2011 Hungarian Grand Prix pits rubber against the rain [spoilers]

Choosing the right tires is an integral element of a good race strategy. Part of that went out the window a number of years ago when Formula One switched to a single tire manufacturer, but the teams are still left to choose between compounds. When it's dry, they go with slicks, alternating between levels of softness and stickiness. When it's wet, they've got a couple of rain tires to choose from. But when the conditions keep changing over the course of a race, it makes for some captivating action. And that's precisely what we had this weekend at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Follow the jump to read how it went down.
Saturday's qualifying results left Sebastian Vettel on pole once again, with the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button starting in second and third places, respectively. The Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso followed in fourth and fifth, Red Bull's number two Mark Webber in sixth. Mercedes GP's Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher took positions seven and nine, with Force India's Adrian Sutil and Sauber's Sergio Perez in eighth and tenth, respectively.

With the rain subsiding, the field took off on the damp track as Vettel held on to the lead. McLaren's duo of former champions started fighting for second right off the line in a battle that would come to characterize the race. The Mercedes duo mounted a solid start, Rosberg advancing from seventh to fourth and Schumacher from ninth to fifth at the expense of the Ferraris, while Webber dropped from sixth to eighth.

Hamilton overtook Vettel for the lead early on lap 5 when he ran wide off the damp track. With Button sandwiched in third, Alonso regained position from Rosberg, with Massa behind in sixth, Webber slowly climbing back up in seventh, Schumacher back down to eighth, Force India's Paul di Resta up to ninth (from his eleventh-place starting position) and Kobayashi in tenth.

As the track began to dry, however, Massa and Webber were the first to go in for the super-soft slicks in an attempt to gain an advantage estimated at as much as ten seconds per lap. The rest of the field would subsequently follow suit. When they were all done by lap 14, Hamilton was still in the lead, but Button had advanced past Vettel for second. Webber was now running fourth ahead of Alonso, with Rosberg, di Resta, Schumacher, Massa and Kobayashi rounding out the top ten.

The race held more than its share of spills and chills, but none proved as nagging as Massa's. After spinning out and hitting the barrier backwards, the Brazilian suffered damage to his rear wing that would soon prevent him from using the DRS to pass Schumacher, whose Mercedes he dogged lap after lap until his former master spun out and called it a day. It wasn't the first retirement of the race and it wouldn't be the last, either, as both Lotus drivers – Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen – retired trackside as well. Virgin's Jerome d'Ambrosio showed his lack of experience when he spun the car into his own pit box. But the most dramatic incident involved Nick Heidfeld, whose Renault burst into flames upon exiting the pit lane, exploding a tire and spewing smoke and debris across the track.

Past the halfway mark, Massa muscled past Rosberg and Kobayashi, while Alonso stayed glued to Webber, finally passing him as well as Vettel in the pit-stop shuffle. Vettel eventually regained position on Alonso, while at the front Button overtook Hamilton as the pair got caught up in backmarker traffic. Lewis temporarily re-took his teammate in a tit-for-tat exchange over the subsequent laps, but suffered from the wrong choice of tires and a drive-through penalty for obstructing traffic while recovering from a spin to drop from the lead.

The closing laps saw tight action between Webber, Massa and Hamilton, as well as a number of cars farther back, but ultimately it was Jenson Button who, on the occasion of his 200th grand prix, took the checkered flag at the same track where he did for the first time in 2006.

Sebastian Vettel had to be satisfied with second place for the fourth time this season, adding precious points to his six wins and solitary non-podium finish at the Nürburgring last week. Fernando Alonso rounded out the podium while celebrating his thirtieth birthday. The remaining points went to Hamilton, Webber, Massa, di Resta, Buemi and Rosberg, leaving Vettel still firmly in the lead with 234 points to Webber's 149, Hamilton's 146 and Alonso's 145. Red Bull retains a 103-point lead over McLaren in the constructors' standings with Ferrari still further adrift. The circus now takes a nearly month-long break until the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa commences the last weekend in August.

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