Is Fernando Alonso set to ‘go clear’ in the battle for this year’s world championship? There’s no doubt that, on current form, the Spanish four-wheel ‘torero’ is the pick of the field. Sadly, however, his masterly display in the German Grand Prix has taken a back seat to news reports about rule wrangles affecting reigning champion Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull Renault team.
Alonso took his Ferrari to victory on a dry track at Hockenheim last weekend after lifting pole on a wet track, suggesting that he and his Ferrari have emerged as the dominant combination in a season that has taken quite a while to develop any kind of ‘pattern’.
Ferrari team manager Stefano Domenicali was effusive in his praise after the German race.
“It was like a 67-lap qualifying run! I find it hard to remember watching from the pit wall such a tight race from the start to the chequered flag. Fernando was perfect: not one mistake, not one hesitation, pushing to the maximum for an hour and a half. What a driver! The team were also great, managing everything to perfection … We know we still have a lot of work to do, because we are still not the fastest.”
The latter comment was confirmed in a way by the performance of Alonso’s team-mate, Felipe Massa, languishing in the lower order yet again. Is Alonso, as no less a luminary than Musrray Walker suggested at the British Grand Prix, carrying an uncompetitive Ferrari on his back?
At Hockenheim no one seemed to care, most reports focusing on the investigation of the mapping of Red Bull’s Renault engines during qualifying, which FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer found highly suspicious. He noticed, after studying the engine traces, that there were unusual changes in torque output as the driver accelerated in mid-range. That, it was contended, amounted to traction control to limit wheelspin in the wet, and of course all forms of traction control are banned in F1. In addition, Bauer remarked, the map suggested that unburnt fuel was thus going into the exhausts to be ignited there, inducing the ‘hot-blown’ diffuser effect banned after last year’s controversy on this issue.
He referred the matter to the stewards, who could find no rule stating specifically that the relationship between torque output and throttle position had to be linear, even though this might have been intended by the rules.
Red Bull team chief Christian Horner was unrepentant. “There’s no clause in the regulations that refers to the spirit of the regulations,” he said. “I think that the regulations are fairly straightforward and it’s either in or out and it can’t be a little bit in or a little bit out.”
But that wasn’t the last word as the FIA determined to put the issue to the F1 Technical Working Group, which met on Monday and is expected to reword the rules to force Red Bull to back-track before this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
In the race, Red Bull’s reigning world champion, Sebastian Vettel, also fell foul of the stewards. The first incident was when McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton unlapped himself, wrong-footing the Red Bull driver in his chase of leader Alonso. Vettel shook his fist at the Englishman and complained that he had been robbed of victory, but no action was taken as it was accepted that Hamilton was perfectly within his rights.
Then Vettel, after using DRS to get alongside Button on the entry to the final corner before the main straight, overtook on the outside, putting all four wheels off the track. He was handed a 20-second penalty after the finish, dropping him from second place to fifth. Not the best of days for Red Bull…