Tuesday 20 March 2018

F1: Ice-cool Alonso leaves rivals in his wake with 30th grand prix victory

Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari celebrates on the podium after winning the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring
Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari celebrates on the podium after winning the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring

Tom Cary in Hockenheim

FERNANDO ALONSO did not require his team-mate to get out of his way this time. There was nothing untoward about yesterday's victory.

The Spaniard was in a class of his own, producing a nerveless display from the front to hold off the twin challenges of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and McLaren's Jenson Button.

No fuss, no drama -- just ice-cool driving from a man who, with each passing race, burnishes his reputation as the best in the business.

But if the race was not as contentious as the last time we were here -- when Ferrari's use of team orders led to an existential crisis in the sport and the eventual scrapping of the rule banning them -- it was not without its fair share of niggle either.

Vettel and Red Bull were at the centre of most of it. Having survived a morning inquest from the stewards into the legality of their engine mapping, the Milton Keynes-based team had a less successful afternoon with the officials.

Vettel's 20-second time penalty post-race, for overtaking Button on the penultimate lap while four of his wheels were off the track, dropped the German from second to fifth, with the result that it cost him eight valuable championship points.

The world champion was also a bit off with comments about Button's team-mate Lewis Hamilton, labelling the McLaren driver "stupid" and lacking in "common sense" for having the audacity to race him despite being a lap behind.

It drew a withering retort from Hamilton, who said that the German had "showed his maturity" with his outburst.

Hamilton was not in the best of moods all-round. An early puncture, caused by debris on the track, had relegated him to the back of the field after three laps, his frustration compounded by the fact that after a couple of lean races, McLaren had once again given him a car capable of challenging for victory.

It was a bittersweet weekend for McLaren, in general. Their new upgrade package was an unqualified success, and Button's eventual second place saw him put a dreadful run, stretching all the way back to China in April, behind him.

But Hamilton's pointless afternoon, which eventually saw him retire from the race with gearbox damage 10 laps from the end, badly dented both his and his team's title hopes. Hamilton finds himself 62 points behind Alonso in the drivers' standings this morning, with Button a further 24 points back.

The Woking team desperately need to get back to winning ways in Hungary this weekend, the last race before the summer break.

At least they now look to have a car capable of doing so. They just need some luck to go with it.

A clean start beneath brilliant sunshine, the first time that it had been seen all weekend, saw little change to the running order. Alonso made a lightning start from pole and didn't look back. Twice he looked as if he might be in danger.

First, Vettel closed to within DRS range only for the Spaniard to respond with a series of quick laps. Then Button, who had risen from sixth on the grid and passed Vettel by undercutting him at the second round of pit stops, was able to close to within a second. Again, Alonso responded, as if toying with his rivals.

"Fernando knows exactly, as we all do, how to use KERS to keep someone behind you," Button acknowledged. "I'm a little bit disappointed with that but, all in all, a fun race. It's nice to be back on the podium and to get some good points."

His haul was made even healthier once Vettel was penalised for his penultimate lap move. The German tried to argue that he was forced wide and gained nothing from accelerating on the run-off area, but the stewards disagreed with his interpretation, leaving Button feeling vindicated.

"You could see that he overtook me off the circuit and he got such a good exit because he knew he could drive off the circuit," he smiled.

His team-mate was less happy. Hamilton's 100th grand prix was over almost before it started. "I could have won that race," he said forlornly. "There is just one positive from this weekend, and that is that the upgrades work."

Now he must bounce back this weekend although one suspects the imperious Alonso might have something to say about that.

Thirty years old, 30 grand prix victories. What price a 31st on the Spaniard's 31st birthday next Sunday? (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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