By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Slippery conditions at the Hungaroring
- Almost flawless drive for Jenson Button
- Sebastian Vettel loses, but still gains
Jenson Button won his 200th Grand Prix last weekend, it was his 11th victory in Formula One, and his 36th podium finish. Not bad for a driver who at the end of the 2008 season finished 18th in the Drivers’ Championship and only scored three points, and to make things worse, his employer the Honda Racing F1 team decided to leave Formula One as a result of the global economic crisis.
Button’s Formula One career seemed to have come to an end that year, but after Ross Brawn took over the team only weeks before the start of the 2009 season, everything changed for the now 31-year old Button. Much to his own surprise, the Briton won the season opener, the Australian Grand Prix, and after that went on to win another five Grands Prix in Brawn’s magic BGP 01. “Thank you Ross, you have built me an absolute monster of a car, thank you!” Button shouted over the radio after he had crossed the finish line in first position during the 2009 Turkish Grand Prix after scoring his sixth win of the season.
The rest is history, Button won the 2009 title and after Brawn sold his team to Mercedes Benz, Button decided to go to McLaren, and in 2010 added another two victories to his tally. This season he won the Canadian Grand Prix in very difficult conditions, and the rain in Hungary again helped him to win his second race of the season. “All round it has been an amazing weekend, and obviously I want to say a big thank you to the whole team, the mechanics, engineers, everyone who has worked so hard to produce the car we have now,” Button said after the race.
How to win a Grand Prix, and how to lose one
Ahead of the weekend Lewis Hamilton had been tipped to win the Hungarian Grand Prix after an excellent win at the Nurburgring. He topped the time sheets on Friday during free practice, and secured second place on the start grid during Saturday’s qualifying. Button was just behind him in third place, while the two Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso took fourth and fifth position. Sebastian Vettel did what he always does, and took pole position.
No pole for the 2008 champion, but Hamilton was nevertheless in good form, and after the lights turned to green on Sunday afternoon, he immediately started chasing Vettel, who this time didn’t get the opportunity to get away from the rest of the field. Vettel was forced to heavily defend his position, as Hamilton put the pressure on the German. Vettel then made a small mistake and ran wide, and consequently lost the lead to Hamilton, who immediately started to pull away, while Button was next in line to put pressure on Vettel.
All drivers had started on the intermediates as it had started to rain just ahead of the race, which also meant they had a free choice of slicks, they could now use whatever compound suited their car best. On lap 11 Button made his first stop, and went out again on the supersoft tyres, but soon found out it was still very tricky on slicks and during his first lap he was ‘all over the place’. But soon his tyres were up to working temperature and Button continued to gain on Vettel, who was at that point second, while Hamilton had pitted without losing his leading position.
Just two laps later Button passed Vettel with ease and pulled away from the Red Bull, but was not fast enough to get closer to Hamilton. After the second round of pit stops the order remained the same: Hamilton was leading and was followed by Button and Vettel, and all three were on the red marked Pirelli supersofts. But Pirelli had already warned the supersofts would wear faster than the softs, and after another 12 laps drivers were again slipping and sliding around the Hungaroring, Vettel was the first to make his third stop, and decided to continue on the softs.
Not much later leader Hamilton pitted as well, but he opted for the supersofts as they were faster. This was the first mistake Hamilton and his pit crew made, as it was clear he had to make a fourth stop, because the supersofts would never last the 30 laps he still had to go. Button and Vettel also pitted, but left the pit lane on the softs, and it was clear they would attempt to finish the race on this set of tyres.
But then the weather gods stepped in, it started to rain again, Hamilton took his car just a little bit too far over the kerbs, spun and lost the lead to Button. In a hurry to get his car facing the right direction again, Hamilton spun his car around and ended up in the path of his compatriot Paul di Resta, who had to steer his Force India onto the grass to avoid hitting the McLaren, an action which would cost Hamilton dearly.
With still 20 laps to go, Hamilton started to reel in Button and it was this time Button who made a mistake, the only mistake he made that weekend. He ran wide on the slippery track and his team colleague was now leading the race again. Now things really started to get exited, as both McLaren drivers were now battling for the lead. Just one lap later Button took the lead back as Hamilton was struggling on his worn out supersofts, but Hamilton didn’t give up and took his place back just half a lap later. Many feared a repeat of the scenario that had unfolded during the Canadian Grand Prix, but this time both drivers gave each other enough room and fought a clean and fair battle.
More rain started to fall and Hamilton came into pit for intermediates, his third mistake of the day. It was clearly the wrong choice as the slicks were still faster, which was demonstrated by Alonso who easily overtook him. McLaren and Hamilton now realized they made the wrong call and Hamilton once again had to pit, but this time rejoined the race in fourth position on the softs. But his ordeal wasn’t over, he had to come into the pit lane once more, after the FIA stewards had given him a drive through penalty for impeding di Resta.
That was the final blow and Hamilton’s hopes of winning the race were now over as he in the space of ten laps had dropped from first to sixth position. Despite that, he didn’t give up and during the last laps overtook Massa and Mark Webber, and crossed the finish line in fourth position. “I’m disappointed in myself for spinning. I had to do a doughnut to get myself facing the right way and that forced Paul [di Resta] onto the grass, which is why I got the drive-through penalty,” Hamilton contemplated after the race.
Button meanwhile, was aware of the problems Hamilton had, but the big difference was that he did not panic when it started to rain again, and Button stayed out instead of heading for the pits for intermediates. This, and Hamilton’s spin and the following drive through penalty, proved to the decisive factor, and the 2009 champion crossed the finish line claiming his second victory of the season.
“In the history of me you couldn't write it any better,” Button said to the UK Express. “This is our third win in the last five races and it means we're going into the break on a nice high. But every day we're on holiday we're going to be thinking of the next race in Belgium, and I'm already really excited about coming back and doing the same again. But for now I'm going to enjoy this moment, and enjoy the next couple of weeks,” he said.
Vettel loses, but gains at the same time
Not a great weekend for Red Bull, although Vettel took pole position, during the race he was clearly off the pace compared to the McLarens, and had to be satisfied with second place. Vettel already ran into problems after the start, and after a few laps ran wide as well. “I was struggling a little in the first stint on the intermediate tyres. Lewis [Hamilton] was a bit faster and then I went into Turn 2 too deep, it was quite tricky -- he was pushing quite hard and I tried to be on the edge. At some stage I realized it would be too late, so I opened the car because I know the white lines and the green paint afterwards is very slippery, so it’s easy to have a spin, and I lost the lead,” Vettel explained.
Although he didn’t made the mistake of pitting for intermediates at the last stage of the race, he did not have a good race pace this weekend, and simply could not keep up with the McLarens. “I did feel I had more speed in the car, but with 20 laps to go it was difficult to know how hard it was going to be at the end, so I couldn’t push as hard as I would have liked, but still, second today is an important step.” About the progress McLaren has made he said, “The McLarens are strong in all sorts of conditions and it’s clear that for two races now they have made a step forward; we need to make sure we come back strong for the next race.”
Not a good weekend for the second man in the championship Webber, he also decided to pit for intermediates, but had to change back to the slicks a few laps later, and thus lost his chances on a fifth consecutive podium. Webber about the unfortunate decision, “Everyone was skidding around in front of me at the entrance to the pit lane, so I made the call to pit. It didn’t work out because the heavier rain didn’t come and I had to pit for dries a couple of laps later, but I wanted to roll the dice.”
A difficult weekend for Red Bull therefore, but as Vettel’s rivals except Button all finished behind them, he was able to extend his lead in the championship and is now a massive 85 points ahead of Webber, who is second with 149 points. But the 24-year old German acknowledges McLaren is getting closer and closer. “I wouldn't say that it makes me worried, but of course we also cannot accept it,” he said. And added, “We have to analyze what made them stronger and what cost us a bit of time. We clearly want to get back to where we were at the beginning of the season.”
Another podium for Alonso
Alonso took third place on Sunday, but for him it had also been a troublesome race. Four laps into the race he ran wide and lost a position to Nico Rosberg, and in an attempt to make up for his mistake, ran wide again and lost his position to Massa, but the latter for inexplicable reasons slowed down to let the Spanish driver past him again. While Alonso was again dicing for position with Rosberg, the Brazilian also ran wide, damaged his rear wing when he hit the barrier, but was able to continue the race.
Massa about his mistake, “I lost so much time because of that and even if I made some nice passing moves and moved up the order, I am still annoyed at not having been able to fight for a podium finish as I probably could have done.” Meanwhile Alonso had advanced and was now behind Webber’s Red Bull, but could not find a way past. He stayed behind the Australian in fifth place for the major part of the race, until he finally got ahead of him after Webber made the mistake to switch to the intermediates.
“We decided to pit early and switch to a four stop strategy: the plan worked out and that was how we made it to the podium,” Alonso explained. But he knows he was lucky at the Hungaroring, “Sure, even the others had some difficult moments but we did a good job of staying on track with the dry tyres when it began to rain again. At that moment, we were not very fast on the Super Soft, but we did not panic and then we switched to the Soft.”
And about his chances for the championship Alonso remained optimistic, “We have been competitive on four tracks with different characteristics and certainly this July, in weather that definitely does not suit our car. So that gives me confidence for the rest of the championship.”
Mixed fortunes for Force India
Force India have dramatically improved their qualifying pace the last two races, which resulted in a sixth place for Adrian Sutil during the German Grand Prix. In Hungary Sutil qualified in eighth, and di Resta in 11th place, and both were optimistic of a good race result, but it was this time di Resta who was the faster Force India driver. Despite almost being collected by a spinning Hamilton, the Scot finished in seventh place and outpaced Mercedes, Lotus Renault, Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber.
But according to di Resta, it all boiled down to the correct tyre choice. “It was quite a mixed race with rain at the beginning, but I made a good start and felt comfortable in the conditions. Then it was a matter of which tyres to choose. We went to supersofts for the middle two stints, and then ended the race on the primes,” he commented. And referring to his recent slump he said, “Finishing seventh is the best way to respond after a series of races where, for various reasons, we didn’t get the results that were possible. So it’s nice to go into the summer break with a smile on my face having scored points that are so important for our position in the championship.”
Not so lucky was Sutil, who finished in 14th position. The German didn’t have a good start, and a mistake on the very first lap ruined his chances on a good finish. “I was right behind Paul [di Resta] and to avoid an accident I had to go off the track and lost a lot of positions,” he said about the first lap incident. He then took part in a breathtaking fight with Vitaly Petrov, Rubens Barrichello, Sergio Perez and later Kamui Kobayashi for 14th place, which the German ultimately won.
Because he already had lost a lot of ground, he decided to gamble when it started to rain again, “After that, it was a case of trying to recover what we could and so when it started raining in the middle of the race we immediately switched to intermediates. We were running outside the points at the time so we felt it was worth the gamble.”
But the gamble proved to be wrong, and he had to pit once more, and Sutil was not happy with his end result, “It’s a shame not to convert the strong qualifying into points, but I’m pleased for Paul [di Resta] and the team with his result today.”
A strong Toro Rosso race
Toro Rosso have had numerous problems this season, both drivers have been in and out of the points, and both have been criticized by team principal Franz Tost, who threatened to put Daniel Ricciardo in the car if either of them didn’t improve their performance. Qualifying is the Achilles heel of the Italian team, and Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi qualified in 16th and 18th place respectively. As Buemi also incurred a five place grid penalty for forcing Nick Heidfeld off the track during the German Grand Prix, the Swiss driver had to start from 23rd place on the grid.
At the opening lap of the race, Buemi had a true rocket start, as he went from 23rd to 14th position. Buemi, who labeled his race as the best one ever about the first laps, “I passed around ten cars on the opening lap. After that, I got into a good rhythm and was able to pass more cars on the damp track.” But as it dried he experienced more and more understeer. But a few changes to his front wing during a well-executed pitstop was enough to gain a few more places, and when it started to rain again, he felt more confident than ever.
“I again felt the car was working very well [in the rain] and I was able to run at a good pace again,” Buemi commented after the race. He certainly enjoyed his race, “There were plenty of exciting moments, especially my passing move on Kobayashi. I was too slow to catch up with him on the straight so I had to pass him under braking which was right on the limit.” Buemi finished in eighth position and added four points to his tally.
Alguersuari’s race was a bit more troublesome, after a good start he made a mistake after a pit stop. “With the tyres not yet up to temperature, at that point it was hard to stay on the track and I went off,” Alguersuari said. But he kept on fighting, but after a collision with Kobayashi during the closing stages of the race lost another place, and crossed the finish line in tenth position. Toro Rosso scored their best season finish at the Hungaroring.
Mercedes disappointing again
Finishing behind Force India and Toro Rosso means it was a race to forget for Mercedes, who are desperately searching for more race pace, but so far have not found it. Rosberg started his race well, on lap 4 he was in fourth place, but soon lost it again to Alonso. After the first round of pit stops he had dropped back to sixth, and had di Resta in his mirrors until his second stop. After his second stop he again lost positions to Massa and Kobayashi, but the third stop was disastrous as he also gambled and left the pit lane on intermediates. “Unfortunately the rain shower proved not to be very strong and we had to switch to slicks which cost me a few positions. I pushed very hard to catch Buemi and Di Resta, and managed to close the gap, but it was impossible to overtake them in the last corners,” a disappointed Rosberg commented.
It wasn’t a bad start for Schumacher either, as he overtook four cars on the first lap. He stayed out longer than the others before his first stop, and even led the race, albeit for less than one lap. “I came in for dry tyres one lap too late, but we can only handle one car at a time obviously. From then onwards, the race developed normally,” the seven times champion said. After his stop he diced for seventh position with Massa, who was keen to overtake his former Ferrari colleague.
The battle with Massa lasted 13 laps, but after both had made their second stop, Schumacher spun after trying to keep the Ferrari behind him. He got going again, but immediately after his spin had to park his Mercedes on the service road. “An unfortunate end to my race today when we suffered a gearbox problem which forced my retirement. As far as we know, this had nothing to do with the spin I had when fighting with Felipe [Massa] which was mainly caused by avoiding contact,” Schumacher said. Thus ended a disappointing weekend for Mercedes, and team principal Ross Brawn concluded the weekend with these philosophical words, “It's not been a particularly auspicious weekend for us but we will take a lot of lessons from here for when we have a better car to work with.”
Lotus Renault on and under fire
Yes indeed, it hasn’t gone unnoticed, the Lotus Renault of Heidfeld caught fire this weekend, and his team is now under fire as well. Heidfeld was lucky to get out in time without catching fire himself after he had left the pit lane while his car was on fire. It has been rumored the team was hoping the fire would go out once the car got up to speed again, but instead the fire got worse and the German had to hastily evacuate his black and gold Lotus Renault. As he had parked the car just past the pit lane exit, marshals were fast at the scene and managed to extinguish the blaze, not without hazard, as the left side pod exploded and one marshal was hit by flying debris.
Heidfeld indicated he had seen ‘ nothing like that’ before, “I had a fire in Barcelona, but I wasn't worried there at all -- but this one got quite close. This time I felt the heat, so I had to get out quickly.” The problems started when a mechanic had a problem with one of the wheel nuts, and the car remained stationary longer than intended. Critics say the team should never have given permission to let Heidfeld drive off with a burning car, and those same critics have also pointed out the blaze was caused by the forward facing exhaust pipes, which run through the side pods.
Team principal Eric Boullier about the incident, “The engine was still blowing under high revs, and this design is not done for this purpose so I think it went too hot and the exhaust blew up,” said Boullier. And added, “The [front-exiting exhaust] design is done for a running car not a standing car. The problem we had the other time was different, it was completely different actually, it was just an exhaust breaking up and then obviously the gas blowing in to the car inside the [sidepod] so it was completely different.”
The team is also under fire for its recent poor performance, Petrov brought his car back home in 12th place, and the Russian agreed it had been a tough weekend, “We have a break now which gives us time to reflect and really home in on what needs to be improved. Often when you have back-to-back races, there’s not sufficient time to take a step back at what’s taken place. Now, with the August break, we have that opportunity.”
More lost opportunities
Mexican rookie Perez was another driver who lost his chances on a good finish after he had overtaken Heikki Kovalainen while yellow flags were being waved at the start/finish straight for the burning Lotus Renault, and his action was rewarded with a drive through penalty. The Sauber driver was very unhappy about the weekend which initially started with a very promising tenth qualifying position, his best qualifying of the season.
“I am deeply disappointed, I expected a lot more from the race,” he admitted. “It had already started to go wrong on lap one. I had no grip at all and hardly managed to keep the car on track. I went wide at one corner and lost a lot of positions. I actually dropped back from 10th on the grid to 20th.” However, he wasn’t entirely convinced about his wrong doing when he overtook Kovalainen, “I overtook Heikki Kovalainen because he was braking very late and there were yellow flags.” His penalty cost him another few positions, and he finished in 15th place, while his team colleague Kobayashi did a lot better and finished just outside the points in 11th place.
Jarno Trulli’s excitement about the new power steering on his Team Lotus car was short-lived, as he recorded the first retirement of the race. “My run of bad luck in Hungary seems to have struck again!” the Italian said after he had retired. And added, “I got past Timo [Glock] pretty early on and then had a good first stop but it looks like a water leak brought my race to an early end.” Kovalainen’s car was struck by the same problem, and a water leak also forced the Finn out of contention.
And finally the three teams who didn’t have any problems or retirements, didn’t incur any penalties and basically were just to slow to race for points: Williams, Marussia Virgin and HRT. Rubens Barrichello lost the front wing endplate of his Williams early on in the race, later took a gamble with the intermediates, but lost and finished 13th, while Pastor Maldonado finished 16th. “It's a shame, but we don't have the pace right now,” is the only thing Barrichello had to report after the race.
Timo Glock took his Marussia Virgin to 17th place, and Jerome d’Ambrosio scared the heck out of his pit crew after he had been caught out by the slippery tarmac in the pit lane and spun sideways into his pit lane slot, narrowly missing his mechanics who were waiting for him with fresh tyres. And finally HRT, both drivers also gambled and pitted for intermediates hoping the rain would increase, but like all others who tried to gain an advantage on the intermediates, had to return to the pits for a set of slicks. Australian Ricciardo is learning fast, and in his third race beat the experienced Vitantonio Liuzzi, Ricciardo finished in 18th, and Liuzzi in 20th and last position.
Next stop: Spa-Francorchamps
It was mostly the tricky conditions that made the Hungarian Grand Prix a joy to watch, and most teams had mixed fortunes, one driver finished in the points, the other didn’t. Button won, Hamilton did not, Alonso was on the podium again, and again Massa was not, Vettel didn’t win the race, but his nearest rival and team colleague Webber finished far behind him. Sutil had been tipped for a good finish, but it was di Resta who scored the points, Rosberg scored two points, but Schumacher didn’t even finish the race.
All teams and certainly their personnel are looking forward to three weeks without Formula One, there is time for family visits and team CEO’s have time to reflect on the first half of the season, and think about what they did right or did wrong. The FIA regulations dictate they have to close their factories and workshops for at least 14 days and can therefore not work on their cars, and can only think about what they have to do to be more, or even more successful during the next race on the calendar, the Belgium Grand Prix.
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is another classic Grand Prix circuit, a circuit situated in the beautiful Belgium Ardennes where the weather can change in a matter of minutes, and is the favorite circuit of most drivers. In the past the circuit has hosted many exiting races, and Spa is a bit like Monaco, you have to see it, even if it is only once in your life.