For the last three years, the question many have asked about the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team is "What are they doing?" This year that question is, "What will they do next?" They lured Lewis Hamilton from McLaren. They hadn't yet cured their tire issues, yet Nico Rosberg has still been winning races. They got away with a
At least this time, everyone, including Lewis and his team, was surprised. Informed that he had taken P1 from Infiniti Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton asked, "Is that pole?" When he said "I need a miracle" to actually win the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix, however, that part we could believe.
Related Gallery2013 Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix
Hamilton and Vettel were followed on the grid by Romain Grosjean in the Lotus, who spent the entire weekend putting in better lap times than his teammate Kimi Räikkönen, who lined up in sixth. Then came Rosberg in the second Mercedes, Fernando Alonso in the first Ferrari in fifth and Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari seventh. Man of the semester Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso again showed he knows how to get the car around the track quickly for one lap, lining up in eighth ahead of Sergio Perez in the only McLaren to make the top ten – Jenson Button could only manage 13th. Mark Webber completed the top ten, his qualifying ruined by an Infiniti Red Bull that seemed to crumble almost lap by lap. Saying "it's a lot of lap time that we left in the garage," he elected to remain in the garage during Q3 and didn't set a time.
When the lights went out, it was a melee for the first corners of the first lap, cars two and three deep all the way down through Turn Three. Hamilton was off like a projectile and safely ahead of the field at the first corner. Vettel wasn't so fortunate, forced to defend all over the track but holding onto second. Massa had snuck by Räikkönen, then while rounding the right-hander Turn 3, Rosberg was on the outside and turned into Massa's front wing, spearing Rosberg left onto the runoff and dropping him back to 12th while Massa maintained position but lost his wing's endplate. Even though he was classified 19th at the finish, Rosberg's race would finish six few laps from the end with a blown engine. Ricciardo and Perez also got "mugged" at the start, as Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle is fond of saying, and were following Räikkönen, Webber, Button.
The first three, Hamilton, Vettel and Grosjean began distancing the pack, but whatever the Hungarian word for "miracle" is, Lewis Hamilton's car was drenched in it. He was putting a tenth or so into Vettel per sector and by Lap 5 he had a five-second lead over second place, Hamilton's soft-compound tires showing no sign of undue wear even with Mercedes' well-known issues and the hottest track temperatures of the year.
It was expected that those on the soft compound Pirellis might have to pit as soon as Lap 5 or 6, but Hamilton was the first of the leaders in on Lap 10 for a set of mediums. Vettel took the lead but couldn't get away from Grosjean, who was only seven-tenths of a second behind. When those two pitted a few laps later, that put Webber in the lead, the Aussie on medium compounds and a different pit strategy. Hamilton was behind, and for him to have a chance of winning he had to get around Webber ASAP. He took half a second out of Webber per lap, took the pass down outside of Turn 2, then raced off again. He would repeat the sequence later in the race after his third stop, with a pass through Turn 3 that pushed Webber into the runoff – a tough, but fair move on the way to victory by 11 seconds over Vettel.
Webber had the luck in the race that he didn't have in qualifying, managing to make his medium compound tires last for lengthy stints and getting up to second place before his third stop ten laps from the end when he had to put on a set of softs. He would finish fourth, a healthy jump up from his tenth-place start.
Vettel, once more, didn't fare so well. He came out behind Button, also on mediums and a different strategy, and needed to get around the McLaren pilot in order to get the fight up to Hamilton. Instead of swiftly leaping Button, as Hamilton had done with Webber, Vettel spent 12 laps studying the rear diffuser of the McLaren and lost about a dozen seconds to Hamilton. When Vettel got hasty and tried an ill-advised pass, he ended up turning into the McLaren's rear tire and damaging his front wing. Vettel had to fight understeer the rest of the race, but he was lucky nothing worse happened to himself or Button.
It was Grosjean's turn to pass Button next, and the Frenchman's tendency for outrageous maneuvers flared up again when he pulled up on the inside of Button before the chicane, then simply drifted to the outside while still alongside the McLaren. The two cars bumped but were able to continue. Later in the race, Grosjean would be given a drive-through penalty after pulling off a hugely gutsy move around the outside of Massa through Turn 4, but he did it with all four wheels outside the track. After the race, Grosjean would be retroactively given a 20-second penalty for the collision with Button, but he still finished sixth, ahead of Button.
After being behind his teammate all weekend, Räikkönen would get it right in the race, changing pit strategy midway through to do a two-stopper instead of three. That meant he'd need to make his final set of mediums last for 29 laps, while Vettel, who did three stops, chased him down on a set of tires that were 13 laps newer. It's been back-and-forth the last few races with Räikkönen and Lotus' end-of-race pit strategy, the Finn losing second place at Silverstone because he didn't come in for tires, then perhaps losing out on first place in Germany because he did come in. He kept it all straight this time, and when Vettel rocked up to study the Lotus' gearbox, Räikkönen placed the car perfectly all through the first sector to prevent getting passed, and had enough speed through the middle and last sectors to keep the Red Bull in arrears. He'd take a well-earned second place on the podium.
The final order was Hamilton – taking his first win of the season and his first for Mercedes,
Vettel, Räikkönen, Vettel, Webber, Alonso – who'd started fifth and drove a quiet race to finish fifth, the twice-penalized Grosjean, Button, Massa, Perez and Pastor Maldonado in the Williams, scoring the first points of the season for the team from Grove.
In addition to the miracle drive from Hamilton, there are a number of neat stats from the race: This is the fourth time Hamilton has won in Hungary, matching Michael Schumacher's tally, and he's the only driver in the past ten years to win from pole position, which he's done three times now. For each of Hamilton's four wins (2007, 2009, 2012, 2013), Räikkönen has come second. It's also Hamilton's first win from his last six starts from pole. For his part, Räikkönen extended his record points-scoring streak to 27 races, with Williams driver Vallteri Bottas suffered his first retirement of the season.
The win gives Hamilton 124 points in the Driver's Championship, still well behind Vettel's 172. Räikkönen took a few points out of Vettel with second, getting to 132 points, Alonso in third with 133. Red Bull still dominates the Constructor's Championship with 277 points, followed by Mercedes with 208, Ferrari at 194 and Lotus at 183. Force India, which suffered a miserable weekend, has been caught by McLaren, both teams equal at 59 points in fifth place.
The summer break is upon us, which means that there won't be any racing again for four weeks. When action returns, it will be in Belgium, and with half the season still to run and hundred of points up for grabs, the season is nowhere near close to finished. We'll see you then.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited Vettel as finishing second – he finished third, after Räikkönen. The text has been corrected and we apologize for this error.