For fans of McLaren, Germany was a mixed bag. While Button was able to climb to an eventual second place (off the back of Vettel’s penalty), Hamilton found himself lapped by his teammate after getting a puncture in Turn 1, courtesy of Felipe Massa, marshals who missed the chance to clear up, and a safety car that should have made an appearance but didn’t. No doubt, Button drove a fantastic race and thoroughly deserved his podium and Hamilton was no doubt hampered by bad luck and forces outside of his control. On the back of a horrendous Silverstone, this seems like a welcome reprieve, particularly for Button who has been lacking for points.
The problem is, I’m not really convinced that McLaren are really back in top form. Gary Anderson pointed out that both Red Bull and Ferrari have a better understanding of the tires than McLaren (here) and I think that lack of tire understanding can lead to some very peaky performances. This is not an issue of heavy degradation in my mind, but an issue of thermal management, something I wrote an article about here.
If McLaren are uncertain about how the tires react to different thermal conditions, then they cannot be as consistent in producing those optimal conditions. The car itself is quick, but only when it is not limited by tires that are not functioning at their maximum.
This leads to a very remarkable situation. The McLaren may be the fastest car on the grid, but because McLaren tire management is inferior to Red Bull and Ferrari, their performances are far more inconsistent. Conversely, because Red Bull and Ferrari and Lotus all seem to have a very good understanding of the tire, they perform at a very consistent level.
McLaren have to solve this issue soon, and no doubt they are. If anything, Hockenheim showed that the fundamental package is still very strong and a force to contend with at the front. As Button has also said, the balance has always been there, but not the grip. If McLaren can get back into their winning ways and quick, look for them to consolidate their third position in the constructors and maybe even challenge Ferrari for second.