who had still only changed tyres once, in third ahead of Hamilton, Vettel and Grosjean. Hamilton and Vettel were wheel to wheel on lap 44 until the German got past to take fourth place, the Englishman pitting on the next lap for a third and final time.
Button brought the McLaren in for his second stop on lap 47, which meant that Vettel, who was lapping very quickly at this point was now third behind Fernando, albeit 10 seconds down, however as Fernando had only used the Medium tyre so far, he was committed to make a third and final stop to ensure he legally used both types of slick tyre.
Raikkonen had to do the same and both men came in on lap 49, which meant that with ten laps of the 60 remaining, Vettel and Grosjean now occupied the top two places, with Fernando fourth behind Raikkonen. Lapping faster than the Finn, the Spaniard who never gives up sensed third could be in his grasp if the Lotus faltered and he banged in a race fastest lap on lap 51 with the gap between them standing at 3.2 seconds, then 2.7 on lap 53. It was to be the outright fastest lap of the race.
On the quicker Option tyre, Kimi managed to pass team-mate Grosjean to take second place on lap 55, so Fernando was now 1.4 behind the Frenchman, but would he be able to catch and pass him in just five laps? Lap 56 and the gap was under a second, with the Ferrari man running six tenths faster and within the permitted gap to use the DRS to help overtaking.
But in the end it was not to be and the battle right at the front was equally exciting with Raikkonen catching Vettel, again to no avail. One last minute change saw the battle of the Brits resolved in favour of Hamilton who managed to pass Button on the 60th and final lap to take fifth.
Stefano Domenicali: “Given the current state of play, I think today’s result is the most we could have achieved and I don’t think the strategy had much of an influence on the outcome of the race. Wanting to see the glass as half full, the points we have picked up at this point in the season are very important.
The variable temperatures we saw today produced different performance levels. This turnaround confirms yet again how difficult it is for everyone to interpret as well as possible the true competitiveness of the car-tyre package at every track.
Looking ahead, now it is vital that we optimise the performance of our car, just as our rivals have managed to do, because we want to get back to fighting for the top places as soon as possible.
In Hungary we will have different tyres and it will be important to understand their behaviour right from the test at Silverstone, in two weeks time. At the same time, we will try to change pace on our development work, an area where we need to push hard”.
Fernando Alonso: “This was a difficult race, we weren’t very quick and at some moments we were not competitive enough. In the first stint, we paid the price for being on used tyres, because by lap twelve they were already finished, which cost us some of the advantage we hoped to gain from our strategic choice.
Even if we were hoping to finish on the podium, finishing less than eight seconds off Vettel after starting eighth is an encouraging result. The team is doing its utmost to make the car more competitive and after tackling a few races without being too sure about our updates, today we can claim to have cleared up many of our doubts and to have understood which are the areas we must concentrate on to move the development forward.
When we arrived here on Thursday, the Silverstone test did not seem that important, because the race drivers were only meant to be testing the tyres, but having heard what the FIA had to say, it’s been confirmed that we can test updates and this makes it a much more sensible proposition. If I get the call from the team, I’m ready to go”.
Felipe Massa: “I am very disappointed with what happened, especially after the rest of the weekend had gone well. At the start of lap four, when I was on the straight, at the moment when I braked, the rear wheels locked up and I couldn’t stop the car from spinning. When the car came to a stop, it was stuck in fifth gear and I couldn’t stop the engine from stalling.
It’s very odd that it got stuck like that, even if so far, the team has not seen anything unusual. The Mediums did not have the pace we expected after Friday’s free practice, but maybe other factors, such as the higher temperatures, came into play and made the difference. Now I want to focus on the next race when I plan to do my utmost to turn things around”.
Pat Fry: “Today’s temperatures and track conditions, different to those we saw over the past days, had a strong influence on the performance of the various teams. In our case, I don’t think the final result would have been different if we had opted for the opposite strategy, because, starting from fifth or sixth on the Softs, our position in the end would have been the same.
Our pace on the soft compound was better than expected, when one considers that it’s particularly sensitive to the higher temperatures, while the degradation of the Mediums was higher than expected and caused us a few more problems in balancing the car and that spoilt our first stint.
I am sorry for Felipe, who had made another great start, but unfortunately he locked up the rear wheels under braking and spun, possibly because of the lack of grip. Fernando managed to get the most out of the car, always trying to attack when possible.
It was a shame to miss out on the podium in the end, especially as the speed of the Red Bulls and Lotuses was not that much higher than ours. Now there are two weeks before the next round in Hungary, during which we will be pushing as hard as possible to close the performance gap which separates us from the leaders”.