Hungarian GP 2011
AUGUST 1, 2011
Race Report - Button beats Vettel in Hungary
BY TONY DODGINS
Jenson Button could not have had a better 200th grand prix, taking an 11th F1 victory at Hungaroring, scene of his first win five years ago.
It was a race in which tyres were always going to play a major part. The fact that the track was wet at start time meant that everyone went to the grid on intermediate rain tyres, the change of climatic conditions meaning it was no longer necessary to use both dry Pirelli compounds.
But, with a change to slicks happening early on and the first stint on option Pirellis lasting 15-17 laps, it was obvious that over a 70-lap race the primes were going to be called into play. It was therefore an exercise in reading conditions and managing tyres and there is nobody better at that than Button. For team mate Lewis Hamilton, the winner a week ago in Germany, it all went awry.
Off the line, Sebastian Vettel managed to convert his pole position but could not drop Hamilton, who took the lead when the world champion ran wide in Turn 2 on lap 5. In the end though Lewis finished only fourth after no fewer than six visits to the pits!
Button made his first pit stop on lap 11, Hamilton on lap 12. Lewis was back for another set of supersofts on lap 26, with Jenson stopping one lap later.
The crucial difference was the second stops. Hamilton came in on lap 40 and took another set of supersofts, while Button stopped two laps later and took the prime tyre, which lasted to the end without problem.
McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe explained: "We had a split strategy although it wasn't deliberately done that way -- each car crew works independently.
"When it was still dry and Lewis went onto the option tyre and Jenson the prime, we thought the strategies would work out to be similar. Alonso had stopped four laps before Lewis and was going very fast on the options and there was also uncertainty about how long the prime tyre would last.
"Also, Lewis seemed to be having a much tougher time wearing his left front tyre than Jenson, so we thought that the more aggressive strategy and the extra stop was better suited to him.
"The interesting thing then was that the option tyre didn't seem to have the pace to make it work because we started to see other people, like Jenson and Vettel, doing personal best lap times on the prime tyre. And so it became immediately evident that even without the rain, Lewis was on the wrong strategy."
Hamilton's situation was not helped when he spun at the chicane on lap 47 and came to rest broadside across the track. He executed a spin turn to resume, which forced Paul di Resta's Force India to take avoiding action, earning Hamilton a Drive Through penalty.
Opinion was divided. Some thought the penalty harsh and many drivers, including Di Resta, admitting that they would have done the same. Others thought it a fair cop and that it was fully understandable that the stewards acted.
While all this was going on, it started to rain again and it was tough to decide whether to keep going on slicks or stop for intermediates?
Nine drivers chose to pit, Webber (fighting his way back into the race after starting sixth) and Hamilton among them. The decision to put Lewis onto the rain tyre was a gamble worth taking because his race had already been compromised by the decision to take supersofts at his third stop.
"It was a team call," Lowe explained. "A lap earlier Lewis said it was okay for dry tyres but the conditions were getting quickly worse and you were seeing other people stop, so we were making that judgment. The weather radar was indicating it was going to get worse and in those situations you're normally better off getting onto the wet tyre earlier.
"The complication was that watching Rosberg's times, the intermediate tyre seemed better in sector one, which was wetter, and the dry tyre looked better in sector two. You are trying to make these split second decisions and you haven't got the benefit of two or three laps to analyse it, you're looking at it sector by sector.
"Why didn't Lewis win? With hindsight, there was fitting the option tyres instead of the primes, although he might not have made the prime work anyway because of his front tyre wear. Then there was his spin, and then his spin turn in front of traffic, which looked pretty ambitious.
"If he hadn't done it he'd have lost more places waiting for Vettel and everyone else to come through. Then there was the Drive Through penalty, then the wet tyre decision. Considering all that, he did well to finish fourth!"
The two McLarens enjoyed a little battle with 20 laps to go, passing and re-passing each other with the help of DRS and no doubt raising pulse rates in the pits. But with HamiIton about to make extra stops, it was never a genuine fight and it was left to Button to take McLaren's fourth victory of the year, 3.5s clear of Vettel, who ran the identical three-stop inters/option/option/prime tyre strategy.
Jenson stopped a lap earlier than Sebastian for his first set of options and had them up to temperature by the time the Red Bull emerged from the pits just ahead of him. Button then passed the RB7 on the exit of Turn 1.
"I was struggling a bit on the intermediate in the first stint," Vettel admitted. "Lewis was a bit faster and then I lost it down into Turn 2 and he got by. After that it dried and we could maybe have come in a lap earlier.
"The car felt good on the supersoft initially but in the last stint I had to let Jenson go. I felt I had more speed in the car but had a few problems with brakes. With 20 laps to go I didn't know how the car would be. The win was in reach today but we didn't get it. McLaren has made a step forward and we have to come back."
Alonso thought he lost a lot of time behind Webber but was happy enough with a fourth consecutive podium.
"Three different tracks, three different conditions and we have scored the most points," he said. "Unfortunately it hasn't been very hot in July, which would have suited us better, but I think we have made good progress."
Webber, like Hamilton, suffered due to two extra pit stops after the decision to react to the second bout of rain, then found himself outfumbled by Lewis in traffic. He did, however manage to maintain his runner-up slot in the championship and his 2011 100% point scoring record.
Felipe Massa's race was compromised by a crash at Turn 2 on lap 8, after which the rear wing looked like it had lost a battle with a Great White. Somehow Felipe managed to set fastest race lap in such configuration en route to sixth place ahead of Paul Di Resta.
The rookie Briton scored his first points since round two in Malaysia. "It's the best way to respond after a series of races where, for various reasons, we didn't get the results that were possible," he said.
Toro Rosso celebrated its 100th F1 start with double points finishes from Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, the pair sandwiching Nico Rosberg's Mercedes.
It was a sterling performance from Buemi in particular after his start from the back courtesy of the grid penalty for assaulting Nick Heidfeld's Renault in Germany. The German faired little better in Hungary, retiring at one-third distance when the Renault caught fire spectacularly after its second pit stop.
Rosberg and team mate Schumacher gained three and four places respectively at the start but Nico was one of those afflicted by an unnecessary stop for intermediates and Michael retired with a gearbox problem.
Heading into the summer break, Red Bull has won just one of the last five races after cleaning up five of the first six. Adrian Newey claims he'll have no trouble switching off and relaxing for a while, but the team is grateful for its healthy lead. It knows it has a battle on its hands when term time resumes.
On Saturday night, some warped soul hacked into Jenson Button's website and posted that the '09 champion had been seriously injured in a road accident. Happily it was all fantasy. Button's Sunday drive though, was fact, and so very typical of him. He candidly admitted to twice losing the lead to his team mate through his own mistakes, but he was still good enough to beat the rest. How he must be ruing those DNFs at Silverstone and Nurburgring...