Jenson Button kept his cool in a wet and wild Hungarian Grand Prix and took his and Honda's maiden Formula One win. Who said Hungary was boring? In a race full of incidents and overtaking Button took the victory from 14th on the grid, while McLaren's Pedro de la Rosa achieved his first podium in second and Nick Heidfeld claimed BMW Sauber's first podium with third.
Despite Hungary usually being a sweltering hot event it was raining cats and dogs, to put it politely, all morning at the Hungaroring -- the GP2 and Porsche races saw near enough more cars in the barriers than on track. By F1 time the rain had stopped but there was standing water on the track. Intermediate tyres seemed the best way to go, although some drivers opted for full wets.
McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was on pole for the first wet race this season -- and the first wet race in Hungary ever -- but even the formation lap was tricky. De la Rosa spun and Christian Klien had some kind of problem and his Red Bull started from the pit lane. Ferrari's Felipe Massa was alongside Raikkonen on the front row but was very slow away and dropped a few places.
The first lap was eventful; Raikkonen was away in the lead and Honda's Rubens Barrichello got up to second, while the penalty pair, Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and Renault's Fernando Alonso, shot up to fifth and seventh respectively from 11th and 15th. I'm not quite sure how that happened, there was too much going on! Mark Webber's Williams somehow dropped from sixth to 17th then pulled off to retire soon after.
"There was zero grip at the rear," said the Australian. "I had two or three huge moments in the first lap then going round the kink at the back (of the track) I had a massive tank slapper and grazed the barrier. I thought I'd get away but something happened to the front wing."
The order was then Raikkonen, Barrichello, de la Rosa up to third, Michael fourth, Alonso up to fifth, Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella sixth and Massa down to seventh. Sakon Yamamoto had a short race as his Super Aguri ground to a halt with an engine problem. Button was up to 11th and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, who was eighth, spun and dropped down the field.
Alonso was attacking Michael and got the Ferrari in a pretty daring move round the outside for fourth and de la Rosa dispatched Barrichello at turn two for second. Tonio Liuzzi spun his Toro Rosso and teammate Scott Speed was up to 14th -- then it started to rain again. Barrichello went into the pits to change from full wets to inters, which was a bit of an odd move seeing as it was getting wetter.
Tiago Monteiro's MF1 had a trip over the grass but recovered, while somewhere unseen Button had been carving through the field and was up to fifth. He then whipped past Michael for fourth -- the Michelins had the advantage in the wet but that would change later on. Alonso was up to third and Klien was the next victim of the wet weather, off into the barrier at turn three.
"It's very difficult out there," he said, "you can't see a lot. I had to start from the pit lane because there was a problem with my race car. I was pushing hard but then I just went off." Not a good day for the Austrian, who is rumoured to be losing his race seat to Webber next year.
Massa was really struggling and he spun, losing a place to David Coulthard's Red Bull and then the Ferrari went very wide, which allowed BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld to get past as well. Fisichella was attacking Michael and likewise Alonso was harassing de la Rosa. By then it was raining heavily.
Barrichello was the next to close in on Massa then the Ferrari went into the pits and swapped to full wet tyres. Liuzzi had a go at the Toyota of Jarno Trulli, who had slipped back at the start, and got past for 14th. Barrichello had an off track moment but recovered and Fisichella scraped past Michael and took the Ferrari's front wing with him.
It actually looked like Michael had a wobble and hit the Renault rather than Fisichella being a bit optimistic but no doubt there will be differing opinions. Michael had to pit for a front wing change, while de la Rosa and Raikkonen, who had been untroubled at the front, also pitted. They stayed on intermediate tyres.
Fisichella was the next retiree, flying off track into the gravel then bouncing off the barrier. He tried to continue but was forced to pull off quickly afterwards with rear wing damage. Kubica spun again and lost his front wing and had to pit for a new one, while Nico Rosberg was the next departure, crashing off with an electrical problem.
"It was very difficult to drive in the wet on our tyres today," he said. "In fact, it was almost impossible because the rear of the car was so nervous. I was trying hard not to make any mistakes and maintain a decent pace to get to the end. Unfortunately, something went wrong with the electrics and eventually the engine cut out on the exit of turn one and that was it."
The rain stopped and by that time Michael was the only Bridgestone runner in the points positions, eighth. Brother Ralf's Toyota was ninth and Speed rounded out the top 10. Amusingly, Alonso then lapped Michael -- well, amusing depending on which camp you're in. No offence to Michael but that kind of scenario was hardly expected.
Sadly for Raikkonen his race ended in a big crash. Coming up to lap Liuzzi the McLaren clipped the back of the Toro Rosso and went up in the air, nearly rolling over the other car's nose but thankfully bouncing back down before it did so. Both Raikkonen and Liuzzi were unharmed but there was debris all over the track and the safety car was deployed.
Both drivers retired and put it down to a racing incident. "It was unlucky on both sides," said Raikkonen. "Liuzzi wanted to let me past but I didn't expect him to slow there and I was trying not to let Pedro past as well." Liuzzi concurred. "I was letting him by," the Italian commented. "It was just a misunderstanding, it's a shame."
Several cars took the opportunity of the safety car period to pit and Alonso was then in the lead. Who'da though it? Button was second, de la Rosa third, Barrichello fourth and Heidfeld was up to fifth. Coulthard had also progressed and was sixth, with Michael and Ralf in seventh and eighth. When the safety car went in Alonso shot away and Ralf spun.
Michael also spun off but, like Ralf, managed to continue and the two incidents allowed Massa to move into eighth. It didn't last long as Kubica homed in on the Ferrari and went past, while Alonso and Button were trading fastest laps at the front. Speed was on the radio asking for a change to dry tyres but the team thought there was more rain coming.
The American pitted shortly afterwards for dries anyway, which turned out to be a mistake as he was all over the place when he went back out. There was a definite dry line appearing but obviously not enough for dry tyres. Meanwhile, Button was closing on Alonso and Michael likewise on Heidfeld.
The Ferrari nearly got the BMW at turn one but Heidfeld bravely held him off but Michael repeated the move the next lap and made it stick. The gap between Alonso and Button was down to less than a second and they were both seeking out the damp bits of track as the rapidly drying line was not the best for the intermediate tyres.
Button then took his next stop and didn't change tyres and Michael did likewise soon after. Trulli and Ralf were in next and they swapped to dry tyres, as did Barrichello. Alonso took his stop and….. disaster! As he exited the pit lane the Renault wobbled all over the place and at turn two it was off track and into the barrier.
"It's disappointing," Alonso said, sounding calm and composed, rather than cracking up as some believe. "The driveshaft went in the pits, I felt it straight away. I just got round the first corner but I knew I wouldn't make the second." An unexpected car failure from Renault, Alonso's first of the season.
Surely this handed Michael an easy opportunity to take another big chunk out of Alonso's championship lead? The German was then up to third, with Heidfeld and Button in front, Button leading. De la Rosa was fourth, Barrichello fifth, Coulthard sixth, Kubica seventh and Ralf eighth. Button went in the pits and rejoined in the lead.
Was this it? Was this his and Honda's maiden victory beckoning? Well, we know the answer now but it was nerve-wracking. Honda third driver Anthony Davidson was on commentary duty and was probably chewing the furniture by that point -- there was just about 10 laps to go.
Heidfeld went in the pits and rejoined fourth, which put Michael up to second. Outside the top eight was Trulli in ninth followed by Massa, Monteiro, Albers, Sato and Speed. Everyone else was either in the garage or a tyre wall by then. Michael's intermediates were well worn and de la Rosa was closing in.
This race just didn't quit -- I'll never say Hungary is boring again! (Well, I might -- I reserve the right to be fickle). De la Rosa attacked down the pit straight but it was a battle of different advantages. The Ferrari had the better speed but the McLaren better grip; they went side by side at the chicane and Michael cut it and stayed ahead.
It was a debatable moment. Michael appeared to have gained an advantage and therefore should have ceded to de la Rosa, but he didn't. It looked like he considered it but then changed his mind. Who knows? No matter, de la Rosa pulled the same move the next lap and made it work that time. Michael near enough disappeared!
What on earth? The Ferrari suddenly appeared in difficulty -- was there perhaps some damage from the previous tussle with de la Rosa? Heidfeld was homing in; they went side by side down the pit straight and Michael held but Heidfeld got him at the same place as de la Rosa had. Meanwhile, Trulli's engine went off in a huge cloud of smoke and that was his race over with only a few laps to go.
Michael went off track and then crawled back to the pits to retire with a broken track rod. Unreal. At the front Button was storming along quite happily and took the chequered flag -- the Honda collective promptly burst into tears. Bless. It really was a fine drive by Button; sure, he was helped by other retirements but he had to be there to take advantage and he duly did.
"Wow! What a day!" Button said in the post race press conference. "It's been amazing. The weather conditions made the race very, very difficult for everyone but coming through from 14th and winning the race, I couldn't have done it in a better way, I don't think. I need to thank everyone."
"The strategy was fantastic and everyone within the team has done a great job this weekend and it's nice to see that we've got a car that can win races. The team deserves this. They've been working so hard and it's taken so many years to get here. We're finally here."
De la Rosa drove a great race and earned a well deserved second. Some compensation for McLaren after Raikkonen crashed out. Heidfeld also did a good job to score BMW's first podium -- it was a refreshing change to see all three drivers and teams up there taking the top three steps.
De la Rosa was happy. "Thanks to the team, McLaren Mercedes, all the test team, thank you guys," he said. "I think today it was like a test Grand Prix because we went through all the types of tyres we have and I feel very good. And finally Jenson has made it on the day I finished second. It could have been a different way!"
Naturally Heidfeld was pleased about scoring BMW's first podium. "My race was good. I had to be somewhat careful with the tyres to avoid overheating, but I believe this was the case for most of the drivers today. The pit crew did an excellent job. They got me ahead of Coulthard and allowed me to be on the podium."
Barrichello crossed the line fourth so it was a rewarding day for Honda, although presumably Barrichello was not hugely impressed to finish one place down on where he started. Coulthard had a quiet time, at least from a spectator point of view, but scored a solid fifth and Ralf managed not to be too mad and came home sixth.
Kubica had an eventful afternoon but impressed to score points on his debut with seventh. Jacques Villeneuve may as well take up that alleged NASCAR option as Kubica got points despite more than one spin and losing his front wing -- BMW is keen and Kubica came through, if a little raggedly. Massa struggled but fought hard to take the final point in eighth.
Michael was classed ninth despite his retirement and Monteiro was 10th. Albers followed in 11th, then Speed and Trulli was classed 14th. Sato was the final finisher in 15th. It really was a mad race -- it should rain more often in Budapest! As far as the championship is concerned the status quo remains between Alonso and Michael.
There was always the possibility that neither of them would score points, simply down to the nature of the Hungaroring and where they were on the grid. But the rain turned everything upside down -- first Alonso had the advantage, then Michael. But nobody expected the Renault failure and Michael's retirement was even less expected.
There's been too many swings and roundabouts to really make sense of this Hungarian weekend just now. The penalties, the rain, the accidents and incidents -- it's a far cry from what the Hungaroring usually produces. I need to lie down in a cold room for a while. Final top eight classification: Button, de la Rosa, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Coutlhard, R. Schumacher, Kubica, Massa.