Hamilton hangs on for Hungarian hat-trick

Formula One News » Hamilton hangs on for Hungarian hat-trick

Lewis Hamilton resisted the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen through the final 20 laps of the Hungarian Grand Prix to claim his second win of the 2012 F1 season and trim the deficit to points leader Fernando Alonso.

The Briton, who dominated the early part of the weekend before claiming the 150th pole position of McLaren’s storied history, led from lights to flag at the Hungaroring, only giving up the initiative during his two pit-stops. However, with Raikkonen running longer on his second stint, the pair came together in the closing stages, with the Finn at one point taking tenths out of Hamilton’s advantage. The Lotus eventually got to within DRS range but, having done so, found its lap times slowing, so that the gap fluctuated at around a second.

Although his rear rain light caused a brief moment of concern by flashing when it should have been off, Hamilton even managed to raise his game as he fended off his rival, eventually coming home a second clear to add a second victory to his earlier win in Canada. The success was also his third in Hungary, and will go some way to offset the disappointment of last week’s German Grand Prix, when he admitted to having taken the ‘biggest dent’ to his championship ambitions when forced to retire in the closing stages after an earlier puncture damaged the MP4-27. After eleven of the season’s 20 races, the Briton now lies 47 points adrift of Alonso, after the Spaniard salvaged fifth place from a difficult weekend for Ferrari.

Raikkonen was the closest anyone came to threatening Hamilton after the start, although team-mate Romain Grosjean briefly suggested that he may have the beating of the McLaren man as he closed in towards the end of their opening stint. Again, however, Hamilton extended the gap prior to the pit-stops and although both Grosjean and Raikkonen both took turns at the front during the shortened 69-lap distance, the black-and-gold had to settle for the minor podium places.

Their order was effectively decided during Raikkonen’s second stint, as the Finn stretched his tyres six laps further than Grosjean, then exited the pits side by side with his team-mate. The pair made contact rounding turn one, before Raikkonen exerted his seniority to come out ahead. From there, the Finn extended his advantage as he chased Hamilton down, eventually coming home nearly ten seconds clear of Grosjean.

The Frenchman wasn’t able to relax and settle for third, however, as a fired-up Sebastian Vettel closed on the Lotus in the closing stages. The German had briefly challenged Grosjean on the opening lap, but only succeeded in hurting himself as Jenson Button pounced to steal third. With the order remaining largely unchanged through the first round of stops, Vettel was audibly frustrated at having to sit behind the McLaren, and showed Red Bull’s potential as soon as Button made his second stop, setting a string of fastest laps. He could not quite get close enough to threaten Grosjean’s third place, however, although a mere second separated him from the podium at the flag.

Third place appeared to be within Button’s reach in the early stages, the position gained from Vettel at turn three seeming set to allow him to repeat his performance from Hockenheim. However, with McLaren deciding to switch him to ‘Plan B’ – otherwise known as a three-stop strategy – the Briton’s race came undone as his first two stops brought him out in the midst of slower traffic, notably putting him behind Bruno Senna’s Williams through the middle part of the race. The damage eventually saw the McLaren come home in sixth place, behind Alonso, who produced a steady points-accumulating run to complete the top five.

Button’s luck was not as bad as Mark Webber’s, however. The Australian made a blistering start to convert eleventh on the grid into seventh on lap one, but further progress was only ever going to be made through the pit-stops, as overtaking proved typically tough on the tortuous Hungaroring layout. Webber was up into fifth spot with 14 laps to run, but RBR then called him for a third stop, a decision that – unlike Vettel’s similar strategy – cost valuable places as he dropped to eighth. Although he remains Alonso’s closest championship challenger, the Australian is now fully 40 points adrift, and with Vettel’s fourth position moving the second Red Bull pilot to within two points of his tally.

Webber crossed the line just half a second behind Senna, but could not deny the Williams driver a sixth scoring finish after a solid weekend. Although his future with the Grove team remains in doubt as Valtteri Bottas waits in the wings, he will have done his chances of securing alternative employment a power of good by comfortably out-performing team-mate Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan lost his hold on a points finish with a tardy start, then earned himself another ticking off from the stewards by running Paul di Resta wide when passing the Force India driver. Senna is now just five points behind Maldonado in the standings, with the latter having had his tally boosted by that unexpected Spanish GP win.

Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg rounded out the scorers, neither looking likely to get much higher than ninth and tenth respectively but coming home comfortably ahead of the Force India pair of Nico Hulkenberg and di Resta. Maldonado finished 13th after serving a drive-thru’ penalty, while Sergio Perez rounded out the unlapped runners in 14th after a lacklustre weekend for Sauber. Team-mate Kamui Kobayashi dropped to 18th after pitting on the last lap, allowing Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne and Heikki Kovalainen to gain a place apiece. The Finn had run with both Toro Rossos in the early stages, but could not maintain their pace, and eventually came home half a minute behind Vergne.

Behind Kobayashi, Vitaly Petrov, Charles Pic, Timo Glock and Pedro de la Rosa completed the finishers in a race that, even late in the day, appeared on course for a full house taking the flag. Instead, there were two ‘retirements’ in the closing stages, with Narain Karthikeyan suffering a suspension failure that saw him join Michael Schumacher on the sidelines. The German’s miserable weekend, which began with an off in free practice and continued with 17th place on the grid, was prolonged by him apparently switching his Mercedes’ engine off in the belief that the start had been aborted. With the field taking off on a second formation lap – hence the shortened 69-lap distance – Schumacher compounded his error by then breaking the pit-lane speed limit on his way to taking up position for the restart. The seven-time world champion subsequently toiled around in the lower reaches of the top 20 before eventually calling it a day eleven laps from home.

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