Michael Bailey: A good time to make an F1 impression

Go on then – does anyone want to deny enjoying the sight of Sebastian Vettel dallying with those slippery fringes of the Nurburgring on Sunday?

Obviously it's nothing personal. Vettel is a great character for the sport, whether you think he can actually overtake or not.

And the boy is quick – it's not just his Red Bull.

But for the sake of this season, we needed the defending champion's supreme form, confidence and smidgens of luck to ease off a bit.

F1 is in the middle of a quick turnaround – last Sunday in Germany, this Sunday its Budapest. There are a lot of points and plenty of momentum to gain in a short space of time – and before a five-week midseason break that will drag for those who lose out.


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It is a fascinating and possibly pivotal time in the season.

Supposedly Formula One closes down after the Hungaroring, until preparations for the Belgian Grand Prix around the brilliant Spa-Francorchamps circuit on August 28 kick in. The question now is how the title challengers fare with 10 races in the bag and nine remaining?

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Jenson Button has conceded his hopes are over – no shock there, and good news for Lewis Hamilton.

His win in Germany, like most of Lewis' wins, was something special. He is as good to watch as they come and when he gets it right, it clicks.

The question is, can he do that consistently – and more importantly, can McLaren? It has been an erratic season at Woking, so I'm not giving a prediction on four days' time, let alone November.

For Ferrari it seems more stable. They were out of it – and now they are really in amongst it.

It has happened later than last season and Fernando Alonso is further behind, but they have turned a pretty big corner. One win and second is the best return from the last two races. Plus it obviously helps Felipe Massa will fill the dutiful number-two role again.

And don't forget last season's botched final� in Abu Dhabi. Maranello will still be smarting from those strategy decisions, even now.

All of which leaves Red Bull: from domination to chinks in the armour.

Mark Webber remains Vettel's closest challenger – yet arguably he has the toughest job. The Aussie will be the only one told to back off if he is too close at the wrong moment – we already have proof of that.

And if his best option remains taking things into his own hands, it would make brilliant viewing – but probably do him very few favours in the long run.

As for Vettel, his lead at the top of the drivers' championship stands at 77 points – the only thing dwarfing that is Red Bull's constructors' title lead – 112 points. He is a man heading to Hungary arguably with a bit of pressure on him – with any amount probably unreasonable given his championship lead.

The perfect – and arguably most likely – response from Vettel would be win number seven of the season.

But lose more ground and maybe a few of those question marks will grow a little bigger – at least over August.

• This may be unfair, but for me if you get a race seat in Formula One you should be ready to compete in it.

It is the pinnacle of motorsport, four wheels especially, and a place in the circus is worth millions. So while Karun Chandhok's German weekend in place of Jarno Trulli was clearly a useful learning experience, is that really the worth of a grand prix – as a bit of an experiment?

The example of Norfolk's Team Lotus is only a result of recent relevance, of course, and the issue stretches further than one team – no doubt fuelled by a lack of proper testing during the season.

That is where a driver can and should make an impression and show their pace.

Because in truth, while there was certainly long-term benefit in Chandhok's Nurburgring outing, trailing in as the final classified finisher behind Hispania and Virgin seems a bit of a luxury.

That is, unless there really is a limited future for Trulli at Hingham – which seems unlikely given the Italian will be back in his T128 in Hungary and was keen to chirp up about already being signed up for his 2012 seat.

Both Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen signed three-year deals in 2010 – although F1 seems to lose all ability to keep time as far as contracts are concerned.

As for a possible in-season testing return, it has moved closer. Teams have agreed to lift the ban from next season with – according to Autosport – the possibility of a single three-day test before the start of the European calendar.

'We do like testing,' said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh. 'It is an opportunity for some younger drivers to get mileage. I don't think we necessarily have to pound our drivers around for several days.'

Good news.

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