Hungarian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Hamilton tempered by adversity
A year ago British fans rejoiced when Jenson Button won the Hungarian GP in his Honda. It seemed as though Button was finally on his way to F1 success. Twelve months later Jenson's moment of glory is all but forgotten. This year the Honda has been disastrous and in Hungary it was worse than ever. The Hondas were so slow that by the end of Sunday afternoon Rubens Barrichello had fallen far behind the chugging Spykers and Jenson had broken down with engine trouble. Button, once hounded by the British media, now has to watch as the F1 scribes chase around after Lewis Hamilton, passing Jenson with just an occasional nod for old time's sake.
Hamilton is producing great stories and in Hungary the next chapter in the Lewis Hamilton story was hammered out. It was a hell of a weekend for Lewis but he came through the fire to win his third victory of the year in brilliant fashion. There was controversy when his team-mate - and chief rival - Fernando Alonso deliberately blocked him in the final moments of qualifying, in order to make sure that he would get pole position. It was underhand and decidedly unsporting but Alonso forgot that the FIA likes to keep a close eye on McLaren. It took nine hours for the stewards to figure out a ruling (one wonders why) and the conclusion seemed wildly excessive: Alonso had to give up his pole and start sixth on the grid but the team was informed that it would not be able to collect Constructors' Championship points.
There was no explanation as to why it deserved such a flogging. McLaren clearly felt it was unwarranted.
But the team knows that what is most important is what happens on the race track and in the race Hamilton showed everyone that he is THE man as he spent the afternoon holding off a determined Kimi Raikkonen. It was a brilliant display made all the more impressive by the fact that Lewis refused to be destabilised by the troubled weekend.
If there was any doubt about the idea that Hamilton might become the sport's first rookie World Champion, the race in Hungary showed that he has what it takes to do the job. He is now 20 points clear of Raikkonen with six races remaining. Alonso is still there with him but is seven points behind.
After the shenanigans on Saturday and the night of the long knives, Sunday morning had everyone very excited about the relationships inside the team. Clearly, there were some dents in the shining armour. Lewis had been out of line but at leaast he had a logical explanation for his actions. How was Lewis getting on with Ron? Was Fernando talking to Lewis?
Sunday morning seemed to rush by and suddenly the field was lining up on the grid.
Hamilton jumped into an immediate lead as the the dirty side of the track had its usual effect with most of those on the left getting the jump on those on the right. After that everyone settled down to the usual queue of cars that one gets at the piddly Hungaroring. Alonso's five-place penalty worked against Nick Heidfeld, who had qualified third and was then shifted to second place on the grid - on the dusty side of the road. This meant that Raikkonen got the jump on the BMW driver.
To begin with Hamilton sprinted clear, opening a gap of 4.6s over Raikkonen by lap 13, and then the Finn lost 1.6s in one lap when he had two offs.
"I had an idea we might be slightly stronger than Kimi because we had good pace considering we were slightly heavier," he said. "But then the front wheels began locking up under braking because of a steering problem. The front end felt a lot different to the first stint. The car was steering to the right, and that enabled Kimi to catch up. I decided to stay off the kerbs, and though the team said that it was not too much of a problem, it still affected me. It was difficult."
In the middle stint of the race Raikkonen seemed to have his best chance of success and closed right up on Lewis. He had no problems with his car and a lighter fuel load but he knew that if he held on the pendulum would swing in his favour when Kimi had to run with more fuel when he would be running light. Hamilton kept his head, and separated by a second or so the two worked their way in and out of traffic. The pressure was intense.
The gap between the two men shrunk to as little as half a second and the biggest problem was traffic, notably involving Raikkonen's team-mate Massa (who was never able to make up for the qualifying mess and was having a horrible afternoon, stuck in the midfield). The aerodynamic effect of following a car is debilitating insofar as it steals front-end downforce. That was the problem Raikkonen had getting too close to Hamilton; now Hamilton experienced it before Massa finally moved over. At the Nurburgring the FIA intervened and ordered Hamilton to get out of the way, even if he did not seem to be slowing up the cars behind. When the reverse happened there was no such reaction.
The final laps were gripping as they duelled but there was never much hope that Raikkonen would get ahead, unless Lewis made a mistake.
"I would have tried if we'd had the chance," he said, "but there was no point to be stupid."
They finished together, but the 10 points went to Hamilton.
Hamilton called it the toughest weekend of his F1 career. He had fallen out with the team, and argued with his mentor Ron Dennis. But then he delivered the goods in the most emphatic way possible.
"It was difficult to stay focused, and with the team not getting any points I didn't know whether they blamed me or not, or just the situation," he said. "I just tried to come in with a smile on my face and do the same procedures as always, so I went round to all of the team and only one person didn't wish me good luck. That didn't really affect me; I just got in the car and did my job."
Heidfeld was third but was more than 40secs behind the duelling pair and had his work cut out in the closing laps keeping Alonso behind him. Fifth place fell to Heidfeld's team-mate Robert Kubica, who drove a good race, while Ralf Schumacher had one of his good days and finished sixth for Toyota ahead of Nico Rosberg and Heikki Kovalainen.
The Finn drove a good race for Renault using soft tyres while all around him were using the slightly harder rubber.
The win gives Hamilton 80 points, seven more than Alonso while Raikkonen has 60 and Massa 59.
After the race Ferrari boss Jean Todt admitted that it is going to be very hard for Ferrari to close the gap if McLaren keeps delivering.
While Hamilton made it very clear that he was working to repair the damage done on Saturday.
"We are professionals," he said of team boss Ron Dennis. "We sat down and spoke about it. I told him my views. He told me he respected that. We came to a mutual understanding and started with a clean slate today. I apologised, said it wouldn't happen again. I did not think Fernando would do that sort of thing but now I have reason to believe that is not the case. It is always difficult when you have the most competitive people wanting to win. It puts the team under immense pressure. I am easy to get on with, I don't hold grudges with anyone. If he doesn't want to speak to me, that is up to him but I am open. If I walk in and see him I will talk to him but I will not go over and make him feel better."
Alonso was the big loser of the weekend because not only did he lose points to Hamilton but his squeaky clean image as a sportsman is gone for ever. He is a man who wants to win and if necessary at all costs.