In his seventh season in Formula 1, after 113 race starts and thirteen podiums, Jenson Button claimed his maiden victory at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix. In a display of pure driving brilliance the Briton, who started the race from fourteenth place on the grid, sliced his way through the field in challenging conditions to take the chequered flag for the first time in his Formula 1 career.
The 2006 Formula 1 season marked the move from the 3.0 litre V10 engine to the 2.4 litre V8 engines, and was the last year with two tyre manufacturers supplying the teams. It was also the year that saw near total domination from Ferrari and Renault. The Drivers’ Championship was a two man battle between Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and Renault’s Fernando Alonso, with the Italian and French constructors dominating the season and winning all but one race: the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The Hungarian summer is usually hot and dry and the Hungaroring has a reputation for being a difficult circuit to overtake on; it is narrow and twisty, and often very dusty because of the heat and its infrequent use. As such the Hungarian Grand Prix is commonly associated with processional races, with cars following one another, unable to pass. However 2006 was different; Hungary hosted its first-ever wet Formula 1 Grand Prix and the rain sent the race into turmoil, delivering one of the most action-packed races of the year.
The stewards were kept busy in the lead-up to the race: Championship leader Alonso was handed a one second qualifying penalty for overtaking under the yellow flag during the Friday practice session, and was hit with a further one second penalty for brake testing Red Bull test driver Robert Doornbos. During the final practice session, Schumacher received a two second penalty for overtaking under a red flag while Button’s Honda was retrieved after suffering engine failure (subsequently resulting in an engine change and earning the Briton a 10-place grid penalty).
McLaren’s Kimi Räikkönen took pole, ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Honda’s Rubens Barrichello; while Schumacher started eleventh, Button fourteenth and Alonso fifteenth. There was standing water on the track making for an eventful first lap; while Räikkönen held the lead Massa dropped away to seventh, Schumacher and Alonso shot up to fifth and seventh respectively. Button utilised his wet weather driving skills, finding grip on the damp track to make up significant ground in the early stages of the race.
On a track notorious for its lack of overtaking manoeuvres, drivers bravely put their overtaking skills to the test amid the rain induced chaos. Toro Rosso’s Tonio Liuzzi spun out of control handing teammate Scott Speed fourteenth position, while Barrichello dove into the pits to change tyres from full wets to intermediates; a move considered very strange as weather conditions worsened. Massa had his hands full after spinning his Ferrari which cost him a place to David Coulthard’s Red Bull, and then taking a wide line allowing BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld through.
Schumacher found himself under fire from Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella, as did Alonso from Pedro de la Rosa. Barrichello was gaining on the Ferrari of Massa so the team brought him into the pits for a tyre change; however Barrichello soon went off track but was able to recover. Fisichella made a daring move on Schumacher but in the process took off the Ferrari’s front wing which sent the German into the pits. Not long after, Fisichella’s afternoon was over when he flew into the gravel and slammed into a barrier. Nico Rosberg joined the race retirees after he fell victim to an electrical fault.
Drivers had to contend with challenging weather conditions as the heavy rain eased and sunshine dried out the track, putting a strong emphasis on tyre strategy and by this stage Schumacher was the only Bridgestone runner in the top ten. Räikkönen’s day came to an abrupt halt when he crashed his McLaren into the Toro Rosso of Liuzzi sending him flying into the air, neither driver was hurt but the safety car was deployed.
Alonso was one of several drivers to take advantage of coming into the pits for some fresh rubber, he also found himself in the lead with Button in second place and de la Rosa in third. When the safety car came in Alonso seized the moment and took off, but Button stayed with the Spaniard and the two traded fastest laps, at one point the gap was down to less than a second. Both cars were running on intermediate tyres and were struggling to find damp parts of a quickly drying track, and both opted for a much needed tyre change. But as Alonso exited the pits disaster struck as his Renault appeared wobbly and at turn two he lost control when his right-rear wheel nut detached and he slammed into a barrier.
In the treacherous conditions, only eleven cars crossed the finish line with Jenson Button in the lead, thirty seconds clear of McLaren’s Pedro de la Rosa in second and Nick Heidfeld in the BMW Sauber third, delivering the team’s first podium finish. But the day belonged to the triumphant Button, who through insurmountable odds weaved his way through the field to claim his first Formula 1 victory.
Images courtesy of Honda Racing, Scuderia Ferrari and Lotus/LAT.