Hungarian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Smoke signals end for Massa
You had to feel a little sorry for Felipe Massa on Sunday at the Hungaroring. The chirpy little Brazilian did everything that was needed to win the Hungarian GP in impressive fashion. He made a superb start and went around the outside of Lewis Hamilton in the first corner. Once ahead he was able to show the pace of the Ferrari, which had been hidden in qualifying. Hamilton fought as best he could but Massa had the pace and when Lewis suffered a slow puncture on lap 41 of 70 the challenge was over. The problem cost him six places. After that Massa had no worries. Heikki Kovalainen was to far back to make any impression and even if he had been able to close, he would not have been able to pass. After the hurly-burly of the first lap there was just one single overtaking manoeuvre not occasioned by a mistake or a mechanical problem. That was when Jenson Button slipped past his team-mate Rubens Barrichello on the third lap. Otherwise the F1 field played "Follow my leader" for the whole race, the lead changes coming during the pit stops or when there was an incident. There is always much talk about the need to change the cars but this was a story that has been seen year-in, year-out at the Hungaroring.
But Massa's moment of glory came to an end on lap 68 when a cloud of white smoke suddenly came from the back of his car and he came to a stop on the start-finish straight.
It was a bitter moment for the Brazilian.
"It happened completely without warning, without giving the slightest indication," he said. "I had a good advantage over second place and I was taking no risks whatsoever. I am very frustrated at the moment. Today we had a great car and we had done everything perfectly.
"Racing can be a cruel sport. We had given it our all, but these things can happen. Our rivals are strong but we have shown we are at their level."
Felipe's start was the high point of the afternoon. He came quickly off the line, making the most of his position on the clean side of the track. He was alongside Hamilton as they went into the first corner, but there was no room to shut the McLaren out, so he hung there on the outside and at the corner turned so Lewis had to give way. That gave Felipe the lead - and that was all that mattered. Hamilton managed to maintain a small gap throughout the first stint. He was only 3.5secs behind when Massa pitted on lap 18. Lewis pitted on lap 19 and he avoided traffic problems and when the order came back together again, he was still only three seconds in arrears.
"I felt comfortable in the second stint," he said. "But Felipe was running longer to the final pit stops."
The gap edged outwards to five seconds - and then the McLaren picked up its puncture. That left Massa more than 20secs clear of Kovalainen, who had run third from the start. Hamilton's bad luck was mitigated somewhat by the fact that the puncture happened not long before the second round of pit stops and so the damage was limited to the time lost as Lewis hobbled in to the pitlane. When all the stops were done he was sixth and he picked up fifth when Massa's engine blew.
"I scored four points and maintained my lead in the championship," he said. "This result is not too bad for me."
The two problems left Kovalainen alone at the front with a lead of about 10 seconds on the Toyota of Timo Glock, which had run fourth for the first two stints.
"There have been races this year where I've been in a position to challenge for victory but had something go wrong for me," Heikki said. "Halfway through this race, things started working for me and I started pushing Felipe hard - and it worked. I feel sorry for Felipe because he drove a great race, but my car felt good and I knew I could push for the victory. This is a great moment for me, something I've been targeting for many years. Hopefully, this victory will be the first of many."
Kovalainen has the honour of being the 100th winner of a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix. One can argue, perhaps, that 10 of the winners back in the 1950s were men who raced only at Indianapolis, but it is still an indication of how tough it is to win such races. One hundred winners in 59 years...
"Heikki drove superbly," said Ron Dennis. "He scored his first Grand Prix victory in fine style and converting his excellent qualifying pace, which has been apparent all season, into a thoroughly well deserved win. As bad days go, it could have been a lot worse for Lewis, but today was Heikki's day, and a very good day it was, and everyone at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is absolutely delighted for him."
Indeed so. A new winner is always welcome in Formula 1.
One had to feel sorry for Ferrari nonetheless and with Kimi Raikkonen's poor qualifying performance meant that he was in no position to pick up the pieces and to step in when Massa dropped out. He finished third in the end despite losing a place to Fernando Alonso at the start. He took Alonso during the second pit stops, gained from the problems that affected Hamilton and Massa, and was able to take advantage of a troubled day for Robert Kubica's BMW, which was left behind during the first pit stop sequence. It was not a great day for the lacklustre Finn - and he knew it.
"I am sorry for Felipe and for the team as it is horrible to lose a race in this way. It was tough for me because, when you spend a long time behind a slower car it becomes frustrating and boring," he said. "When I was finally able to push, the car was behaving very well, but by then it was too late. I came up behind Glock but in the end, I had to slow as I had a mechanical problem with the rear end and the team told me to be very careful to ensure I brought the car home. It's true that I'm the one who has won the most points out of the top three in the classification, which shows this championship is really unpredictable, with ups and downs for everyone, but it was a disappointing weekend for me. We must try and fix the problems we have in qualifying to start at the front, so as to exploit the potential of the car. If we can do that, then we can get back to fighting for the win."
The biggest surprise of the race weekend was Timo Glock in his Toyota and in the race the German rising star was as impressive as he had been in qualifying. He started from fifth on the grid - on the clean side of the track - and overtook Robert Kubica at the start. He then ran fourth for the first two stints and moved up when Massa and Hamilton hit trouble. It was the first time for three years that Toyota has done as well and the team was rejoicing afterwards.
"What an incredible feeling," said Glock. "I couldn't believe it when I saw Felipe's engine go and I was P2. To get such a good result in my first year is fantastic so a huge thank you to all the team, including the engineers, mechanics and everyone at the factory. I knew from qualifying that we had good speed and we've looked strong all weekend. Today I made a good start and gained a place into the first corner. I had a really good car and everything went perfectly until the last stint on the soft tyres. I was struggling a lot and soon I had Kimi behind me. When I saw him in the mirrors I knew I couldn't afford any mistakes."
Jarno Trulli also came home in the points with two for seventh place
"This is a very good result for us and to pick up 10 points is great for the Constructors' Championship. I was quick today but I couldn't push because I only had one lap that was clear of traffic in the whole afternoon. I gained one position early on but overtaking is practically impossible here. Around the second stops I was also stuck behind Lewis, holding me up further. Still, I'm delighted that we are showing such strong form."
Renault ended up looking good with Fernando Alonso finishing fourth and Nelson Piquet sixth.
"We fought hard today and we were on the pace with a car that was working well," said Alonso. "That is encouraging for the rest of the championship. We scored some important points which is satisfying. Today's result shows that we are moving in the right direction."
Piquet was delighted to score again, particularly given that he had made a mistake early on and lost two places as a result.
"At this level you cannot afford the smallest mistake," he said. "I am continuing to learn and I am determined to continue building on this progress when we go to Valencia at the end of the month."
It was not a great day for BMW Sauber with Robert Kubica going from forth on the grid to eighth, despite the failures of the leading runners.
"It was a difficult race," he said. "We were very slow and I was struggling with the overall grip of the car. I had massive oversteer and could not really push. I was trying hard to keep the car on the track. One point is better than nothing."
Team-mate Nick Heidfeld was equally unhappy as his one-stop strategy was not very effective.
"I was able to overtake three cars on the first lap," he said, "But later it became more difficult than expected to race with the heavy car. We went for a one-stop strategy, so my car was almost full of fuel at the start and I also had to take care of the tyres. I couldn't match the pace of the cars in front of me."
Red Bull was also unimpressed with itself by the end of the day with Mark Webber and David Coulthard ending up ninth and 11th.
Webber looked en route to points until the first stops when he fell back while DC started on the softer tyres and then went off at Turn Two, making his life more difficult.
Behind them, Jenson Button's Honda led home the battling Williamses of Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg, Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India, Rubens Barrichello's Honda and Sebastien Bourdais's Toro Rosso.
Button was happy with his day.
"Looking at the weekend as a whole, we have made good progress and can take a lot away from here," he said. "Unfortunately the race was frustrating. I made it tough for myself with a poor start, which dropped me down to P14 after the first couple of corners. I got boxed in at Turn One and had a lot of wheelspin out of the corner, which allowed a few people to get past on the outside. I was able to get past Rubens on lap three, which was fun, but after that I quickly came up to the back of Heidfeld. He was very strong on the last two corners so I had no chance to overtake on the track and he was on a one-stop strategy. However in clean air, our pace was good, so this weekend is a definite step forward and I am reasonably happy with the outcome."
Nakajima, Bourdais and Barrichello all experienced minor fires during their pit stops, while Rosberg had a rig problem with his car.
The three fires were odd, given that we have not seen such things for years. Even more odd was the fact that the teams did not seem to agree on the cause. Logically it should have been a question of the extreme heat but that does not seem to have been the problem.
"We think ours was caused by the heat building up back pressure in the fuel tank," Gerhard Berger said. "The heat then ignited any fuel vapour."
At Honda they had a different idea.
"We don't think our problem was specific to the heat here," said Steve Clark. "We had a problem getting the nozzle on and it squirted some fuel. It was what you might call a routine problem, rather than a heat-related one."
This was not a weekend for Williams to remember fondly.
Nor for that matter was there much to shout about at Force India. Giancarlo Fisichella came home 15th but Adrian Sutil went out after several off track adventures had ruined his brakes.
Massa ended up classified 17th,
Going into the summer break, Hamilton leads the World Championship with 62 points, Kimi has 57 and Felipe 54 respectively.
This particular race may not have been a great one, but we have had a fair share already this year - and the title race is a real scorcher.