In a sport as fast paced both on and off the track as Formula One you have to look at last weekend’s German Grand Prix with some skepticism. It just wasn’t a ‘normal’ Formula One race, if you can call any Grand Prix normal. It was, however, an event that had more variables in it than a Bernie Madoff Tupperware party.
The last person in the field that thought he was going to take the checkered flag was Lewis Hamilton, but he did so in grand style. That is to say, with Fernando Alonso a scant 3.9 seconds back. It was a photo finish by Formula One standards. Alonso drove the Ferrari at its absolute limits on the prime tires in the last stint. The last pit stop by the Briton and the Spaniard was the money stop for Hamilton.
Alonso came in one lap after Hamilton rather than push the Ferrari an extra lap or two for a badly needed tenth of a second. When the Ferrari exited the pits it was on cold hard tires just behind Hamilton and the twitching of the Ferrari was evidence that even someone as skilled as Alonso can’t overcome certain challenges.
Why can’t we gather discernable information from the German race? It was cold, threatening rain, the cars were on a new engine mapping strategy, the off throttle blown diffusers were in play again, the teams ran their soft tire allotment until the very last and the conditions suited Hamilton’s car, but not Jenson Button. Button retired with hydraulic problems but it’s a known fact that his style is so smooth he often finds difficulty in getting heat into his tires.
It was a brilliant win by Hamilton.
Will this same scenario repeat itself at the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest? It’s doubtful. The Hungaroring is a much tighter track with higher temperatures and no one came away from Germany with a playbook for Hungary.
It would be easy to say that Red Bull will dominate, after all last year they were one second to the good over anyone else. Times change in Formula One from race to race, not annually. Red Bull had a tough time in Germany with Vettel having an uncharacteristic spin and the pole sitter Webber not being able to pace Hamilton or Alonso when crunch time came.
We know that during the European leg of the Formula One schedule that everyone updates parts, both mechanical and aero, from race to race. Hungary wont be any different other than proving the swashbuckling statements from Ferrari about major changes and the deafening silence from Red Bull Racing. It’s the quiet ones you have to keep an eye on, they bite.
Hamilton is bursting with bravado and hope of some momentum carrying over to Hungary and that’s good, confidence is an integral part of the Grand Prix mindset. On the other hand, none of us actually knows what the teams have planned. This is a different race with different characteristics that will benefit one of the teams more than the rest, we just don’t know which ones.
Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and the entire Red Bull team have to be seething at the thought that they were beaten twice, Silverstone and Germany. That doesn’t do much to chip away at Vettel’s championship lead and Alonso’s cries of “My enemy is thine enemy” really isn’t going to make much difference in the World Championship outcome, but both McLaren and Ferrari are making no bones that they want wins, nothing less will do for the remaining season. What we do know is that the Red Bulls are very balanced cars. What we don’t know is what the McLarens or the Ferrari’s have in store as upgrades and will they work. So far, despite Vettel’s domination, 2011 has been a fascinating season and look for it to be fluid right up to the end.