Mark Webber took his fourth victory of the season and the lead in the Drivers’ Championship with an excellent drive at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
A combination of some outright pace and a lucky strategy call from his pit crew helped the Australian leapfrog Alonso and assume a race-ending victory margin of nearly 18 seconds to the Ferrari driver.
The catalyst to the day’s events was a lap-fifteen Safety Car interruption due to debris on the circuit. The majority of the field pitted to take advantage of the break in the race conditions, but Red Bull curiously elected to leave Webber out on the circuit. More on that shortly…
In the narrow Hungaroring pit lane, it was chaos. Robert Kubica was released from his pit bay unsighted and the Pole ploughed straight into the Force India of Adrian Sutil, forcing the immediate retirement of the German with suspension damage. Kubica was eventually able to rejoin after his mechanics untangled his car from Sutil’s, and any hopes of a points’ finish evaporated on the spot. That he was later to serve a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for his lollipop man’s lack of perceptual awareness was simply academic.
In a completely separate incident, Nico Rosberg’s right-rear wheel parted company from his Mercedes as he left his pit bay, sending the wheel bouncing down the pit lane and into the path of other waiting mechanics – striking, but fortunately not injuring a Williams mechanic – in a manner reminiscent of Michele Alboreto’s wheel-shedding moment at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
At the front of the field, the race would resume after the brief interruption, with Webber running ahead of Vettel, Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, and Felipe Massa.
Webber was left in a spot of bother, but one thing was certain: he needed to pull out enough of a margin to Alonso to ensure that a Red Bull 1-2 could be on the cards when he pitted to change to the harder-compound tyres.
As the Safety Car readied itself to pull in, Webber made sure he sat right behind the Mercedes-Benz gullwing, but Vettel seemed to be daydreaming and left a massive gap to first place as the Safety Car pulled into the pits.
Webber’s task – but not the team’s – was made easier when Vettel was soon handed a drive-through penalty for not maintaining a close enough distance to the Safety Car, forcing the German into the pits and to rejoin behind Alonso in third place.
By lap 43, Webber had built up enough of a margin over Alonso that he was able to pit and rejoin still in the lead, leaving the Spaniard to fend off the advances of Vettel’s much quicker sister Red Bull. It was a lead Webber was never to lose, and he comfortably cruised to his fourth win of the season, leaving Alonso to ponder why the Red Bulls are seemingly unbeatable once again, and leaving Vettel to wonder how he can have scored pole position in the last four rounds and yet taken a single win in that time.
Lewis Hamilton retired on lap 25 with what was, incredibly, just the second mechanically-induced DNF of his F1 career. The McLaren driver would be doubly frustrated leaving Hungary: not only was his car found wanting in terms of pace, but he would lose his lead in the Drivers’ Championship to Webber.
It was a low-scoring weekend all round for McLaren, which lost its lead in the Constructors’ Championship as well, with Jenson Button finishing a lapped eighth having made no impression on proceedings at all.
Felipe Massa went some way to putting some of the Hungaroring demons to bed by finishing fourth, although it must be said that he was never on the leading trio’s pace and did not seem to have the spark that seemed so evident just a week ago in Germany – that is, before he was asked to move over…
Finishing a career-best fifth was Vitaly Petrov, who steered his Renault cleanly around the track in an error-free 71-lap display, and ahead of his former GP2 rival, Nico Hülkenberg.
Hülkenberg’s team-mate Rubens Barrichello tried to mirror Webber’s late-stop strategy, and ran fifth for much of the race after Hamilton’s retirement until he pitted with a handful of laps running.
Rejoining in 11th, the Brazilian found himself with immeasurably more grip than tenth-placed Michael Schumacher, and it wasn’t long before the Brazilian was on the tail of his former Ferrari team-mate.
For many, it was a case of if, not when, Barrichello would get past. While his Cosworth-powered Williams lacked the grunt down the straight, he had such better traction that it seemed a mere formality.
But not when you’re Michael Schumacher and you have a point to prove over your former number-two. After a few rather firm door-shutting moments that worked in his favour, Barrichello eventually got the better run exiting the final turn and drew alongside the seven-time World Champion.
Sadly, the red mist seemed to descend Michael who, rather than give up the game, continued to fight the move and steered Barrichello to within inches of the pit wall. That a huge accident didn’t eventuate was a miracle, and Rubens was rightly aggrieved at the tactic, despite making a brilliant move stick. That Schumacher is being called in front of the stewards at the time of writing this piece is hardly a surprise.
Also finishing in the points after solid drives – and on the day of Switzerland’s national holiday too, rather appropriately – were both the Sauber drivers, with Pedro de la Rosa finishing a fine seventh and team-mate Kamui Kobayashi taking ninth after starting on the last row of the grid!
For the first time this season, all six rookie team drivers finished, with Heikki Kovalainen just managing to fend off team-mate Jarno Trulli for 14th place at the end of the race. Timo Glock was third-best, followed by the HRT of Bruno Senna, who headed home Lucas di Grassi in the other Virgin. Sakon Yamamoto finished in last place, four laps behind.
The circus now takes a much-needed three-week break before it heads to the classic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, for the penultimate round of the European season.