After the superlative show at Silverstone, Formula One pulled off a double-header with another heart-stopper of a race in Hungary.
What turned into a thriller started on a sombre note. There was a minute’s silence before the race in honour of Jules Bianchi, who died 10 days ago as a result of injuries sustained in an accident at last October’s Japanese Grand Prix. Bernie Ecclestone had flown the driver’s family on a private jet from Nice as the sport comes to terms with the first on-track driver fatality since 1994. The drivers stood in a circle on the grid, with the Frenchman’s relatives, in remembrance.
Vettel, who had been a pallbearer at Bianchi’s funeral, and the other podium finishers, Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo, dedicated their races to his memory. But they had an awful lot of work to do before they could climb the steps.
The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were one-two on the grid but they were positions held only for the first few corners. Vettel made a fantastic start, as did his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, and they jumped into the top two spots after another failure from both Mercedes to get off the line swiftly.
Twice in a row, after Silverstone, is something the team cannot afford and it will be of concern they cannot identify what is causing the problem.
Vettel, third on the grid, had hared off into the clean air with his Ferrari showing rejuvenated speed that was partly down to the tight nature of the Hungaroring but was also genuine race pace that had not been on show all weekend.
Raikkonen followed within a healthy couple of seconds but Rosberg, now in third but unhappy with his set-up and having made changes to his car overnight that had not helped, was consistently between three and five 10ths of a lap off the two Ferraris.
Hamilton’s race was proving even worse. He had said the team had not done much about the poor start at Silverstone but seemed confident it would not be repeated. When it was he struggled to make up ground and locked up at the chicane, dropping back to 10th. Mercedes’ chance of becoming the first team to put two drivers on the podium for 10 consecutive races looked to be disappearing in Vettel’s slipstream.
Hamilton, who brings a cooler head to these situations than in the past, made a determined fightback. While Vettel was putting a series of quick laps out front Hamilton battled through the midfield. He made it past Felipe Massa into ninth with a bold move in which the rear wheels of both cars touched round the outside through turn one on lap 10, and took Sergio Pérez three laps later at the same corner to make it up to eighth; but he was 30 seconds behind the leader. The first round of stops gave him clean air which he utilised to the maximum, upping his pace to match the Ferraris’ and putting in several fastest laps.
After a first stop to stay on the quicker soft tyres, he went round the outside of Ricciardo to take fifth and his team-mate was only 12 seconds up the road. An impossible podium somehow seemed a possibility. Hamilton might have been coming back but a Vettel-Raikkonen one-two looked fairly safe; however, calling this cracking contest too early would have been a mistake. When Nico Hülkenberg’s front wing broke on lap 43 and disintegrated beneath his car the safety car allowed the top five to come together.
Hamilton had a terrible restart, suffering a lack of grip and understeer, and took a contact defending from Ricciardo for which he received a drive-through penalty, dropping him to 12th; and it left the Australian on a charge. On the soft tyres chasing Rosberg down, the two drivers almost inevitably clashed six laps from the end, again at turn one. Rosberg took a left rear puncture, dropping him down the field to eighth, and Ricciardo needed a new front wing which, with Raikkonen retired, elevated Kvyat to second – a career-best for the Russian driver.
Mercedes had lost their bid for a record and recorded their season’s worst result, although it was one that could have been worse. Hamilton finished in sixth to Rosberg’s eighth, enough to extend his championship lead to 21 points.
The race was so peppered with penalties that the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button nicked a season’s best for the team of fifth and ninth places, and Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen took a career-best fourth.
Vettel, however, remained above it all, bringing Ferrari their first win here since 2004 when Michael Schumacher took the flag. It brought Vettel to a personal milestone, that of equalling Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 race victories of which he can be proud. It was as good a race as he has driven in recent years, controlled but one that exploited the absolute maximum from a car that is far from the class of the field. The thrills and spills of Hungary remained largely behind him but Vettel too had played his part right through to the chequered flag.
1 Sebastien Vettel Ger Ferrari 25pts
1hr 46min 02.010sec
2 Daniil Kvyat Rus Red Bull 18
3 Daniel Ricciardo Aus Red Bull 15
4 Max Verstappen Neth Toro Rosso 12
5 Fernando Alonso Sp McLaren 10
6 Lewis Hamilton GB Mercedes 8
7 Romain Grosjean Fr Lotus 6
8 Nico Rosberg Ger Mercedes 4
9 Jenson Button GB McLaren 2
10 Marcus Ericsson Swe Sauber 1
11 Felipe Nasr Bra Sauber +73.458
12 Felipe Massa Bra Williams +74.278
13 Valtteri Bottas Fin Williams +80.228
14 Pastor Maldonado Ven Lotus +85.142
15 Roberto Merhi Sp Marussia +2 laps
16 Will Stevens GB Marussia 65 laps completed
17 Carlos Sainz Jr Sp Toro Rosso 60 laps
18 Kimi Raikkonen Fin Ferrari 55 laps
19 Sergio Pérez Mex Force India 53 laps
20 Nico Hülkenburg Ger Force India 41 laps
1 Hamilton 202pts 2 Rosberg 181 3 Vettel 160 4 Bottas 77 5 Raikkonen 76 6 Massa 74 7 Ricciardo 51 8 Kvyat 45 9 Hülkenberg 24 10 Grosjean 23 11 Verstappen 22 12 Nasr 16 13 Pérez 15 14 Maldonado 12 15 Alonso 11 16 Sainz Jr 9 17= Button, Ericsson 6
Manufacturers’ standings 1 Mercedes 383pts 2 Ferrari 236 3 Williams 151 4 Red Bull 96 5 Force India 39 6 Lotus 35 7 Toro Rosso 31 8 Sauber 22 9 McLaren 17 10 Marussia 0
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