Hamilton Heads Rosberg in Hungary

Lewis Hamilton won the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, taking a record-breaking fifth career win at the Hungaroring. He led team-mate and pole sitter Nico Rosberg home, giving Mercedes their third one-two finish of the season.

Rosberg made a slower start than his team mate off the line, with the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen vying for the lead as the four lead cars entered turn one. Ricciardo took a very wide line on the outside of the first turn and was ahead of Rosberg by the second corner. However Rosberg had a better exit off turn one, and his superior momentum meant that by the third corner he had regained second place. Hamilton had already begun to open a gap while out in front of the battling taking place behind him.

The view from the first corner on the opening lap.
The view from the first corner on the opening lap.

The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel was the first of the leading group to pit from fifth position on lap 14. The undercut worked well for the Scuderia and Vettel was able to jump Verstappen for fourth. The top three remained the same through this pitstop window. Hamilton did not manage to make his tyres work as well as the chasing pair of Ricciardo and Rosberg, and it appeared as if both could mount a challenge against the leader, however Rosberg was unable to remain within the crucial one second needed to activate his DRS and be able to mount any serious challenge to his team-mate’s lead. The team sternly warned Hamilton to improve his lacklustre pace, or they would be forced to pit Rosberg ahead of him in order to protect a Mercedes victory against Ricciardo. This appeared to be the impetus Hamilton needed, and he duly began to improve his lap times.

Red Bull, knowing that their chance of victory was gone in a straight fight with the Mercedes duo, switched to a bold strategy for Ricciardo. He pitted for the second and last time at the halfway mark, and Red Bull hoped it would give him time to create an undercut large enough to gain track position ahead of both Mercedes, which would be vital in a track renowned for its lack of overtaking opportunities. Alas, the strategy failed to allow Ricciardo to challenge and he settled into third after both Mercedes cars emerged ahead of him after their second round of stops.

Rosberg did his best to keep Hamilton honest in the last laps of the grand prix, but despite Hamilton locking up and running wide and also being severely impeded by the backmarker of Haas driver Esteban Guttierez, Rosberg never looked like attempting an overtake for the lead.

Elsewhere, McLaren-Honda enjoyed their best overall qualifying of their renewed partnership, with Alonso and Button lining up 7th and 8th on the grid. While Alonso went on to finish 7th, Button was struck once again with mechanical gremlins early on in the race, when he queried over the team radio why his brake pedal was “going to the floor”. The team told him not to shift and to persevere, to which Button replied “the race from hell this is gonna be!”. To add insult to injury, the team were penalised and Button given a time-penalty for contravening the abysmally thought out new radio communication restrictions placed on teams since the British Grand Prix. Button was eventually forced to retire.

Further down the field, Kimi Raikkonen found himself stuck behind the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson in 15th position. Raikkonen had started 14th after being caught out in the damp conditions of Q2 in qualifying. Ferrari were forced to put Raikkonen on an aggressive strategy, with a long opening stint on the soft tyres. The strategy worked beautifully and he exited the pits after his first stop immediately behind his team-mate who had pitted much earlier on lap 14, and crucially ahead of Max Verstappen. Verstappen spent almost 14 laps stuck behind Raikkonen until he pitted once again. When Raikkonen emerged from his second pit stop, the roles had been reversed, with Raikkonen on much faster super-soft tyres behind the Red Bull of Verstappen. Raikkonen knew his car had the pace to pass Verstappen for fifth. He made several challenges, but Verstappen defended robustly to say the least, and several times seemed to make more than one change of direction while under breaking into a corner, infuriating the Finn behind him. Raikkonen made a good exit out of turn one on lap 57 and attempted a dart down the inside. Verstappen jinked right, and then left under breaking, causing Raikkonen to have to change the direction of his corner entry at the last second. The result was that part of his front wing splintered under the rear wheel of the Dutchman’s Red Bull. Aerodynamically compromised, Raikkonen remained in touch by could not find a way past and had to settle for sixth.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen battles for position with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen battles for position with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Lewis Hamilton crossed the line in first, taking his fifth victory of the season, the fifth time he has taken the chequered flag out of the last six races. With it he took the lead of the championship for the first time this season and now leads Rosberg by six points. Whether the battle for the 2016 championship can continue will now depend on whether Rosberg can regain some of his imperious early season form. Rosberg’s home race, the German Grand Prix, will be highly important in determining whether he can challenge and beat his team-mate.

The German Grand Prix takes place on the 31st of July.

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