Pole winner Lewis Hamilton made a clean getaway at the Hungarian Grand Prix over the weekend, leaving Lotus' Romain Grosjean standing at the lights. The Lotus driver was immediately put under pressure by Sebastian Vettel but the Red Bull Racing man couldn’t make the move stick, and as the pair went wide on the exit McLaren's Jenson Button was allowed to sneak through on the inside and steal third. Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, starting fifth, had got away badly and was passed by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
That was the shape of things for the first two thirds of the race, with Grosjean staying in touch with Hamilton throughout -- the gap ebbing and flowing as the first two stints went on.
But the complexion of the grand prix changed at the end of the second stint. Raikkonen was told that he would have to go long on his option soft tires in the hopes of gaining ground on his rivals. The Finn complied and despite changing his car settings to preserve his tires, he continued to put in competitive times. As the cars ahead encountered traffic, the race suddenly swung Raikkonen’s way. He pitted for medium tires and when he emerged he found himself alongside Grosjean and battling for second. He brusquely shouldered his teammate aside and took off in pursuit of Hamilton.
Initially, it looked like that chase might also go the Finn’s way. Lapping almost half a second quicker than the McLaren driver, he closed to within a second and it looked like he would get a chance to make an assault on Hamilton’s lead.
However, with the McLaren driver carefully managing his tires and Raikkonen struggling in the messy wake left by his rival’s car, an opportunity never presented itself and Hamilton cruised to his 19th career win.
“These are the kind of grands prix you really enjoy winning -- races where you’re under intense pressure from great drivers like Romain and Kimi,” said Hamilton. “This is the kind of day when you have to have your mind 100 percent [focused] and I feel great.”
The McLaren driver insisted that he was never under threat from Raikkonen. “He was never really close enough,” he said. “I purposely allowed him to close up in certain corners so that he may have problems with his tires, eventually -- but it didn’t look like it was going to happen. But I had to make sure I saved my speed for the last sector and made sure I drew a big enough gap in the last three corners and I did that every lap. I could see it was very difficult for them to follow, particularly through those areas, so it was important to make sure you maximize, especially with the DRS.”
Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, was left with the consolation of his fifth podium finish of the year and admitted that it had been a struggle to get close to Hamilton.
“My only chance was that he would run out of the tires and then you will have a chance," he said. "But that never happened, so we probably should have had 20 more laps -- and then it would have happened. I didn’t win, so there’s no point worrying about it.”
Grosjean, meanwhile, settled for a somewhat disappointing third place, the Frenchman complaining that he had been badly held up by back markers in the period before he was passed by Raikkonen.
“I got stuck behind another car, which had been [blue] flagged but didn’t let me past in this lap: I lost 1.5 seconds,” he said. “I wasn’t very happy at that stage to be honest because I had been fighting for the win the whole race with Lewis, and suddenly you get stopped by something you cannot really manage."
Vettel took fourth place after a nip-and-tuck battle with Button in the opening two stints. After being eclipsed at the start, Button led the pair for most of the race, despite Vettel insisting to his team that he had the faster car and that they needed to do something. In the end, they didn’t need to. Button made his second stop and emerged eighth behind the slower Bruno Senna.
That was enough to buy Vettel the time he needed. After his own stop, he emerged in front of Button and settled into fourth place, which he held until the flag. Afterwards, he said that being held up by Button had compromised his race.
He said: “The speed was a little bit better than that, but I was stuck behind Jenson, who was quite slow. There we lost quite a lot of time, but you can’t just pit and come out in clean air. Other people weren’t that much slower either, so there was not much we could have done.”
“The strategy didn’t work out. We lost three places through trying something different ... I was quicker but I couldn't get the job done.” --Webber
With Fernando Alonso fifth, Button sixth and Senna seventh, eighth place went to Mark Webber. The Australian, who started 11th, ran as high as fifth in the closing stages but made a third stop and dropped back behind Senna, whom he was unable to pass.
Afterwards he admitted the decision to make the third stop may have been wrong.
“I think we were hoping people would be in a bit more trouble at the end [of the race] with the tires; that’s where we lost three positions,” Webber admitted. “Fifth place was there. I was thinking of staying out, we had a nice cushion and my times were going pretty well. But it’s hard to know, we’ve had plenty of incidents this year where people have dropped off the cliff.
“The strategy didn’t work out. We lost three places through trying something different,” he added. “Overtaking is very difficult, so you need bad tires for the other guys and also in the last sector so you can line them up. I was quicker but I couldn't get the job done.”
The result means that Fernando Alonso extends his lead over Webber to 40 points, with the Ferrari driver sitting at 164 points. Vettel lies third at 122 points, with Hamilton moving up to fourth at 117 points. Kimi Raikkonen is fifth with 116 points.
Despite the gap to Alonso widening, Webber believes the title race is still wide open.
“We’ve got work to do. We’ve had a little bit of friendly fire with ourselves and qualifying here was down to me,” he said. “But we still have good points and it’s still open for the rest of the year. Obviously Fernando grabbed a few more today but that’s the way it goes.”
Follow Red Bull Racing Spy on Twitter for more news and updates.
- Vettel Is First to Drive New Jersey Track
- Baby Schumi: More Than Just a Nickname for Vettel
- Red Bull Racing home page