If you wanted more drama in Formula One, I hope you watched yesterday’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Far from the usual parade laps behind Sebastian Vettel, Sunday’s race had a little bit of everything, including wheel-to-wheel racing (occasionally between teammates), rain, pit strategy and even a Renault flambe. Red Bull Renault’s Sebastian Vettel once again started from the pole, but it was clear after turn one that the McLaren’s of both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button had found a significant amount of speed compared to earlier races.
Perhaps they were running more downforce to cope with the wet track conditions, but both McLaren cars ran in the lead at various times throughout the race. The Ferrari’s of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso were impressive, too, and the race looked like it could have gone to any of these drivers. In the end it came down to this: the winner made fewer mistakes than the competition, and guessed right on the transition between intermediate tires and slicks.
In Hungary, that driver turned out to be Jenson Button, who drove an impressive race in ever-changing conditions. Hamilton looked like a sure winner in the early stages, but a few key mistakes (such as a wet corner spin that would end up costing him a drive-through penalty) ended his day in fourth place, just off the podium and just in front of Red Bull Renault’s Mark Webber. On the podium it was Button, Sebastian Vettel and Fernado Alonso.
The day was filled with retirements, including Michael Schumacher who dropped out just before the midpoint with a broken gearbox and teammates Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, who both parked their Lotus-Renault race cars with a water leak. The most dramatic of all, however, was Nick Heidfeld’s day ending fire. His Renault burst into flames exiting the pits, likely due to a broken exhaust header. The left side of the car was fully engulfed by the time Heidfeld managed to leap clear, and he was lucky to escape injury.
The drivers now enjoy a four-week break, as the next race isn’t until August 28’s Belgian Grand Prix. Vettel is still firmly atop the points, but it’s not impossible for him to be caught by teammate Mark Webber or rivals Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. If the Hungarian Grand Prix was any indication, the dominance that Red Bull Renault enjoyed in the first half of the 2011 season will be hard to come by for the remainder of the year.