As Fernando Alonso tried to justify a hollow victory handed to him by Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa yesterday evening, it was easy to wonder if you'd missed something. Such was Ferrari's defensiveness, had Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull, which came in third, somehow jumped, unnoticed, ahead of both of them?
No, he had not. At the end of 67 relatively tedious laps (by 2010 standards) the blue car was still behind the two red ones. True, there had at one stage been fears that the slightly slower pace of Massa compared to Alonso might have allowed the German to get on terms, but that never happened. Vettel was 5.1 seconds adrift when Massa had ostentatiously handed the lead to his team-mate on the 49th lap. And whichever Ferrari had been at the front, the famous Scuderia would still have taken 43 points and scored the pre-summer break victory that they have been under massive pressure back home to deliver.
Since the era of Michael Schumacher, when his unfortunate team-mates Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello were merely his stooges, Ferrari have rebuilt a tarnished image and behaved in a manner befitting of sport. The nadir came in Austria 2002 when having clearly got Schumacher's measure, Barrichello was required to surrender the lead to the beaten German. That was masterminded in such a crass manner by Jean Todt, the man who now runs the sport, that team orders were subsequently banned.
Yesterday's race was clearly not a repeat of that since Alonso was able to run at Massa's pace once they had switched from the soft-compound tyres on which they started to the harder rubber. They were fighting for the win, or so it seemed. But Alonso, the man who seems to spend more time on the radio these days than Chris Evans, let it be known that he thought he was quicker. Ferrari agreed. He might not have been told to do so in so any words – for that, of course, would have been illegal – but Massa was slow exiting Turn Six on that 49th lap, and Alonso passed him.
A year ago to the day, the Brazilian lay in hospital, felled by the head injury he had sustained in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix. When he jumped into the lead here, as slow-starting polesitter Vettel did his best to make Alonso part of the pit wall, it seemed that we might be in for a fairytale race. But there are no such things in this sport. As Alonso intoned endlessly, these days it is "all about the team." For which read, "All about me."
He was quick all through practice. He was quick all through qualifying. He lost pole by a hair to Vettel. It was, the Spaniard seemed to suggest, his right to win the race. The hell with track position, which once used to be the means by which such things were decided. Alonso felt a sense of entitlement. Sadly, Ferrari agreed.
Afterwards, a stony-faced Alonso deflected the heat with the same aplomb with which he shrugged off the scandalous 2008 Singapore win for Renault, after which he earned himself the nickname "Teflonso". Alongside him, Massa took it all on the chin with the same dignity with which he had taken defeat in the championship-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix in 2008. Except that on that occasion it had been the opposition that beat him, not his own people.
"I think..." Alonso began as he tried to explain his "overtaking" move. "I don't know what happened," he began again. "I saw Felipe a little bit slow, and you have to be prepared to overtake and take every opportunity." Then tellingly he added: "I was never close enough to do it before." Blah, blah, blah. It went on. And on. Nobody was fooled.
So had Massa let him by? "I don't think I need to say anything about that," the Brazilian said. Indeed, he didn't. The radio transmissions did that for him. On lap 48 his engineer Rob Smedley delivered to him a message that sounded heavily coded. "Fernando is quicker than you. Can you confirm that you understand that message?"
The implication was clear. Do the decent thing. When the deed was done, the man from Middlesbrough radioed Massa again. "Good lad, stick with it now." And then, tellingly, he added: "Sorry."
Ferrari maintained that the incident was the driver's decision and insisted no instructions were given to Massa. Team communications director Luca Colajanni said: "We didn't give any instruction at all. I don't think anything wrong has been done, or regulation breached." He added: "Fernando was slightly quicker at that stage, and we informed the drivers."
Schumacher was unequivocal in his support of his former team's strategy. "I have been criticised in the past for exactly that and I have to say that I would do exactly the same if I was in their situation," he said. "At the end of the day, what are we here for? It's fighting for a championship and there is only one that can win it.
"By the end of the year, if you think you would have lost the championship for exactly that point you will ask yourself, all the fans, the television, the journalists, why didn't you do so?"
After some superb races this season, the whole thing left a nasty taste in the mouth. Ferrari were later fined $100,000 (£64,700) for their behaviour, and the matter will be referred to the World Motor Sports Council for possible further action.
The internal strife chez Ferrari will be nectar to the McLaren boys, as Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished only fourth and fifth respectively but held on to their top slots in the championship. "Unfortunately, the guys in front were phenomenally quick," Hamilton said, "but I still managed to make up a couple of places. It was a very tough race. The car didn't feel fantastic and the Ferraris and Red Bulls were very fast. We've got to make up some pace on our main rivals."
Button agreed with his team-mate. "My pace relative to Lewis was very similar, and I settled in never less than two seconds behind him. But I couldn't go any quicker because I was losing downforce to the car in front. We showed today that we got the maximum out of the car – it's just that the car isn't quite quick enough at the moment."
Even so, they were probably the only people who felt like laughing on the way home.
Hockenheim race details
German Grand Prix, Hockenheim, (67 Laps)
1 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari......... 1hr 27min 38.864sec
2 F Massa (Br) Ferrari......... 1:27:43.060
3 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull......... 1:27:43.985
4 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren......... 1:28:05.760
5 J Button (GB) McLaren......... 1:28:08.346
6 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull......... 1:28:22.470
7 R Kubica (Pol) Renault......... at 1 Lap
8 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP......... at 1 Lap
9 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP......... at 1 Lap
10 V Petrov (Rus) Renault......... at 1 Lap
11 K Kobayashi (Japan) BMW Sauber at 1 Lap; 12 R Barrichello (Br) Williams at 1 Lap; 13 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams at 1 Lap; 14 P de la Rosa (Sp) BMW Sauber at 1 Lap; 15 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap; 16 V Liuzzi (It) Force India at 2 Laps; 17 A Sutil (Ger) Force India at 2 Laps; 18 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing at 3 Laps; 19 B Senna (Br) HRT-F1 at 4 Laps. Not Classified: 20 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 56 Laps completed; 21 L di Grassi (Br) Virgin Racing 50 Laps completed; 22 S Yamamoto (Japan) HRT-F1 19 Laps completed; 23 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 3 Laps completed; 24 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1 Lap completed.
1 L Hamilton......... 157pts
2 J Button......... 143
3 M Webber......... 136
4 S Vettel......... 136
5 F Alonso......... 123
6 N Rosberg......... 94
7 R Kubica......... 89
8 F Massa......... 85
9 M Schumacher......... 38
10 A Sutil......... 35
11 R Barrichello 29; 12 K Kobayashi 15; 13 V Liuzzi 12; 14 V Petrov 7; 15 S Buemi 7; 16 J Alguersuari 3; 17 N Hulkenberg 2; 18 P de la Rosa 0; 19 H Kovalainen 0; 20 K Chandhok 0; 21 L di Grassi 0; 22 B Senna 0; 23 S Yamamoto 0; 24 J Trulli 0; 25 T Glock 0 .
Manufacturers' Championship: 1 McLaren 300pt; 2 Red Bull 272; 3 Ferrari 208; 4 Mercedes GP 132; 5 Renault 96; 6 Force India 47; 7 Williams 31; 8 BMW Sauber 15; 9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 10; 10 Lotus F1 0; 11 HRT-F1 0; 12 Virgin Racing 0.