Formula 1: Red Bull on defensive after race penalty

CHRISTIAN HORNER has dismissed suggestions his Red Bull team have become the ‘bad boys’ of Formula 1.

The Milton Keynes-based team twice found themselves in front of the Hockenheim stewards either side of Sunday’s German Grand Prix. Beforehand, the team were called to face questions relating to a technical matter, narrowly avoiding punishment as, although the stewards did not accept all the arguments, they had not broken the rules as they are written.

Post-race, reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel was handed a retrospective drive-through penalty for exceeding track limits in overtaking Jenson Button on the penultimate lap.

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The addition of 20 seconds to his race time resulted in Vettel dropping from second to fifth, losing eight points in the process. Defending his team, Horner said: “Unfortunately, when you have a quick car it’s inevitable questions are asked, and Formula 1 is a competitive business at the end of the day.

“Initially, we were called to the stewards to have a discussion about some technicalities on the car. But the rules are pretty black and white and, having listened and looked at the data, the stewards were fully satisfied.

“That’s the nature of Formula 1, and you are always going to get other teams who are going to speculate. As for Sebastian, the stewards ruled he gained an unfair advantage, and the only penalty available to them is the equivalent of a drive-through, which is 20 seconds. The penalty doesn’t fit the crime, even if, in our opinion, there was no crime, so to have a 20-second penalty was a bit harsh.”

That particular incident leaves Vettel 44 points adrift of leader Fernando Alonso in the season standings after the Spaniard’s victory at Hockenheim, with Mark Webber 34 points behind.

With the 20-race season at the halfway point, Horner knows both his drivers are perfectly capable of overhauling Alonso.

Horner added: “The second half of the year is going to be full-on again. Fernando has finished all his races in the points, he’s won three races now and has a 34-point lead, but, with 25 points for a win, that isn’t insurmountable.”

Hamilton was left bemoaning his “cruel luck” at the end of a miserable 100th grand prix in which he was also embroiled in a war of words with Vettel.

Hamilton’s woes started on lap two when he sustained a puncture caused by running over debris from Felipe Massa losing the front wing of his Ferrari in hitting the back of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.

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Demoted to 22nd, Hamilton was then faced with a fight for nothing more than respectability, resulting in him being dropped in among the leaders on lap 33, a lap down, after making his second stop.

On fresh rubber, Hamilton swiftly passed and pulled away from second-placed Vettel, to the anger and frustration of the German, who was battling for the lead with eventual winner in Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

Post-race Vettel pulled no punches as he said: “That was not nice of him. I don’t see why he tried to race us. If he wants to drive fast then he can drop back, find a gap and go fast then.

“But it was a bit stupid to disturb the leaders. He was a lap down, so I don’t see his point.”

Hamilton was terse and somewhat sarcastic in his response as he said: “Maturity has come through, I guess. It shows his maturity.”

Even Red Bull team principal Christian Horner could not defend his driver’s remarks, though, as he said: “Within the rules he [Hamilton] did nothing wrong.”

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali believes Alonso is currently in the best form of his career. Prior to his 30th career victory at Hockenheim, Alonso admitted last week to be in his best physical shape since he started in F1 in 2001 and Domenicali said: “I find it hard to remember watching from the pit wall such a tight race from the start to the chequered flag.

“Considering the race was 67 qualifying laps, it shows Fernando is at the peak of his personal performance. No doubt about it.

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“In yesterday’s race Fernando was perfect – not one mistake, not one hesitation, pushing to the maximum for an hour and a half. What a driver!

“He is in a great moment, and we have momentum which we need to try to keep going for as long as possible.”