FULL REPORT FROM THE HUNGARIAN GP
Hamilton made the most of a strong start to leapfrog team-mate Rosberg
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.
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…
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