Hamilton and McLaren return to winning ways with spectacular turnaround victory in Budapest.
The velocity at which Hamilton’s fist-pumps interchanged during his bicycle punch celebration at the chequered flag, not seen in over a year, said it all. This wasn’t just about winning, this was about the effort required to do so and the incredible speed of transformation. It was about the countless additional hours of work that have gone into transforming a hitherto ill-handling car, which only a few races ago was being knocked out of opening qualifying, into a car capable of scoring podiums and winning.
Above all it was about the manner in which this turnaround manifested on the track. The Hamilton-McLaren package a refined version of the aerodynamic package that proved so effective at the Nurburgring a fortnight ago was perfectly suited to the low-speed characteristics of the Hungaroring. It literally obliterated the field and left the championship frontrunners Red Bull and Brawn eating the Budapest dust.
Hamilton was aggressive from the off as he used his KERS system to vault from fourth to second going into the first corner. He narrowly avoided a collision with Kimi Raikkonen who swerved into his path and forced him onto the inside line. Hamilton overcooked it slightly into Turn 1 as he had done at the Nurburgring, but he managed to recover and get his car pointing in the right direction, albeit losing his advantage to Mark Webber.
Sebastian Vettel was not so lucky. On the exit of Turn 1 he sustained damage to his car when Raikkonen, who was trying to get out of the path of the recovering Hamilton, veered violently into Vettel. The incident eventually caused the German to retire, a huge blow to his championship campaign.
Having despatched Mark Webber on Lap 4 Hamilton took control of the race when pole-sitter and the then race leader Fernando Alonso, who was struggling with his tyres, made an earlier than planned pitstop on Lap 11. The Renault driver was forced into retirement moments later when his right front wheel came lose after the nut was accidentally unscrewed during the pit stop.
Fans were robbed of a showdown between these old adversaries, but Alonso would have been hard pressed to keep Hamilton at bay anyway due to the sheer pace of the McLaren, and the fact that he was running lighter on a three stop strategy.
Untroubled by his closest challengers, Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber, Hamilton cantered to the chequered flag where he claimed his tenth career victory and secured McLaren’s third consecutive win at Budapest.
Hamilton will take home more points today than he has scored over the course of the entire season – a stark reminder of the type of season that McLaren have been having.
“It is an incredible feeling to be back here after all,” said Hamilton. “It feels such a long time away, such a struggle with me and the team but as I said on the in-lap I am so proud of the guys.
“I go to the factory and see how hard everyone pushing, they never gave up and it is something very rare to see in a large group of people.
“We didn’t expect to win this weekend. It bit didn’t feel we had pace to win but the car felt fantastic. It’s incredibly special to be back up here, not just on the podium but just to get this win.
“The car was fantastic. The team asked me to look after tyres, and through experience I was able to do that, so thanks to the guys and fans, and my family.”
“We have to take as much as we can from this weekend,” he added. “We need to continue to push, it doesn’t mean we can start slowing down.
“We will keep pushing, we have improvements to make and work to do to beat these guys on a regular basis. It’s one huge leap for us, let’s keep going.”
Another man happy with his points haul will be German Grand Prix winner Mark Webber. With championship leader Jenson Button placing seventh and teammate Sebastian Vettel retiring, Webber leaves Hungary as Button’s closest challenger, and Red Bull’s statistical team leader.
“A little bit of a surprise,” said Webber. “We expected to be a bit quicker after our running on Friday but we knew these guys would be around us. We knew we did not have advantage of last few races.
“I’m happy to get the result we did. I could have had a better chance to fight Kimi and do different tyres, but that was my call, but overall we still have lot of positives. We are still up here, we can take our car to a lot of venues and fight and we are still very much a force.”
“We can still fight the Brawns together with Sebastian and I. It’s been a bit of a blip for them in the last few races and we hope it continues and we can take some points out of them.
“Seb had a poor weekend and lost some points, but he will back and after the break and we can recharge.”
Webber will be disappointed to have lost second place to Kimi Raikkonen though. A fuel rig problem delayed his first pit stop and allowed the Ferrari driver to take the position, and crucially it also allowed the one-stopping Toyota of Timo Glock to get ahead. Webber was held up by Glock and was lucky to keep Nico Rosberg at bay for third place.
Kimi Raikkonen meanwhile reiterated the picture that is being painted in the second half of the season with last year’s powerhouses finally catching up to Brawn and Red Bull. The result will carry special significance for Ferrari too given that Felipe Massa is still in a induced coma in a Budapest hospital following his horrific crash in qualifying yesterday.
Heikki Kovalainen, who won the race last year, was fifth in the sister McLaren ahead of Toyota’s Timo Glock who climbed to sixth place overall after a long first stint.
Jenson Button meanwhile had a disastrous race. After dominating the first half of the season the Brawn GP driver finds himself in a dangerous position going into the next few races. The BGP001 continues to be handful in the cool conditions but neither does it appear to improve in the hotter conditions which was the case today. Button was constantly on the radio complaining about the lack of grip and the way the car managed the tyres.
Jarno Trulli in the sister Toyota picked up the final points paying position ahead of Kazuki Nakajima and Rubens Barrichello.
BMW Sauber’s miserable weekend continued with neither Robert Kubica or Nick Heidfeld able to make much of an impression from the rear of the grid.
Heidfeld headed home Renault’s Nelson Piquet with Kubica in thirteenth ahead of Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella.
Jaime Alguersuari kept his nose clean for his debut grand prix with Toro Rosso finishing fifteenth place, ahead of teammate Sebastian Buemi who spun halfway through the race.