Mark Webber put in a charging drive today to get control of the Hungarian Grand Prix after his team mate Sebastian Vettel was given a penalty and put himself back in the lead of the championship battle.
It was Red Bull’s 100th Grand Prix start and its 12th victory and it gave them the lead in the constructors’ championship.
It was Webber’s fourth win of the season and the sixth win of his career and it was all built on an astonishing middle stint on soft tyres after a sudden safety car for debris on the track.
With Lewis Hamilton retiring from the race with gearbox problems before half distance and Sebastian Vettel’s chances of victory taken away by a stewards’ decision to award him a drive through penalty for not maintaining the correct gap behind the safety car, the way was clear for Webber to take advantage, but he had to put in a series of qualifying laps to build a big enough lead over Alonso to be able to pit and rejoin in the lead.
It was very hard on Vettel, who lost a race win through a rules technicality, but against that the rules about maintaining gaps behind the safety car were refined after the incident in Japan when Vettel hit Webber behind the safety car in Fuji in 2007. He should know the rules, though and it leaves him frustrated.
It was a very strong day for GP2 graduates Vitaly Petrov and Nico Hulkenberg, who finished 5th and 6th and for Pedro de la Rosa who was 7th, team mate Kamui Kobayashi also again scored points from the back of the grid.
Budapest is the third longest run to the first corner and the dirty side of the grid is the least grippy of the season. Predictably, at the start, Vettel got away cleanly but Webber from P2 on the grid was swallowed up by Alonso.
Petrov jumped Rosberg and Hamilton for fifth place but Hamilton repassed him. Nevertheless Petrov was able to pull away impressively from Rosberg in the first stint, while Kubica was tucked up behind him, losing ground.
Button slipped from 11th on the grid to 14th at the start.
The pit stops were brought forward by a safety car on lap 16, due to a piece of debris on the track from the Force India of Tonio Liuzzi. There was a rush to the pits, Vettel led it, Alonso followed, while Massa dropped a position to Hamilton.
Kubica was released into the path of Sutil, but the Pole was able to rejoin. However he was given a drive through penalty for unsafe release.
Meanwhile in all the panic, Mercedes didn’t put the right rear wheel onto Rosberg’s car and it came loose, rolling down the pit lane. Both incidents were very dangerous and it is extremely fortunate that no-one was hurt.
Button pitted just before the safety car and gained four places by doing so.
Webber didn’t pit under the safety car and was faced with the task of opening a big enough lead after the restart to be able to pit and rejoin ahead of Alonso.
There was drama when the stewards decided that Vettel had not maintained the correct gap behind the safety car and he was given a drive through penalty, which dropped him to third place, behind Alonso. He quickly closed up on the Spaniard.
“I didn’t understand why I was penalised,” said Vettel. “It should have been a very easy race from the restart, but I was sleeping, maybe relying too much on the radio, but I lost the radio in the first stint. Usually the leader tries to drop back but when I saw a big gap from Mark and the safety car to myself. Pretty unlucky I would say because it would have been a walk in the park today.”
Meanwhile Webber pushed like mad, hoping that the tyres would not start giving diminishing returns. He built a 23 second lead and when he pitted on lap 43 he was able to rejoin almost a whole pit straight ahead of Alonso, in the lead by 6 seconds.
On new tyres he then drove away from Alonso and doubled his margin after just six laps.
“With the safety car, I had to go off strategy to try to pass Fernando,” said Webber. “But we were asking a lot of the option tyres. The front left was completely finished and it was difficult to get to the end of the stint. Seb had some difficulties and it was a bit of a gift for me, but I’ve not had many of them. It was tough luck for him.”
Vettel cruised up on the back of Alonso, but wasn’t able to mount an attack on him. Alonso also described Vettel’s penalty giving him an extra position as a ‘gift’.
Rubens Barrichello didn’t pit behind the safety car and stayed out for most of the race on the hard tyres, pitting only in the closing stages when he was in sixth place. He rejoined 11th behind Michael Schumacher and mounted an attack on him with the newer tyres.
Barrichello passed him on lap 67 on the pit straight, but Schumacher chopped him into the wall. Barrichello missed the end of the wall by inches and was furious with his former team mate’s dangerous driving.
It was Schumacher the former champion raging against the dying of the light and against a former team mate with whom he has so much history. Of all the incidents so far in this troubled comeback season, this was the most outrageous. Barrichello, on the eve of his 300th Grand Prix, said that it was the most dangerous move he had ever had pulled on him.
“It got a bit tight, ” admitted Schumacher.
The stewards felt it was worse than that and handed him a ten place grid penalty for the next race at Spa later this month.
HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX, Hungaroring, 70 Laps
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1h41:05.571
2. Alonso Ferrari + 17.821
3. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 19.252
4. Massa Ferrari + 27.474
5. Petrov Renault + 1:13.100
6. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth + 1:16.700
7. De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 1 lap
9. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
10. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
11. Schumacher Mercedes + 1 lap
12. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
13. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
14. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth + 3 laps
15. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth + 3 laps
16. Glock Virgin-Cosworth + 3 laps
17. Senna HRT-Cosworth + 3 laps
18. Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth + 4 laps
19. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth + 4 laps