Round 11 of the 2012 Formula 1 season saw the F1 paddock move from the forests of Germany to the sunshine of Hungary and the Hungaroring, a circuit renowned for its challenge and lack of overtaking. However 2012 saw plenty of wheel-to-wheel action alongside a titanic battle between Lewis Hamilton and the Lotus duo on Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean for the victory – the Brit eventually coming out on top.
The 27th running of the Hungarian Grand Prix saw the Formula 1 season enter its second half and kicked it off in some style with a return to form for Hamilton after the troubles of his 100th grand prix at the last round in Germany.
It was typically hot throughout the race weekend which kicked off on Friday morning for practice one. It was another McLaren 1-2 in the 90 minute session which had become a regular occurrence during the season. Lewis Hamilton led the way with Button one tenth further back. Alonso was the first non-McLaren in the order with the Lotus drivers in fifty and eighth. Maldonado and Kovalainen both had trips through the gravel.
The second session took place in unusually wet conditions and whilst it decreased the amount of running overall, some drivers did head out for some experience on the wet and intermediate tyres. Hamilton topped the session yet again after a lap time prior to the rain arriving. Raikkonen was his nearest challenger whilst team-mate Grosjean hit the barrier early on but managed to continue. Someone who wasn’t as lucky was Michael Schumacher who hit the wall at turn 11, his second free practice off the same number of race weekends.
The sun returned for the third practice session on Saturday morning and that meant a busy session with plenty of preparation time lost in the wet second practice. With just 60 minutes to squeeze it all in, the times continued to change with Mark Webber emerging fastest by the chequered flag to break Hamilton’s reign over the practice time sheets. He was just 0.93 ahead of the mentioned Brit with Vettel in third. After a short break it was time to put all that hard work to good use in qualifying.
It was a typical first qualifying session with front running teams using the 20 minute session to do some longer qualifying runs in preparation for Q2 and Q3. Meanwhile the smaller teams desperately fitted the softest compound brought to the Hungaroring in a bid to make it through to the second session. Hamilton was on top on the hard tyres ahead of Di Resta and Button on the softs. However it was the usual that dropped out in Q1 with Karthikeyan propping up the order in 24th behind De La Rosa in 23rd and Glock in 22nd. Pic out qualified his Marussia team-mate in 21st with Petrov and Kovalainen completing the backmarkers. Ahead of the Finn and the only midfield runner in the drop zone was a disappointed Daniel Ricciardo.
The Hamilton dominance progressed in Q2 with a stunning lap by Lewis Hamilton to get him through to the top 10 shoot out. He was so confident with his 1m21.060 that he decided to stay in the pits instead of going out for a second run – the only car to do so. Vettel was his nearest challenger some four tenths back ahead of Maldonado, Massa, Raikkonen and Alonso. Also progressing through to Q3 were Button, Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Senna who just made it through.
However the Brazilian’s joy contrasted with the disappointment of Webber after he was knocked out of the second session. The Aussie never looked fully confident and was joined by Di Resta, Rosberg, Perez, Kobayashi, Vergne and Schumacher in the bottom seven – neither Mercedes looked strong throughout.
And so the third and final qualifying session commenced but it was clear to see who was on the pace. Mixes of used and new soft tyres were used alongside the usual field divide of taking one or two runs to set a lap time. It was Lewis Hamilton who put his car on pole after smashing his first run and going four tenths faster than surprise second place man Romain Grosjean. Vettel aborted his final lap to go third with Button in fourth and Raikkonen in fifth. The Ferrari’s disappointed with Alonso leading their charge in sixth and seventh. Maldonado and Senna both out qualified the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg.
The anticipation had built as the revs rose for the start, but wait? Someone was left stranded on the grid; it was Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher. The first start was aborted – meaning the race distance was shortened from 70 to 69 laps – and the cars lapped the Hungaroring again ready for another go at the start. Hamilton had a clear start with Vettel and Button attacking the slow Grosjean. Webber made up five spots in the first few corners despite starting on the medium tyres.
Vettel attacked Grosjean on the exit of the first turn but the Frenchman left him no room and that opened the door for Button to dive around the outside at the next hairpin. By the end of lap one, leader Hamilton had a 1.4 second lead over Grosjean as the cars started to distance themselves out and get settled into a rhythm. Schumacher’s day went from bad to worse when he was given a drive-through penalty for pit-lane speeding.
Glock had a spin on lap four but the next few laps were largely uneventful. What was becoming clear was that Hamilton and Grosjean had similar pace but those behind could not match them, Button and co. dropping back.
The first stops started on lap 16 with Button pitting for medium compound tyres. Vettel pitted a few laps later but failed to get the jump and Hamilton pitted on lap 19. The Brit was fitted with the same tyres as his team-mate but Grosjean emerged from his stop a lap later on the option rubber. He therefore started to close in on the leader.
It was a similar story behind by lap 27 for Button and Vettel as fans watched two battles for podium finishes, both had one McLaren on the medium compound Pirelli’s and the opposition on the yellow-banded soft.
Both McLaren’s heard the “plan B” message shortly after and Button was brought in on lap 34 to switch to a three-stop strategy. He emerged behind Bruno Senna and the Brit started to get held up by the Brazilian. That left Vettel and Raikkonen – who had been having a quiet race up until the half way mark – trading fastest laps and gaining ground on the McLaren duo.
By the time Hamilton had pitted on lap 40, Vettel had already jumped Button and was closing in on Grosjean. Button was released from behind Senna on lap 43 but the damage had been done. Raikkonen was on fire at the front and he pitted from the lead on lap 45 to emerge side-by-side with team-mate Grosjean. The Finn had the upper hand and duly took the battle to Hamilton at the front.
A few laps later, Maldonado was given a drive-through for an earlier collision with Di Resta. Button pitted for the final time and dropped further down the order as Raikkonen moved into the DRS zone.
It was a tense final stint with Raikkonen always remaining in Hamilton’s mirrors. Despite two yellow flags at the end of the race – one for Schumacher retiring and another for Karthikeyan crashing – he held him off to take the win in Hungary – his third at the circuit. There was just a second in it but Raikkonen missed out to take second with Grosjean finishing third.
Vettel made his three-stop strategy work in comparison to Button to take fourth. Alonso was fifth with Button crossing the line in an eventual sixth. Senna, Webber, Massa and Rosberg rounded out the top 10 after a strong mid-field scrap for the final few points paying positions. Both Force India’s finished outside the points in 11th and 12th – Hulkenberg leading Di Resta home. Both Toro Rosso’s struggled and were a lap down in 15th (Ricciardo) and 16th (Vergne) with top back-marker Kovalainen – on his 100th race start – circulating by the chequered flag on the same lap.
With that, Alonso managed to maintain his lead at the front as Hamilton moved up to fourth in the constructors standings. Ferrari dropped two places in the constructor’s championship with McLaren moving to second after their race win and Lotus leap-frogging the Italian squad to move up to third after their double-podium finish.
All images courtesy of Octane Photographic