I think Jamie Alguersuari found it very difficult to describe the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix when asked by James Allen to summarise the race with a few laps remaining towards the end of BBC Radio 5 live’s coverage.
Alguersuari did a pretty good job in the end by explaining that the race itself wasn’t entirely boring, but that it hadn’t exactly been great. It was more a battle of strategy and a fight for clean air than a closely fought battle on the track.
The problem with the Hungarian Grand Prix is that it has been named by many pundits as Monte Carlo with run-off areas. The circuit has always been difficult to overtake, and, with the added problem of unpredictable Pirelli tyres, we were left with a somewhat processional race.
Of course, that doesn’t take anything away from the eventual result. Race winner Lewis Hamilton was switched on from the very first lap of qualifying, and the Lotus team played a tactical blinder. However, I can’t help but walk away from this race feeling slightly deflated.
Qualifying 1 didn’t throw up many surprises, but it did set the tone for the rest of the day with strong performances from McLaren and Lotus. Traffic was a big issue in the first round, and many drivers struggled to find grip on a circuit that is only really used once a year for the Grand Prix.
The three new teams dropped out in Q1, and they were joined as usual by a Torro Rosso. However, this time it was Ricciardo who joined Caterham, Marussia and HRT.
Qualifying 2 was much closer, and it really looked as if we would see some big names dropping out. There were notable performances from Bruno Senna, the Froce Indias and Felipe Massa, who consistantly set faster times than his teammate for the first time in ages.
The final few seconds of Q2 were great with Senna, Webber, di Resta and both Mercedes fighting for P10 and the final survival position. In the end Senna did a fantastic job to survive and earn a place in the Top 10 shootout for the first time this season.
This, of course, meant the unpredictable exit of big names including Webber, Rosberg, Kobayashi and Schumacher who could get no higher than P17.
Qualifying 3 came down to a straight fight between Hamilton, Grosjean and Vettel. The Ferraris had used most of their tyres and opted to only make one run. In the end, it wasn’t much of a contest, as Hamilton was simply too good for the cars behind to catch him. A well-deserved pole for the McLaren man and a superb front-row start for Roman Grosjean.
Here are the positions after qualifying:
Hamilton, Grosjean, Vettel, Button, Raikkonen, Alonso, Massa, Maldinado, Senna, Hulkenberg, Webber, Di Resta, Rosberg, Perez, Kobayashi, Vergne, Schumacher, Ricciardo, Kovalainen, Petrov, Pic, Glock, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan
Michael Schumacher’s race was over before it even started as the Mercedes man stalled after the procession lap, causing a second lap to be needed as his team wheeled him to the pits.
When the race did get underway it was close, but very few positions changed hands. Fernando Alonos was able to continue his run as being the only driver in the 2012 season not to lose places at the start when he moved up into P4. Button was able to crucially take Vettel’s P3 going into Turn 1 and Webber did a fantastic job to leap from P11 to P7!
I’m afraid the race then began to develop into a bit of a procession, as there simply wasn’t anywhere anybody could make a decent attempt at a pass, let alone make one stick.
It looked as if the soft tyres were coping much better than expected, and this caused a lot of strategists up the pit wall a bit of a headache. What would be the best tyre to run on in the various sectors of the race?
Jenson Button was the first of the top runners to pit on Lap 16, and his team decided to change from soft to medium. Vettel pitted two laps later and stuck with the softs, whereas Hamilton and Alonso opted to go onto the mediums like Button when they stopped around Lap 19.
I’m afraid the only real fallout from the first round of pitstops was the fact that Raikkonen was able to leapfrog Alonso as the Ferrari man found himself held up by Perez. This was a significant achievement for Raikkonen and Lotus, but it all felt a little tame as the pass had been achieved in the pit lane rather than on track.
The Top 10 after these stops were:
Hamilton, Grosjean, Button, Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso, Webber, Senna, Perez, Massa
The next stint of the race was ultimately a procession of close racing but no opportunities to make any passes. Vettel was so frustrated by being stuck behind a slower Button that he radioed his team to demand some help. What could Red Bull do?
Jenson Button was the first of the frontrunners to pit for the second time when he stopped on lap 35. He choose to switch back to the softs and rejoined in traffic behind Senna.
This hold up meant that when Vettel stopped a few laps later, he was able to effortlessly leapfrog the McLaren that had annoyed him for so long. Around this time we all started to look at Raikkonen, who was able to put in fantastic laps on his used soft tyres. As cars pitted in front of him, the Lotus man gradually climbed the rankings until he found himself in P1, setting time good enough to leap frog Vettel and maybe even Grosjean.
Raikkonen eventually pitted on Lap 45 (four laps after Hamilton). The Lotus man rejoined side by side with his teammate and, after a close battle going into Turn 1, was able to hold position and take second place.
It now looked as if Raikkonen would push Hamilton to the end. The Lotus man did, and at many points over the next few laps it looked as if we might have a grand stand finish on the cards. Ultimately, however, there was just nowhere to pass, and the closer Raikkonen got to Hamilton, the worse his tyre degradation would be.
There were a few other incidents towards the end of the race, including a drive-through penalty for Maldinado after causing a collision when he bumped di Resta going into Turn 12. Both Red Bulls were forced to pit again, and both lost a couple of positions for doing so, but ultimately the race finished as it began with close battles and no real opportunity for them to flourish.
Lewis Hamilton did a fantastic job to keep his head and hold on to his tyres, and he has certainly re-invigorated a dying Championship Challenge. Kimi Raikkonen gave a master class in tyre management; perhaps, on a different circuit, he might have been able to snatch a victory.
However, I think today’s real winner was Fernando Alonso. His Ferrari never looked like it would make any impression on the race, and it didn’t. And yet he was able to finish in P5 ahead of Webber, his closest rival, and just one place behind Vettel, who is third in the Championship.
As the drivers head into their summer vacation, clearly Hamilton will be pleased with his victory, but I imagine Alonso will be the happy with his 31st birthday and a 30-point lead.
Drivers’ Championship Top 3
Constructors’ Championship Top Three
Red Bull Racing-Renault 246
1) Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes
2) Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault
3) Roman Grosjean, Lotus-Renault
4) Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault
5) Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
6) Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes
7) Bruno Senna, Williams-Renault
8) Mark Webber, Red Bull-Renault
9) Felipe Massa, Ferrari
10) Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP
11) Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes
12) Paul di Resta, Force India-Mercedes
13) Pastor Maldinado, Williams-Renault
14) Sergio Perez, Sauber-Ferrari
15) Daniel Ricciardo, Torro Rosso-Ferrari
16) Jean-Eric Vergne, Torro Rosso-Ferrari
17) Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham-Renault
18) Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber-Ferrari
19) Vitaly Petrov, Caterham-Renault
20) Charles Pic, Marussia-Cosworth
21) Timo Glock, Marussia-Cosworth
22) Pedro de la Rossa, HRT-Cosworth
DNF Narain Karthikeyan, HRT-Cosworth
DNF Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP