Webber adds new twist to epic season
"This is a slam-dunk one-two, isn't it?" Martin Brundle said to Christian Horner on the grid before the Hungarian Grand Prix, to which the Red Bull team principal responded with a rueful: "Thanks, Martin." And sure enough, Formula 1's pace-setting team found yet another way not to fully deliver on their dominance.
Red Bull were further ahead of the field than ever before at the Hungaroring. And even after eventual winner Mark Webber dropped behind Fernando Alonso's Ferrari at the start, this should have been an easy one-two. But yet again it did not happen.
This time, the blame fell at Sebastian Vettel's door - the German, who had romped away from the field in the early laps, let too big a gap grow between himself and the safety car at the re-start and was penalised with the statutory drive-through penalty, rejoining third.
Despite his massive pace advantage, Vettel was unable to pass Alonso, and he had to settle for the final step on the podium.
And so what had looked like being a typically soporific Hungarian Grand Prix turned into another humdinger in a stunning season that continues to get better and better. Virtually every race since the season-opener in Bahrain has been riveting.
The latest twist in the narrative means Lewis Hamilton - who retired from fourth place with a gearbox failure - has lost the world championship lead for the first time since Canada four races ago.
The fact that it is Webber who has replaced Hamilton at the top of the standings will partly explain the annoyance Vettel was unable to disguise immediately after the race.
With just seven races to go, Webber is now 10 points ahead of his team-mate in the championship, with Hamilton in between them. With a title battle as tight as this, all the drivers know that sooner or later their teams will make the same decision Ferrari already have - to back one driver for the title over the other.
Red Bull - who have already made one important and controversial call this season based on championship positions - are not there yet. Nevertheless, had Vettel won the race with Webber second, as should have been the case, it would have been the younger man leading the points chase, and feeling that much more comfortable about things as a result.
Incredibly, Vettel has never led the championship, despite being (just) the faster driver in (by far) the fastest car - and that says all you need to know about the number of errors Red Bull have been making in 2010.
In this case, Vettel has only himself to blame, notwithstanding the problems he was experiencing with his pit-to-car radio. Not being close enough behind the safety car might seem a trivial thing for which to be given a penalty that costs a driver a race win, but the rule is there to ensure fairness and stop teams playing tactics.
In this case, it seems to have been a genuine error - but backing up the field to allow Webber to break clear was exactly what Red Bull needed Vettel to do to make their split strategy work against Alonso.
The plan, which involved not pitting Webber during the safety-car period, was to give the Australian the chance to build enough of an advantage to allow him to stop for tyres later in the race without losing position to the Ferrari, at which point Vettel would resume the lead and cruise to victory.
Instead, the penalty gave the race win on a plate to Webber - who undoubtedly drove superbly in his long stint on the super-soft tyres but was always likely to have the pace to build the advantage he needed - and an unexpected second place to Alonso.
The Spaniard remains fifth in the championship but he is now only 20 points off the lead, with 25 available for each win, and looking dangerous.
Like it or not, then, the wisdom of Ferrari's decision to promote Alonso ahead of Massa to the win in Germany a week previously was made very clear by another weekend where Alonso left the Brazilian trailing.
After being narrowly the fastest car in the race at Hockenheim, some expected Ferrari to take the fight to Red Bull again in Hungary. The Italian team themselves, though, always believed they would struggle at a track that is dominated by the sort of corners where their car is weakest.
But Ferrari thought they would be about 0.4-0.6secs adrift - the one-second-a-lap margin to Red Bull did catch them by surprise.
The size of that gap, which was obvious from the very first laps in Friday practice, led many to wonder what magic new parts Vettel and Webber might have on their cars. But it was not to do with that - it was simply to do with the characteristics of the track.
As Horner put it: "This circuit could have been made for us - loads of medium-speed corners and no straights."
That advantage, therefore, is unlikely to remain at every circuit - the gap has see-sawed throughout the season anyway, and I hear that Ferrari have some pretty major developments for the next race in Belgium on 29 August after the month-long summer break.
Although it was Hamilton who scored no points at all and lost the championship lead, Button's weekend was in many ways even worse after he was left well behind by his team-mate in both qualifying and the race.
It now feels like a very long time since the world champion's last win, in China back in April. For now, Button remains very much in the championship fight, just 14 points behind Webber. But if he does not turn around his form soon he will be out of it.
Michael Schumacher, of course, has never been in it, despite professing that another title was his target when he announced his comeback last December.
It has been a difficult year for the 41-year-old, who remains a pale shadow of the man who ruled F1 for so long, but Hungary marked a new low.
His driving tactics have always been questionable to say the least, so it would be wrong to say it was a shock to see him squeeze Rubens Barrichello almost against the pit wall as they battled over 10th place and the final point in the closing laps.
Barrichello described it as "horrible". Former F1 driver Alexander Wurz said it was "far over the line of any sporting code". Several other drivers also condemned the move.
I'm not sure it was the most dangerous thing I have seen Schumacher do on a race track, but it was certainly right up there. Amazingly, though, the decision to penalise him 10 grid places at the next race was the first time he has been punished for dangerous driving since he was retrospectively thrown out of the 1997 world championship for trying to take out rival Jacques Villeneuve in their title-deciding showdown.
So Schumacher has proved he can still do some things the way he did in his first career. It remains to be seen whether driving as fast as he used to will ever be among them.