Firstly i have to apologise for the silence on here recently - more important things have taken up my time and meant 'F1 on the Web' has unfortunately been halted as well as thoughts on the recent races.
Anyway back to F1 matters and here's some thoughts on the latest action and in particular the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim...
Alonso does the business again: There can be little doubt that Fernando Alonso is in the form of his life. From daring overtakes on the tight streets of Valencia to slithering his way to wet weather pole positions at Silverstone and Hockenheim the Spaniard has been the driver of the year so far and his controlled victory in Germany as he withstood pressure from Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button was another impressive display. The Ferrari driver has built himself a good buffer of 40 points at the halfway stage of the championship but don't think this championship is ending to a early climax. Red Bull have clearly gained ground in the development race recently and although we await to see how they are affected when the inevitable clarification is issued over their engine mapping, you can be assured that Mr Vettel, Webber and Newey will not be giving up easily
Vettel pays the penalty: For a man used to winning, it's been a frustrating period for Sebastian Vettel. Pole position in Montreal was only converted into a 4th place and then an alternator failure robbed what looked like an almost certain victory. His team mate Mark Webber then won the British Grand Prix. I felt he was overdriving a bit at Hockeneheim. A very aggressive start was followed by various off track moments, most of which were not really punished due to the plentiful run off areas at the Hockenheimring. He was also overtaken by a backmarker during the race. Lewis Hamilton was well down after a early puncture and found himself amongst the leaders. I'm wasn't really sure what to make of it all. It was strange to see a lapped car attacking the leaders and i felt Lewis should have just stayed out of it. However what he did was not against the rules and it wasn't like he blocked Vettel once he was past as he pulled away on fresher tyres.
Then we had the controversy on the penultimate lap between Vettel and Button. It was pretty clear for me, Vettel made an early decision to use the run off area to complete the overtake and that was clearly illegal. He didn't even try to stay on the track after the corner at all to even try and go alongside Button or wait to be squeezed wide (which might have given him more of a defence in the stewards room). The only issue i had was the penalty handed down. The German was penalised 20 seconds (the equivalent of getting a drive through penalty during the race). The stewards have the power to give an alternative penalty if they feel it would be more appropriate and i feel this was such a case. 5 second penalties have been used before at the 2010 European Grand Prix for several cars which exceeded the safety car delta time but gained very little. A 5 second penalty for Fernando Alonso was also one of the proposed penalties at the World Motor Sport Council hearing into Ferrari's team orders at the 2010 German Grand Prix as a way of swapping the position of the Spaniard and Felipe Massa.
Now i'll admit that it is a bit artificial sometimes to start handing out a customised penalty and slotting cars back into a position on the classification which would have been a likely finishing position without knowing how things would have exactly unfolded. However i feel in a situation like this so late in the race it would have been the best option. Another reason is the fact that in Hockenheim it costs a driver 10.8 seconds to drive through the pitlane without stopping which is only 54% of the time Vettel had added to his race time. What surprised me is that Derek Warwick recently brought the issue up of the various pitlanes on the F1 calendar having different lengths and time loss and how a 20 second penalty for every track wasn't the fairest way of doing things. Yet who was the driver steward yesterday? Derek Warwick!
So Vettel deserved a penalty but perhaps a slightly more lenient one. However he put himself at risk by doing what he did and it cost him some important points. Hopefully after a weekend which seen many warnings from the FIA about exceeding track limits we will now see some consistency with this issue. In my opinion Lewis Hamilton should have been penalised in Bahrain for passing Nico Rosberg off the track and we've had examples of people getting away with it in the past such as Kimi Raikkonen at the start of the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix which was pretty ridiculous. We may well see some revisions in the 2013 sporting regulations over penalties and how they are handed out.
Midfield battle hots up: We've seen Sauber, Force India and Williams all have more opportunities to make an impression near the front this year and it's making the constructors championship more fascinating than usual. It was Force India with the advantage at the start in Germany but Sauber seem to have the quicker car and made good progress. Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez pitted later than their rivals which cost them through the pit windows but made use of the overtaking opportunities at the Hockenheimring to fight through to an excellent 4th and 6th place finish respectively. There were many great battles between the Sauber and Force India drivers throughout the race, very hard but fair and it was good to see
It hasn't been so smooth between Perez and Pastor Maldonado. The South American drivers battled for the GP2 title in 2010 with Maldonado coming out on top. In Monaco, Maldonado strangely cut across Perez on an out lap in FP3, hitting the Mexican's left front wheel. Perez was furious and the fact that that corner of the car had a failure in Q1 probably didn't improve his mood. There was also a last lap incident between the pair in Valencia that was unseen on the world feed. Maldonado was trying to complete the race without a front wing after hitting Lewis Hamilton. He ran deep into turn 2 and in coming back onto the racing line compromised Perez who was coming through which allowed Jenson Button to overtake the Sauber. Then Maldonado got loose at Silverstone and Perez was the unfortunate victim again. Williams haven't made the most of their car so far this year and now Sauber look good for 6th place in the championship