Three Free Practice sessions left us thinking Lewis Hamilton looked good to claim another victory for Mercedes AMG Petronas and close up the Driver's World Championship race, but the first qualifying session for the 2014 Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix threw out that script. A fuel leak in Q1 set Hamilton's car aflame and he never set a time. His chassis damaged beyond repair, the team built him a new one and he started from pit lane. That same session also claimed Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen, when a bad call about whether to go out again dropped him down to 17th and out for the day.
Without a real challenge, that put Hamilton's teammate-slash-nemesis Nico Rosberg on pole in the other Mercedes, followed by a resurgent Sebastian Vettel in the first Infiniti Red Bull Racing, Valtteri Bottas in the first Williams and Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull. Fernando Alonso waved the scarlet in fifth for Ferrari but figured he could be in third place by the end of the first lap. Felipe Massa put the second Williams in sixth, followed by Jenson Button in the first McLaren, Jean-Eric Vergne getting up to eighth for Toro Rosso, Nico Hülkenberg in ninth for Force India and Kevin Magnussen in the second McLaren.
When rain poured on the 4.381-kilometer Hungaroring before the race, every script up and down the field got rewritten, and they would continue come in for revision almost every one of the 70 laps.
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A very wet track had every driver behind Rosberg jockeying across the asphalt at the start, Bottas getting ahead of Vettel and Alonso getting ahead of Ricciardo through the first set of turns. Hamilton's sour luck continued via teething issues with his brand new chassis, the Brit running off the track at Turn 2 at the back of the field and telling his team, "The brakes just gave up on me."
Two laps in, Rosberg led the field by four seconds, 20 seconds separated the top 5. It appeared we were going to get a wet procession, save for Hamilton making his way up to 13th by Lap 8 with a pass on Räikkönen, who'd made up four places himself.
Then came Lap 9. Marcus Ericsson speared his way into the barriers outside Turn 3 with an injudicious application of throttle, bringing out the Safety Car. The top four – Rosberg, Bottas, Vettel and Alonso – had just gone by the pit entry when the SC emerged, so they couldn't pit until the next lap. Button and Ricciardo were the first drivers who could take advantage, pitting on Lap 9 and changing the whole race. After three laps the SC was about to come in when Romain Grosjean speared his Lotus into the wall on the straight just after Turn 3, the effect of another injudicious application of throttle. The SC stayed out for two more laps.
When racing resumed after two more laps on a drying track, almost everyone in the field had switched to slicks, from intermediates – everyone except McLaren drivers Button and Magnussen. Button took the lead into Turn 1 from Ricciardo, but didn't keep it long because the track was too dry for the tires. He'd have to pit three laps later for slicks, dropping him to 18 th and ruining his race. Meanwhile, Hamilton had got up to ninth.
On Lap 17, the top ten was Ricciardo, Massa, Alonso, Vergne, Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton, Force India's Sergio Perez, Bottas and Sauber's Esteban Gutiérrez. Six laps later, Perez ran wide onto the Astroturf at the final corner and speared his way into the concrete pit wall, a huge blow that sprayed debris and brought out the SC again for four laps.
Alonso took over the race lead after the two in front of him pitted, and thing stayed pretty calm until Lap 32. Hamilton had been stalking Vettel looking for a way past, when Vettel ran wide at the last corner just like Perez had done before. Unlike Perez, Vettel got out of it with nothing more than a spin.
From Lap 39, things got really good. Alonso pitted and came out in fifth, Ricciardio now leading the race. Hamilton pitted a lap later, moving Alonso up, and Hamilton took over fifth place ahead of Rosberg. For the next ten laps, Rosberg – on a different strategy to his teammate because of that first Safety Car episode – rode behind Hamilton by anywhere from 0.6 of a second to 1.5 seconds, yet couldn't get by him. After the race Rosberg said the team said Hamilton would let him by, but when the team told Hamilton to let Rosberg pass, Hamilton said, essentially, 'When he catches up to me I'll let him pass.' Rosberg never got right up on Hamilton, so Hamilton would have had to slow down drastically in order to let Rosberg by, losing something like two seconds in the process.
Ricciardo pitted on Lap 55, giving up the lead, and Rosberg pitted two laps later, taking his pit stop early since he was going nowhere behind Hamilton. On Lap 58, with 12 laps to go, Alonso led the race from Hamilton, and it was clear Alonso planned to run to the end on tires that were already 19 laps old. If it paid off he might get a win or a podium, if it didn't he'd be in the same nowhere-ville that Ferrari has found itself in all season.
Ricciardo had other plans, the Aussie on new tires and catching the leading duo by more than a second per lap. By Lap 61 the top three could all be seen on the front straight together. Behind them, about 18 seconds back, Rosberg was catching the top three by more than two and three seconds per lap.
It took Ricciardo four laps to close in on Hamilton and he stuck to the back Mercedes for three laps before finally getting around on Lap 67 when Hamilton made a mistake through Turn 1. Ricciardo took off after Alonso and passed the Spaniard a lap later, reclaiming the lead and holding it to the checkered flag.
Rosberg caught Hamilton at the beginning of Lap 69. That gave Alonso some breathing room to claim second place since Hamilton got busy defending position from his teammate. It was close – Hamilton ran Rosberg way wide through Turn 2 – but Hamilton held on to take the final podium position, his teammate right behind. The rest of the top ten was Massa, Räikkönen, Vettel, Bottas, Vergne, Button. On a track known for not offering any opportunity to pass, it was one of the most exciting contests of the year. It also gave Ricciardo his second victory of the season after his showing in Canada.
Hamilton took three points back from Rosberg in the Driver's Championship, the German leading on 202 points to Hamilton's 191. Sensation of the year Ricciardo is in third with 131. Mercedes still owns the Constructor's Championship with 393 points, outscored for only the third time this year, with Infiniti Red Bull Racing in second with 219 points. Ferrari got ahead of Williams, 142 points to 135, and McLaren with 97 points closed in on Force India with 98.
Everyone gets a long break now, the next race at Spa happening August 24. Although it's certain that everyone is going to enjoy the time off, we have a feeling things are only going to get more intense in the run to the end of the season.