At this rate Michael Schumacher and Ferrari will be leading the world championships by their home race in Monza in September. What once seemed unthinkable, as Fernando Alonso and his Renault team appeared to hold the titles in their hands, now seems likely after the progress made by Ferrari and their tyre supplier, Bridgestone.
In the German Grand Prix here yesterday, Alonso could do no better than fifth in a Renault that could not even challenge McLaren and Honda, who use the same Michelin rubber. While church bells rang in Maranello last night, in the traditional celebration of a Ferrari victory, at Renault's bases in Enstone and Viry-Chatillon it was alarm bells.
Schumacher's third victory in succession was his 70th for Ferrari, Bridgestone's 100th, and his fourth in his home grand prix. That may have been timely, as Bernie Ecclestone announced there will be only one Formula One race in Germany next year, at the Nürburgring.
"Numbers are never very important, but if you want one that is right now," Schumacher said, "it's 11 - the number of points left in Alonso's championship lead. To be honest, I was a bit surprised to be that much in front [of Alonso in today's race], but we'll take it, really we'll take it. It is the right moment in time for such [a] performance to close the gap and keep the pressure on. It was a perfect weekend."
Indeed so. The Ferraris ran away and hid the moment the early leader, Kimi Raikkonen, pitted to refuel on the 10th lap. McLaren had not intended to run quite so light; a snafu prior to the final qualifying stint resulted in too little fuel being put into the tank.
"We had some problems with that yesterday," Raikkonen admitted. "We got the pole but not with as much fuel as we had planned. But that actually worked out quite well because my tyres were on the limit by the time I stopped for fresh ones."
After that, Ferrari ruled Hockenheim, with Felipe Massa keeping the pressure on Schumacher and so nearly taking the lead when the German had a poor lap in traffic prior to his first refuelling stop on lap 20. They were side by side at one stage as he rejoined, but Massa is not stupid. Ferrari needed this result desperately, and he was not about to jeopardise it. After that they were rarely more than a few seconds apart, and he crossed the line 0.7sec adrift of his team leader.
"This was our target today, especially after we showed such strong pace yesterday morning," Massa said. "It was a great job from the team and everybody. I'm getting used a little bit to the podium, but not yet to the first place!"
A strong run from Jenson Button in a revitalised Honda nearly yielded the final podium place, but despite an electronics problem that at one stage robbed him of power and affected his gearshift, Raikkonen overtook him for the place on the 58th lap.
This was the best race in a while for both men, but as he eyed the Ferrari drivers on the podium Raikkonen was doubtless wondering about his choices for 2007. Ferrari have an option on his services, but the possibility that political moves will switch him to Alonso's Renault seat instead gathered strength yesterday.
Button said: "To get past both Renaults at the start and then past Kimi during the race felt very good and I had a lot of fun out there. But the last stint was really tough because I had massive amounts of tyre graining on the front left and a lot of rear locking, so I just couldn't fight off Raikkonen."
Alonso complained of poor tyre performance and his troubled route to fifth place was helped when Mark Webber's Williams yet again suffered problems late in the race.
Alonso was fortunate that it was his team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella, in his wheel-tracks when, uncharacteristically, he slid on to the grass on the 61st lap. Alonso retrieved the situation with great skill, but it was only Fisichella's presence behind him that prevented Jarno Trulli from capitalising on the error.
"We were not competitive this weekend, but I did the maximum I could and so did the team," Alonso said afterwards. "Without the blistering we experienced, the podium was a possibility. But the tyres then blistered. We did not have enough to fight Ferrari here."
Finishing positions at Hockenheim
German Grand Prix (Hockenheim): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 27min 51.693sec; 2 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:27:52.413; 3 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:28:04.899; 4 J Button (GB) Honda 1:28:10.591; 5 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:28:15.400; 6 G Fisichella (It) Renault 1:28:16.507; 7 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:28:18.243; 8 C Klien (Aut) RedBull-Ferrari 1:28:39.803; 9 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:28:52.023; 10 V Liuzzi (It) Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth +1 lap; 11 D Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Ferrari +1 lap; 12 S Speed (US) Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth +1 lap; 13 C Albers (Neth) Midland-Toyota +1 lap; 14 T Monteiro (Por) Midland-Toyota +2 laps. Not classified: 15 M Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth 59 laps completed; 16 T Sato (Japan) Super Aguri-Honda 38 laps; 17 Jacques Villeneuve (Can) BMW-Sauber 30 laps; 18 R Barrichello (Br) Honda 19 laps; 19 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW-Sauber 9 laps; 20 P de la Rosa (Sp) McLaren-Mercedes 2 laps; 21 S Yamamoto (Japan) Super Aguri-Honda 1 lap; 22 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth no laps. Fastest lap: M Schumacher 1min 16.357sec (lap 17).
Drivers' World Championship: 1 Alonso 100pts; 2 M Schumacher 89; 3 Massa 50; 4 Raikkonen 49; 5 Fisichella 49; 6 J P Montoya (Col) McLaren-Mercedes 26; 7 Button 21; 8 Barrichello 16; 9 Heidfeld 13; 10 R Schumacher 13; 11 Trulli 10; 12 Coulthard 10; 13 Villeneuve 7; 14 Webber 6; 15 Rosberg 4; 16 Klien 2; 17 De la Rosa 2; 18 Liuzzi 1.
Manufacturers' Championship: 1 Renault 149pts; 2 Ferrari 139; 3 McLaren 77; 4 Honda 37; 5 Toyota 23; 6 BMW Sauber 20; 7 Red Bull 12; 8 Williams 10; 9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 1.Reuse content