Sunday, 31 July 2011

Hungary Dries Out for Jenson

Photo courtesy of Team Lotus
The changeable weather in Hungary made for another race where it was impossible to guess the result from the start. After the bad news for British TV coverage it was just what was needed to get the focus back on the racing.

After Friday practice it seemed that Red Bull was playing catch up to McLaren and Ferrari. That was reinforced by Vettel's side of the garage pulling an all nighter to get his suspension set up back to how it was in Germany. Surely it had to be a sign that things weren't going their way. Of course in Free Practice 3 as the temperatures rose, all those hopes were dispelled. Vettel fastest in the session by 0.3 seconds. Would this be another Red Bull domination? We were about to find out.


As the Q1 session started it was Vettel and Webber that set the early pace. A short time later Button crossed the line to put himself into second place and Hamilton followed behind to take the top spot. 13 minutes remained on the clock and the top teams stayed in the pits. Ferrari were the next to attack for the top spot and Alonso put himself 4th with Massa 5th. As the rest of the field fought for their places the top of grid went quiet again. Webber had another try but could only get 5th, Alonso also ran again and put himself in the top spot with 5 minutes remaining.
Q2 came next and again Vettel was out early but not setting a terribly impressive time. Hamilton was also out early and put himself into 2nd place. Interestingly he was running on the harder of the two tyres for this weekend which makes that a pretty impressive lap time. Webber was next to post the fastest time but that didn't last long as Button went even faster. Alonso was next to make his way to the top and with that it seemed that the top 6 were satisfied and saw no need to run again. Hamilton had saved himself a set of soft tyres which could become very helpful on race day. Paul di Resta put in a time to claim 10th place just as the flag dropped but with several cars on a flying lap it didn't look very safe. Sure enough Scumacher, Kobayashi and Petrov all acheived a faster time and dropped him out of the final session.

Now it was time for the Q3 session and the final challenge for pole. Alonso was the first man out of the pit followed by Hamilton, both of them obviously eager to get started. Alonso's time was comfortably beaten by Hamilton going 0.4 seconds faster. Button took third and Massa 4th. Vettel was next to cross the line and he nearly took the top spot, missing out by 0.07 seconds. Webber however could only manage 6th. Mercedes didn't send either of their drivers out for an early run opting to gamble on just one flying lap.

As the drivers started their second attack Webber was being told that his KERS had 'come to life' and he would be able to use it for this run. Alonso was the first to cross the line but his time was not good enough to change his position. Vettel started his lap with an average first sector but pulled it together by the end to take pole. Hamilton failed to improve while Button jumped to 3rd place. Massa also put in a great lap to put himself in 4th and out-qualify his team mate for the first time this year. The final grid was Vettel on pole, Hamilton 2nd with Button, Massa, Alonso and Webber making up the top 6.


There was rain early on Sunday morning and although there had been a chance for the track to dry, there was more light rain before the start. It was ending as the grid formed up but the track was wet enough for everyone to start on intermediate tyres. The weather reports seemed to indicate that there wouldn't be any rain for a while after the start though so the track would dry quickly.

Photo courtesy of Force India
As the lights went out the first three all got a decent start and stayed in formation to the first corner. The track was clearly more slippery than they had expected though and it was easy to see all the cars struggling to find grip on the way out of the turns. The Ferraris lost out at this stage to the Mercedes with both drivers losing places. Hamilton seemed to have the better of Vettel as well, the English driver trying hard to find a way past in the early stages. At almost every corner the cars were twitching and sliding, which really allowed the drivers to show some skill as they kept it on the black stuff.

Hamilton finally made it alongside Vettel on lap 4 but couldn't complete the move having run out of grip. Alonso touched the white line on turn 2 and had to run wide to avoid spinning. That lost him a place that he had just won from Rosberg. Next time round Hamilton was again pushing Vettel who tried to brake late into turn 2 to defend but misjudged it and also had to run wide. Lewis was through into the lead and started to open a gap straight away. Vettel's mistake had allowed Button to close in and now the German had to defend from him as well.

Alonso ran wide at the same place allowing his team mate, Massa through but he retook the position on the way down the main straight. By lap 8 the order at the front was Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Rosberg, Alonso and Massa with Webber catching up. Massa spun on the treacherous turn 2 paint and rolled backwards into the barrier, he damaged his rear wing but was able to continue. Meanwhile at the front, Hamilton had increased his lead to 5.5 seconds with Button 1.7 seconds behind Vettel.

Webber was the first to head for the pits on lap 10 for soft slicks. He struggled to make it out of the pit but by the second sector it was clear that there was enough of a dry line to make them work. Massa was next in as lap 11 started followed by Button and next lap Hamilton. Lewis came out in front of Schumacher but he quickly took the position as Hamilton slipped around on the wet part of the track. Webber proved the timing of his change was right by setting the fastest lap of the race. Hamilton got up to speed but couldn't find a way past Schumacher until the German dropped into the pit at the end of the lap.

It was now Button's turn to overtake Vettel and set off after Hamilton. Webber found a way past Alonso on lap 14 in the gap between turns 1 and 2 but soon after he ran wide off the track. Alonso wasn't close enough to get his place back though. Hamilton and Button were pulling away from Vettel and opening up their lead, things were looking good for the British team.

Things were also looking pretty good for Paul di Resta who, by this stage of the race, was up to 7th place and was closing in on Rosberg in 6th. Massa was trying hard to overtake Schumacher but wasn't finding it easy. By lap 24 Hamilton was being told to look for damp patches to cool his tyres. Not the sort of message that you expect to hear when using dry tyres. The wear was obviously a lot higher than expected, at least for Lewis, Button meanwhile was setting a new fastest lap.

Nick Heidfeld pitted and due to a problem was stationary for longer than planned. As he got moving again there was a cloud of smoke from the sidepod of his car which quickly turned to flames as he exited the pit. He pulled over to the grass and jumped out as the side of the car burned more fiercely. Marshalls ran out with fire extinguishers and started to put out the fire. There was a small explosion and a piece of debris must have hit one of the marshalls and he limped back off the circuit.

Surprisingly no safety car was called but that didn't stop several cars driving into the pit. It was probably only 4 or 5 laps early for a stop anyway so it must have seemed like a good idea. Over the next two laps most of the top drivers pitted and by lap 28 only Vettel had not. He was paying the price now as everyone else was going much faster on fresh rubber. He finally stopped one lap later and by the time he returned to the track Webber was close behind.

The order on lap 30 was Hamilton, Button, Vettel, Webber, Alonso and Kobayashi. Alonso was now on the move and by lap 34 close enough to Webber to use his DRS. Webber's defensive driving kept him behind though. Alonso was making his third visit to the pits by lap 37 while Hamilton was being told he would need to make his tyres last another 9 laps. That didn't seem likely to happen, Vettel was already complaining about his rears going away and Alonso was setting times 3 seconds a lap faster than Lewis.

Photo courtesy of Force India
Lap 40 and Webber was in the pit, this time for a hard tyre to make it to the end of the race. Hamilton stopped a lap later for soft tyres and Button the next lap for hard. Would Lewis be able to find enough speed to make up for the extra stop he would surely have to do? And would the hard tyres actually last to the end? Alonso made the most of his fresher, soft tyres and found a way past Vettel on lap 42.

A few laps later and Button was told he can make it to the end as long as he is careful with his front left tyre. A sudden rain shower at the back of the circuit livened things up. Hamilton was first to encounter the wet track and spun in the chicane. He ended up facing the wrong way in the middle of the track and spun his car but Di Resta was coming out of the chicane and had to take avoiding action. Button also passed him for the lead as he got back up to racing speed.

Alonso was pitting at this time (lap 48) and put hard tyres on his car, obviously hoping not to stop again. The drivers were being told that the rain would not last, but if it did they would need some inters very soon. By lap 49 the order was Button, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Alonso and Rosberg. Hamilton was closing in on Button again as the wet track cooled the harder tyres faster than the soft. The two swapped places a few times, obviously having a great time racing each other. The track was still wet in the back section, but would anyone stop for intermediate tyres?

Webber was the first to make that call and on lap 52 he went in. On lap 53 it was Hamilton who was in front and he too dived into the pits for the inters. Next time round Button still didn't bother to stop and Webber agreed with him by coming back in for a set of hard tyres, deciding it just wasn't wet enough. Hamilton also saw his mistake, but to rub salt in his wounds, he also received a drive through penalty for the dangerous move recovering from his spin. On stop for tyres and another for the penalty.

Lap 57 and after Lewis' multiple stops the order was now Button, Vettel, Alonso, Massa, Webber and Hamilton. Lewis was right behind Webber though and as the Aussie used his DRS to try and make a pass on Massa, Hamilton was trying hard to follow him through. Alonso got himself into a spin later on and Hamilton did eventually make it past Massa whose tyres were fast wearing out. He stopped for fresh on lap 59.

Webber and Hamilton caught up with a train of backmarkers on lap 63 and started to try and find a way through. Hamilton, ever the opportunist, took a chance and got three wide as Webber was overtaking a lapped car to pass him in turn 12. Webber tried to fight back but couldn't get any drive and lost out down the main straight. Despite trying hard Webber was unable to catch Hamilton as the laps ran down.

The race finished with no more moves at the front. Button took an impressive win followed by Vettel and Alonso. Hamilton took 4th with Webber just behind and Massa in 6th. Paul di Resta took an impressive 7th place to bring home some good points for the Force India team.

Button once again showed his driving style suits changeable conditions by taking a win on the same track he got his first victory. What a great way to celebrate his 200th grand prix, he is bound to earn himself more cake for that one. Hamilton's eagerness to get on with the job cost him dearly in this race. A little patience may have saved him a penalty and could even have stopped him going in for the unnecessary intermediate tyres. Without those he could well have been challenging for the lead or at least a podium. Di Resta did a great job considering his qualifying performance and its good to see him overcome his recent troubles and get points for a team that really deserve them.

A great race with lots of action. The relative performance of the top teams was very close. Despite all the talk of taking a step forward for the next race, you can't help but hope that they all stay where they are now. It would be much more fun if they stay this competitive. Now comes the summer break and a long wait for the next race. Lets hope its as good as the last few!

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