The build up to the Hungarian Grand Prix 2015 threatened to be a spectacle of “same-old” as the championship leader Lewis Hamilton was in a league of his own in all the sessions preceding the race. But the unpredictable Hungaroring stood its ground and tore the established Formula 1 order into pieces.
As the drivers were taking their places on the grid on Sunday there was virtually no doubt that they were not challenging the pole-sitter for the win – Lewis Hamilton was believed to be in a league of his own, seemingly unbeatable that weekend and set to claim a record fifth win in Hungary. His closest rival Nico Rosberg found himself hopeless in trying to steal his team-mate’s glory and, as seven times before this season, he placed his Mercedes in the second front-row spot, hoping for a miracle.
Was that a sign, that the race start was disrupted by Felipe Massa stopping his Williams outside the yellow lines of his grid position after the formation lap? A second formation lap followed before the red lights went on; and as they went off, a series of unexpected events followed.
For the second race in a row Hamilton did not get the masterful start off the line that used to guarantee him a race victory at the end of the afternoon; his team-mate did a slightly better job out of it, but seemed to be going through different motions on the first straight and into the first corner – he might have been thrown by the slow start of his team-mate… or by the red Ferrari pulling ahead of them both.
Making the most of his 3. place grid spot, Sebastian Vettel had capitalised on the dent in Mercedes’ form and shot out beside Hamilton straight into the lead. After a few-corner battle between Rosberg and Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the two Ferraris were reunited at the front of the circus, while Hamilton was pushed into 4. A desperate attempt to regain position turned pear-shaped for the Brit, who ran off track into the gravel, which dropped him into 10.
With the two Ferrari facing clean air, the Prancing Horses were able to show their full speed potential, and quickly started building up a gap ahead of Rosberg. Like throughout practice and qualifying, the German simply couldn’t get comfortable with the car and the lack of pace was all too noticeable on its first stint. In the meantime, his team-mate slowly made his way up the grid, to place himself behind Rosberg by mid- race.
Then, on lap 43 the first retirement of the afternoon took place as Nico Hulkenberg experienced critical damage on his front wing, which literally collapsed underneath his Force India, launching him into the barriers. This brought on a virtual safety car, followed by the real thing – a call for a good part of the field to make it into the pits for a tyre change. Unsurprisingly, one of the drivers to take that call was Rosberg – who, however, having the chance to go onto the faster option tyre, took on another set of more-durable hard compounds instead.
This decision could have been costly for the German in an outright duel with his team-mate who got right onto his heels in the safety car period, which nulled any time advantage between the drivers; but once the race restarted on lap 49, Hamilton got into a battle for position with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo instead – and suffered. A contact between the two damaged the Brit’s front wing which visibly affected his performance and forced him into the pits for a lengthy nose change. This additional stop dropped him into 12. In the meantime, Rosberg took advantage of Raikkonen’s power unit failure to move up to second; but while the second Ferrari driver had to call it a day, there was no stopping of his team-mate who proved to be out with Mercedes’ reach.
But the result was not settled yet as the somewhat wounded Red Bull of Ricciardo came charging in on Rosberg; the Aussie, who claimed a stunning win on the same circuit a year earlier, also seemed to carry more speed than the Mercedes and eventually managed to overtake Rosberg on lap 64. But before the deal was sealed, a badly calculated move from the German resulted in contact. Ricciardo’s front wing got damaged while Rosberg’s left rear tyre blew up on the opposite end of the track to where the pits were, which meant the Mercedes had a long way to limp back for a new set of boots.
By that time Hamilton had moved to 8. place which was already good damage limitation to any advantage he was about to lose over his team-mate in the standings if Rosberg were to finish in the top three; suddenly, the roles were reversed when the German emerged from the pits in the last point-scoring position. In the remaining laps of the race both Mercedes drivers nudged their cars up the grid to eventually finish 6. and 8., and Hamilton not deducting but adding another four points to his championship lead.
This meant Hungary would deliver the first non-Mercedes podium in 28 grands prix, and with Raikkonen now out of the competition the only other remaining team that had what it took to challenge for the win was Red Bull. Despite the damage from his contact with Rosberg, and subsequent stop at the pits for a front wing fix, Ricciardo still crossed the line in 3. – but his woes paved the way for his team-mate to grab his first ever podium. Despite a 10sec penalty for an unlawful move on track handed after the race, Daniil Kvyat’s 2. place finish was safe, granting him the title of the highest Russian point scorer and the second youngest second-podium-spot finisher in the sport’s history.
“All the team deserves this double-podium, and all the guys back at the factory, everyone has kept pushing, and I want to say a big thank you to them,” Kvyat said after the race, before adding: “I am dedicating my race to Jules and his family; we lost a fantastic guy, our hearts and thoughts are with him and his family.”
This sign of respect for the late Marussia driver, who only a week earlier lost the battle for his life following the horror crash in Suzuka in 2014, was echoed by the rest of the Formula 1 world – including the race winner, Vettel:
“Merci, Jules. Cette victoire est pour vous,” the German said from the cockpit after crossing the line. “You will always be in our hearts. We know sooner or later you would have been in this team.”
Despite bringing only one car home, Ferrari confirmed their return to top form with the team’s first victory in Hungary since Michael Schumacher’s 2004 race win. And likewise, Vettel proved his Champion spirit is still not extinguished, repeating his surprise feat from Malaysia.
And as if all this was not enough to call this the most thrilling race in a long while, there were other surprising turn arounds worth mentioning: such as the fact that McLaren have seen their highest point tally of the season (of 12) by bringing Fernando Alonso through the line in 5. and Jenson Button in 9. While the youngest driver on the track, Max Verstappen, delivered his Toro Rosso just outside the podium – a promise of future greatness from the 17-year old.
But, without a doubt, it is the demise of Mercedes after a weekend – or rather a season and a half – of clear domination that is bound to place the Hungarian Grand Prix 2015 among the most memorable races on recent years.