As the temperatures soared at the Hungarian Grand Prix, McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen took a cool victory and closed the gap to championship rival Fernando Alonso by 10 points, as Alonso failed to score. Michael Schumacher couldn't hold off Raikkonen's...
As the temperatures soared at the Hungarian Grand Prix, McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen took a cool victory and closed the gap to championship rival Fernando Alonso by 10 points, as Alonso failed to score. Michael Schumacher couldn't hold off Raikkonen's charge but finished a respectable second for Ferrari and Ralf Schumacher scored his first podium for Toyota in third.
The day was not without trouble for McLaren though, as Juan Pablo Montoya retired from the race while leading, victim of a driveshaft failure. Montoya was a on a two stop strategy to Raikkonen and Michael's three and could well have taken the victory himself. His retirement was a benefit for Renault as neither of the French squad's drivers picked up any points.
At the start Montoya was slightly slow away and Raikkonen moved into second behind pole sitter Michael. The race certainly went off with a bang for Red Bull's Christian Klien; at the first corner Jacques Villeneuve's Sauber clipped Klien's rear wheel and the Red Bull flipped right over onto the run off. It was a bit of a rude shock for Klien but he was unharmed.
"I don't really know what happened, it was that quick," the Austrian said. "Someone hit me at the back and the car rolled over then landed on all four wheels. It was not my aim for this weekend for sure!"
Alonso had got squeezed down the inside of the first corner by one of the Toyotas and ran up over the kerb, which damaged his front wing. The wing flew off the Renault shortly afterwards and while some drivers managed to miss it, David Coulthard's view was blocked by the traffic and he collected it. His Red Bull went spinning off with the right front wheel broken.
"It's extremely disappointing," said the Scot of his untimely exit. "We had a reasonable qualifying and a good strategy and with Christian going out as well it's very frustrating for the team. We'll suffer by going out first in qualifying for Turkey as well."
Alonso dived in the pits for a new front wing, as did Rubens Barrichello, who's Ferrari had contact with the Toyota of Jarno Trulli at the first corner. So, after a messy start, Michael was leading but not getting away from Raikkonen, followed by Montoya. Then came Trulli, Ralf, the BARs of Jenson Button and Takuma Sato and Nick Heidfeld had a good start to get his Williams up to eighth.
After their unscheduled stops Barrichello and Alonso were down to 16th and 17th respectively, lapping some five second slower than the leaders. Raikkonen was about a second behind Michael but surprisingly the McLaren was first to pit on lap 12. It was thought Michael would be in earlier but evidently Raikkonen had been fairly light in qualifying as well.
Alonso was presumably getting very frustrated behind the Minardi of Robert Doornbos but eventually got past -- the Hungaroring is notoriously difficult to overtake on, even with a fast car, but there were some moves today. Ahead of Alonso Barrichello managed to dispatch the Jordan of Narain Karthikeyan to move up another place.
Trulli was next to pit on lap 14, followed by Michael on the next lap. There was a mixture of two and three-stop strategies through the field which kept it interesting to see which would work out better. Montoya was now in the lead and Ralf rejoined in front of teammate Trulli when he came out of his first stop.
Montoya came in on lap 22 and Michael and Raikkonen returned -- only just -- to first and second with Juan Pablo back to third. The pit stops rolled though over the next several laps; Sato rejoined 11th after his and Barrichello was homing in but then the Ferrari went wide at the last corner. That allowed Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella to get past but Alonso, who was behind his teammate, couldn't quite make it.
Raikkonen was edging closer to Michael at the front and Alonso took his second stop and rejoined once again behind Barrichello. Doornbos was the next retiree when his Minardi ground to halt at the side of the track with a hydraulic failure. After the pit stop shakeout it was Michael leading Raikkonen, then Montoya, Ralf, Trulli, Button, Heidfeld and Sato.
Raikkonen was sticking to Michael like glue; even having to take the outside line around Felipe Massa as the Sauber exited the pits did not deter the Finn. There was half a second between them and Villeneuve wisely got well out of the way as he was lapped. Massa's car appeared to have a problem, sounding very rough as he came down the pit straight.
Michael took his second stop before Raikkonen, which freed Kimi up to charge around unhampered for a lap before he too pitted. It was a very quick, very clean stop by McLaren and Raikkonen shot out in front of Michael when he rejoined. Montoya was back in the lead but then disaster struck for the Colombian. His car slowed and crawled back to the pits to retire.
"I think I had the race in my pocket so it's a bit of a shame," Montoya said. "Everyone has been doing an amazing job but it's just one of those things. I think Kimi will win now so it's good for the championship."
Fisichella had a brief, bouncy excursion over the gravel which allowed Mark Webber's Williams to get past into eighth. Massa's problem finally saw him in the pits with smoke pouring out the back of the Sauber. The team managed to rectified the gremlin, an overheating spark coil, and sent him back out but it seemed that Villeneuve could also have the same problem.
Raikkonen was now leading Michael by over 20 seconds, which was enough for him to take his third stop and retain the lead. Alonso, meanwhile, was not making much headway and was stuck down in 11th. Sato pitted and handed eighth to Fisichella but the Renault came in the next lap and the BAR went back into the final points position.
Williams was having a better afternoon than it has had for a while with Heidfeld and Webber in the points -- a good effort from both, especially Webber seeing as he started from 16th. Raikkonen was merrily lapping his way round the field, including a lot of hand gesturing at Sato as he went past, and eventually lapped everyone up to and including Webber.
Christijan Albers was another who sidled into the pits in difficulty but after a swift repair job on his Minardi returned to the track. However, his problem was terminal and eventually he retired for good. Villeneuve was next out, his Sauber succumbing to the same problem as Massa had, although Jacques stopped at the side of the track.
Fisichella yet again was hampered by bad luck when he had to pit at the end of the penultimate lap for a quick fuel top up, as his Renault was losing fuel pressure. Raikkonen took the chequered flag half a minute clear of Michael and it was a deserved victory from a strong drive after his recent misfortunes.
"It was good," said Raikkonen. "We did a little gamble yesterday with the fuel loads because we knew we would be penalised a lot starting first and it paid off. I am pretty happy, we had a very good car, I was stuck behind Michael halfway through the race then I had one lap longer and passed him and then we were away and that was it, but it was a bit disappointing for the team because it would have been one-two but anyway I am very happy."
Michael did a good job but despite his qualifying effort, Ferrari still hasn't got the pace to win. It was very close between him and Raikkonen in the first two stints but the speed of the McLaren really showed when Kimi got in front. Barrichello got stuck in the midfield after his early stop for a new front wing and there he stayed, to finish 10th.
Michael thought he may have had a a chance for the win if he'd stayed in front after the pit stops, but was not too disappointed that it didn't happen. "It was a good race for us," he commented. "From where we came, to finish second, we are pretty happy on that, we had a good weekend and to finish second is a good motivation for everyone in the team. Hard work for all of them in the last few months and a little payback."
Ralf did a notable job for Toyota and he looked mightily pleased on the podium in third. Trulli followed him over the line in fourth so it was a good day for Toyota, which has picked up a little bit in competitiveness after slipping back in the last few races. Both drivers handled themselves well and it was nice to see Ralf on the podium.
Naturally Schumacher Junior was happy with the results. "I must say the team did a great job over the weekend," he said. "I must admit that I was not 100 percent positive about our strategy we chose, but the chief engineer was right to take it, so thanks to him! It was a great weekend for us, being third and fifth in qualifying, the car went great, the pit stops were perfect, so it was all good."
Button took fifth and Sato eighth, his first point of the year. However, they lacked pace and chief executive Nick Fry ruefully admitted that the choice of harder tyres for the race did not really pay off. The rumour mill is ripe with speculation that Barrichello has already signed for BAR for 2006 but Fry was not willing to comment on that.
Between the BARs were Heidfeld and Webber in sixth and seventh respectively. Not where Williams wants to be but an improvement from the struggle for competitiveness of late. Neither driver had a particularly eventful race but getting in the points was a little reward, even if they had wished to be higher up.
Renault had a dismal afternoon with Fisichella ninth and Alonso 11th. Neither really managed to get their cars to their liking over the weekend and qualifying was quite poor by Renault's standards. Fisichella just couldn't make any headway and although Alonso worked his way up a few places through the midfield, it was a disappointing result.
Jordan continued its generally good reliability with Karthikeyan 12th and Tiago Monteiro 13th. As always they were hampered by the persistent blue flags and were three and four laps down respectively. Massa finally dragged his reluctant Sauber over the line to be classified 14th, so he gained a little bit of a reprieve for qualifying next time out.
A week ago Raikkonen was despondent after retiring from Hockenheim and Alonso was delighted with an unexpected win. Now the situation is reversed, although Raikkonen's win was not exactly unexpected -- despite starting from fourth on the grid Kimi was always going to be a contender for the victory and he achieved it in no uncertain terms.
The gap between them is now 26 points in Alonso's favour so the Spaniard, although unhappy about this weekend, is hardly going to be worrying about his title aspirations just yet. Raikkonen still has a big task ahead of him and it has to be said that McLaren's reliability issues are not likely to make it any easier for him.
Michael is holding station behind Raikkonen in the drivers' standings, six points adrift, and Montoya's retirement means he has slipped back one place to behind Trulli. It also means McLaren lost the chance to close the gap to Renault in the constructors' standings, 12 points the difference. Ferrari is still third but drifting away slightly.
There's three weeks now until the inaugural Turkish GP on August 21st. There's no testing allowed during the summer break, although Ferrari may chose to continue its programme as it has not agreed to this year's testing limitations. While the drivers may enjoy a little rest and relaxation, work will still be ongoing at the factories, it never stops.
It seems hard to imagine there are only six races left this season. It's looking increasingly likely that we will have a new champion this year but it's still too soon to put a name to him. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, M. Schumacher, R. Schumacher, Trulli, Button, Heidfeld, Webber, Sato.