Round 11 brought us our third multiple winner of the 2012 Formula 1 season as Lewis Hamilton produced a stunning performance over all three days of the event; taking a dominant pole position on Saturday and following it up with a lights to flag victory on Sunday. After such a great performance the Englishman and his McLaren team will certainly be pleased that their recent upgrades have brought some much needed performance to the MP4-27. Pleased too will be the Lotus team who, after an improved showing in qualifying, took their second double podium of the season with second for Kimi Raikkonen and third for Romain Grosjean.We now head into a five-week summer break before the Formula 1 circus heads to Belgium. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso has maintained his fantastic consistency by scoring points yet again – the only driver to score points in every round of the 2012 season so far – his 23rd consecutive points finish, spread over this season and last. Despite finishing in only fifth position, Alonso managed to extend his world drivers’ championship lead by a further six points from Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber who finished down in eighth position. With a 40 point championship lead Alonso heads into the summer break riding high, but he and his team will be concerned at their dry weather pace at the Hungaroring. Ferrari looked to be only the fourth fastest team in Hungary, with Red Bull, McLaren and Lotus all looking quicker than the Maranello based squad. Indeed, Alonso himself commented after the race that “This weekend, with dry running on Friday, Saturday and Sunday you can see more clearly, but Lotus, McLaren and Red Bull have been ahead of us for the whole championship”.
Unless Ferrari can make another step forward in development at Spa, Alonso will be concerned that his championship lead could quickly erode. There are a couple of plus points for the Spaniard , though. Despite not being the quickest car in Hungary, his championship lead has never been bigger. Alonso will also be grateful that there is no single challenger emerging from the gaggle of four drivers in second to fifth in the world drivers’ championship. These four drivers – Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen – are covered by just eight world championship points. As their respective form has fluctuated throughout the season so far, they have taken points from each other, enabling Alonso to stay consistent and build his championship lead in recent races.
Another driver to head into the summer break with a big smile on his face is Lewis Hamilton, who took his second win of the season in Hungary. As I mentioned earlier on, Hamilton produced an extremely impressive performance over the full three days of the Hungarian event, having never been out of the top two on the timesheets. Indeed, aside from the Saturday morning free practice three – where the McLaren driver was second to Mark Webber – Hamilton topped the timesheets at every single session in Hungary. McLaren, though, have often been impressive in recent free practice sessions, only to suffer disappointment when it came around to Saturday afternoon and qualifying. Not so in Hungary.
Hamilton produced a totally dominant qualifying performance. His time in Q1, on the medium compound tyres, was so fast that it would have been quick enough for fifth place on the grid had it been set in Q3. The 2008 world champion finished Q1 just a few hundredths of a second shy of a full second ahead of Romain Grosjean, who finished the first part of qualifying in second position. So impressive was Hamilton’s time that he forced many of his competitors to run again, and burn through another set of tyres, because they feared that the track was ‘rubbering in’ and that they might be knocked out of the session by slower cars.
Hamilton was equally impressive in the final two segments of qualifying. The time that he set in Q2 would have put him on pole had he set it in Q3, and he maintained his stunning pace in Q3 setting two scintillating laps, both of which were good enough for pole. He finished four tenths of a second clear of Romain Grosjean who joined him on the front row of the grid after the best qualifying performance of his Formula 1 career.
It was this dominant qualifying performance that proved so crucial for Hamilton come the race on Sunday. We all know that the Hungaroring is a notoriously difficult track to overtake on. It’s extremely dusty off line, and with a lack of overtaking opportunities on a tight and twisty circuit, track position is often critical. This proved to be the case on Sunday. Hamilton’s pole and excellent start enabled him to run the race in clear air throughout. Although he never managed to break more than five seconds clear of his pursuers, this clear air meant that Hamilton minimised his tyre wear and was able to control his pace, and the race.The lack of clear air proved to be the undoing for the two Lotus cars. Undoubtedly, Lotus had the fastest car in race conditions in Hungary, with Hamilton calling them “rapid”, going on to say “If they had qualified at the front it would have been impossible to get past them”. In the first part of the race Romain Grosjean often hovered around a second or two behind Hamilton, but was unable to get any closer as his car entered the turbulent air behind the McLaren. This trend was repeated after the second round of pit stops, before which Kimi Raikkonen put in a series of stunning laps to leapfrog his team-mate and take second position, with the two Lotus cars side by side as the Finn exited the pits on lap 46. Like his team-mate, Raikkonen piled the pressure on Hamilton, closing to within around six tenths of a second behind the Englishman, but was unable to close enough to attempt an overtaking manoeuvre.
As Hamilton commented to Raikkonen as the top three prepared for the podium ceremony, it was just “like old times”, as the battle between the pair was reminiscent of Hamilton’s debut season in 2007, where Raikkonen beat him to the world drivers’ championship by a single point. This time, though, it was Hamilton who came out on top, taking a great win and overtaking the Finn – by a single point – in this years’ world drivers’ championship.
Despite being unable to take that elusive first win, Lotus will also be extremely happy heading into the summer break. As I mentioned, they had the fastest car in race conditions in Hungary. They also qualified strongly – with Romain Grosjean taking the team’s first front row start of the season – which had often been a weakness in recent races. If this wasn’t reason enough for Lotus to be cheerful, they are also expected to have their innovative F-duct DRS system for the race in Spa. We have seen this device being tested by the Lotus team during practice in the last two races, but not yet raced. The system is expected to bring the team a significant speed boost, producing both increased rear downforce and an extra straight line speed boost when the DRS system is activated. This will help their pace in both qualifying and the race which, coupled with a car that is notoriously kind on its tyres, will put the Enstone based team in a strong position for the remaining nine races of the season.
Who knows what the position will be when we arrive in Belgium, though? Although, the Lotus F-duct DRS is a very obvious development that’s still to come, don’t expect that Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull will stand still in the development race between now and Spa. For now, though, McLaren – and particularly Lewis Hamilton – will go into the summer break on a high, as will the Lotus team. Fernando Alonso and Ferrari will be quietly satisfied, though. The 2005 and 2006 world champion is guaranteed to be leading the 2012 championship going into Ferrari’s home race of the season in Monza – round 13 of the championship – and unless the Spaniard’s fantastic consistency deserts him after the summer break, we can expect that Alonso will continue to lead the world drivers’ championship heading into round 14 in Singapore.
The world drivers’ championship remains very much Alonso’s to lose, but after the result in Hungary he’ll be looking nervously over his shoulder at a resurgent Lewis Hamilton and an increasingly impressive Lotus team. Don’t rule out Red Bull Racing either. The Milton Keynes based team didn’t have their best race of the season in Hungary, but they still lead the constructors’ championship by 53 points from McLaren, with Webber and Vettel sitting second and third in the drivers’ championship.