Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has triumphed in an eventful and incident-laden Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday to equal the late Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 Formula 1 victories. The achievement was overshadowed, however, but the recent death of the team’s protégé Jules Bianchi, to whom the German fittingly dedicated his second win of the 2015 season.
“Merci, Jules. Cette victoire est pour toi,” he said to his crew over the pit-to-car radio during the 69-lap race’s slow-down lap.
“Thank you Jules. This victory is for you. We know it has been an incredibly tough week, and for all of us very difficult, so this is for him. We knew sooner or later he would have been part of our team, part of this family.”
It was a fitting tribute to the sport’s most emotion-charged week since the death of the man whose tally of wins he had equalled in 1994, and a result that showed that Mercedes’ run to back-to-back titles was perhaps not as assured as many had assumed.
The Silver Arrows had locked out the front row in a dominant qualifying display, only to throw away a chance of a record-breaking successive double-podium finish when both pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were slow off the starting line.
Starting in third place, Vettel made a perfect launch and ran side-by-side with Hamilton on the 610-metre sprint to Turn 1, eventually squeezing the Englishman into ceding the corner as both Vettel and teammate Kimi Räikkönen swept into a 1-2 through the right-hander.
Hamilton fell to fourth behind Rosberg through the opening complex of corners before committing what would be the first of several errors in what he later described as his “worst race” in Formula 1. The Englishman tried to outbrake Rosberg at the Turn 8/9 chicane, but ran out of room and had to take a trip through the gravel run-off, rejoining in tenth place.
Vettel and Räikkönen sauntered off into the lead and by the midpoint of the race, the German was eight seconds clear of his teammate and a further twelve seconds ahead of a less-than-impressive Rosberg – running his second stint on the Medium tyres in comparison to the soft-shod Ferraris – who was failing to take advantage of being gifted some extra points in his championship battle with Hamilton.
Hamilton was setting about on an exercise of damage limitation, and put his head down after his first-lap dramas to climb back into fourth place by Lap 29, although he was a further 15 seconds behind Rosberg.
Lap 42 brought about a major change in the race’s complexion when Nico Hülkenberg’s car suffered a dramatic front wing failure down the start/finish straight, spearing the hapless German’s Force India into the tyre barriers at almost unabated speed.
Like teammate Sergio Pérez – who was upended in a frightening accident in Friday’s opening practice session after a suspension failure – Hülkenberg mercifully escaped any injury, but the resulting debris prompted race officials to call out the Safety Car.
Vettel and Räikkönen’s assured run to a 1-2 finish was now under serious threat with the gap to the chasing Mercedes’ completely eliminated, and the entire field took the opportunity to make their final tyre changes for the run to the finish.
The top four all opted for the Medium tyres – the two Ferraris and Hamilton had no choice, having run the Softs all race – while fifth-placed Daniel Ricciardo bolted on a set of brand new Softs and was looking ominously threatening to claim a surprise back-to-back win in Hungary.
The Mercedes pair had been given a major lifeline thanks to the Safety Car, and their joy was elevated upon news that Räikkönen was running minus his MGU-K, a crucial energy recovery system that would leave him a sitting duck down the start/finish straight when the race resumed.
The Finn would battle on for a few more laps before parking his Ferrari; it was a disappointing end to what had easily been the former champion’s best showing of the season as he fights to stay in the team’s line-up next year.
Rosberg was immediately able to dispatch the Finn at the restart, but was unable to muster the fight to challenge Vettel as he was instead having to focus his attentions on keeping a charging Ricciardo at bay.
Ricciardo had himself dealt with Hamilton at the restart, overcoming a clumsy defensive move from the Englishman at Turn 1 which saw the reigning champion damage his front wing tagging the back of the Australian and having his woes compounded with a rightly-deserved drive-through penalty.
Despite trailing bodywork and a damaged radiator from being punted by Hamilton, Ricciardo soldiered on and closed up to Rosberg. He tried a do-or-die lunge into Turn 1 on Lap 64, locked up his brakes and then ran into the back of Rosberg at the exit of the corner.
The contact broke Ricciardo’s front wing and punctured Rosberg’s left-rear tyre, sending both to the pits. Ricciardo was able to rejoin in third place, while Rosberg limped around and resumed in eighth.
The chaotic final laps assured Vettel a triumphant and richly-deserved victory, having not put a foot wrong for the entire race. It was a feat few of his fellow drivers could claim to achieve…
All of the argy-bargy promoted an elated Daniil Kvyat into second place, giving the young Russian his first podium finish despite copping a ten-second time penalty for exceeding the track limits. Ricciardo crossed the line in third to give Red Bull Racing its best result of a tough season, and was philosophical about throwing away a shot at a remarkable victory.
“We were resilient today, I left it all on the track, I put my heart into everything, and I think that’s the way Jules Bianchi would have wanted it – I owe that race to him,” he said afterwards.
“I’m very grateful to be on the podium, it feels like a victory. It’s been a long time, and a long season.”
Fourth place went to star rookie Max Verstappen in the Renault-powered Toro Rosso. The Dutchman was stuck in the midfield early on, but kept his head in a race when many lost theirs to give the Italian team its best finish since Vettel’s shock win at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.
Another driver to benefit was McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who tigered his way from the third-last row of the grid with finish in fifth place, the team’s best finish of the season. Teammate Jenson Button crossed the line in ninth place to underscore the team’s most competitive showing of the year.
Hamilton eventually crossed the line in sixth place, putting in another spirited final stint to climb from twelfth after his front wing change and drive-through penalty for hitting Ricciardo. He hardly looked like the same driver who had thrashed the field in every other session, but in finishing two spots ahead of Rosberg, managed to extend his championship lead to 21 points heading into the summer break.
It’s a result he acknowledged could have been far worse – had Rosberg not have suffered his puncture, he could have taken the championship lead.
“Today was incredibly bizarre,” a circumspect Hamilton reflected after the race. “Did I deserve any points? By the grace of God. I need to take a breather and come back stronger in the next race. Today was one of the worst performances I’ve put in for a long, long time. I was all over the place.
“I don’t know if it was a lack of concentration or what. I’m going to take it on the chin. I definitely had a very bad day in the office, but the team did a great job with their strategy calls so I could at least get a couple of points.”
Perhaps Hamilton was distracted by the pre-race tributes to the fallen Bianchi. The drivers gathered as one at the front of the grid with the Frenchman’s grieving family for a minute’s silence, and perhaps the emotion of the event rattled a few drivers’ minds in the race.
Two such examples came from Bianchi’s closest friends: Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado.
Massa lined up incorrectly in his grid box and triggered a second attempt at the start. The Williams driver would earn a five-second pit stop penalty as a result before touring around to finish out of the points in a performance that would make you forget his heroics at Silverstone just three weeks prior. Teammate Valtteri Bottas fared little better, losing out on a possible points’ finish when he suffered a puncture shortly after the race restart.
Speaking of utterly forgettable drives, you need look no further than the mercurial Maldonado, who put in one of the worst drives in what is a very patchy career in F1. The Venezuelan copped an unprecedented trio of penalties from the stewards: he first punted Sergio Pérez off at Turn 1 before being found guilty of both speeding and overtaking behind the Safety Car, which earned him two more penalties.
His Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean bounced back from successive DNFs to finish seventh ahead of Rosberg, Button and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
Driver Team / EntryLapsResult
|Formula 1 Pirelli Magyar Nagydíj 2015 – Final Classification (69 laps*)|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||69||1:46:09.985|
|2.||Daniil Kvyat^||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||69||+ 15.748|
|3.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||69||+ 25.084|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||69||+ 44.251|
|5.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Honda MP4-30||69||+ 49.079|
|6.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||69||+ 52.025|
|7.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||69||+ 58.578|
|8.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||69||+ 58.876|
|9.||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda MP4-30||69||+ 1:07.028|
|10.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||69||+ 1:09.130|
|11.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||69||+ 1:13.458|
|12.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||69||+ 1:14.278|
|13.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||69||+ 1:20.228|
|14.||Pastor Maldonado^||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||69||+ 1:25.142|
|15.||Roberto Merhi||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||67||2 laps behind|
|16.||Will Stevens||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||65||Vibration|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||60||Power loss|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||55||MGU-K|
|DNF.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||53||Brakes|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||41||Accident|
* Race distance reduced to 69 of its scheduled 70 laps after first attempted start was aborted.
^ Post-race penalties:
- Daniil Kvyat was penalized 10 seconds for cutting a corner and gaining an advantage.
- Pastor Maldonado was penalized 10 seconds for overtaking before the safety car line on the restart of the race.
Image via Sutton Motorsport Images