THE race to be crowned F1 champion has not quite been blown wide open, but Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel has seen his lead at the top of standings cut slightly after the German Grand Prix on Sunday.
The German was racing on his home Nurburgring circuit but was subdued as he qualified in third and finished a place lower down in fourth, with Lewis Hamilton taking the race win and Fernando Alonso finishing second.
Mark Webber dropped two places after qualifying on pole to finish in third, but in doing so he has now closed the gap on Championship leader Vettel to 77 points, with Hamilton next in line.
The race was another thriller which saw the lead change hands a number of times, but it was Hamilton’s often criticised feisty driving that saw him take the lead.
He overtook Webber from the start but the Australian battled back to regain the lead a few laps later.
Ever the aggressor, Hamilton got into Webber’s slip stream and passed him yet again after that.
The first round of stops saw Webber make a more decisive move as he pitted first on lap 14 and while Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel jostled for position coming out of the pit lane two laps later Webber sailed supremely into the lead.
The battle continued to rage on and less than two seconds covered the top few places but Vettel, in an uncharacteristically error-strewn race spun on the wet track and fell away from the leading pack.
The second stop for new soft tyres saw another dramatic switch of position with Webber again pitting first followed on the next two laps by Hamilton and Alonso.
Aussie Webber was nudged out of the lead by Hamilton and tried to battle his way back into contention but to no avail.
There was every chance the trio of closely matched drivers could have swapped positions in an obligatory stop for hard tyres inside the final 10 laps.
But Hamilton, who came in first, held on to take his first victory since April’s Chinese Grand Prix ahead of Alonso and Webber.
Vettel eventually finished down in fourth and it was the first time this season that he did not seem in complete control of the car – the team suggesting a rear brake problem could have been the reason. However, home circuit nerves may have come into play on the day to sway the usually imperious German.
This season has seen Vettel finish on the podium in every single race, six of which he has finished on top and three in second, so his absence was noticeable.
Now with nine races to go his closest rivals will be hoping he continues to slip up so they can take advantage.
The situation almost mirrors the start to the season that Jenson Button had when he won the championship in 2009.
After winning six of the first seven races Button failed to register a win for the rest of the season. That year Button won the championship by just 11 points and Vettel will be wary that his lead could soon be decimated if he fails to finish in the top three.