• Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column

'Fernando did what Fernando does best'

Karun Chandhok July 26, 2012
Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button were all at their best last weekend © Sutton Images
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The German Grand Prix was a bit of a hark back to the 'pre-Pirelli era' with the top guys locked in a cat and mouse game under supreme pressure but without the dramatic peaks and drops in performance that we've seen at other races. It was great to watch three top drivers with five world championships between them perform at their best - and I do believe we saw all three of them at their best last weekend.

Fernando did what Fernando does best - lead from the front, soak up the pressure, stay error free, play to the strengths of his car and deliver a healthy haul of points. The Spaniard called for a new set of wet tyres towards the end of qualifying and that proved to be crucial in getting pole position and therefore track position over the Red Bulls. The Ferrari has always been good off the line and once ahead into turn one, he never relinquished his lead apart from around the pit stops. It was nip and tuck with Vettel for the opening two stints and the leaders were able to go longer than a lot of their pursuers on the first set of tyres which would buy them time later on in the race.

Towards the end of their second stint though, it all got very interesting as Lewis Hamilton rejoined a lap down after his pit stop on a fresh set of tyres. At this stage, Jenson Button was about four seconds behind Sebastian and running at a similar pace to the leaders. Lewis unlapped himself from Vettel, which is perfectly legal, but the place he did the move and the way Seb had to follow him through the next few corners of the Mercedes arena cost the Red Bull man just under a second which did two things - 1) it meant he was now outside the DRS zone behind Fernando; and 2) it allowed Button to close the gap. Jenson pitted soon afterwards and the McLaren's fantastic 2.3 second pit stop, coupled with a good outlap from the Brit meant that after his own stop, Seb found himself in an effective third place.

Jenson was having his best race in a very long time and the upgraded McLaren was clearly to his liking. Once he moved up into third place in the opening stint, he gently brought the gap to the leaders down to around four seconds and got himself in contention after that second pit stop. Jenson certainly looked quicker than Fernando across the lap, but the Ferrari was quick out of the final two corners and also down the long straight towards the turn six hairpin at the end of the DRS zone so Jenson never really had a chance to challenge.

Seb sat back and looked after his tyres in the early stages of that final stint, maintaining a gap of between 2 - 2.5 seconds to Jenson, which was just enough to stay out of the dirty air. The McLaren man was pushing Fernando all the way but the time spent in the dirty air did enough harm to his tyres that in the final part of the race, rather than being able to attack Fernando, he had to defend against Sebastien. Vettel's move around the outside at the hairpin looked like a penalty waiting to happen and sure enough, he got served a few hours after the race. It's hard to be critical of Seb for having a go, but in hindsight, you wonder if he should've just given the place back straight away.

Kimi Raikkonen had a lonely race in Germany but could be in the mix in Hungary this weekend © Sutton Images
Kimi had a bit of a lonely run to fourth on the road, which became third after Vettel's penalty of course. Starting down in tenth, he picked his way up through the traffic and once he got up to fourth, his pace looked good in comparison with the leaders. Lotus opted to bring him in very early for his first stop, perhaps looking for track position which meant that he had to go quite long in the middle part of the race and dropped away from the leaders. Another weekend where the report afterwards will say "if only we started the race higher".

Mercedes and Force India had to use three stops to manage their tyre degradation but both Michael Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg went backwards from their second row starting positions. Unless they can get a handle on the tyre wear issues soon, the race in the heat of Budapest could be a long one! True to form, Sauber in the meantime went the other way with Kamui and Sergio taking home a healthy haul of points for the Swiss squad who will be hoping for hot weather at every race for the rest of the season.

On to Budapest next where the battle between the top three teams should be well and truly on again. The Hungaroring either has rain storms or stinking hot conditions and if it is the latter, expect Lotus and Sauber to be right in the hunt. There are a lot of Finns who normally make the trip down for the race and I'm sure they will be cheering for a Kimi win!