FULL RE­PORT FROM THE HUN­GAR­IAN GP

Hamil­ton made the most of a strong start to leapfrog team-mate Ros­berg

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - BY STU­ART CODLING

Lewis Hamil­ton moved in to the lead of the For­mula 1 World Cham­pi­onship with a beau­ti­fully mea­sured win at the Hun­garor­ing un­der tre­men­dous pres­sure from his Mercedes team­mate Nico Ros­br­erg through­out.

It was Ros­berg who claimed pole po­si­tion – con­tro­ver­sially, after a ste­wards’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether he backed off suf­fi­ciently for yel­low flags on his pole lap – but Hamil­ton won the bat­tle to the first cor­ner and de­fended his lead for the full 70 laps.

Be­hind the scrap­ping Mercedes duo, the Red Bulls and Fer­raris bat­tled for the re­main­der of the top six spots. Daniel Ric­cia­rdo suc­cess­fully re­buffed a late at­tack from Se­bas­tian Vet­tel to se­cure the fi­nal podium place, while 20s fur­ther down the road Max Ver­stap­pen held off a very de­ter­mined Kimi Raikko­nen. From a lowly grid slot of 14th, Raikko­nen drove with an ag­gres­sion rarely seen in him th­ese days to make the best of an al­ter­nate tyre strat­egy.

Qual­i­fy­ing

After sev­eral days of blazing sun­shine and sul­try heat, the weather quickly be­gan to turn just two hours be­fore qual­i­fy­ing be­gan: a cool wind whis­tled through the pad­dock to­wards the pen­du­lous thun­der­clouds build­ing over­head. When th­ese duly dis­charged their con­tents over the cir­cuit and sur­round­ing area, qual­i­fy­ing was de­layed first by 10 min­utes, then by 20, and when Q1 was fi­nally given the green light, there was scarcely time for any­one to set a lap be­fore the tor­rent be­gan again, forc­ing a red flag.

After a fur­ther quar­ter-hour de­lay, the clouds were suf­fi­ciently dis­persed for the re­main­ing 13 min­utes of Q1 to take place, al­beit on a sur­face laden with stand­ing wa­ter. Ver­stap­pen was first in the queue at the pit­lane exit, the­o­ret­i­cally en­joy­ing the best vis­i­bil­ity, but it was Ric­cia­rdo who popped in the fastest lap be­fore the ses­sion was red-flagged once more, this time ow­ing to Mar­cus Eric­s­son in­sert­ing his Sauber into the tyre bar­rier at Turn 10.

An­other 10 min­utes elapsed, and with less than that re­main­ing on the Q1 clock, a hand­ful of teams made a gam­ble on in­ter­me­di­ate tyres. Among them was Wil­liams, but Felipe Massa got no fur­ther than Turn 4 on his out­lap, los­ing it on the wet out­side kerb at the exit and spin­ning into the in­side bar­rier. This en­sured that the track en­joyed an­other 10 min­utes of un­bro­ken sun­shine dur­ing a third red-flag in­ter­rup­tion, after which in­ter­me­di­ates be­came the de­fault tyre choice.

Just five min­utes and 20 sec­onds re­mained of Q1 when it restarted, but Rio Haryanto then ro­tated his Manor into the scenery, and with just over a minute left on the clock, race con­trol elected to draw a veil over the ses­sion. That left the sta­tion­ary Eric­s­son, Massa and Haryanto out of qual­i­fy­ing, along with Pas­cal Wehrlein, Kevin Mag­nussen and Jolyon Palmer – none of whom were able to set a time in those fi­nal min­utes. In fact, only the top nine driv­ers set a lap within the 107 per cent cut-off, a fact that would keep the ste­wards in de­lib­er­a­tion late into the night un­til they de­clared that there would be no ac­tion, on ac­count of the ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances.

A dry line was form­ing at the start of Q2, but not quite enough to war­rant a move to slicks. The cross­over point came at the mid­dle of the ses­sion, flagged up by Valt­teri Bot­tas, who swapped to su­per-softs and briefly went fastest of all. That time was quickly su­per­seded by the other early adopters, but a bet­ter sec­ond run en­abled him to ce­ment his place in the top 10.

Hamil­ton ran wide at Turn 1 on his hot lap and was lucky to make the cut for Q3, stop­ping the clock just a tenth of a sec­ond faster than the Haas of Ro­main Gros­jean, who was elim­i­nated along with Daniil Kvyat, Ser­gio Perez, Raikko­nen, Este­ban Gu­tier­rez and Felipe Nasr. If Raikko­nen was Q2’s sur­prise scalp, thanks to a de­layed change to slicks, the pace of sketchysurface masters Jen­son But­ton and Fernando Alonso is one of life’s cer­tain­ties. Both Mclarens mak­ing it through to Q3 was a wel­come sight.

It was an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic spin for Alonso, though, that de­railed Hamil­ton’s best lap in the dy­ing sec­onds of Q3. Hav­ing lit up the tim­ing screens in the first two sec­tors, the world cham­pion had to back off as he en­coun­tered the stricken Mclaren and waved yel­low flags – and, since the che­quered flag had al­ready been dis­played, there would be no fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties. Team-mate Ros­berg then snatched pole po­si­tion in spite of hav­ing what he de­scribed as “a big lift” as he en­tered the yel­low-flag zone at Turn 8. Ric­cia­rdo was a frac­tion off in third, also frus­trated by the yel­low flags, while Ver­stap­pen – who had im­pressed ear­lier in qual­i­fy­ing – crossed the line two sec­onds too late to at­tempt a fi­nal fly­ing lap and wound up fourth. Vet­tel was fifth for Fer­rari, a full sec­ond off Ros­berg’s time, but he felt he had been baulked by a Mclaren on his hot lap.

Carlos Sainz un­der­lined his grow­ing sta­tus as a safe and quick pair of hands with sixth place ahead of Alonso and But­ton. Nico Hulken­berg and Bot­tas rounded out the top 10, which came as a great dis­ap­point­ment to Wil­liams, who be­lieved they had the pace to qual­ify just be­hind Vet­tel.

Three hours after the ses­sion ended, Ros­berg was sum­moned to the ste­wards to ex­plain his pole lap. Al­though he was judged to have slowed down enough for the yel­low flags ( see col­umn, page seven), his team-mate con­tin­ued to fume…

Race

The weather fore­cast de­clared just a 10 per cent chance of rain, and in­deed there would be no fur­ther call on Pirelli’s wet-weather rub­ber dur­ing the week­end. F1’s tyre sup­plier pre­dicted that a two-stop race would be op­ti­mal, rec­om­mend­ing a max­i­mum stint length of 14 laps on the su­per-softs and 29 on the softs, and not ex­pect­ing any­one to use the medi­ums at all – apart from Force In­dia, who put both their driv­ers through long runs on medi­ums on Fri­day af­ter­noon, no­body had com­pleted any mean­ing­ful run­ning on them.

When the lights went out both Mercedes got away to­gether, but it was Hamil­ton who edged it into Turn 1, su­per-late on the brakes and quelling a big twitch from the rear of his W07 Hy­brid as he claimed the in­side line. Ric­cia­rdo tried to go the long way round, brak­ing deep into the cor­ner and al­most get­ting his nose ahead of Hamil­ton as they swung round to face the down­hill run to Turn 2, but Hamil­ton had re­gained enough mo­men­tum to close the door de­ci­sively. He seemed a lit­tle ten­ta­tive on the brakes into Turn 3, though, baulk­ing the Red Bull a lit­tle and en­abling Ros­berg to nip round the out­side into sec­ond place.

Fur­ther back, Alonso made a bet­ter get­away than Sainz to gain one po­si­tion into the first cor­ner, but over suc­ces­sive laps the lead­ing pack of Hamil­ton, Ros­berg, Ric­cia­rdo, Ver­stap­pen and Vet­tel moved clear. But­ton’s race in the sec­ond Mclaren was in ef­fect over on the fourth lap when he suf­fered a drop in hy­draulic pres­sure that left him at the tail of the field; he ploughed on but had to re­tire later when he lost oil pres­sure.

Hamil­ton and Ros­berg traded fastest laps but Hamil­ton was still able to cre­ate a mar­gin lit­tle by lit­tle, fi­nally creep­ing over the two-sec­ond mark, al­though he could never quite give his team-mate the slip. Ric­cia­rdo, though, was un­der greater pres­sure from his team-mate, who took to the ra­dio to com­plain that he was hav­ing to drive “like a grandma”.

Raikko­nen, mean­while, was mak­ing the most of the free tyre choice granted to those qual­i­fy­ing out­side the top 10. He be­gan the race on softs rather than su­per-softs – as did Kvyat, Perez, Palmer, Massa, Mag­nussen, Haryanto and Eric­s­son – and if that seemed like a sit-and-wait tac­tic to gain track po­si­tion sim­ply by run­ning longer be­fore mak­ing the first pit­stop, Raikko­nen quickly de­fied ex­pec­ta­tions. He dis­patched Perez and Kvyat, gained an­other spot thanks to But­ton’s plunge, and was run­ning in P11 by lap five. Gros­jean was harder work, but hav­ing started on su­per-softs he oblig­ingly pit­ted on lap 14, giv­ing Raikko­nen a clear road to work with, since next-place man Hulken­berg had also bro­ken for the pit­lane.

Vet­tel also went to the pits on lap 14, Ric­cia­rdo and Alonso one lap later, then Hamil­ton and Ver­stap­pen, then Ros­berg, all go­ing for softs. Vet­tel emerged ahead of his team-mate, avoid­ing the need for team or­ders, while Ric­cia­rdo had a stroke of good for­tune, rejoining be­hind Bot­tas but only hav­ing to fol­low for a lap be­fore the Wil­liams pit­ted. Ver­stap­pen, though, slot­ted in be­hind Raikko­nen, who now found him­self in fifth place.

Raikko­nen fi­nally pit­ted on lap 29, the max­i­mum rec­om­mended ser­vice life of his soft tyres, and emerged on su­per-softs hav­ing only lost two po­si­tions. One of those he re­gained straight away, nail­ing Alonso at Turn 1 the next time around. But al­though he quickly gained on Ver­stap­pen, there would be no easy way past the feisty teenager.

Up front, Hamil­ton com­plained that he was “strug­gling for pace” at the be­gin­ning of his sec­ond stint, en­abling Ros­berg to close, while Ric­cia­rdo got up to speed very quickly on the softs and be­gan to eat up the mar­gin to the two Mercedes. It was enough to prompt Red Bull to en­ter­tain the no­tion of bring­ing Ric­cia­rdo in ear­lier than the Mercedes to at­tempt an un­der­cut.

“We thought per­haps they were strug­gling,” said Ric­cia­rdo later. “So we thought we’d be ag­gres­sive and try to get closer to them, if they were go­ing to pit very soon… but then once we pit­ted, it looked like they turned up the vol­ume, un­for­tu­nately.”

Ric­cia­rdo stopped for a fi­nal set of new softs on lap 33, but Hamil­ton and Ros­berg hung on un­til laps 41 and 42. De­spite what Red Bull might have thought, Mercedes were still in con­trol of the script. Vet­tel added to their wor­ries by hold­ing out un­til lap 41 to make his fi­nal stop, en­abling him to draw closer to Ric­cia­rdo over the fi­nal laps.

Hamil­ton al­ways had an an­swer to

Ros­berg when it mat­tered, as demon­strated when he was baulked by Este­ban Gu­tier­rez on lap 51 and slid wide at Turn 12 on lap 62. Both times Ros­berg closed in, but Hamil­ton im­me­di­ately danced out of DRS range.

“It wasn’t the eas­i­est grand prix I’ve had here,” he said. “But def­i­nitely one I en­joyed. And a great bat­tle be­tween the three of us.”

Be­hind Hamil­ton, Ros­berg, Ric­cia­rdo and Vet­tel, Ver­stap­pen and Raikko­nen spent the sec­ond half of the race locked in com­bat. On pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions this year Raikko­nen has been no­tice­ably – even dis­ap­point­ingly – un­com­bat­ive when be­hind Ver­stap­pen, but here he gave it a proper go. Mat­ters came to a head on lap 57 when they tripped over each other on the en­try to Turn 2 and Raikko­nen lost a front-wing end­plate, later com­plain­ing that Ver­stap­pen had made a dou­ble move to block the in­side line. He had an­other crack later into Turn 1 but couldn’t make it stick, and re­mained in the Red Bull’s wake to the flag.

Alonso fin­ished a lap down in sev­enth, ahead of Sainz, Bot­tas and Hulken­berg. Tenth place could have been Jolyon Palmer’s, after he at­tached him­self to Hulken­berg’s rear wing on the way into the pits and Re­nault’s crew sent him on his way first, but he then spun at Turn 4 and dropped three places.

“I’m gut­ted as my first points in F1 were there for the tak­ing,” he said. “The car was good and I was driv­ing well within my­self. It was the best drive of my ca­reer to­day and just one small spin took away those points.” ■

Hamil­ton held his ground as the field headed into Turn 2

Ver­stap­pen and Raikko­nen’s bat­tle even­tu­ally came to blows

Palmer was on course for a points fin­ish be­fore he was de­layed with a spin

Care­free: win­ner Lewis

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