Lewis Hamilton won his second Grand Prix of the season after a sustained challenge from the Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, who joined him on the podium.
It was his 19th career victory and one of the most important as it gets him back in the game in the championship, taking 15 points out of Alonso’s lead over him and cutting it to 47 points. Webber remains second in the table with Vettel third after a mixed day for Red Bull with both cars forced to stop three times.
Hamilton dominated the qualifying session on Saturday and led most of the race today, but he had to soak up huge pressure from Raikkonen in the closing stages in particular, after the Lotus team played a blinder on strategy to get the Finn into clear air in the middle stint on soft tyres, which allowed him to jump Vettel and Grosjean for second place.
On fresher tyres but with an erratic KERS, he hounded Hamilton in the closing stages, but the British driver managed to hold on to his tyres without needed the extra stop taken by Button, Vettel and Webber.
It was brilliant from Raikkonen, but it was another great showing by Lotus, with both drivers on the podium; they have been saying for some time that they just needed a strong qualifying session to get their first win, as their race pace is so strong and today they almost got it. With their second double podium of the year they are now just one point behind 2nd place McLaren in the constructors’ championship.
Grosjean and Raikkonen both went for soft tyres in the middle stint, which was an attacking strategy, while McLaren were touch and go on tyre wear with Jenson Button forced to adopt “Plan B” and stop three times.
McLaren’s Woking based strategy team, under the management of sporting director Sam Michael at the track, made the call for Hamilton to stay out and try to win the race and the driver did the rest, a very impressive, measured performance by the 2008 champion.
“It’s always good to come away with a win.” said Hamilton. “I am 100% focussed and I’ve been on it all year. Hungary has been good to me. We always have such a great turn out here. There are a lot of Finns here and it’s great to see Kimi up here. I used to play computer games as him.
“This weekend shows that the championship is all to play for still. but by but if we can continue with this ind of performance we can close up. We need consistency. Today I got the best start I’ve had all year. This is a good stepping stone for us after the tough races we’ve had.”
The first half of the race saw Hamilton having to contain Grosjean as the Lotus driver opted for a second set of the option tyres following his first stop to try and snatch the lead from the Briton. However, Hamilton was able to keep him at bay on his prime tyres and maintain his lead after the second and final stops.
Jenson Button made a good start to snatch third place from Sebastian Vettel after the German was forced wide whilst attacking Grosjean. And he maintained the position during the middle period of the Grand Prix on the medium tyre as Vettel hassled him constantly on the soft compound. When Button pitted he exited from his stop behind Bruno Senna and was crucially held up enough to allow Vettel to take third place when he re-emerged from his stop.
Later in the race both Vettel and Button had to make a third stop as their tyres could not complete the final 30 laps and they finished in 4th and 6th respectively with the two-stopping Ferrari of Alonso in 5th.
Alonso had a fairly quite race, but kept ahead of his main title contender Mark Webber to increase his championship lead and make it 23 consecutive points scoring finishes. Webber finished in 8th, behind Bruno Senna who had another good Sunday after showing impressive pace all weekend.
Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg completed the top ten of an uneventful Grand Prix. Rosberg made a good start from 13th but today’s result is another disappointing one for Mercedes, compounded by Michael Schumacher retiring for the sixth time in eleven races.
The majority of the grid began the race on the soft tyre compound with Webber the only car in the top 20 to opt for the medium tyre. And his quest for a two stop race was helped by a tremendous start which saw him move up to 7th from his 11th place qualifying position.
Hamilton pulled away from the line well and managed to open up a comfortable gap in the opening laps. Grosjean maintained his second place after holding off Vettel into Turn 1, with Vettel losing time and dropping to fourth place behind Button.
As the cars approached their first stops Hamilton led Grosjean by 2.5 seconds and the duo began to pull further ahead of the Button-Vettel battle.
Button was the first of the leaders to pit on lap 16 for the medium tyre and crucially exited the pits just ahead of a battle between Sergio Perez and Paul Di Resta. When Vettel pitted for another set of soft tyres he returned to the track just behind Button and went about setting the fastest laps of the race to close the Briton down.
As Hamilton pitted from the lead Grosjean briefly led the GP before pitting for a set of used soft tyres. He immediately began to claw Hamilton in during the second phase of the race as he consistently set fastest laps.
As the race neared the second pit stop phase Vettel began to hassle Button for third place, becoming very aggravated in the process. But as Button pitted the German was able to put in two very fast laps and take third place after being helped by Senna holding up Button.
Vettel now found himself on the tail of Grosjean who was held up by a longer running Alonso but it was Raikkonen that quickly became a candidate for the race win as he managed to make his scrubbed soft tyres last much longer than anyone else and put in fastest laps which were consistently around 1.5 seconds faster than the leading cars. He then made use of his much fresher tyres to to reel in Hamilton in the final 20 laps of the race.
The Sauber pairing of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi struggled to make any ground on their poor low qualifying performances. Kobayashi pitted early in the race to gain some clean air, however he didn’t gain any time on his rivals and completed the race in 18th. Whilst Perez had a very long stint on the soft tyres but found himself stuck behind Ricciardo when he exited the pits on much fresher tyres. On a track that is notoriously difficult to pass he finished the race in 14th.
Ricciardo had an uneventful race but made up for qualifying 18th by keeping Perez behind and matching the pace of the Saubers. His team mate Jean-Eric Vergne followed the Australian home in 17th position after a poor race in which he spent the middles phase battling with the Caterham cars.
Williams had another mixed Sunday with Senna once again keeping his nose clean and gaining another points finish in 8th place, whilst Pastor Maldonado will find himself in front of the race stewards after making contact with paul Di Resta and receiving a drive-through penalty. Maldonado is still yet to score a Championship point since his race win at Spain in May.
HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX, Budapest, 70 laps
1. Hamilton McLaren 1h41:05.503
2. Raikkonen Lotus + 1.032
3. Grosjean Lotus + 10.518
4. Vettel Red Bull + 11.614
5. Alonso Ferrari + 26.653
6. Button McLaren + 30.243
7. Senna Williams + 33.899
8. Webber Red Bull + 34.458
9. Massa Ferrari + 38.300
10. Rosberg Mercedes + 51.200
11. Hulkenberg Force India + 57.200
12. Di Resta Force India + 1:02.800
13. Maldonado Williams + 1:03.600
14. Perez Sauber + 1:04.400
15. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 1 lap
16. Vergne Toro Rosso + 1 lap
17. Kovalainen Caterham + 1 lap
18. Kobayashi Sauber + 2 laps
19. Petrov Caterham + 2 laps
20. Pic Marussia + 2 laps
21. Glock Marussia + 3 laps
22. De la Rosa HRT + 3 laps