Hungarian Grand Prix: Hamilton wins for Mercedes

The Hungarian Grand Prix was true to it’s reputation of a hot and dirty track. The 4.381 km circuit which is characterised by several sweeping corners taken at high speed, and often a very dusty and blisteringly hot surface is more like a street circuit in terms of difficulty. It’s not difficult to see why the Hungaroring is referred to as “Monaco without the barriers”, the narrow circuit is extremely difficult to pass on, and like Monaco, relies heavily on downforce and tyre performance rather than sheer speed. Both Red Bulls were strong during practice and qualifying until Webber suffered a KERS issue, and, in true Mark Webber fashion, he was not shy in broadcasting his displeasure with the team. So much for seeing some of the old happy Mark. What we did see, was an extremely impressive qualifying drive (without KERS) to see him start from tenth on the grid. Difficult track conditions, and strength from the RB-9s didn’t stop Lewis Hamilton from taking out pole in qualifying and on race day for his first win for Mercedes.

Hamilton had a strong get away off the grid, as did Grosjean, who was pressuring Vettel for second. After an uncharacteristically poor start from the Red Bull (of Vettel… not Webber), the German was on the defensive coming in to turn 1 to hold his position from Grosjean. Rosberg had a very unfortunate start, first being overtaken by Alonso outside of turn 1, and then being squeezed off track by Massa as he made his way up to catch his team mate. Shortly after the Mercedes and Ferrari made contact at turn 5, though at first Rosberg’s Mercedes appeared to come out reasonably unscathed, though he lost several places. Grosjean impressed me early in the race as not only did he pressure Vettel without making contact, but he held off Alonso to maintain his position in third.

Despite a very clean start from Hamilton, he was unable to shake Vettel from within DRS zone until lap 6. Vergne and van der Garde were the first cars doing a three stop strategy to pit on lap 8. Shortly after Hamilton also pitted to release Vettel to lead the race. Within the next 2 laps, Maldonado, di Resta, Ricciardo, Rosberg, and Bottas all came into pit. Sutil became the first retiree of the race following contact with Massa on lap 19. Luck seemed to turn around for Webber, starting the race on medium compound tyres, he was able to work his way up to race leader and hold off pitting until lap 23. This comfortably made up for a poor qualifying position. On lap 28, Gutierrez retired from the race with gearbox failure.

Vettel had to be cautious not to let his RB-9 overheat as he drove in the slip stream of McLaren’s Jensen Button. He was in a bit of a catch-22 at this stage, as the only chance he had of getting out of the slip stream, was to stay in it so he could get DRS and overtake into clean air. After a failed attempt to overtake, Vettel suffered front-wing damage and pulled back to cool the car. In the mean time, Grosjean was again putting the pressure on Vettel. On lap 24, Vettel took another pounce at Button, and this time managed to get passed him on the inside of turn 4. As Button slipped down into third, it was Grosjean’s turn to make a move on the McLaren, and he did (but not well). The Lotus and McLaren made contact as Grosjean moved back in to take the racing line, and was forced to take the escape route to maintain his position. Grosjean was handed a drive through penalty, and Button suffered considerably damage to his front-wing causing him to pit and re-enter the race in eighth.

By the half way point in the race, it was clear that Mercedes were not going to lose out on tyre pace as Hamilton maintained a +12 second lead on Vettel. Finally Hamilton was able to delivery what he’d been teasing us with so consistently in qualifying this season and continued to cruise on to a comfortable lead, leaving the race behind. Vettel’s second pit on lap 34 meant that he again had to briefly battle Button (isn’t that fun to say) for third, a move that was easily done due to Button’s worn soft compound tyres.

Kimi at this stage in the race had been a quiet achiever, looking after his tyres (as usual) and slowly gaining positions. This was where the real race began, trailing Hamilton by more than ten seconds, he was driving in clean air, but still only a few seconds clear of Vettel. The Lotus kept his advantage over the Red Bull on 29 lap old tyres, which forces me to one of the following conclusions; either a) Kimi is a wizard, or b) Kimi is God. Either way he never fails to impress me with how viciously he throws his car around a track all the while keeping his tyres as if they were fresh. Bottas left his team mate to fight for a points finish after hydraulics issues caused him to retire from the race on lap 42.

Vettel came in for his final pit on lap 55, leaving him 15 laps to catch up to Kimi (who had come in for his second and final pit on lap 42), and within 3 laps he had caught back up to be within DRS. Vettel didn’t make a move on Kimi until lap 66, where he briefly locked his brakes (and I lost my breath), so again he pulled back and waited again to pounce. Kimi wasn’t having any of it though and every advance Vettel made was matched by Kimi’s defense in closing the gap in corners. It was a well fought battle between the two as Kimi cruised in to take out second place, with Vettel in third. After an unlucky start, Rosberg was working his way back through the pack from fifteenth, and managed to comfortably hold ninth before his retirement from the race on lap 64 due to an engine fire. Luckily a safety car was avoided as he was able to neatly slip off track through one of the escape routes, how considerate of him. Di Resta became the final car to retire from the race on lap 66 with the team reporting hydraulics issues.

There will be much talk over the summer break I’m sure between Kimi’s manager and Red Bull. Personally I’d love to see him fill the seat at Red Bull, clearly Seb and Kimi have a good relationship off the track, and they respect each other’s talent. The other man eyeing the seat at Red Bull is Daniel Ricciardo, but after a strong qualifying, Ricciardo didn’t deliver much on race day. The STR-8 just didn’t have the speed on Sunday and he failed to make his way back through the grid after his first pit (eventually finishing thirteenth).

Webber came in to take out fourth after keeping the slower than usual Ferrari of Fernando Alonso at bay. Alonso finished fifth, ahead of Grosjean who didn’t manage to recover race positions following his drive through penalty. Button, Massa, and Perez took out seventh, eighth, and ninth respectively. Maldonado seems to be more on form this season compared to last year, and secured Williams’ their first point for the season finishing in tenth.

It was refreshing to see a race this season where the tyres didn’t play such a crucial role in team strategy, or at least no more than what would have been expected with 50+ degree track temperatures. The Hungaroring is a fantastic circuit to watch (and to race on I’m sure) as the drivers use so much of the kerbs as part of their racing line. It feels much more like a street circuit than a purpose built track. It’s exciting, and I like it.

– Alex

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault)
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:24.069 Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

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