McLaren's surprise victory in last Sunday's German Grand Prix has thrown another question mark on Red Bull's ability to close off the 2011 season as convincingly as they had begun it, with the race offering up more questions than answers as we look to unravel the intrigue of an action-packed season of racing.
As the sport heads to Hungary to begin the second half of the year, was Germany just a blip in Red Bull's pace or have McLaren and Ferrari begun a definitive trend of beating the reigning champions? Were uncharacteristically low Nurburgring temperatures to blame? What about the blown diffuser rule change? And, most importantly, is the championship fight still on?
The Red Bull question
Temperatures were unseasonably cool in Germany, which could have contributed to Red Bull's drop in pace, but the RB7 is not noted for its kindness to its tyres. While Vettel has been able to manage tyre wear by usually leading from the front, Webber has regularly had to be the first of the leaders to pit.
Red Bull's qualifying performance – Webber on pole and Vettel in third – also suggests they were having little difficulty in getting their tyres up to temperature, so the conclusion must be that the RB7 was simply off the pace in Germany. On paper it should have been a strong Red Bull track, with few long straights and plenty of high-speed corners, but things didn't go their way.
McLaren back on the pace?
McLaren's previous two wins this year came because of Red Bull errors – a strategic error to keep Vettel on a two-stop in China and a driving error by Vettel in Canada – but they had enough pace in hand to win the race on their own merit this time around.
The big question is whether or not they have made the giant leap ahead of Red Bull and Ferrari, or if their pace was circuit- and weather-dependent. Button's lacklustre drive to 7th before retiring suggests there is still much improvement needed and shows just how well Hamilton had to drive to win.
Where do Ferrari sit?
Alonso has been one of the kindest drivers on his tyres so far this year, and they had struggled until recently to get heat into the harder compounds. Further supporting the cold-tyre theory is that Alonso was able to stay on Hamilton's pace after a few laps, once his tyres were up to temperature.
McLaren and Red Bull would also have gained a lot with the return of the off-throttle blown diffusers, but the improvements brought in Silverstons suggests Ferrari are on the right path nonetheless.
2011: part 2
Red Bull dominated the race last year and anything other than a victory there will prove that they have certainly dropped off the pace. It's difficult to see where McLaren fit into the picture. Could they retain their place at the head of the queue, or will they be re-passed by Red Bull and Ferrari?
Ferrari could be a serious threat though. Alonso took his first F1 victory in Budapest eight years ago and drove superbly there last year to take second ahead of the penalised Vettel. Having performed consistently well in recent races, expect Alonso to be in contention again.
As for the championship fight, with Vettel still holding a commanding 77-point cushion, the three drivers directly behind him – Webber, Hamilton and Alonso – will have to start working together to make fourth place finishes the norm for the German. All three need McLaren and Ferrari to beat Red Bull on a consistent basis, as anything else will see Vettel pick up more podium finishes and easily collect his second drivers' crown.
All will be revealed in Budapest on Sunday!