Fernando Alonso took his third win of the season with a controlled drive to the chequered flag in a German Grand Prix that saw Sebastian Vettel stripped of second place following an illegal passing move on Jenson Button two laps from the finish.
Vettel was in third in the closing laps of the race but running quicker than Button and on the penultimate lap the champion saw his opportunity. He dived down the outside of the McLaren driver’s car in the turn six hairpin at Hockenheim. But as Button defended, Vettel went out over the kerbs and off track to complete the move.
Button was quickly on the radio complaining that the move was illegal and McLaren confirmed that the FIA would investigate.
After the incident Vettel said he had been forced wide due to not knowing how close he was to the McLaren. “I tried to out-brake him, then he released the brake a little bit so he was at the inside and I wasn’t sure if he had given up the corner or not,” he said. “I was thinking ‘he’s fighting for the position’, so I didn’t… I was thinking ‘he’s still there’, which I think he was, and I didn’t want to close and turn in too early, I wanted to leave him some space and obviously it’s difficult to know at that time where exactly he is, so the last thing you want with two laps to go, or one lap to go is to have a crash in both of our positions. So then I decided to go off the circuit to make it safe for both of us.”
Button though was sure he was in the right, stating: “There’s nothing to say really, I think the TV cameras say it all.”
And the race stewards agreed, determining that Vettel had indeed broken the rules. The champion was given a 20-second penalty (a post-race drive through) which dropped him to fifth place. The penalty moved Kimi Raikkonen to third and Kamui Kobayashi, who started 12th, up to fourth.
There were no such dramas for Alonso at the front. Starting from pole position, Alonso made a lightning-quick start to maintain his lead as second-placed Vettel made a slow getaway and was forced to defend hard into turn one as Michael Schumacher closed in.
The champion fended off his compatriot but the move had cost him, and by the time he was headed for turn two Alonso was already through and gone. Further back, Button had made a good start too, passing Pastor Maldonado for fifth spot and was busy focusing his sights on the battle ahead between Schumacher in third and Nico Hulkenberg who had started fourth.
It wasn’t such a positive beginning for Button’s team-mate, Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren driver, starting from seventh, got away poorly and lost several positions. Worse was to come, however. On lap two he sustained a puncture and was forced to crawl back to the pits for a replacement. It meant he would spend the bulk of the race trawling around anonymously at the back of the field. He would reappear later to influence proceedings, however.
At the front, Button was on a charge. On lap eight he muscled his way past Hulkenberg and three laps later powered past Schumacher, who was already suffering blistering on his soft tyres.
That order was maintained through the first stint and into the second phase. But as that period on prime tyres wore on it looked as though Alonso was beginning to struggle. He slowly fell back into Vettel’s clutches and as the gap narrowed to within the time specified for DRS use it looked like there might be a change of position.
In the end there was but it wasn’t for the lead. Hamilton emerged from a pit stop and slotted in behind the leading and in front of his team-mate Button. With fresh tyres and better pace he decided to unlap himself and passed Vettel, much to the champion’s displeasure.
“That was not nice of him,” said Vettel. “I don’t see the point why he’s trying to race us. If he wants to go fast he can drop back, find a gap and go fast there. But it’s a bit stupid to disturb the leaders. He was a lap down so I don’t see the point anyways.”
The confusion meant that Vettel slipped back and Button closed in. The McLaren driver then made his final stop and the front pair blinked, covering the Briton on the next lap. It wasn’t a quick enough response from Red Bull Racing, however, and as Vettel hit the pit lane exit after his stop, Button was already past and gone, in second place. That looked being the end of matters, especially as Vettel then seemed to drop back and Button began to pressure Alonso.
The Spaniard was not for moving, however, and eventually Button’s charge fizzled as he found himself suddenly busy with the ultimately unsuccessful challenge of Vettel.
Alonso cruised to the flag, taking his third win of the year and seizing firm control of the Drivers’ Championship. He now sits on 154 points, 34 points ahead of Mark Webber, who finished eighth.
“It was tough, definitely,” said the title leader afterwards. “I don’t think it was an easy race because maybe we were not the quickest on dry conditions. But we were quite competitive, enough to maintain the lead.
“Also there were some good calls by the team in terms of strategy in the first stop and then obviously in the second stop when Jenson pitted. We had to react, Sebastian and me. After that it was a long race, 27 laps to the end with Jenson putting a lot of pressure, but the car was feeling good, so it was enough to keep the lead into Turn Six. And then after that it is not possible to overtake in the last sector, so you try to control the tyres and, a little bit the race.”
Further back, Sergio Pérez, put in a great driver to climb from 17th on the grid to finish sixth. Schumacher finished seventh and with Webber eighth, the final points positions were claimed by Nico Hulkenberg and Nico Rosberg, who rose from 21st to tenth.