Rosberg hits trouble, while Hamilton makes it a championship double in Abu Dhabi

After all the build up, all the anticipation and drama of the 2014 Formula 1 season came down to one race, worth double points, in Abu Dhabi. It was a straight fight between the two Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. While Hamilton went into the race with a 17 point advantage, Rosberg had the advantage of starting on pole position.

Things were finely poised, but Hamilton knew that he only had to finish second to Rosberg to win a second world drivers’ championship. Rosberg, on the other hand, went into the race knowing that he had nothing to lose. The outcome of the title was largely out of his hands. He needed help from others or a car problem for Hamilton to take his first championship. As Rosberg frequently reminded the world, and his team-mate, in the build up to the race, the pressure was on Hamilton.

Hamilton started brilliantly and led into turn 1

Hamilton started brilliantly and led into turn 1

You wouldn’t have guessed it from the way the two Silver Arrows cars started the race, though. As the lights went out Hamilton took off, blasting past his team-mate to take the lead. It was the perfect getaway for Hamilton, who could watch in his mirror as Rosberg got a poor start and had to defend from Felipe Massa’s Williams going into turn 1.

As it turned out, Hamilton never looked back. He pulled out of DRS range immediately and built up a two to three-second advantage over Rosberg, which stayed stable throughout the opening stages of the race. It remained like that through the first pit stops until lap 23 of the race. It was at that point that things went from bad to worse for Rosberg.

The German appeared to lock up in the final sector of the lap, losing time to Hamilton. The gap expanded to around four seconds and if that had been the end of it Rosberg would still have been in with a shot. Sadly for the five time 2014 race winner, it only signalled the start of his troubles. Rosberg soon reported that he had lost power and his Mercedes team soon confirmed a hybrid system failure on his car.

It was a dreadful race for Rosberg, who finished 14th

It was a dreadful race for Rosberg, who finished 14th

The loss around 160hp from the failure of his ERS system was crippling for Rosberg. He started losing time hand over fist. Just a few laps later Massa blasted past him in his Williams, and he wasn’t the only one. As the laps ticked by Rosberg dropped further and further down the field, losing position after position as, despite his best efforts, cars cruised past his stricken Mercedes down the straight.

It is to Rosberg’s credit that he finished the race, despite his team suggesting that he should retire his car. In the end he finished in 14th positions, after being lapped by his team-mate. While it was a massively disappointing way to finish the season for Rosberg, it was very much delight for Hamilton.

A delighted Hamilton takes the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi

A delighted Hamilton takes the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi

The Briton took his second world drivers’ crown after a six-year wait since his 2008 championship win with McLaren. Hamilton survived some late pressure from Massa in the Williams, who ran a short last stint on the faster super soft tyres, to win the race by 2.5 seconds. Even without Rosberg’s troubles in Abu Dhabi, the German was never in a position to take the drivers’ championship. Had he not had his ERS failure and had somehow managed to catch and pass his team-mate – something that he hadn’t managed all season – Hamilton would still have finished in second place, which was all he needed to take the championship.

It was a great finish to a great season for Williams

It was a great finish to a great season for Williams

Thankfully, too, double points turned out not to be a factor in deciding the fate of the title. Hopefully this will be the first and only time this gimmick is used in Formula 1. Indeed, the only man to benefit was Valtteri Bottas, who took third place in the race behind his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa, and with it, fourth place in the drivers’ standings. It was an impressive end to the season for a resurgent Williams team, which took third place in the constructors’’ standings after finishing a lowly ninth in 2013.

2014 was, though Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton’s year. Mercedes finished as constructors’ champions with a record-breaking 16 race wins out of 19 and a record 701 world championship points. Hamilton took 11 of those race wins, more than double the number taken by his team-mate to deservedly take the world drivers’ championship by 67 points

It was Alonso's final race for Ferrari

It was Alonso’s final race for Ferrari

2015 will be a season of changes, though. We now know that Sebastian Vettel will leave Red Bull Racing – the team where he won his four world titles – to join Ferrari, while Fernando Alonso will leave the Scuderia for parts unknown. Presumably the Spaniard will join McLaren with their new Honda engines, but that’s yet to be confirmed, as are the futures of current McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen.

One thing that is unlikely to change, however, is the Mercedes dominance of Formula 1. Next season already looks like it might be another shoot out between Hamilton and Rosberg, but let’s not worry about that too much now. Lewis Hamilton certainly won’t. He’s busy celebrating his second world drivers’ championship, and he’ll be going into contract negotiations with his Mercedes bosses with a spring in his step.

Abu Dhabi was billed as the duel in the desert. As it turned out, Lewis Hamilton was the jewel in the desert. It was a sparkling performance in a dazzling season from the 29-year-old.

Rosberg returns to winning ways in Brazil

After a run of five consecutive victories for his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, it was vital for Nico Rosberg to reassert himself in Brazil. To be fair to the German driver, that’s exactly what he did. Rosberg topped every single practice session at Interlagos and all three parts of qualifying including, most importantly, Q3 to put himself on pole position – his tenth of the season.

The biggest test, of course, would be the race itself. After Hamilton so expertly caught and overtook Rosberg last time out in Austin, Rosberg must have been fearful that the same might happen in Brazil, despite his dominance. In the end, though, Rosberg did enough on race day to secure his fifth victory of the season and reduce the deficit to his team-mate in the drivers’ standings to 17 points heading into the final round of the season – the double points race in Abu Dhabi.

However, although Rosberg took the victory, it was down, in large measure, to a mistake from Hamilton. The 2008 world drivers’ champion seemed to have the edge in race pace and would have overtaken Rosberg at the second round of pit stops but for a spin on lap 28, which cost the Englishman seven crucial seconds.

Hamilton was around a second behind Rosberg when the latter pitted on lap 26. It’s normal that the driver that pits first will have the advantage of fresh rubber to increase their advantage over the pursuing car, but that certainly wasn’t the case in this instance. Released from the turbulent wake of his team-mate, Hamilton immediately put in a stunning lap, which would have been enough for him to leapfrog his team-mate.

This spin for Hamilton proved crucial in deciding the outcome of the race

This spin for Hamilton decided the outcome of the race

Crucially, though, instead of diving into the pits at the end of lap 27, Hamilton continued for another lap, seeking to take even more of an advantage. That proved to be his undoing. As it turned out, the tyres were simply not able to cope with two consecutive laps of the same speed and intensity, and Hamilton spun at the end of the second DRS zone.

Hamilton got close to Rosberg, but not close enough to attempt a pass

Hamilton got close to Rosberg, but not close enough to attempt a pass

Instead of a narrow advantage over Rosberg, Hamilton emerged from the pits on lap 29 some seven seconds behind his title rival. The points leader drove brilliantly to relentlessly close that gap down over the remainder of the race, closing to within DRS range of his team-mate by lap 53, after the final pit stops. However, Rosberg managed to do just enough to hold Hamilton at bay. Hamilton never quite got close enough to attempt a pass thanks to Rosberg continuously having a small advantage over his team-mate in the middle sector of the lap.

The duel between Button and Raikkonen was just one of the exciting battlesbehind the Mercedes duo

The duel between Button and Raikkonen was just one of the exciting battles behind the Mercedes duo

Although, we didn’t see any over taking action up front, there was plenty further down the field. We saw some great battles involving the Ferrari’s of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button’s McLaren and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull. We also saw Felipe Massa take a memorable podium at his Home race for Williams, despite a five second penalty, and nearly stopping in the McLaren pit box.

Massa was clearly delighted with his podium finish

Massa was clearly delighted with his podium finish

The Brazilian was clearly delighted on the podium, but despite the promise that they showed in qualifying, the Williams were never able to compete with the all-conquering Silver Arrows when it came to the race. The 2014 world constructors’ champions were, yet again, in a class of their own in Brazil. It’s only fitting that the battle for the world drivers’ championship comes down to the last race, in a straight shoot out between the Mercedes team-mates.

It would, though, be incredibly sad if Rosberg were to overturn Hamilton’s 17 point advantage thanks to double points in the final race of the season. In any other season a sixth place finish would be enough for Hamilton to secure the drivers’ crown, even if his team-mate were to win the race. Double points, though, means that the Englishman must finish second to take the title if his team-mate wins the race.

Such is Mercedes pace advantage over the rest of the field that a 1-2 finish would look to be odds on in Abu Dhabi, though, so surely Hamilton doesn’t have too much to worry about, right? Wrong. All drivers are using power units that are right at the end of their working life, which means that reliability could play a crucial role in Abu Dhabi.

Still, though, the championship, reliability aside, is in Hamilton’s hands. Whatever happens in Abu Dhabi, I hope it’s a fair fight. May the best man win.

Hamilton charges while Rosberg cruises in Germany

Well, the German grand prix was certainly an exciting one, not that you would have noticed if you were Nico Rosberg. After suffering his first retirement of the season at Silverstone, the German bounced back at home to take what must rank as one of the most straightforward of his career.

Hamilton's qualifying crash meant that he started the race in 20th position

Hamilton’s qualifying crash meant that
he started the race in 20th position

Rosberg was aided by some misfortune for his Mercedes team-mate, Lewis Hamilton. This time trouble stuck for Hamilton during qualifying. His right front brake disk failed at 130 mph during Q1, pitching the Englishman’s Silver Arrow into a spin, and into the wall. Even though Hamilton’s time was good enough to get him through to the second part of qualifying, with his car in the wall and its driver out of the cockpit there was no opportunity for Hamilton to challenge for a higher grid slot.

It looked like a 15th place start for the 2008 world drivers’ champion, thanks to a three place penalty for Esteban Gutierrez, while Rosberg claimed pole position ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa in the Williams cars. As it turned out, though, the damage sustained when Hamilton hit the wall meant that his Mercedes team were forced to change his gearbox. The resulting five place grid penalty meant that Hamilton started in 20th.

Rosberg started well, while Massa's Williams rolled after contact with Magnussen's McLaren

Rosberg started well, while Massa’s Williams rolled after contact with Magnussen’s McLaren

Going in to the race everything pointed to a Rosberg win, and so it turned out. Rosberg got away cleanly at the start and was well ahead of the carnage caused when Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren came together with Massa’s Williams at turn one, pitching the latter into a roll and out of the race. Out came the safety car, but that made no difference to Rosberg, who again streaked clear at the restart.

Although he’d made up places at the original start, Hamilton was still only 17th when the safety car came in, with lots of work ahead of him to claw his way up to the sharp end of the field. By lap 10 Hamilton was up into the points in 10th place, while his team-mate was leading comfortably at the front. Hamilton was slicing his way through the field and was even up to second at one point before making his first pit stop on lap 27, running longer than his competitors having started on the slower prime tyres.

 

Hamilton's coming together with Button didn't help his charge through the field

Hamilton’s coming together with Button
didn’t help his charge through the field

Hamilton fitted primes again at his pit stop and looked set to do a two stop race. As his team told him on the radio, Hamilton was looking good for a second place finish. That was until lap 30. Just a few laps after his pit-stop Hamilton came up behind Jenson Button’s McLaren. As Button went wide into the hairpin it looked for all the world that he had opened the door to let his former team-mate through. It certainly looked that way to Hamilton as he made his move down the inside of the McLaren, but Button cut back across Hamilton damaging the front wing of the Mercedes.

The damage had an impact on the handling of Hamilton’s car, increasing his tyre wear and forcing him to switch strategies to a three stop, running the options in the last two stints. Hamilton stopped for the second time on lap 44 meaning that Mercedes aimed to do two 13 lap stints on option tyres in the latter stages of the race. Amazingly, such was Hamilton’s speed, even with the damage to his front wing, that second place was still a very real possibility.

Then came another piece of bad luck for the Englishman. Sauber’s Adrian Sutil spun at the final corner and then stalled his car. The stricken Sauber was left in the middle of the track and it looked like the safety car would be deployed. That’s certainly what Mercedes thought as they pitted Hamilton the very next lap, even though it was five laps earlier than they had been aiming for. Had the safety car been deployed it would have been a potentially race winning strategy call. Hamilton emerged from the pits in fourth place and on fresh option tyres. With a bunched up field, with his competitors all on used tyres Hamilton would have been in a brilliant position to challenge his team-mate, who had led every lap of the race.

Bottas drove brilliantly to claim a second consecutive second place finish

Bottas drove brilliantly to claim a
second consecutive second place finish

Unfortunately for Hamilton, the safety car wasn’t deployed. Despite the dangerous position of Sutil’s Sauber race control decided that it was fine to allow marshals onto the track to push the stricken car out of the way. That meant that Hamilton had to run on his last set of tyres for far longer than expected. In the end it cost Hamilton at least second place. Although he was able to pass Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari very easily and close on Bottas rapidly, by the time that he caught the Williams his tyres were finished and he was unable to pass.

Third was the best that Hamilton could manage in the end, while Rosberg, barely featuring on the TV coverage, cruised to victory some 20 seconds clear. Hamilton looked downcast after the race, despite his stunning drive from 20th to a podium. Luck certainly wasn’t on his side in Germany, but he should console himself with the thought that going in to Silverstone the points gap to his team-mate was some 29 points. It’s now just 14. Had Hamilton won in both Silverstone and Germany, with Rosberg second, the gap would have been 15 points.

The championship is far from over and if Hamilton can win in a week’s time in Hungary – as he did last year – things will be nicely set up going in to the mid-season break.

Bulldog Lewis bites back in Britain

With a 29 point lead in the world drivers’ championship Nico Rosberg went in to the British grand prix very much on a high. The momentum, and the luck, was with him and his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, had the pressure on him to turn it around.

That pressure only increased after qualifying on Saturday. After looking to have the edge in tricky wet/dry qualifying conditions, Hamilton aborted his final lap when on provisional pole position, thinking that no-one would beat his time. However, that decision proved disastrous for the Briton. The final few corners of the lap were dry, and several drivers were able to beat Hamilton’s time. Rosberg snatched pole and Hamilton found himself having to start in sixth.

Hamilton was desperate to win his home race, but it looked like the odds were against him. However, just as in the last race in Austria, Hamilton started well from his lowly grid slot. After just a handful of corners the 2008 world drivers’ champion was up to fourth after passing Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India off the line and the Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull.

Raikkonen's crash resulted in a delay of over an hour before the race resumed

Raikkonen’s crash resulted in a delay of over an hour before the race resumed

That was the limit of Hamilton’s progress for around an hour, though. The race was red flagged on the opening lap after a very heavy crash for Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari, who ran wide, rejoined the track but was pitched into a spin after hitting a bump. It was an extremely heavy impact – registered at 47G – as the Ferrari speared into the metal Armco barrier and bounced back across the track and was then hit by Felipe Massa’s Williams. It was the end of the race for both drivers, and particularly saddening for Massa on his 200th Formula 1 race.

After the barriers were repaired and the race was restarted behind the safety car, Hamilton quickly picked up where he left off, dispatching the McLaren’s of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button on laps three and four and setting about closing the five second gap to his team-mate. The Mercedes cars were, once again, in a race of their own, lapping around 2.5 seconds faster than anyone else, With Hamilton reeling in Rosberg. The gap between the Silver Arrows as Rosberg pitted was just 2.7 seconds.

Nevertheless, the advantage was still with Rosberg, who had track position and the first choice of race strategies. But then Hamilton’s luck started to change. Despite another slow stop for the Englishman on lap 24 – 5 laps after Rosberg’s – which meant that he emerged from the pits over five seconds behind his team-mate, all was not well with Rosberg’s car.

Rosberg suffered his first retirement of the season at Silverstone

Rosberg suffered his first
retirement of the season at Silverstone

The German had reported gearbox trouble on lap 21, but his pace was still good on the softer option tyres; the supposedly faster race tyre. Hamilton had changed onto the hard prime tyres as he attempted an alternate strategy to beat his team-mate. On the ‘slower’ tyres Hamilton was on fire, though. He was catching his team-mate hand over fist before Rosberg again reported gearbox problems, before losing gears as he lapped Max Chilton’s Marussia and Hamilton blasted through into the lead.

Rosberg was briefly able to get going again before the gearbox failed completely, resulting in his first retirement of 2014, compared to his team-mate’s two. Hamilton didn’t look back. He was some 25 seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas’s Williams in second place, with the Finn having driven a fantastic race to claw his way up from his 14th place starting position. When Bottas stopped for fresh rubber the gap ballooned to over 40 seconds and it looked like Hamilton could continue without bothering to stop again.

Hamilton on his way to his second Silverstone win

Hamilton on his way to his second Silverstone win

As it was, Mercedes decided to pit the race leader for a second stop, but such was Hamilton’s margin over Bottas that he still emerged from the pits leading by over 20 seconds. All that was left for Hamilton to do was to bring his Mercedes home in one piece which he did with ease, winning the race by over 30 seconds from Bottas, with Daniel Ricciardo bring his Red Bull home in third, just ahead of a charging Jenson Button, a further 16 seconds adrift.

Alonso and Vettel were involved in a thrilling battle

Alonso and Vettel were involved in a thrilling battle

For a variety of reasons, it was a thrilling race. The British crowd got almost exactly what they wanted: Some fantastic racing – including some brilliant overtaking from Bottas and a thrilling fight between the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the second Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel (the latter beat the former to fifth place) – a win for Hamilton and a retirement for Rosberg, which reignited the championship fight, with the gap between the two Mercedes team-mates now just four points.

Indeed, the only thing that was missing was a podium finish for Jenson Button. The 2009 world drivers’ champion has never stood on the Silverstone podium, but he came awfully close this time. The Frome-born driver finished under a second behind Ricciardo. I guess the fans can’t quite have it all.

Having won his home race, though, Hamilton will hope that the momentum has now swung back in his direction. He’d like nothing more than to drive home his advantage at the next race at Hockenheim; a home race for both Mercedes and Rosberg.

Belgian GP: The winners and losers

Well, there were precious little of the usual Spa thrills and spills in round 11 of the 2013 formula 1 world championship.  No safety cars, no rain and very little competition for Sebastian Vettel, who cruised to a straightforward, comfortable and comprehensive victory to extend his lead in the world drivers’ championship.

Vettel leads from Hamilton and Rosberg in the early stages of the race

Vettel leads from Hamilton and Rosberg
in the early stages of the race

It was a case of winners and losers in Belgium.  Vettel clearly fell into the former category, never looking back after cruising past pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes down the Kemmel straight on the very first lap of the race.  Unusually, Vettel’s Red Bull had much more straight-line speed than the Mercedes which, with more power than the Renault engine used by Red Bull, usually has greater top speed.  The Red Bull was clearly set up to overtake.  A risky move considering the notoriously changeable conditions at Spa-Francochamps, but one that paid off handsomely.  After passing Hamilton, Vettel was able to build up his customary opening lap gap over the oppositions, moving himself well clear of DRS range and, ultimately, into a race winning position.

A less than delighted looking Fernando Alonso on the podium in Belgium

A less than delighted looking Fernando
Alonso on the podium in Belgium

Another man in the winners’ category, although you wouldn’t have guessed it by his post race demeanour, was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.  The Spaniard was unfortunate to be caught out by the weather in qualifying, ending up down in ninth place on the grid.  However, he soon made up for his poor starting position with a storming first lap of the race.  As usual, the Ferrari driver made a brilliant start, clawing his way up from ninth to fifth place on the opening lap.  It wasn’t long before he was up to fourth, either, passing Jenson Button’s McLaren on lap four, before moving up to third just two laps later as he made short work of Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes down the Kemmel straight.

Like Vettel, Alonso’s Ferrari was set up with straight-line speed in mind and it paid off for him much as it did for Vettel.  The Spaniard had to wait until after the first round of pit stops to affect his next pass, but it came on lap 15, as he passed Hamilton for second position into La Source.  That’s the way the podium positions stayed at the end of the race.  Hamilton revealed to Vettel as the top three waited to go out onto the podium that he had actually let Alonso through at La Source in the hope that he would be able to use the DRS overtaking aid to blast back ahead of the Ferrari down the Kemmel straight.  Indeed, that was exactly what the Englishman attempted to do, but such was the straight-line speed advantage of the Ferrari that the Mercedes was unable to re-pass, even with the aid of reduced drag from DRS.

Hamilton led the race into La Source, but was soon passed by Vettel

Hamilton led the race into La Source,
but was soon passed by Vettel

Even though Hamilton dropped from first place on the grid to third place in the race, I’d still put him firmly in the winners’ category, too, even though it could easily have been a better result for Hamilton had circumstances worked in his favour.  As was evidenced by the way that both Vettel and Alonso were able to outpace Hamilton’s Mercedes in a straight line, the Silver Arrows had gone for a higher down force set up than their rivals.  This would have benefited them in the middle sector of the track, but left them vulnerable in the first and last sectors, where minimal drag was the order of the day.

Mercedes’s set-up may have been made with the hope or expectation of rain in mind.  Had the heavens opened at Spa, as they often do, Mercedes would likely have found themselves in a very strong position to win the race.  The extra down force on their cars would have allowed them to cope more easily with the treacherous conditions that the wet weather would have brought, while those with a lower down force setting might well have struggled.  That’s all ifs and buts, though.  As it happened, the rain never came and Mercedes probably finished as well as they could have with Hamilton’s third position – his fourth of the season – and a fourth place for Rosberg.

What made Hamilton a winner in my winners and losers rundown of the Belgian grand prix was, though, the fact that Kimi Raikkonen suffered his first retirement since returning to Formula 1 in 2011, and his first non points score since the 2012 Chinese grand prix, where he finished 14th.  This meant that Hamilton leapfrogged ahead of the Lotus driver into third in the world drivers’ championship.  As you will have guessed the Finn falls very much into the losers’ category for this race.

Raikkonen pulls in to the pits to retire from the Belgian grand prix

Raikkonen pulls in to the pits to
retire from the Belgian grand prix

Raikkonen, seemed to be struggling with brakes throughout the race; very unusual for Spa given that the Belgian track is not one that is particularly tough on brakes.  Nevertheless, though, we saw the Lotus sitting on the starting grid with smoking brakes and huge clouds of black brake dust coming from the front right disk every time he slowed down.  Lotus revealed after the race that a visor tear off had become trapped in the brake duct, causing the brakes to overheat.  Raikkonen and Lotus were never really in contention anyway, though, so a retirement at this race, where they weren’t on the pace of the front-runners, was perhaps not as disastrous as it might have been if they were in the hunt for victory.  Still, when the retirement came on lap 26 of the race, it would have been enormously disappointing for Raikkonen, especially given that the three drivers he’s battling with in the championship went on to fill the three podium positions.

Another loser at Spa was Paul Di Resta.  After qualifying an impressive fifth, and oh so nearly taking a maiden pole position on Saturday, the Scot went rapidly backwards in the race.  Di Resta had dropped to seventh by lap two and outside of the top 10 by lap 20.  Just eight laps later he was punted out of the race by Pastor Maldonado, making it three races in a row without a points scoring finish for the Force India driver.

Jenson Button on his way to sixth place at Spa

Jenson Button on his way to sixth place at Spa

Even though Di Resta’s team-mate, Adrian Sutil, picked up a couple of points for a ninth place finish, the Force India team were very much in the losers camp, too.  That’s because they’ve now been overtaken by McLaren in the race for fifth place in the world constructors’ championship.  It sounds very odd to say it, but even though Jenson Button only finished where he started – in sixth position – both he and McLaren were winners at Spa.  They looked much more competitive all weekend and now look in a strong position to maintain their newly established constructors’ championship lead over Force India.

The biggest winner in Belgium was of course Sebastian Vettel, though.  The reigning world drivers’ champion now heads this year’s standings by 46 points over his nearest challenger, Fernando Alonso, with Lewis Hamilton a further 12 points behind.  Nevertheless, we head to Monza, Ferrari’s home turf, in two weeks time, where the Scuderia will be determined to put on a show for the adoring tifosi.

There are positive signs that Ferrari and Alonso may well be in a position to challenge Red Bull and Vettel after a much improved performance at Spa.  Mercedes and Hamilton are very much in the picture, too, and despite his retirement, Raikkonen sits only five points further back in fourth place in the world drivers’ championship.  There are eight races to go, and 200 points still up for grabs…

Hamilton proves too hot to handle in Hungary

If pole position was a surprise for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, victory at the Hungaroring would have come as a massive shock to both driver and team. Throughout Friday practice it looked as though Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel had the pace in Budapest, not just to take pole, but also for victory. In the end, of course, they took neither.

As we know, the three-week gap between the last race at the Nurburgring and round 10 in Hungary was punctuated by the “Young Driver Test” at Silverstone, which the Mercedes team missed as punishment for an illegal Pirelli tyre test earlier in the season. The Young Driver Test turned into a test for the new Pirelli tyres that the teams will run for the rest of the season, and everyone expected that Mercedes’s lack of running on those tyres would prove to be a massive disadvantage to them at the Hungaroring.

Certainly it looked that way in practice as Mercedes, while not slow, were not competing at the very front with Red Bull and Lotus. Things changed in qualifying, though. All of a sudden Mercedes, and Hamilton in particular, came alive, snatching pole position from Red Bull Racing and Vettel with a lap that the Briton wasn’t particularly happy with. Hamilton thought that he could have gone a couple of tenths quicker and his surprise at taking pole position was evident from team radio.

As we have seen all too often this season, though, pole position is all well and good for Mercedes and Hamilton, but race victories have been far harder to find. That was a trend that everyone expected to continue in Budapest. Everything looked set up for Mercedes to fall backwards: a lack of running on the new tyres, extremely high track temperatures which has previously exacerbated Mercedes’s high tyre degradation issues, and Red Bull and Lotus cars that were looking fast.

Again, though, Mercedes and Hamilton confounded experts and fans alike to take a brilliant victory on Sunday. One which Hamilton and his fans would have felt was long overdue after some bad luck earlier in the season, in particular his tyre failure at his home race at Silverstone. In Hungary, Hamilton didn’t put a foot, or wheel, wrong.

Hamilton leads into turn one at the Hungaroring

Hamilton leads into turn one at the Hungaroring

For me, Hamilton’s victory in Hungary was down to four crucial parts of the race that went perfectly for the 2008 world drivers’ champion. The first of these was the start. Formula 1 fans know how tricky overtaking can be in Hungary, which makes track position a vital factor. If Hamilton was going to win the race it was critical that he started well, kept Vettel behind him, and controlled the first stint of the race. As it turned out he did all of these things, but that, of course, wasn’t enough, on its own, for him to win the race.

Hamilton makes his crucial move on Button

Hamilton makes his crucial move on Button

Hamilton pitted first on lap 10 as he felt his option tyres start to reach the end of their life, but emerged from the pits behind his old McLaren team-mate, Jenson Button, who had started the race on the harder prime tyres and was not planning pit stop for quite some time. Hamilton knew that if he was to stand any chance of winning the race he couldn’t afford to be held up behind Button’s slower McLaren, and the Stevenage born driver’s decisive pass on his countryman at the end of the pit straight just one lap later was the second crucial point in the race.

Just one more lap later, it was the Red Bull mechanics that were out in the pit lane to change Sebastian Vettel’s tyres and the German emerged from the pits still behind Hamilton and, crucially, behind Button’s McLaren. While Hamilton had quickly jumped ahead of Button, Vettel couldn’t do the same, however. Indeed, it took the reigning world drivers’ champion another 12 laps to pass the McLaren, finally moving ahead of Button on lap 24, followed almost immediately by Romain Grosjean’s Lotus and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari.

Vettel makes contact with Button while attempting to pass in Hungary

Vettel makes contact with Button while
attempting to pass in Hungary

The damage had been done, though. In those 12 laps, Vettel had been told repeatedly to cool his car, which was in danger of overheating, and damaged his front wing attempting to pass, while Hamilton had built up a double-digit lead, which he never relinquished. The race, though, was 70 laps long, and while Hamilton was in a great position at that point, the job was far from over.

The third of the four key points in the race came not long after Hamilton made his second pit stop on lap 32. The Mercedes driver emerged from the pits in fourth place, behind the second Red Bull of Mark Webber and Alonso’s Ferrari. Webber, like Button, was on a different strategy to Hamilton, having started the race on the hard medium compound Pirelli tyres after technical problems in qualifying saw the Australian qualify down in 10th place.

Just like the situation after Hamilton’s first pit stop, the Englishman knew that he could not afford to get held up behind a driver on tyres that were older and past their best. With that in mind, I’m sure, Hamilton was decisive yet again, passing Webber around the outside of turn two on lap 34 before immediately closing in on Alonso, who shot into the pits just a lap later, without holding up the Mercedes driver. Vettel stopped at the same point, emerging once again behind Button’s McLaren, which he quickly passed on lap 37.

Hamilton maintained his double-digit lead over Vettel before making his final pit stop on lap 51 of the race. Again, though, the Mercedes driver emerged just behind Mark Webber, who squeezed ahead into turn one as Hamilton emerged from the pit lane. With Vettel yet to make his final pit stop Hamilton, despite his previous large lead over the German, knew that getting held up behind the second Red Bull could give Vettel a sniff of victory. The Mercedes driver, though, was decisive yet again, using the opportunity presented by Webber coming up to lap Nico Hulkenberg’s Sauber to pass the Australian around the outside of turn two for the second time in the race.

Raikkonen and Vettel celebrate on the podium

Raikkonen and Vettel celebrate on the podium

Vettel made his third and final pit stop four laps later, emerging just three seconds behind the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, who was on tyres that were 13 laps old. Raikkonen, though, was two stopping and would run to the end of the race on that set of tyres. Surely, with fresher rubber and 15 laps left to run, Vettel would pass the Finn? Not a bit of it. Raikkonen defended brilliantly and finished the race second, while Vettel had to settle for the final step of the podium. It was this defensive drive, coupled with Hamilton’s second decisive pass on Webber, which is the last of my four crucial elements that resulted in victory for Hamilton and Mercedes.

While all of this was going on Romain Grosjean, one of the pre race favourites for victory after qualifying third and looking impressively fast all weekend, had been given a drive through penalty for passing Massa with all four wheels off the track, while also being under investigation for causing a collision with Button as he overtook him on lap 24 (the Frenchman received a post race 20 second penalty for this incident, but it didn’t impact on the final result).

Rosberg retires in a cloud of engine smoke in the closing stages

Rosberg retires in a cloud of
engine smoke in the closing stages

Nico Rosberg, who was having an awful race after contact on the first lap of the race left him running way down the field, retired with an engine failure on lap 66, the second of the afternoon after Valtteri Bottas’s Renault engine let go on lap 52. It wasn’t all bad news for Williams, though, as Rosberg’s retirement promoted the second Williams of Pastor Maldonado into 10th position, allowing the team to score their first points of the season.

Even Rosberg’s retirement couldn’t dampen the celebrations at Mercedes, though. While Sebastian Vettel still leads the world drivers’ championship, there’s a glimmer of hope for Mercedes in particular as we head into the summer break. If the Mercedes can look after their tyres to win in the heat of Hungary, they should be able to do likewise in cooler conditions. Is the tide turning? It’s too early to say and we’ll have to wait at least until the next race – at Spa at the end of August – to find out.