x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Fernando Alonso wins German Grand Prix for Ferrari

The Spaniard stretched his championship advantage to 34 points after claiming his third Formula One victory of the season at Hockenheim.

Fernando Alonso won the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim to extend his champiuonship lead to 34 points. Wolfgang Rattay Reuters
Fernando Alonso won the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim to extend his champiuonship lead to 34 points. Wolfgang Rattay Reuters

HOCKENHEIM // Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, having held on to convert pole position at the German Grand Prix, joked that, while he knows little about politics, even he could not fail to appreciate the irony of a Spanish driver racing an Italian car designed by a Greek engineer dominating a strong field of Germans to win at the Hockenheimring.

Alonso, who has now won two of the past three races, passed the chequered flag 3.7 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull – one of five Germans competing in their home race – and McLaren-Mercedes' Jenson Button.

“It was tough, definitely,” Alonso said, after holding off late charges by both Vettel and Button to secure his 30th career win. “I don’t think it was an easy race. We were not the quickest in dry conditions, but we were quite competitive; enough to maintain the lead.”

The Spaniard, who celebrates his 31st birthday next Sunday, leads the world championship by 34 points at the midway stage of the season. The situation is in direct contrast to Ferrari's position at the start of the year, where Alonso qualified a lowly 12th at the season-opening race in Melbourne.

While the two-time world champion concedes the Ferrari set-up should be suited to the Hungaroring – the location of his first win in the sport – he is reluctant to look too far ahead.

“It's halfway through the season; we made a very good recovery when you think of where we started. We are very happy with the points that we have achieved in the first half, but it means nothing because there are still another 10 races in which we need to improve the car. We need to be consistent and we need to keep finishing all the races.”

In a season of unpredictable results, Alonso has remained Mr Consistent having now finished in the points at 22 consecutive races. He is two shy of the all-time record, held by Michael Schumacher. Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, expressed further admiration, calling his driver “perfect”.

Alonso's canny political observation while being interviewed atop the podium was said in jest, but proved particularly apt at a race doused in controversy. Politics – forever an unwanted bedfellow of Formula One – appeared to be at play in several different forms yesterday afternoon.

First, Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's supremo, failed to turn up as expected in the paddock amid speculation that German authorities are strengthening their case against him. Gerhard Gribkowsky, the German banker who was jailed for accepting a £28m “bribe” from the 81-year-old, has spent eight hours this week providing evidence to prosecutors. German media reported yesterday that an indictment against Ecclestone is in the pipeline.

On track action proved controversial also as Red Bull Racing were summoned to the stewards' office twice in the space of six hours. Pre-race, following a technical investigation of the RB8 car, the sport's governing body decided it could not punish the constructors' champions for their disputed engine mapping system. A statement by the FIA said that while they “do not accept all the arguments of the team, the map presented does not breach the text of the [F1 technical regulations].” The wording of the regulations is expected to change imminently.

A few hours later, the Milton Keynes-based marque were in front of the stewards again as Vettel, having passed Button on the penultimate lap to secure second place, was deemed to have gained an advantage after leaving the track. The 25-year-old German ran wide at Turn 6 and returned to the track ahead of his rival. Button immediately complained and, after both drivers together visited the FIA, Vettel was handed a 20-second time penalty.

The punishment saw him slip down to fifth, with Button moving up to second, Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus inheriting third place and Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber claiming a career-high fourth.

Before the decision Vettel had played down the incident, saying he was maintaining a safe gap to ensure both drivers did not have their races ended prematurely and that it was “a  question of when rather than where” he would pass Button, who was struggling with tyre degradation.

Button described the incident as “a pretty straightforward matter: The rules state that you can’t go off the track to gain an advantage.” He added: “The thing is, there would have been more opportunities for him before the end of the race as my rear tyres were damaged.”

On hearing the FIA's ruling, Vettel added: “The only intention was not to crash and to give [Jenson] enough room. I have respect for him and I didn’t want to squeeze him. It was good to be on the podium at the home race, but I have to respect the steward’s decision.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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