F1 tide turning against Red Bull towards McLaren & Ferrari
Last updated on .From the section Formula 1
The tide is relentlessly turning against Red Bull in Formula 1 and they will want arrest that in no uncertain terms this weekend in Hungary.
The facts speak for themselves.
Red Bull have won one of the last four races. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is the highest points scorer of the last three races. World championship leader Sebastian Vettel has not had a pole position or win in the past two races, and on Sunday finished off the podium for the first time in 13 races.
In a German Grand Prix with 10 lead changes, it was most significant that in clear air and with track position, Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber simply could not pull a big enough gap to ace the race victory over Lewis Hamilton and Alonso through the second pit stops.
We know how strong Webber is at the Nurburgring and he confirmed that he was pushing as hard as he could, but a fourth consecutive third-place finish would be his only reward.
From Friday lunchtime onwards, in other words after first practice, Vettel was wearing a frown and looked decidedly unhappy. His boyish smile occasionally burst through but mostly to the cameras.
He clearly was not satisfied with the handling of his car and was fed up having to answer questions about Silverstone team orders.
These days it is so unusual to see Vettel making unforced errors and his spin in the race only served to put him fully out of podium contention.
But the fact that he still hauled in some decent points with fourth place, his worst finishing result since last September, rather puts it in perspective.
No wonder Alonso was openly wishing for a continued strong McLaren effort after the race.
The Spaniard knows the only hope of catching Vettel this season is when both he and the McLaren boys are taking serious points off Vettel and Webber.
Interestingly, Alonso did not mention his Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa in terms of helping overhaul Red Bull - almost as if he has given up on him.
That is the downside of creating a clear number two who gets buried psychologically within a team.
Other than his usual skills, two things won the race for Hamilton.
Firstly, his qualifying lap, which surprised even him. Only the truly great drivers have ever been able to find half a second from apparently nowhere.
Voicing the lap for BBCF1 it really struck me that it was a technically excellent lap rather than Hamilton simply adding instinctive car control to a do-or-die effort.
His car was clearly on rails and it would prove to be so during the race.
The second key moment was his audacious passing of Alonso around the outside of Turn Two in the second pit-stop phase.
We can be sure that Fernando will watch that a few times on video and prepare retribution.
Hamilton had prevented Webber doing the same to him earlier, and I Iiked his line on the red button show when he said: "I gave Mark just enough room so as to be behind me."
In the race it was clear that McLaren and Ferrari could match Red Bull's pace and they are developing their cars quickly in order to catch up the early-season deficit.
It's the law of diminishing returns; with such a good initial package Red Bull has less places to go in order to improve.
I'm certain, too, that the ambient conditions and the way Pirelli is improving its tyres as the season unfolds played an important role in the outcome of the German Grand Prix.
With tyres which needed time to warm up and which lasted significantly longer than normal on the smooth cool surface - as opposed to tyres which have instant grip but fall away very quickly - the requirements change extremely quickly in terms of car set-up and driving style.
Spare a thought for Jenson Button.
He was comprehensively outperformed by Hamilton all weekened in both qualifying and the race, and then his car broke down, which is a rare occurrence these days.
After Button's glorious victory in Canada, his rollercoaster form perfectly sums up this season in many ways.
Once again there was plenty of overtaking, not all of it because of the DRS overtaking device, and largely because of the different tyre strategies, along with a pit straight and first corner which are very conducive to side-by-side action.
Another consistent feature now is how midfield teams, sometimes from a lowly grid position, can get into the thick of the points.
Force India's Adrian Sutil did a great job to underline his qualifying pace to beat the works Mercedes to sixth place, and Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and Renault's Vitaly Petrov continue to impress and cement their F1 credibility.
Budapest this weekend will be very telling for both Red Bull and the 2011-style wild action and overtaking. It's a track where Red Bull excelled last year, and where passing is notoriously difficult.
I am looking forward to observing Vettel. I suspect we may see him at his very best.