Heikki Kovalainen has taken his very first race win as the Hungarian Grand Prix threw up several surprises during the 70-lap grand prix. From the start it looked as though Felipe Massa would be the eventual winner having passed both McLaren’s into turn one on the first lap. However, with just three laps to go the Ferrari engine in Massa’s F2008 let go and the Brazilian was forced to retire. Kovalainen, who was chasing in second, was promoted to victor while Hamilton languished in fifth.
The start of the race was impressive and while both McLaren’s got off the line well, Massa found a sweet spot and pushed forward past Kovalainen. Hamilton moved over to the right to defend his inside line, but Massa just powered his way around the outside. Further back, Kimi Raikkonen also made a good start, but unfortuantely for the Finn, Fernando Alonso got a better move off the line and passed the Ferrari.
The positions remained pretty much constant for the first stint with Massa trying his best to edge out a gap. The small distance between the Ferrari and McLaren increased and decreased as each lap passed, but it rarely moved over 3s or under 1s. At this early stage of the race it was clear that Massa was quite light and Kovalainen was quite heavy. Where Hamilton fell into the fuel level chart was harder to tell but suffice to say, it was somehwere in between.
Further down the pack, Timo Glock and Nelson Piquet Jr. were driving well and setting reasonably competitive lap times. However, David Coulthard was not doing so well and the Scot struggled with his tyres. On lap 18 Massa pitted for fresh boots and fuel, but it was only one lap later that Hamilton came in for the same. Massa went onto the harder of the two soft tyre compounds while McLaren did not change Hamilton’s boots. McLaren have been in this situation before, but the decision was made and Hamilton rejoined the track.
On lap 32, a series of small fuel fires drew attention to the pitlane once again. Sebastien Bourdais was covered in extinguisher foam as he trundled down the pitlane, and Rubens Barrichello and Kazuki Nakajima both suffered similar fates during their stops. While neither incident led to further implications (although I’m sure Bourdais was not entirely happy with a face full of foam), concern was voiced while the teams discussed the strange coincidence of three fires in as many laps.
By lap 36, Massa and Hamilton were well clear of third placed driver Kovalainen, the gap between themselves hovering arund the four-second mark. Five laps later though and the race would be turned on its head. Lewis Hamilton ran wide into turn five and when the camera caught up with the Briton, his front-left tyre was flailing around. Replays showed the McLaren getting a puncture earlier in the lap and Hamilton was forced to crawl back to the pitlane. Thankfully a new nose wasn’t needed and little other damaged was caused, the time wasted from completing a careful lap added to the extra pitstop meant Hamilton was well down the pecking order when he rejoined the track.
It would take Lewis Hamilton only ten or so laps before he was in the points again in eighth, and as those ahead of him pitted, Hamilton gradually moved moved back up the order. Towards the end of the race Kimi Raikkonen, who had a lacklustre day back in the mid-points, turned the wick up and started to push hard. Fernando Alonso ran well and Timo Glock managed to maintain his position, hanging on to the best of the rest group.
With just three laps to go and with Raikkonen breathing down Glock’s gearbox, Felipe Massa pulled his Ferrari over to the side of the track, a large plume of smoke billowing from the back. Realising that making a rash move could end his race and points for Ferrari, Raikkonen settled for third and Heikki Kovalainen took the victory – his first in only a season-and-a-half of racing in Formula One. Renault did well to get both drivers in the points, Alonso claiming five points while team mate Piquet getting three. Toyota were on-song and Glock’s podium reflected Trulli’s efforts in Germany. The Italian half of the team finished in seventh and collected a further two points for the Japanese team.
This result leaves Hamilton and Raikkonen separated by just five points at the top of the championship tables, while Massa is in third just three down on his team mate. McLaren have closed in on Ferrari in the constructors, the gap between the pair now just eleven points with BMW a further ten behind McLaren. With just seven races to go, the championship is looking healthy and competitive. We saw today that Ferrari can still hold their own against McLaren (or at least, Massa can, when it’s dry), we saw Heikki receive a confidence boost and we have seen Toyota show us that they can make progress and get decent results. On to Valencia…