Fernando Alonso won the 2012 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim after a race-long strategy duel with Jenson Button over the lead. Button would finish only third, as Sebastian Vettel look a late move around the Briton at the hairpin to take second. The German passed Button with all four wheels off the track, and the stewards were investigating the incident at time of publishing. Alonso kept the lead over Vettel from the pole position even as contact between Massa and Ricciardo well behind him strew carbon fiber debris across the track at Turn 1. Somehow, only Lewis Hamilton picked up a shard, causing a puncture and forcing the Briton to limp back to the garage for an early tyre change and plea to simply retire immediately. McLaren kept him out, allowing him to help teammate Button with a later race dice with Alonso and Vettel while Hamilton attempted to unlap himself. His day would end as badly as it began, as he retired with ten laps remaining. Schumacher and Perez provided some entertainment independently of each other as they powered through the field, the former between his three pit stops, and the latter moving up from a poor starting position. Kimi Raikkonen and Kamui Kobayashi completed the top five finishers.
Alonso won pole in a rain-soaked Saturday qualifying, managing to be the last man to cross the line after Q3 ended. Technically, he did not need to be, as nearest rival Vettel was unable to take provisional pole from the Spaniard, though Alonso did improve his time. Webber qualified third fastest, but dropped down to start eighth with a gearbox penalty. That moved fourth fastest qualifier Schumacher up to start third, next to fellow German Hulkenberg. Schumacher nearly did not make it out of Q1, managing a late fast lap to knock out Jean-Eric Vergne instead. As Webber’s penalty moved drivers about a bit, Maldonado started fifth, alongside Button. That Briton out qualified his teammate for the first time all season to start sixth, with Hamilton slotting into the seventh place starting position, next to Webber. Di Resta and Raikkonen rounded out the top ten starters. Rosberg (starting 21st) and Grosjean (starting 19th) had also received a gearbox penalty, while Perez dropped five places from his twelfth qualifying position for impededing Alonso and Raikkonen during Q2.
Rain hampered qualifying, as it did Friday’s practices. Button (1:16.595) and Maldonado (1:27.476) ended the two sessions fastest, with Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher, and Perez completing the fastest five in the morning, while Rosberg, Vettel, Perez, and Grosjean did so in the afternoon. Schumacher provided some excitement, ended the Friday afternoon session early with a red flag, crashing along the barriers. Mercedes had him fully fixed by Saturday morning, the only dry running to be found before qualifying. Alonso (1:16.014) led that session over Hamilton, Perez, Raikkonen, and Webber. Saturday morning saw Button caught out by a late rain shower, leaving the Briton unable to post a fast lap and ending up slowest of the session.
Sunday morning before the race, technical delegate Jo Bauer announced that Red Bull was under investigation for an engine mapping issue. He indicated that the irregularity allowed the engines to “deliver more torque at a given engine speed in the mid rpm range” and that the “new torque map will artificially alter the aerodynamic characteristics of both cars.” However, word came about an hour before the race that no further action would be taken for this weekend, though the stewards disagreed with Red Bull’s explanation. Despite all the rain earlier, Sunday was hot and sunny with perfectly dry conditions for the start, though there were gathering clouds. Just before the formation lap, Lotus radioed that the team members must be very careful to not expose the tyre walls, and therefore the Pirelli color and compound. Only Rosberg, Vergne, Glock, and Pic started on the harder tyre compound.
Clouds periodically passed over the grid as the cars went off for the formation lap and remained patchily there for the race start. The lights went out, as Alonso drove across the track to keep position ahead of Vettel. The top four remained the same through the first turn, but Button took Maldonado into the second turn. Hamilton had a bad start, losing position to Raikkonen. Vettel locked up further in the lap, giving Schumacher a chance to look for a way to take second. They remained in the same order, with Alonso already more than a second ahead as L1 ended. Vettel, Schumacher, Hulkenberg, Button, Maldonado, Webber, Hamilton, Raikkonen, and Di Resta completed the top ten. Into turn one, Massa’s wing bits were scattered across the track after he had run into the back of Ricciardo on the start. The Brazilian pitted, as did Senna and Grosjean. Massa and Grosjean both took new wings and all three went onto the harder tyre. Senna appeared to have gotten something caught under his car indecently of Massa, while Grosjean had gone wide with damage in the hairpin. Meanwhile, Hamilton went wide into the hairpin, looking position to Di Resta. A radio transmission soon showed Hamilton frantically telling the team that he had a problem. He slowed dramatically with a left rear going down and limped back to the pits losing position all the way. His next radio message told the team, “that’s it guys. We should retire.” McLaren sent him back out in twenty-second.
At the front, Vettel had gained on Alonso, getting into the DRS zone within a second of the Spaniard. Further back, Raikkonen pushed Di Resta hard to take eighth from the Scot, as both fought over the position. Just behind them, Perez moved up on Rosberg in a smashing move, then took tenth from Kobayashi a lap later. At about this time, Hamilton continued to radio back to McLaren, suggesting that the car didn’t feel secure. Teammate Button, though, was on the move. He took fourth from Hulkenberg in a neat move at the hairpin. Back at the front, Alonso clawed back a couple of tenths ahead of Vettel, keeping the gap a flat second. Perez, though, continued to show determination, taking ninth from Di Resta with some help from the DRS system.
End L10 (Pit Stops Begin):
Alonso had just over a second on Vettel at the end of L10 while Vettel, Schumacher, Button, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Webber, Raikkonen, Perez, Di Resta, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Petrov, Kovalainen, Pic, Vergne, Glock, Massa, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan, Hamilton, Grosjean, and Senna as the complete running order. Di Resta dropped out of the top ten with a pit stop for medium tyres on that lap, with Raikkonen pitting for more softs on L11. Between those two actions, Button jumped up and around Schumacher to take third at the hairpin. On L12, Hulkenberg, Webber, and Rosberg all dove into the pits. The former two went with the mediums while Rosberg took softs.
Alonso’s tyres appeared to be coming into a sweet spot with fuel consumption as he continued to post race fast laps in the lead, nearly gaining a gap of two seconds on Vettel. Maldonado and Kovalainen were the next drivers to pit. Back on the track, Webber’s fresh tyres did not seem hot enough, forcing Webber wide and making it impossible for him to pass Maldonado. Schumacher pitted from fourth on L15, with Petrov in soon after. Schumacher rejoined directly behind Hulkenberg, though he soon took a look around the outside at the hairpin. Raikkonen sat right behind the dueling Germans, pouncing on Hulkenberg as Schumacher passed the younger German into Turn 8.
Even with the warm weather and patchy sun, the track continued to drop in temperature as the race progressed. Leader Alonso pitted at L19 began, rejoining in third behind Button. Button pitted from second for the medium tyre on the next time around, rejoining in fourth behind Kobayashi. Ricciardo also pitted. ON the next lap, as Webber finally pushed past Maldonado, teammate Vettel pitted for the medium tyre as well. Kobayshi was again ahead of the rejoining driver, having not yet pitted. Vettel soon passed him, as Kobayashi seemed almost to let the German through. Raikkonen and Schumacher continued to dice, as the Finn sliced his way by the German. At the end of L21, Alonso led Vettel Kobayashi, Button, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Hulkenberg, Perez, Webber, and Maldonado as the top ten. Only Kobayashi and Karthikeyan (in 22nd) had yet to pit at that point. Alonso had more than three seconds gap back to Vettel. The Japanese driver finally pitted at L23 began. Karthikeyan finished the tally on that lap as well. Around that time, McLaren told Hamilton that his pace was going well, and that they may try to do a one-stop. A later message indicated that it would be technically be a two-stop, with a single standard stop after the early emergency stop for the deflating tyre.
As L25 began, Massa pitted for his second stop after that first-lap stop for damage. Grosjean did as well. At the front, Massa’s teammate continued to lose time to Vettel, as the German moved to a second and a half of the leader. Senna did so on the next lap. As halfway approached, Vettel continued to close on Alonso, gaining tenths per lap. Button in third was also closing, setting race fast laps. However, Raikkonen continued to drop back off Button, sitting nine seconds behind the Briton. Vergne made the first of the second stops on L28. Vettel began bothering Alonso properly around L29, continuing to sit closer and closer behind the Ferrari. A bit further back, Vergne had a bouncing trip across the grass and near the barriers, but managed to make his way back onto the tarmac.
Halfway (End L34)/Seconds Stops Begin:
Hulkenberg pitted for the softer tyre on L32, with Kovalainen also pitting. Hamilton pitted on L33. Rosberg and Petrov both pitted on the next lap. As Hamilton rejoined, he fell into the clutches of the leaders and waving blue flags. At halfway, Alonso still led Vettel by just under a second. Button, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Perez, Kobyashi, Webber, Di Resta, and Maldonado completed the top ten at that point. Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Massa, Vergne, Kovalainen, Petrov, Hamilton, Pic, Grosjean, Senna, Glock, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan rounded out the twenty-four drivers still running. Hamilton had a look to unlap himself, passing a gesticulating Vettel only to have a blue flag waved at him as he shot off ahead of the German.
In a new radio transmission, Red Bull told Vettel that he could not use the high energy KERS. Meanwhile, Schumacher pitted from fifth and rejoined in eighth. Hamilton was soon right behind Alonso, looking to gain back his lap. Though he had been told to complete a one-stop, the dicing between the former teammates would bring Alonso back to Button and McLaren told Hamilton there was “no harm” in passing the cars ahead. At this point, Vettel’s charge to Alonso had fallen short and the German was two second behind the leader. Raikkonen pitted on L39, as did Maldonado and Ricciardo. Di Resta made his second stop on the next lap.
Button stopped for mediums as L41 began in a smooth stop, with Perez and Webber also pitting for the same. Button rejoined in third, as Alonso and Vettel pit at the same time. They returned to the track in the same order, but Button managed to clear Vettel on the German’s stop. Vettel took a look on both sides to attempt to pass Button, but was unable to make his way around. Kobayashi pitted from fourth on L44 for the softer compound. Meanwhile, Button put a massive flat spot on his right front even as he was within a second of Alonso in the DRS zone, information which was soon passed on to Vettel in third. Kobayashi put together a race fast lap even as he took sixth from Hulkenberg. That German pitted as L47 began.
Alonso led Button by .7s, with Vettel 2.3s behind the Briton, then Raikkonen, Schumacher, Kobayashi, Perez, Rosberg, Webber, and Di Resta the top ten with twenty laps to go. Massa pitted on that lap while Ferrari continued to radio Alonso in Italian. Hamilton came in for his third/second stop on L49, as Senna and Karthikeyan also pitted. Hamilton took on more soft tyres and rejoined in sixteenth. Rosberg made his own third stop for fresher tyres on L52, as did Petrov as the track finally heated back up again. At the front, Alonso had eked out a bit more gap, making it a second between he and Button in second with fifteen laps remaining. Schumacher pitted from fifth, rejoining in seventh. Vettel continued to run wide, occasionally bouncing across the grass. Button continued to close gently, waiting for Alonso’s tyres to degrade. Button had an extra couple of laps beyond the Ferrari in which his tyres should remain fast as Alonso’s would begin to go off.
10 Laps Remaining:
With ten laps to go, Hamilton pulled into the garage to retire from sixteenth. Maldonado also pitted, but he rejoined shod with the medium tyre. Alonso and Button’s strategy duel continued as Ferrari told Alonso to push hard, and McLaren Button that the win was still possible. Button, however, lost time as the laps progressed both to Alonso ahead and Vettel behind. When just five laps remained, Vettel was just over one second behind Button, but with four to go, Vettel had gained three tenths on the Briton. Further back, Schumacher was closing on Perez for sixth. Vettel continued to close on Button, with just a half second between them and two laps to go.
Under the DRS, Vettel looked around the outside into the hairpin, forcing Vettel well wide. Still, it wasn’t enough as the German took second by slinging around Button outside the white line. Button fought back but was unable to take his position back. Button immediately complained on the radio that Vettel passed him with all four wheels off the circuit, which had happened. Immediately after the checkered flag, the stewards announced that the incident was under investigation. With that scrap, Alonso soon had five seconds over Vettel in second, leaving the Spaniard to take his third win of the season. After the race, Button informed Vettel at the weighing in that he was under investigation. The German responded that he did not know where Button was on the inside and just left him space. A decision will come later in the day.
Final Positions, 2012 German Grand Prix:
Driver Team Gap Pit 1. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 2 2. Sebastian Vettel* Red Bull 3.7 2 3. Jenson Button* McLaren 6.9 2 4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 16.4 2 5. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 21.9 2 6. Sergio Perez Sauber 27.8 2 7. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 28.9 3 8. Mark Webber Red Bull 46.9 2 9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 48.1 3 10. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 48.8 3 11. Paul Di Resta Force India 59.2 2 12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 71.4 3 13. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 76.8 2 14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 76.9 3 15. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1 Lap 3 16. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1 Lap 3 17. Bruno Senna Williams 1 Lap 3 18. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1 Lap 3 19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 2 Laps 4 20. Charles Pic Marussia 2 Laps 2 21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 3 Laps 2 22. Timo Glock Marussiz 3 Laps 2 23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 3 Laps 2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 11 Laps 4