Lewis Hamilton has won the Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix four times in his seven-year F1 career, but his latest win might be the sweetest. Sunday’s win at the Hungaroring was the first of the season for the 2008 World Champion, and the first with his new team, Mercedes. The win also puts him back in the running for this season’s drivers’ title.
Hamilton started from the pole and won the race, something the 28-year-old driver has done twice at Hungary in his career and no other driver has done at Hungary since 2006. It was his fourth pole and fourth podium finish of the season, but his first win since the 2012 U.S. Grand Prix, when he was driving for McLaren.
“I think this is probably one of the most important grand prix wins of my career,” Hamilton said on NBCSN from the podium. “To move to a new team and to win for Mercedes-Benz is just a real privilege. The guys have done an exceptional job, I’m so glad I could be a part of the team and I really couldn’t be happier. I hope there’s many more to come.”
Hamilton had the fastest car, and he drove it flawlessly. “I think generally we had the pace on everyone today. I know I was really controlling the pace, particularly on the last stint. This is just down to an exceptional job from the team.
“We came here with upgrades and constantly doing work to try and understand these tires. We bolted them on and they just worked for us. I really was not expecting it.”
Mercedes has had tremendous single-lap speed all season, as proven by its record of scoring pole position: besides Hamilton’s four, team mate Nico Rosberg has there, and only one other driver, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, has won pole (three times for the three-time and defending world champion.)
Where Mercedes failed was in endurance—the chassis destroyed rear tires, costing the team several potential wins. That changed at the Hungarian Grand Prix, when teams first raced on Pirelli’s latest tires—2013 rubber compounds on 2012 carcasses, with much stiffer sidewalls.
Most teams had had a chance to try the new rubber at tire tests at Silverstone after he last race, but Mercedes was excluded because of their own “secret” tire test earlier in the year. Pirelli did provide the team with all the test data, and Mercedes’ engineers managed to find a set-up that preserved the speed and maximized durability.
When asked after the race if he still had a shot at the title this year, Hamilton admitted it was all about the tires: “We’ve got to work hard, you never know how the tires are going to last elsewhere but if we come here and make our tires last then we should be able to do it anywhere. So, fingers crossed.”
Kimi Räikkonen brought his Lotus home eleven seconds after Hamilton, followed by Vettel only a second-and-a-half behind. Lotus timed their two-stop strategy perfectly; Räikkonen’s tires probably didn’t have another two laps of life left in them at the finish.
Vettel’s third might seem disappointing for such a dominant car-and-driver combination, but his Red Bull RB-9 was plagued with problems from overheating to intermittent KERS failure; third was good on this day.
Mark Webber of Red Bull and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari rounded out the top five.
Honorable mention goes to Roman Grosjean, who started third and finished sixth. Felipe Massa’s Ferrari rammed Grosjean’s Lotus in Turn Four of the first lap, breaking its front wing. Grosejan then had contact with Button on lap 24 and both drivers had to pit.
Then, on lap 29 Massa made a mistake in Turn Four and Grosjean made a very brave outside pass, dropping two-and-a-half wheels off the track but getting by. On lap 39 the Lotus driver was given a drive-through for leaving the track surface, even though video clearly shows that he didn’t put four wheels off.
Despite all this, Grojean fought his way back to sixth. If he had not had such terrible luck, he very well might have won.
With ten of the season’s 19 races complete, Hamilton now lies fourth in points with 124, 48 behind Sebastian Vettel, who is on track to win his fourth consecutive title. Kimi Räikkonen is second with 134, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso third, a point behind Räikkonen.