Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Formula 1 - Hungarian Grand Prix 2011

Hungaroring Track Map. Those boxes are: Gear (brown), then MPH, Km/h, Lateral G. T# is Timing Sector
I never really remember the Hungarian Grand Prix. Each year it just sort of comes and goes. I know Jenson Button got his first F1 win here in 2006 (a race in which he lapped Michael Schumacher), and I know that this year he celebrated his 200th Grand Prix at this race on Sunday. Ferrari's second fiddle Felipe Massa probably doesn't remember much of previous Hungarian GPs either, even though the track has left a lasting impression on his mind...

He knows his way round well enough to out-qualify his team mate for the first time this season, however, and Red Bull were back on top after Quali having reverted to a slightly older setup for this race. Well, one of them was (three guesses which one). Behind Vettel were the two McLarens followed by the two Ferraris, both of whom need to consistently beat both Red Bulls if they want a shot at the title...

The race itself started under difficult conditions. Rather than deciding how early to jump onto slicks like in Silverstone, teams and drivers were instead wondering if and when they should switch from Intermediates to full wet tyres. Any drivers with even-numbered grid slots were immediately at a disadvantage too - because the track is rarely used outside of Formula 1 it's not so grippy, and because the racing line is firmly on the left-hand side, the Hungaroring has the biggest difference in grip between each side of the pit straight than any other track, IIRC - so Vettel could feel confident sitting in the front of the grid on a track with few overtaking spots and one line through most of the corners. His confidence was short lived, however, which I'll get to soon.

[Race Start] After turn 1, the McLarens were right next to eachother, going mirror-to-mirror into turn 2 with 3rd place Button on the inside, but he couldn't make it stick. Meanwhile, both Mercedes GP drivers were able to get past both the Ferraris by this point, or as BBC commentator Martin Brundle put it "And look at Rosberg, he's got up into 4th place! And so has Schumacher!" Whatever you say, Mr. Brundle. In his defence, both Mercedes drivers seemed pretty determined to be in 4th place, with Michael Schumacher challenging Nico Rosberg for the place, until they parted ways at the turn 6/7 chicane and Schumacher slipped into the clutches of Fernando Alonso (who passed Massa thanks to a better start from 5th on the grid). The Spaniard tried a move around the outside of the German - well, a German - at turn 11, but the septuple world champion wasn't about to be overtaken that way, and out-dragged him into T12 with the inside line. Alonso then planted his Ferrari on the outside again coming out of T13 to get the inside line into the long final hairpin and take 5th place back from Schumacher, who was quickly under pressure from Felipe Massa afterwards.

As rain and spray battered the cars' on-board cameras, it was very clear the drivers were earning their money this race. Everyone was scrabbling for grip, and as you watch the race you can see at least one car wobbling around at practically every corner on the track as the driver struggles to find grip and traction and get the power down. Jenson Button fell back behind Lewis Hamilton a little, who was putting serious pressure on Sebastian Vettel for the race lead, then Alonso overtook Rosberg at turn one of lap 3 at the same time that Massa overtook Schumacher just behind them. Alas, Alonso ran wide in turn 2 and slid onto the concrete, allowing Rosberg back past. On lap 4 Hamilton made a real attempt to take the lead at turn 2, where both cars almost drifted out of the corner and he couldn't make it stick, but Vettel had a wobble in turn 3 and that put the McLaren right on his tail again. Turn 2 of lap 5 saw Vettel mimic his mistake in Canada, spotting a McLaren filling up his mirrors and slithering way off-line under braking, giving Hamilton the lead of the race and putting Button right on Vettel's tail when he rejoined the track shortly afterwards. After lap 5 and much position changing, the order in the top 10 was: (1)Hamilton (2)Vettel (3)Button (4)Rosberg (5)Alonso (6)Massa (7)Webber (8)Schumacher (9)Paul Di Resta (10)Kamui Kobayashi.

[First Spin, First Pit Phase] On lap 8, any chance of a Ferrari 1-2 resulting from this scramble was ended when Felipe Massa slid off-line just like Alonso and Vettel did - again, at turn 2 - but because he wasn't as far off he tried to catch it and accelerate back on the track when he was still on the green painted edging, which was very very slippery. This sent him into a 540° spin as he went backwards into the wall, but thankfully for him he was already going relatively slowly when he slid off, so the impact was minimal and he was able to complete the race with just a damaged left rear wing end plate. 3 laps later, Webber was the first to pit, followed shortly by Alonso, as they took the plunge and went onto Super-Soft slick tyres in drying conditions. Button came in a lap later, and Hamilton and Vettel a lap after that. It looked very slippery at first, but the second and third sectors were slick-worthy, and they soon found a groove and the rest of the grid gradually followed suit. At this point Button was still on Vettel's tail after pitting, allowing him to simply drive past him before they even got to turn 2, clearly the most eventful corner on the track. Out of turn 1, Webber also had much more speed on the exit than Alonso, allowing him to drive cleanly past as well and show us that pitting a lap earlier gave them an advantage as the tyres had settled in and those drivers better knew what to expect of them. Indeed, Button set the fastest lap of the race so far, shortly after Jarno Trulli's Team Lotus (that's the green Lotus) had called it quits and become the first retirement of the day.

"Where's the a/c adjuster? It's too hot in here..."
Then, on lap 25, Nick Heidfeld pulled up just outside the pits in his Lotus-Renault GP car (that's the black Lotus) on account of what scientists would call being "Slightly On Fire". As he had left the pit box the peculiar side-exit exhaust that runs up to the front of the sidepod spat out a lot of white smoke and some other stuff out of the left-hand side, before coughing up flames in the same direction and igniting once and for all. I suspect it was down to that strange exhaust in the first place. Heidfeld later said that the pit stop took longer than expected, which meant that he was subsequently sitting there with the revs up and primed to go for longer than usual, and that could be what caused it. The exhausts literally get red hot in a Formula 1 car, and the internals don't cool down unless the car is moving, so that could've been the cause. It's the second time a Lotus-Renault GP car has caught fire this season. This one was somewhat more eventful, however, partly because it was happening during the race (don't worry, he soon ninja-jumped out of the car and got to safety), but also because when the fire marshals were putting the fire out, the left sidepod exploded dramatically. Not as dramatically as a prop in a Michael Bay movie, but enough to make one marshal hop and limp back to the wall as he was right next to it. This left charred bits of carbon fibre and composite material spread loosely across the pit exit lane, but luckily for drivers trying to avoid puncturing brand new tyres (including Webber and Alonso), there was just enough space to get past without crossing the line or hitting any debris. Bizarrely, no Safety Car was called while a Dacia Duster (Good News!) was towing the burnt Lotus backwards into the pit exit. After the second pit stop phase that happened amidst all this, the top 5 order was: (1)Hamilton (2)Button (3)Vettel (4)Webber (5)Alonso. Michael Schumacher was forced to retire at this point due to a gearbox failure, and Massa was pressuring Kobayashi for 6th place, which he got at turn 1 of lap 34.

[Unwelcome Dounts, Rain Threatens] On lap 37, Lewis Hamilton got it wrong coming out of turn 7, spinning the back end about 135° around and stopping very briefly on the racing line, with backmarkers as well as teammate Jenson Button behind him. Quickly wanting to get out the way of these fast-approaching cars, Hamilton did a half-donut as they passed, narrowly avoiding a Williams car and forcing Force India's Paul Di Resta to take to the grass to avoid colliding with a fellow Brit, who was then passed by another fellow Brit as Button went past to take the lead. Hamilton later apologised to Di Resta for this, saying that he just didn't see him. It was slippery at that end of the track, which was just on the outskirts of more rain, but the rest of the track still warranted slick tyres... or did it? Nico Rosberg put Inter's back on just after Button slid wide at turn 2 and gave Hamilton the lead back on lap 50 of 70. Vettel also ran wide twice on this lap, at turns 2 and 13. The McLarens battled once again for the lead, with Button getting ahead in the DRS Zone (on the pit straight) before sliding wide at turn 2 again, only not so much. It was still enough for Hamilton to get back past again. Because Hamilton was now ahead, he had priority for new tyres, and went in for some Inter's. This proved to be a mistake, as it then stopped raining and Alonso on Prime slicks sailed past him on the exit of turn 5, and he was then given a Drive-Thru Penalty for his earlier excursion. You can't stop in the pits during this penalty, so he ended up in the pit lane twice more than if he'd stayed on slicks and coped with it like Alonso did, and sadly this took him out of contention for the win after he went back onto slicks again. He ended up in 7th place, closely behind Massa and Webber.

[Last Phase, Scrap for 8th] The battle for 4th place now raged on lap 59 of 70, with Mark Webber overtaking Felipe Massa down the pit straight using a mix of the DRS and, I suspect, a double-whammy of KERS, as the 6.6 seconds of available power boost is reset as the car crosses the line. Hamilton then started having a look at Massa as well, eventually overtaking him at turn 12, where Fernando Alonso had just spun on a damp patch and rejoined, luckily without losing any places. It was at this part of the track in 2009 where the right-rear wheel of his ING Renault came undone and flew right off the car, adding just one mishap to a bad year for that team. Anyway, a big fight was developing between 8th-12th places, with Kamui Kobayashi leading the train in lap 61, with 13th-placed Nico Rosberg joining the fray going into 62, which is when it all kicked off in turn 1. Everyone tried to overtake everyone else, with Sergio Pérez going down the inside of Adrian Sutil but proving unsuccessful, Sébastien Buemi getting past Kobayashi for 8th and Jaime Alguersuari trying to get past him as well, but catching Kobayashi's wheel and doing half a spin, putting him at the back of the train in 13th. Rosberg then overtook both Buemi and Pérez in the undeniably faster Mercedes GP car. He would later move up to 9th and finish there. Catching the train on lap 64 was Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton (in that order), who watched as Pérez skipped the chicane at turn 6 and conceded his place while rejoining right in front of them and desperately getting out of the way of 4ht and 5th place. As they looked for a way past the traffic, Hamilton was also looking for an opportunity to get past Webber for 4th, an opportunity which he found at turn 12 when Webber moved over too early having passed Kobayashi and Hamilton pounced under braking. Webber was in the DRS Zone, but opened his rear wing too early, wobbled out of the last corner and didn't get it open again in time to get any advantage out of it as they entered lap 65 of 70.

The two drivers would finish that way round, and Button won his 200th Formula 1 Grand Prix, on roughly the 5th anniversary of his first ever F1 win at this very track in a BAR Honda (which, interestingly, was the first wet Hungarian GP since the race started in 1987, and now he's won again at the second one ever). Sebastian Vettel quietly finished 2nd and extended his still-massive championship lead, with Alonso a valiant 3rd place. Scottish rookie Paul Di Resta registers his highest finish of the season thus far with a 7th place, escaping the madness behind him just before it all went nuts.

Now the teams and drivers get an enforced three-week break from work, before everyone reconvenes at the famous Spa Francorchamps on the 27th August for the esteemed Belgian Grand Prix. In the mean time, Jenson will be happily chewing through copious amounts of cake.

Pictures from

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