Hungarian GP 2009
JULY 27, 2009
Race Report - Hamilton goes for it
It has been a tough year for McLaren Mercedes, with the post-Melbourne scandal and the frustrations of having a car that was simply not competitive with the Brawns and the Red Bulls. But the Woking team is never to be underestimated and the staff dug deep. Problems were solved and the MP4-24 became quicker and quicker.
It may not be on a par with the top F1 cars of the moment, but in Hungary it was good. The team knew that to have any real chance of victory Lewis needed to be ahead of the Red Bulls at the start. It was obvious that Fernando Alonso's Renault was going to stop early and that it would fall away down the order, so second place was where Hamilton needed to be. If he could do that, then the race would come to him, barring any disruptions such as Safety Cars, which was presumably what the Renault team was hoping would happen. Lewis had his KERS system and he steeled himself for action...
When the lights went out Alonso went off the line quickly. Hamilton left Sebastian Vettel behind and tried to get Mark Webber as well, while Kimi Raikkonen made an even better start and pushed Hamilton aggressively towards Vettel. Fortunately, the Red Bull driver recognised the danger and gave him space. This all meant that Webber was able to get into the first corner in a position that allowed him to squeeze back ahead of Hamilton. Raikkonen came out of Turn 1 and almost lost it, clonking into Vettel, who was trying to stay out of trouble. This meant that not only did Vettel lose places but his suspension was damaged, which completely ruined his day. Later the stewards would decide to have a look at Kimi's moves, which were ruled to have been just old fashioned racing. Vettel was the big victim in all this.
"I had a collision in the first corner with Kimi," he said. "I was on the inside and had a clear run to accelerate, but his car came sideways and we touched - he crashed into my car. We knew it would be close with the other teams here, but at the start of the race there's nothing you can do other than putting your foot down. We have a button on our steering wheel, which is similar to the other teams, but nothing happens if you press it. You go into the first corner and you have five or six cars next to each other instead of three or four, so it's a different situation."
At the end of a fairly hectic first lap, the order was Alonso, Webber, Hamilton and Raikkonen. After that came Nico Rosberg, Heikki Kovalainen, Vettel, Kazuki Nakajima, Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli. At the end of the lap Force India's Adrian Sutil retired with an overheating engine.
Button knew that he needed to make up spaces and so bustled ahead of Nakajima on lap two. Things looked to be settling down but on the fourth lap Hamilton decided that he was going to pass Webber on the outside in Turn 2. It was a sweet move but Hamilton said that it owed little to his KERS system.
"I'd actually used all my KERS down the straight," he said. "I thought that I'd be able to get him in Turn One but he blocked, so I went to the outside. I think I may have used a little bit at the beginning but I ran out. Mark was in my blind spot eventually, so I couldn't really see him, so I gave him plenty of room and eventually I saw him fade into the back. It was quite a straightforward move but clearly Mark was very smart, he's got to score points and there's no real point in him taking silly risks. As for me, I needed to get past him. I was absolutely surprised to see that I was even able to keep up with him but I was able to go past him and still pull away whilst looking after my tyres, so it was good."
Once that was done, we were left watching Alonso pulling away from the field but not at a rate that would give him any hope of keeping the lead after an early stop.
The calculations after qualifying suggested that Fernando would stop on lap 12 and he duly did. He fell well down the order but when he emerged from the pits the Renault plan went from bad to worse as it quickly became clear that Alonso had a loose right front wheel. Fernando tried to drive it back and it soon fell off. Fortunately it hit no-one when it came adrift but the FIA took a dim view of this and later decided to ban Renault from the next event. This left Hamilton ahead and after the major players had done their stops, he began to pull away.
"Clearly we've made some serious improvements to the car and it's much better balanced," Lewis said. "The car was fantastic, and when the team asked me, I looked after the tyres. And for once I was able to use KERS to my advantage today."
After that the race became really rather tedious, as Hungarian GPs tend to do. There was a flutter of excitement when Webber and Raikkonen pitted at the same time on lap 19. Mark was delayed and was nearly released into Kimi's path. A moment of hesitation effectively dropped the Australian out of the running.
"We had a little bit of confusion in the stop," he said. "To be honest, I was thinking about the guys and the fuel rig. You're so focused on making sure that everything is safe, releasing yourself and then when I did get released, I knew I had to give Kimi room and he got me."
This did not help but his tyre was wrong as well, running the harder tyres in the middle of the race he faded back, but at the end he went for the softer tyres again and he was able to lap very quickly. He set the fastest lap in the end but had to settle for third as Raikkonen was able to get ahead during the second pit stops.
"I expected us to be a little bit quicker after our running on Friday, but I'm happy to get the result we did today. I think we would have had a better chance to fight with Kimi if we'd made a slightly different pit stop and chose a different tyre for the middle stint."
Raikkonen stayed ahead.
"I was just driving my own race, trying to catch Lewis," he said. "I thought I had the speed for that but then suddenly he started to go the same speed and then a little bit faster. We still had good speed but I think we could have had better speed."
Further back, Rosberg drove another good, strong race for Williams in what is clearly a good car, and Kovalainen never got near enough to overtake. It was thus disappointing for Williams to lose a place to McLaren in the Constructors' stakes, but there was nothing Nico could do about the KERS cars at the start and that really framed his race despite the speed to set the third fastest lap. His personal consolation was elevation to fifth in the drivers' championship.
"This was a great race for the whole team and particularly for Lewis," Heikki said. "Hopefully next time it will be me! This victory proves just how much the team has improved the performance of our car during the past few months: this is the result of the hard work of every single man and woman in our team - and this victory must be especially sweet for all of them."
In Bahrain Toyota got its strategy all wrong; in Hungary it got it all right. Trulli ran for 28 laps before refuelling, but Glock did even better and lasted until lap 32. While Jarno dropped back, Glock was able to pit from third place, right up the Ferrari's exhausts, and to come out seventh. That became sixth immediately as Barrichello pit stopped, so Toyota took home four valuable points. Unfortunately, however, Ferrari's second place pushed it down to fourth in the Constructors' stakes.
"That was a strong team effort and I am pleased with our performance today, especially after the difficult qualifying," said president John Howett. "The drivers performed exceptionally well to make up so many places; we had a strong strategy and the pit crew did a great job, all of which is very encouraging. But we have to understand why we did not show this performance in qualifying."
Button said after Silverstone that P6 would not happen again and he was right, but P5 in Germany was followed by P7 here, and he didn't hide his disappointment. All the alarm bells in Brackley will be sounding as Brawn watches the World Championship slowly slipping from its grasp.
"We felt positive that we could get a good result but unfortunately it turned into damage limitation," Jenson said, sounding ever so slightly like the man who used to try and put a brave face on the disaster that was Honda. "I was heavily fuelled and our plan was to get a good start, stay with the cars in front and then I was going longer at the first stop. But my rear tyres grained massively, which took away any chance that I had of that."
Barrichello struggled as well. and then getting hit by someone on the opening lap, damaging his left-hand sidepod, and dropping to 18th. Where Button struggled on the super soft option Bridgestones in his first two stints, Barrichello used the soft primes, but he was so far back that he counted himself fortunate to make 10th place, pushing Trulli and Nakajima hard, by the flag.
At times it seemed that BMW Sauber had made good progress in practice, but that didn't translate into qualifying or the race. Heidfeld made places at the start and lost them round the lap after Barrichello ran into him.. Thereafter he was pretty much stuck in the usual Hungaroring traffic on his way to 11th. Kubica had a good opening lap, but later encountered "massive understeer" that ate his front Bridgestones within 10 laps of each stint. He was 13th, behind Piquet who ran strongly early on but then got bogged down in the traffic. The same went for Fisichella, who struggled for grip in the first stint but said the balance improved in the second and third as he pushed hard to fight Barrichello and Kubica.
Far from looking "dangerous," rookie Jaime Alguersuari drove well and achieved his goal of finishing. And he has still yet to spin an F1 car, while team-mate Sebastien Buemi did so twice in the race and finished behind him... Alguersuari frequently lapped at Buemi's pace at key points, and made it home despite struggling physically towards the end.
"I'm very happy to have finished," he said, "but the last five laps were very difficult from the physical point of view. I found it hard to keep the car on the pace. The main objective was to complete the 70 laps, with no mistakes. I've learned a lot, but I have to say there are some aspects of F1 which made me think, 'Shit, this is tough!'"
Not bad, though, for a guy who, prior to the weekend, had never driven a lap in an F1 car...
Buemi admitted that he made a lot of errors, but overall felt the team had made progress with the new Red Bull Silverstone-spec update package.
It was Hamilton's first win since China last year, and gave him his first podium of the season and his first points since Bahrain in April.
Webber's latest podium moved him up to second overall within 18.5 points of Button, whose measly two points brought his score to 70 on a day when two of his major rivals - Vettel and Barrichello - failed to score.