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Hungary 2012 - Mixed fortunes for McLaren as they tame Hungaroring // Lewis Hamilton won in Hungary, but the team still have work to do

Published by Christine

Button and Hamilton in Hungary
Credit: VMM

The racing at Hungary this year was both disappointing in terms of overtaking numbers, but also because we have seen so many great races this year that a mediocre one seems that much worse.

Nevertheless, it was a strong performance from the race winner, and throughout the field there are some important lessons to be learned from all the teams involved.

McLaren

While McLaren showed they had a fast car and Lewis Hamilton proved he could handle it by leading almost all of the five sessions, their real downfall this weekend was strategy. Perhaps downfall is too harsh, considering they had a dominant driver take a stunning pole position and victory, sending them into the summer break in top form.

However, Lewis Hamilton’s excellent performance aside, Jenson Button was once again struggling. His second place finish in Germany might have seemed like a corner had been turned, but this past weekend saw him back to his scrabbling self.

Qualifying fourth was not too bad, although there was practically half a second between his time and Hamilton’s pole position. The real trouble came in terms of strategy, with Button coming in for his first pit stop surprisingly early and then rejoining in traffic. A similar thing happened the second time, and when it became clear that McLaren were working on a three stop strategy, any chance at a podium was gone.

The driver himself questioned his teams decision afterwards, particularly as he wasn’t struggling with the tyres when he came into the pits. To compound the troubles, there was also a relatively slow final pit stop, proving that the team haven’t got on top of those particular issues as much as they might have hoped. In the end, first place and sixth place are not results to be sniffed at, but they could have been a lot more.

8/10

Lotus

The Lotus team provided the real story of the race, with Romain Grosjean losing his second place grid slot over the course of the 70 laps to his teammate. With Kimi Räikkönen qualifying in fifth, it was a strong Saturday for the team as a whole, and all eyes were on whether they could make their way forward to that much-coveted top step of the podium.

Grosjean performed admirably in the first half of the race, defending from Vettel into the first corner after a poor start, and keeping the gap between himself and Hamilton reasonable. A slight delay in his first pit stop knocked any chance of jumping into the lead out the window, and then the Frenchman later got stuck behind a Ferrari which was due its own stop.

Meanwhile, Räikkönen was wending his way quietly forward, and on the final pit stops, found himself rejoining just alongside his teammate. The pair battled around a couple of corners side by side, before Kimi forced the point and took the position. The clean, if a little cheeky, racing allowed Lotus to secure two out of the three podium places, with Kimi ahead in second.

Afterwards, boss Éric Boullier said they weren’t disappointed, and with the constant improvement of the team, it’s easy to see why. There’s also talk of more development on the so-called double DRS design, despite the fact it has been banned for next year. If they keep pushing forward to get their first win this season, that’s all good, but it would be nice to think they won’t sacrifice 2013 for something that must surely be inevitable anyway.

9/10

Red Bull

RBR found themselves in yet more hot water ahead of the Hungarian GP as it emerged they were being investigated for a potential suspension adjustment solution. Whilst the ethics of some of the team’s more recent designs are being questioned, it at least shows that they are constantly pushing for better, faster and more efficient ways of getting round the track.

Unfortunately, the car didn’t quite live up to expectations this weekend, particularly in qualifying. Mark Webber found himself missing out on the top ten shootout, by coming in 11th, having to sit back and watch as teammate Sebastian Vettel secured himself third on the grid.

There was more speed evident in the car during the race, as Vettel got off the line well and challenged Grosjean for second place. He eventually lost a position to the other Lotus and crossed the finish line fourth. Webber was trying to make up for lost time and managed to move forward to eighth, making it a double points finish for the team. He had hoped to make it even further but an issue with the differential forced Webber onto a three stop strategy.

With such innovation comes hits and misses, and no doubt Red Bull will still be pushing hard to find new solutions so that they can return to their winning ways.

7/10

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso had finished on the podium for three races in a row - two of them wins - so it must have been disappointing for him to end the race fifth. However, his run of consistent points finishes continues, and he kept a firm grip on his lead of the championship standings.

As a team, though, Ferrari did not achieve everything they could have at the Hungaroring. Felipe Massa qualified seventh, right behind his teammate and less than a second off his time. Compared to previous weekends, the Brazilian was showing some good form and the hopes were high for a strong finish.

Unfortunately, and in his own words, the trouble was at the start when he: “spun the wheels, possibly because the clutch had overheated: that cost me two places which I then never managed to make up.”

In response to the relative dip in performance compared to their race wins so far this year, team boss Stefano Domenicali has said they will need to develop like mad to not only keep up but get ahead. With their belief (and now the proof!) that their car is not necessarily the fastest out there, it’s all hands on deck to retain Alonso’s championship lead and rattle Red Bull for theirs.

7/10

Williams

It feels like repetition to summary another Williams weekend with yet another story of Pastor Maldonado, a crash and a penalty. The Venezuelan doesn’t necessarily think his drive through penalty for the collision with Paul di Resta was fair, but for the team it was the same old story.

From eighth on the grid, Maldonado finished 13th, dipping outside the points and finishing behind the aforementioned Force India.

His continuing saga, however, gave teammate Bruno Senna a chance to shine. The Brazilian crept into the third session of qualifying for the first time in 2012, starting the race just behind the other Williams car. He went on to finish seventh, in the points, just three seconds behind Jenson Button. It’s not his best finish of the year, but a good performance nonetheless, and much-needed as we head into the break.

When Mark Gillan spoke to the press after the race, he said the team weren’t focusing on the missed opportunities (which at least means they are aware of them) but instead pushing for more performance and praising the drivers, and the team, for constantly moving forward. He notes that they did complete their fastest ever pit stop in Hungary, so... that’s something.

6/10

Mercedes

Mercedes, and in particular Michael Schumacher, had a tough weekend which started badly on Friday and just got worse. The German driver aquaplaned off track during practice, heading straight into the barriers. Not too much damage was done, which was lucky, but there is where the luck ended.

I’ve expanded on the difficulties of Mercedes in my Midfield Monitor article this month, but the short version is thus: Schumacher qualified down in 17th place, top and tailing a surprising Q2 result with Mark Webber. He pulled up to the wrong grid slot after the first formation lap, stalled the engine when the second began, picked up a puncture when being pushed into the pitlane, got a drive through penalty for speeding in the pitlane, and then retired from the race. A weekend best forgotten, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Amongst all the chaos, it’s easy to forget that Nico Rosberg wasn’t having a great weekend either. He steered clear of punctures and penalties, but after qualifying in 13th, it was all he could do to move up to 10th place and gain that solitary point. Despite two tenth place finishes in a row not being what the race-winner would hope for, he remains confident in the team and believes they can bring some significant upgrades after the summer.

3/10

Force India

The Force India duo were not particularly content throughout the entire weekend. Hülkenberg got through to the top ten shootout but made it no further than P10, blaming a mistake which dirtied the tyres. Di Resta blamed the traffic and being in the wrong place at the wrong time for his 12th place grid slot.

In the race, he had a more specific target to place the blame at, when his Force India car was walloped by Pastor Maldonado. Di Resta lost positions at the start of the race, but fought to gain them back, finishing exactly where he started.

Nico, meanwhile, branded it a difficult afternoon and found tyre wear hard to manage. He lost one position, fell out of the points, and went away from the weekend very disappointed. At a track like Hungary, qualifying is more important than ever, and the team are keen to work on their Saturday performance to help themselves on Sunday.

5/10

Sauber

The Hungaroring was a tough circuit for lots of the teams, but Sauber seemed uncharacteristically out of sorts around the twisting track. The pair qualified 15th and 16th after finding both the balance of the car and the grip given by the tyres inadequate.

When the race began, Kamui Kobayashi found himself squeezed out of position into the first corner, and the team were forced to switch strategies to try and make some of the lost places back. It was an odd move, from an outsider’s point of view, as Sauber are notorious for being light on their tyres and making long strategies work. Instead, they brought Kamui in on lap 9 for the first of what turned out to be a three-stop strategy. He finished 18th, two laps down.

Sergio Pérez was on the lead lap, at least, when the chequered flag fell, but he was 14th - well out of the points. Although he managed to gain one position from where he qualified, and completed an anticipated two-stop strategy, the car still didn’t seem right. Whenever Pérez was following another car, he would lose all downforce, fighting to keep the car on track. Post-race thoughts from the team suggest they blame traffic for most of their woes and will be relying on their strategy calls when the gang get back together again in Spa.

3/10

Toro Rosso

It was a quiet weekend for Toro Rosso, but the key important moment to my eyes occurred in qualifying. Jean-Éric Vergne outqualified his teammate for the first time in 2012. Where we would normally see Daniel Ricciardo comfortably through to the second session on a Saturday and Vergne dropping out with the new-team-six, things were not going to play out that way in Hungary.

Vergne made it through to Q2, whilst it was Ricciardo who was left behind in 18th place. Granted, it was only a 16th place grid slot for the young Frenchman, but this is progress!

The race itself was nothing to write home about, although both drivers had good starts. Ricciardo managed to overtake his teammate for 15th place, and Vergne was forced to stop for an unscheduled fourth time after picking up some debris that eventually caused overheating issues. It’s hard to say if he would have beaten Ricciardo if he hadn’t had to stop, but the pair have never seemed closer!

3/10

Caterham

Vitaly Petrov found himself suffering the same problem that Jenson Button has been proclaiming for the last few races - that the car just feels different between qualifying and the race, with no obvious explanation. Petrov qualified 20th with teammate Heikki Kovalainen ahead of him in 19th.

During the race, both drivers moved forward a little because of the retirements behind them, with Petrov finishing 19th. Kovalainen was up to 17th and surprisingly upbeat post-race, feeling confident in the way the tyres worked and the team dealt with their strategy.

3/10

Marussia

Charles Pic outqualified his teammate in a comfortable qualifying, one where he ended up feeling much happier than his teammate. Timo Glock was struggling with the car, he made a few mistakes on his fast laps that saw him 22nd to Pic’s 21st.

In the race, Glock was still underperforming - at one point spinning all by himself. The balance of the car is not to his liking, and crucially, post-race, the German said: “I don’t know what the problem is at the moment but I think it’s a good time for the break.”

These are not confident words, and if Marussia want to keep their hands on Glock, they’re going to need to try something a little different.

2/10

HRT

One of the noticeable things about HRT of late is that they have their own goals they are working towards, and they’re not going to be disheartened by the fact they are always at the back. For example, Pedro de la Rosa was confident post-qualifying that the team were improving, because they secured a time he obviously had in mind before they started. They were at the back of the grid, but crucially the drivers were happy it was a good car.

Unfortunately, the race itself wasn’t as good. Narain Karthikeyan had to retire after the steering failed on him. De la Rosa was desperate to overtake Timo Glock but found the blue flags a significant hindrance (and of course being in Hungary didn’t help either). A tough race, but the team seem to be heading into the summer break with continued and quite inspiring confidence.

3/10

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