Kovalainen triumphs in Budapest thriller

Kovalainen Hungary2 Shockwaves were sent ripping through the Hungaroring this afternoon as an earthquake of drama and spectacle shook up the world championship and sent a delighted Heikki Kovalainen on his way to victory, as Lewis Hamilton and then, with three laps to go, Felipe Massa succumbed to technical cruelty in the Budapest heat.

“It is fantastic. It is a great moment,” wallowed Kovalainen after claiming his maiden victory in Formula One. “It has been a moment I have been targeting for many years now, since I eyed the possibility to be an F1 driver I wanted to improve my fitness to try and achieve this goal and to achieve this goal is pleasing. Hopefully it is the first of many.”

The signs that this was not going to be Lewis Hamilton’s day came as early as the first corner when a charging Massa blasted his way around the outside of the McLaren to lead the field, much to the delight of the Ferrari camp.

The Brazilian came alive, as he does when given a clear track, and proceeded to destroy any theories that the McLaren was the more dominant car around the twisty technical 4.381 km circuit as a string of blistering laps kept him clear of his McLaren rival.

Massa retained the advantage after the first round of pit-stops and by half distance had managed to build up a cushion of around five seconds to Hamilton – who took on more fuel at the pit-stops.

The Briton was on the ragged edge has he tried to stop the gap augmenting and give himself a shout of surpassing the Ferrari driver at the second round of re-fuelling. But on Lap 42 the Budapest gods made their first intervention in the outcome of the grand prix, which in the case of Hamilton took the form of a left front tyre puncture at just about the furthest possible distance from his McLaren mechanics.

The time-lost on track and during his stop for repair dropped Hamilton to tenth place and from there it was a case of damage limitation. The 23-year-old eventually clawed his way up to fifth place thanks in part to a decision to refuel his McLaren to the end of the race, even if it meant running on the super-soft tyres.

But the real salvage, at terms of the championship if not the race result, came with three laps of the race remaining as Felipe Massa’s Ferrari V8 let loose in spectacular style on the start/finish straight, gifting the lead to Heikki Kovalainen. It was the cruellest of blows to Massa who put himself on course for victory, on a day when he really shouldn’t have been.

Timo Glock drove a magnificent race to take second, entirely on merit as he hustled his vastly improved Toyota over the Budapest kerbing, delivering lap-times that were on par with the leaders. The German came under fierce pressure in the closing laps from Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who came alive in the closing laps sensing the opportunity presented by the misfortune of his title rivals, but fought off the Finn to take his first career podium.

“It is just unbelievable,” said Glock. “I could not believe it when I saw Felipe’s engine go and I was P2. I was under pressure from Kimi, with soft tyres and I was struggling quite a lot.”

“We knew since Friday that the soft tyres would be difficult. It is unbelievable. I had a really good car. It was perfect until last stint. Unbelievable, in my first year…”

Serious questions will be asked of Kimi Raikkonen however. The Finn, adhering to the principal of least effort, has been nowhere all weekend, but sensing his opportunity came alive in the dying laps, posting the fastest lap of the race and hunting down a face and championship-saving podium.

“I think we could have done the race a little bit better but we were stuck behind Alonso,” said Raikkonen. “I was stuck behind him until the second stop so it was a bit late by that point. I had a good car and I was able to catch Timo but I had to back off in one moment.

“We were a bit lucky with some of the other guys. We have the speed but if we cannot get qualifying then we will have the same problems. We have to sort it out.”

Raikkonen was locked in a fierce battle throughout the race with Fernando Alonso, but eventually surpassed the Spaniard after his second pit-stop. Alonso finished fourth ahead of Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Nelson Piquet.

Jarno Trulli rounded out a good day for Toyota by taking seventh ahead of Robert Kubica in eighth.