Lewis Hamilton could continue to “take a knee” at Formula One races – saying he does not want the fight against racism to die a silent death – as Daniel Ricciardo reacted to the six drivers electing not to do so in Austria.
With two races remaining before the traditional mid-season break, there was growing pressure on Ferrari and Fernando Alonso to win races and stay in touch with the championship leaders.
The F10 was clearly not the fastest in the first half of the season, though Alonso came online from the German Grand Prix, while McLaren was to endure a downturn of form from here until the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Sebastian Vettel was on pole for his home race, although bogged down at the start and let Felipe Massa capitalise, with Alonso firmly in pursuit. The Brazilian had not won a race since his home event in 2008. But with a two-time world champion hunting for a third and Ferrari renowned for compromising one driver to favour the other, Massa’s race was done.
“Fernando is faster than you,” was the call from Felipe’s engineer Rob Smedley and they were the words that echoed long after the race, as Ferrari’s desire to win was marred by the team orders employed to help Alonso win.
A $100,000 fine was handed to Ferrari, as the FIA then was to review its stance on team orders. Although importantly for Alonso, it was a much needed 25 points to bolster him back into the thick of the title race.
McLaren raised the concern in Hungary to the stewards that Red Bull and Ferrari were using flexible front-wings, which under the regulations were strictly prohibited. This was tested during scrutineering at the next race in Belgium, though no wrongdoing was found.
Lewis Hamilton suffered a driveshaft failure at the Hungaroring, which saw him concede the lead of the championship to race winner Mark Webber, beating Alonso on strategy. Vettel was penalised for a safety car restart infringement, much to the German’s fury. While chaos ensued in the pit lane, as Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes sent a loose wheel flying down the lane.
There was trouble brewing too between old Ferrari teammates in Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, with the underwhelming seven-time world champion almost putting his former teammate into the pit wall. This copped Schumacher a hefty 10-place grid penalty for Belgium.
Following the summer break, all but Schumacher gathered at Spa-Francorchamps to celebrate Barrichello’s 300th grand prix. The German instead sent Rubens an SMS, which included an apology for his antics in Budapest.
Webber got a poor getaway from pole position, which allowed Hamilton to capitalise before the rain hit. McLaren found themselves in a one-two position after the first safety car, although Jenson Button’s race and championship aspirations soon became a soggy mess, with ‘Crash Kid’ Vettel torpedoing the reigning world champion on the run up to the bus stop chicane.
Hamilton, Robert Kubica in the Renault, and Webber all waited to pit, when the rain had returned, Spa’s own micro-climate meant that it could be raining on part of the circuit and not at the other. Alonso crashed out on lap 37 at Les Combes, which proved costly in championship terms, while Hamilton took what would be his last win for 2010 from Webber and Kubica.
Belgium’s retirement triggered a strong comeback from Alonso, who again found himself 41 points behind Hamilton, who’d reassumed the lead of the championship. The home of Ferrari in Monza saw the Spaniard take pole position ahead of Button and teammate Massa.
The start saw the McLaren of Button get the better launch and despite contact with Alonso at the first chicane, the Briton led the opening phase of the race. Hamilton came to blows with Massa, which didn’t disturb the Brazilian but ultimately proved costly for the Belgian race winner, failing to finish.
Engine troubles slowed any chance of Vettel repeating his magical 2008 win, while pit stops for McLaren and Ferrari determined who’d come out on top. Button was brought in on lap 36, while an astonishing in-lap for Alonso a lap later saw the Spaniard come out of the pits in the lead.
Alonso became the first Ferrari driver since Schumacher in 2006 to win the team’s home race and much to the delight of the Tifosi, Massa made it so that there were two red cars on the podium, finishing third behind Button.
Webber had taken the lead of the championship after finishing sixth, scrapping away with rookie Nico Hulkenberg in the Williams, who frustrated the Aussie by finding a unique racing line around the Monza circuit.
It was a similarly successful outing for Alonso under the lights of Singapore, taking pole position and then claiming his 25th career win. The gruelling streets had claimed Hamilton for a second successive DNF, while Vettel and Webber completed the podium to allow for Red Bull to extend their advantage over McLaren, whose title hopes were fading on both fronts.
The passionate Japanese fans were forced to wait until Sunday to see qualifying, with torrential downpours cancelling any action. Super Sunday as it was saw Vettel on pole for the eighth time in 2010, with Webber locking out the front row for Red Bull.
Massa and Vitantonio Liuzzi found each other at Turn 1 on the opening lap, while a fastest starting Vitaly Petrov in the Renault wiped out Hulkenberg before even reaching the first corner. The safety car was deployed, and further misery inflicted upon Renault, as Kubica’s wheel fell off.
That didn’t bother the Red Bulls though, as Vettel took a commanding victory ahead of his teammate to propel him into the championship discussion. The German was now tied on points with the second placed Alonso, who was 14 points behind Webber atop the table.
Formula One ventured to South Korea for the first time in its 60-year history, as only three races remained in the title race, which continued to ebb and flow. With the emphasis on the fact that anything can happen, it was difficult to predict an outcome at this point.
Red Bull were imperious in qualifying once again, with Vettel ahead of Webber. But Alonso and Hamilton were just behind them on the second row, telling the mighty bulls that they weren’t too far away. Button was mathematically still in the hunt to defend his championship, but realistically needed a miracle from seventh on the grid.
A delayed start to the race due to heavy rain made for a tense premise. The cars circulated at the Yeongam circuit under the safety car for 17 laps until it was deemed safe to race. With the conditions still treacherous, it was going to be a race of survival and any mistakes would prove costly for the championship.
That was exactly what befell Webber’s race a lap later, as he to his own admission made a mistake and collided with Rosberg. Zero points to the Aussie. Same for Vettel, who ten laps from the end of the race was out with an engine failure. Zero points to Sebastian.
Despite his non-compliant wheel nuts, Alonso emerged victorious and as a result took the lead of the championship. Second for Hamilton meant he was still in with a shot too, jumping ahead of Vettel in the standings.
Hulkenberg shocked at the next race in Brazil taking pole position for Williams, which was their first since 2005. Though unfortunately it wasn’t enough to sure up a seat for the GP2 champion for 2011. All eyes were on the Red Bulls, as Vettel stormed into the lead and Alonso from fifth had to catch them up.
Battles with Hamilton and then rookie Hulkenberg put Alonso too far behind challenging Vettel and Webber out front, but third still meant that the Spaniard lead the championship by eight points going into the final race.
Red Bull had clinched its first constructors’ championship since entering the sport in 2005 and now it was all about the drivers’ title, as both Vettel and Webber searched for their maiden Formula One crowns at the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
The equation for Alonso seemed the simplest of all four of the drivers still in the hunt, while Hamilton in fourth admitted he had nothing to lose. The focus centred on Red Bull and whether there’d be team orders enforced in certain scenarios or would both drivers be free to race.
Qualifying saw Vettel, Hamilton, and Alonso in the top three, which was perfect for the Ferrari driver. Webber meanwhile disadvantaged himself by starting fifth on the grid. An early safety car due to Schumacher spinning and collecting Liuzzi saw a chaotic start to the race.
Webber was brought in on lap 11. A few laps later Ferrari reacted and brought in Alonso from fourth in a bid to beat traffic and the Aussie. This was the beginning of the end for Fernando, as Ferrari made the error of reacting to the wrong Red Bull driver.
Petrov in the Renault, who had pitted under the first safety car, was now ahead of both title contenders and proved to be difficult to pass.
Regardless of the encouragement from his race engineer Andrea Stella, who repeatedly said “use the best of your talent,” Alonso could not negotiate a way past the staunch Renault, finishing down in seventh ahead of Webber, while Vettel cruised to a faultless victory and a maiden world championship.
At 23 years and 134 days old, Sebastian Vettel became the youngest world champion in Formula One history, only leading the standings after the final race of the season.
This would be a title defeat that would haunt Alonso and Webber for years to come, while McLaren would need to home in on creating a consistent challenger for both its world championship-winning drivers. Although as it was, it was the start of the Vettel and Red Bull dynasty, which stayed at the peak of Formula One for the years that immediately followed.