German result may be a tipping point

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2011, 12:00am


Funny isn't it, how life, seemingly set in its ways, can change in an instant. I'm talking of course in a strictly Formula One sense. By all standards, last weekend's grand prix in Germany was distinctly weird. Lewis Hamilton was happy, really happy. Perhaps weirder was the lack of success for Sebastian Vettel.

Let's take Lewis first. He was grinning broadly before the race and whooping with delight when he took the chequered flag. Considering this column (and a lot of other commentators) was recently criticising the Briton for his demeanour it was something of a turnaround.

Hamilton is a born racer. Of course, everyone lining up on the grid is a racer, but few have the lucky combination of skill, aggression and a decent car to scythe through the field. For most of this season he's been scything into other cars and in Monaco he openly criticised his own team. He even appeared to be publicly courting Red Bull.

This week, though, everything is rosy in the McLaren camp. As the teams roll into Hungary, harmony is the word for the British. The reason for this love-in is simple - a fast car.

Give Hamilton a car he can win in and he suddenly becomes much more cuddly. He certainly had that at the Nuerburgring on Sunday. The unseasonably cold weather probably helped, but Hamilton's focus certainly did.

He said after the race: 'I was in a really very good head space and perhaps I feel even better because I felt the moves I did were some of the most precise moves I have pulled in a while.' It's when he channels his aggression that the precision and success comes.

So what of Vettel? It was all set up for him last weekend, the dominant car of the season driven by the dominant driver at his home grand prix. Instead, a fairytale turned into a nightmare. He rarely seemed comfortable over the weekend and his spin during the race underlined the problems that saw him off the podium for the first time this season.

Vettel seems less than comfortable when he's not out in front and has to mix it with others. That could be a problem as we head into the second half of the season in Hungary.

The truth of the matter is that Red Bull don't seem to have the dominance they enjoyed at the start of the season. The team have won only once in the last four grands prix and Ferrari are looking increasingly dangerous.

Vettel is still 77 points ahead of his nearest rival, who just happens to be his teammate Mark Webber (and now we know there are team orders at play he won't be too worried about the Australian). However, Hamilton and Alonso are only a handful of points further behind and you just start to wonder if the season has reached a tipping point.

Cast your mind back to 2009. Jenson Button roared ahead of a slightly stunned pack in the Brawn to lead by a country mile early on after winning six of the first seven races. He didn't win another after that as the other teams caught up and overhauled the early design advantages that Brawn held.

It's not inconceivable that we are witnessing the same thing happening in 2011. Ferrari have sorted their troublesome aerodynamics and McLaren seem to have the power to compete.

Vettel may be just a little flustered after what happened in Germany and it will be interesting to see whether he has the grit, like Button in 2009, to scrape a title under pressure. It is increasingly likely he will have to cope with being in the thick of the action rather than sailing serenely from the front.

The Hungaroring will suit the Red Bulls. The team will also take some comfort from the widely held prediction the circuit will not suit McLaren. However, if the championship leader comes away from the old potato field with the same kind of weekend that he's endured in Germany, then all bets will be off.