Lewis Hamilton won the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix, a race marked by processional racing but a seriously dramatic start and even more important pit strategy. The first lap saw some exciting jockeying for position, then everyone settled in for a fine drive on a sunny afternoon. Hamilton led from the lights out despite an aborted start as clever strategy brought some drivers forward and others back.
Kimi Raikkonen’s forceful style against his teammate reinforced his jump into the second position after a good strategy, despite KERS issues. Though he chased Hamilton and looked quite close, he was never near enough to properly challenge him with a pass to the lead. Romain Grosjean completed the Lotus double podium, with Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso rounding out the top five. Complaints about an inability to pass were an oft-repeated part of radio communications. The final laps were a strange mix of anticipation and boredom, as drivers stalked their prey ahead but seemed unlikely to manage a pass.
Hamilton dominated the weekend, storming to pole (1:20.953) in Saturday’s qualifying session and leading both Friday practice sessions. Only a late quick lap from Webber demoted the Briton to second fastest during the Saturday morning practice. Grosjean won the other front row starting position during the dramatic qualifying, one where Webber was knocked out in Q2 and both Red Bulls made a daring decision to pit nearly on the knockout bubble for Q1. There were no incidents and Hamilton triumphed, though other quiet winners included Williams, who had both drivers in Q3 for the first time all season. Vettel, Button, Raikkonen, and Alonso completed the first three starting rows on the grid.
As mentioned, Hamilton led both sunny practices on Friday. In the morning, Button Alonso, Rosberg, and Grosejan completed the fastest five, while Raikkonen, Senna, Massa, and Alonso joined Hamilton for a rain paused afternoon session. Though drivers had been warned that off-track advantages would result in deleted times or penalties, the Hungaroring’s wide runoff areas saw lots of use. In the afternoon, Grosjean lost a front wing at the chicane in the damp while Schumacher damaged his Mercedes by locking up and throwing it into a barrier. Saturday morning saw Webber take the lead over Hamilton, Vettel, Senna, and Alonso in another dry session.
Despite strong reports to the contrary, Budapest was bright and sunny, as well as hot, as the cars formed the grid. Conditions were equal to qualifying in heat, likely leading to continued greasy track conditions unless a late afternoon thunderstorm popped up. All drivers began the race on the soft compound, but for Webber, de la Rosa, and the Marussias. As the lights went out, Grosjean angled across at Hamilton. However, the lights flashed yellow, then green, with race director Charlie Whiting motioning the grid for a second formation lap. Schumacher’s car sat lonely on the grid, forcing the Mercedes crew to run out and push him to the pit lane. With the extra formation lap, one lap came off the race length. The grand prix would instead run sixty-nine laps.
In a radio transmission, it sounded as though Schumacher might have turned off his car as the lights were flashing their odd combination. He got going, went around, and started from the pit lane. Hamilton managed to get a great start ahead of Grosjean, while Vettel went deep into the first turn to try to take second from Grosjean. He could not manage as the Frenchman pushed the German well wide on the corner exit. That left Button an advantage to take third from Vettel on the next turn, even as the German gave him a hard time over the position. Alonso took fifth from Raikkonen, as Webber made a truly brilliant start. The Australian jumped to seventh from eleventh. At the end of L1, Hamilton led Grosjean, Button, Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen, Webber, Senna, Massa, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Maldonado, Perez, Di Resta, Ricciardo, Kovalainen, Vergne, Petrov, Kobayashi, Pic, Glock, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan, and Schumacher. That German pitted for a set of medium tyres, meanwhile coming under investigation for speeding in the pit lane. Momentarily, word came that Schumacher had received a drive-through for speeding down the pit lane to start the race.
As the third lap ended, Hamilton already had more than two seconds gap over Grosjean, with no one closer on the track than Raikkonen directly on Alonso’s gearbox. The Finn was having a hard time of it, as he wondered to the team why KERS wasn’t working. Lotus indicated that he had to go through a restart procedure, with the battery not fully charged. Schumacher quickly served his penalty and trundled along in last, fourteen seconds behind Glock. Kobayashi pitted from nineteenth on L9.
At the front, Hamilton had lost a couple of tenths back to Grosjean, though the gap remained more than two seconds. Behind them, Button had around a second and a half over Vettel, with Alonso sliding back to three seconds behind the German. Raikkonen continued to hold station close behind Alonso, with Weber, Senna, Massa, and Hulkenberg rounding out the top ten. Soon, Alonso managed to gain enough to keep Raikkonen to keep from using DRS on him. L13 brought a pit stop for Vergne, who remained on the soft tyres. Teammate Ricciardo pitted on L15, also staying on the soft tyres.
Pit Stops Begin (L16):
Further stops began as Button pitted from third. Hulkenberg followed from eleventh, as did Maldonado from thirteenth. The Briton had been told to go to “Plan B,” only to question his engineer, who thought about it and told him they were sticking with “Plan A.” All had clean stops for the medium compound, with Button dropping to tenth. Senna, Rosberg, and Di Resta all stopped on the next time around. Mercedes had a clean stop, but had to hold Rosberg momentarily as Di Resta came in. Vettel and Alonso stopped on L18, with Button remaining ahead of Vettel with a quick out lap. However, Alonso managed only to get out behind Perez.
Hamilton left the lead to Grosjean on the next lap, seemingly waiting an extra moment before he left the pit box in a 4.2s stop. McLaren had an issue with a wheel gun, causing the slower stop. Massa also pitted, as did Petrov well down the order. Grosjean pitted for a similarly paused stop with the rear remaining up for a 4.9s stop, staying on the soft tyres. He returned to the track in fourth, though the drama on track brought a clean pass by Alonso on Perez. Raikkonen and Webber pitted, leaving only Perez in the top ten to have not yet stopped on L21. Both Lotus drivers remained o the softs, though Webber stayed on the medium compound.
At the end of L21, Hamilton led Grosjean, Button, Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso, Webber, Massa, and Rosberg as the top ten. Only Petrov had not yet pitted, out of the complete twenty-four driver field still completing. Hamilton had a safe 2.6s margin over Grosjean, but the Frenchman was setting race fast laps on the soft tyre, more than a half second faster than the leader. Only Vettel chasing Button and Webber doing the same to Alonso were close enough together to use the DRS zone, out of the entire field. Still, both sets of competitors were gaining a bit here and there to keep the Red Bull drivers safely behind.
At the front, Grosjean was soon less than a second behind Hamilton, but it would not last long. Meanwhile, Schumacher’s bad day continued as Mercedes radioed to him that they had lost the tire pressure telemetry. Still, the team wanted him to extend the stint on his elderly medium compounds. Cars continued to hold station, in the midst of a most exciting season, gaining and losing a few tenths interchangeably as the laps continued to tick away. Red Bull looked ready to stop Webber, but went back into the garage. By L30, the only pair separated by less than a second was Button/Vettel. Vettel was becoming rather frustrated behind Button, telling Red Bull that he could go faster than him, and that they must “do something” to get him around the Briton. There was not much they could do, as stopping would just drop him into traffic. Vergne, then Schumacher pitted before halfway.
Halfway (End L34)/Second Stops Begin:
Button pitted from fourth for a new set of softs as L35 began. He rejoined behind Senna in ninth, having switched to Plan B. Ricciardo also pitted that lap, as McLaren told Hamilton that they needed to go to Plan B, as well. After Button got out of his way, Vettel set a new race fast lap, a second quicker than Hamilton. Button looked stuck behind Senna, as the younger driver continued to hold him off and keep him stuck behind. As Hamilton complained that lapped cars weren’t getting out of the way as quickly as they should, Vettel made his second stop. The German came out as a dueling Senna and Button came around, held up by Pic and other backmarkers. Vettel’s in lap got him ahead of Button, as the Briton’s out lap had been held up by Senna. Grosjean, Webber, and Hulkenberg all pitted as L40 began. Grosjean rejoined in fourth.
Hamilton pitted on L41, leaving Raikkonen in the lead. Hamilton was safe to rejoining ahead of Alonso and, more importantly, Grosjean. Rosberg also pitted that lap, as did Kobayashi and Pic. Raikkonen still led at the end of L41, with Hamilton, Alonso, Grosejan, Vettel, Senna, Button, Massa, Webber, and Rosberg the top ten. Still, the order would continue to change, as the Finn, Alonso, Senna, and Massa had none stopped for the second time. Senna pitted at L42 ended as McLaren radioed Hamilton that he would have to get to the end of the race. The team was about to pit Button to get him out from behind Senna, but as the Williams stopped, the Briton remained on the track.
Alonso stopped on L44, following de la Rosa in. Ferrari had space enough between the teammates to pit both on the same lap without stacking them in the pit lane. After those stops, only the leading Raikkonen had yet to make his second stop. He pitted with a nearly fourteen second gap back to Hamilton. Lotus managed a quick and clean stop, leaving Raikkonen to rejoin directly next to his teammate. Raikkonen pushed Grosjean wide into Turn 1, forcing the younger driver to admit defeat, then lock up into Turn 2. Button stopped for the third time as the drama occurred, getting into the box a bit hot and having issues with the left front. Perez and Ricciardo both pitted on L48, with the latter doing so for the third time.
20 Laps Remaining:
Hamilton led Raikkonen, Grosjean, Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Button, Senna, Massa, and Rosberg as the top ten with twenty laps to go. Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Di Resta, Perez, Kobayashi, Ricciardo, Vergne, Schumacher, Kovalainen, Petrov, Pic, Glock, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan rounded out the field, as all drivers had completed the regulatory stops. The top four were all covered by less than seven seconds, though Alonso and Button were the men closest together on the track at that point. Meanwhile, Maldonado and Di Resta had gotten into a scuffle, with Maldonado hitting the Scot’s side pod while passing him. The incident was under investigation, with Maldonado soon receiving a drive through penalty.
As the laps ticked away, Raikkonen got to less than a second behind Hamilton, leaving Grosjean more than three seconds behind. Webber, surprisingly, pitted from fifth as L55 began for fresh soft tyres, rejoining in eighth. Raikkonen continued to hold station just behind Hamilton, the Finn on tyres five laps fresher than the Briton. No drivers were particularly near each other, but Red Bull continued to bank on drivers losing their tyres in the closing laps, bringing Vettel in for a stop as L59 began. Vettel rejoined directly in front of Alonso without losing position, who immediately attacked for fourth. He was unable to make the pass happen, even as Button waited to pounce on either of them.
10 Laps Remaining:
Raikkonen reminded Lotus that the only way it seemed possible for him to pass would be for Hamilton to lose his rear tyres. Soon thereafter, Mercedes retired Schumacher, as the German had held station in the bottom seven for much of the race, and was a lap down at that point. Raikkonen continued to push closer, but not truly press Hamilton for the lead. Other drivers managed to close upon each other, but opportunities for passing remained elusive. Karthikeyan caused a local yellow, bumping into a barrier, but managed to pull the HRT off and out of the way quickly. The Turn 4 yellow would remain until the end of the race.
As the final laps ticked away, Hamilton seemed too collected to allow Raikkonen to get close enough. At the same time, Vettel was quickly closing on Grosjean. Still, with three laps remaining, Vettel was more than seven seconds behind the Lotus. He continued to gain, but not quite quickly enough to get close enough to pass Grosjean. Hamilton managed to sustain his tyres in the final minutes of the race, holding Raikkonen just outside the DRS zone as the final lap began. In the end, Hamilton led from the start and was the first to cross the finish line. Raikkonen and Grosjean made a double podium for Lotus, and despite a fifth place finish, Alonso increased his championship lead into the summer break.
Final Positions, 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix:
Driver Team Gap Pit 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 2 2. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1.0 2 3. Romain Grosjean Lotus 10.5 2 4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 11.6 3 5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 26.6 2 6. Jenson Button McLaren 30.2 3 7. Bruno Senna Williams 33.8 2 8. Mark Webber Red Bull 34.4 3 9. Felipe Massa Ferrari 38.3 2 10. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 51.2 2 11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 57.2 2 12. Paul Di Resta Force India 62.8 2 13. Pastor Maldonado Williams 63.6 3 14. Sergio Perez Sauber 34.4 2 15. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1 Lap 3 16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1 Lap 4 17. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1 Lap 3 18. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 2 Laps 3 19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 2 Laps 3 20. Charles Pic Marussia 2 Laps 2 21. Timo Glock Marussia 3 Laps 2 22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 3 Laps 2 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 9 Laps 2 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 11 Laps 4