We come to the Hungaroring, notoriously one of the dullest Grand Prix’s of the year. As far as overtaking is concerned, Murray Walker always described it as Monaco but without the scenery. With Vettel restoring his pole position on Saturday, it was looking like another possible procession. But the McLaren’s, along with a bit of help from the weather, had different ideas.
From the start we saw Vettel under pressure, a sight which has become so rare in this 2011 season. Hamilton was all over the back of the Red Bull driver and often alongside – great wheel-to-wheel racing.
But the most noticeable thing off the start was how difficult the track conditions were. The track was slightly damp due to some earlier rain, but I was surprised to see everyone struggling on the intermediate tyres and really fighting the cars not to slide off. The Ferrari’s seemed to have the worst problems, a wide first corner had allowed both Mercedes drivers through. Despite getting past both Rosberg and Schumacher in subsequent laps, Alonso found himself back behind Rosberg soon after when he slid off the circuit entirely. It seems we’ve learnt another thing about those Pirelli’s today, they don’t get up to temperature in the rain very well at all!
This (along with pressure from Hamilton) eventually led to Vettel sliding wide and losing the lead to the Brit. From this point, Vettel did not look very strong at all, it was hard to see this as the same man who has been bullet-proof in the first half of the championship. He continued to slide back from Hamilton into the clutches of Button who also overtook the German just before the first pit-stops.
By the first stops, the track had dried out causing everyone to switch to the dry super-soft tyres. Webber and Button were first and looked pretty cautious on their outlaps, but this soon turned in their favour when they got up to speed, helping Webber to jump Alonso. The tyres would continue to play a big part throughout this race.
Hamilton continued to lead out front, but when he stopped for the third time, he made a fatal error which likely cost him the race. Lewis opted to stay on the super-soft dry tyres. It seemed the sensible decision, they had proven faster over the weekend and seemed the safe choice. Alonso also made this call, but the other front runners opted for the soft prime tyre, which had seemed slower in practice, but could go a much longer distance.
It didn’t take long to see which tyre was best. The track was clearly coming into the territory of the prime tyre (due to the lower temperatures) as Sebastien Vettel caught and passed Fernando Alonso (who had managed to jump him in an earlier stop). He then proceeded to pull away from Alonso at an astonishing rate, proving the speed of the primes at this stage of the race.
Realising the mistake, Hamilton pushed hard for fast laps, he needed to make a gap to pit again. But there was another curveball to come. The rain started coming
down, not very intense, but enough. Hamilton hit a curb and spun his McLaren. In a bid to keep the lead, he quickly spun around – not noticing oncoming cars and forced Paul Di Resta to drive off the track to avoid him. This later earned Lewis a drive-throgh penalty, destroying his race – and I’m sorry to say it was the right decision, it was a dangerous move (although not as dangerous as the Heidfeld incident which I’ll come onto later).
This allowed Button through, but also produced some of the most thrilling racing seen all season as the two team-mates diced for the lead, swapping position every few corners. The racing was ferocious but fair and kudos has to go to both of the McLaren boys for making such a great spectacle. The lead was important to both as with rain coming down, they needed to make the decision about tyres. And this is where Lewis got it wrong again, opting for intermediates. Both he and Webber made this choice and felt the consequences. The rain was not heavy enough and it seemed the prime was still the tyre to be on. Both switched to this a few laps later.
All of this allowed Button to stay comfortably out in front. Both he and Vettel already had the prime tyres and had managed to live through the short shower. With
Vettel still looking like a weaker force (and more than happy in second), this was Button’s race to lose. His team-mate Hamilton, now down in fifth and almost a minute behind the lead, still had some fight in him and took Webber for fourth position with six laps to go.
But no-one could stop Button now and he drove magnificently to his 11th career win on his 200th Grand Prix start!
Further down the field there was a mixed day for all. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa must be disappointed with sixth after fighting higher up early on and setting several fastest laps, but then both Ferrari’s under performed their cars today with errors galore (I think Alonso was off the track more than anyone else).
Another under performing team was Mercedes. The fantastic start for Schumacher and Rosberg was the only highlight as both cars slipped down the field, Rosberg finishing 9th and Schumacher retiring with a gearbox failure.
The less said about Renault the better. The only notable part of their Grand Prix was when Heidfeld’s car exploded on the pit exit. I was not comfortable with the handling of this. In tricky conditions for the drivers, the car was left in a prominent position, smoke billowing everywhere at a point where the drivers sharply accelerate. Things got scary when the stricken Renault was towed back into the pit-lane as Vettel exited. After a slide, the German missed the marshals by centimetres. I think when the Stewards criticised Hamilton for his move, they should seriously look at the danger of this incident – a safety car was needed.
Final thoughts go to Paul Di Resta who drove fantastically (if a bit under the radar) to secure seventh position – the best of the rest(a!). Paul is really starting to show a lot of promise with his speed in a Force India, surely a star of the future.
And that was the Hungarian Grand Prix… really? But it was interesting!
I Know! We’ve gone three races since Vettel last won, yet due to the victories being shared by Alonso, Hamilton and Button, he has still extended his lead today.
But do you know what? I don’t care. So long as the on track racing remains exciting (which it certainly is) I will continue to enjoy watching it… well for this year at least…