2008 Hungarian Grand Prix report


After the excitements of the British and German Grands Prix, the Hungarian GP got off to a comparatively sedate start. Indeed a very quiet start when you look back to this time last year when Alonso decided he had had enough of the way McLaren was treating him and went down an avenue from which he could never return.

Thankfully the racing was of more interest than any of the politics hovering around the sport at the moment, and almost all drivers completed the first two practices without incident. Vettel, after being confirmed as partner to Red Bull’s Mark Webber next season, had little chance to show why so many think so highly of him however, as his car came to a halt early on in both Friday sessions in exactly the same place.

At the sharp end of the grid the McLaren looked the faster car throughout Friday and Saturday, even though the Ferraris finished with a one-two in the opening session, as both Hamilton and Kovalainen went faster and faster as the track rubbered in.

After his podium finish in Germany Piquet also looked to be on good form setting quick times in both P2 and P3, out-pacing his team-mate in each session. Both the Renaults made it through to Q3, with Alonso finishing 7th on the grid and Piquet 10th.

Hamilton set a blistering time in Q3, even after a small mistake early on in the lap and finished with a time of 1:20.899, leaving him 0.241 seconds clear of team-mate Kovalainen. With the two McLarens on the front row, Massa 3rd and Räikkönen down in 6th, things were going well for Hamilton. “Yeah, so far it has been a pretty decent weekend,” he commented after qualifying. “The team have done a great job in improving the car again, even from the last race and so the pace of our car is great and I think it is a great day to have me and Heikki one two.”

It probably was a relief for Hamilton to have Kovalainen on the front row with him as, even though he has made a name for himself over the last two seasons with good starts (and some pretty suspect ones), Kovalainen would at least be another person for Massa to pass off the start line.

However, come race day Massa, in the words of Damien Smith while commentating on the race, “out Lewis Hamiltoned, Lewis Hamilton”. The Brazilian got past Kovalainen on the straight and was then past Hamilton in the first corner. It was one of the starts of the season. Indeed Massa admitted after the race that the start was the only place he had any hope of passing the two McLarens. The Hungaroring, with its short straight and long hairpin before it, is not a place to try and make up positions on track.

After the start Massa took control and soon opened up a gap to Hamilton and Kovalainen, in doing so answering many of his critics whether he had the mental strength to be a championship contender. Up until lap 67 of the 70-lap race he stayed out in front and drove quite brilliantly. However, just as you thought he had sealed his 4th win of the season, his engine went up in smoke. A truly gutting experience for any driver that near the end of a race, but when you were going to leave the weekend leading the championship, it was understandable how deflated Massa felt.

However, one driver’s misfortune is usually another’s fortune and on Sunday it was Kovalainen’s. After making up a position when Hamilton suffered from a deflated tyre, he overtook the Ferrari as it was engulfed in smoke. It was a lucky win, but if we look back over the past season, the Finn has certainly had more than his fair-share of bad luck. What goes around, comes around as they say.

After pitting for a new wheel, Hamilton emerged in 10th and went on to drive a strong stint, finishing in 5th up the back of Alonso’s Renault, with 4 valuable championship points.

It was Glock though who nearly stole the show with a strong qualifying, putting him on the 3rd row, and then an even stronger race which he finished in a career-best 2nd position. This wasn’t the same kind of podium as Piquet in Germany, where Nelson started 17th on the grid, overtook one person during the race and finished 2nd, but a gutsy and brilliant drive following a worrying high-speed crash at the previous race. “I am in my first year with just half of the season over and I am on the podium. It is just a perfect weekend.” Indeed it was for the Toyota driver.

In my mind Piquet drove a much better race this weekend than he did in Germany, finishing 6th, only 11 seconds behind two-time World Champion Alonso. The jury is still out on the Brazilian driver as there is no doubting he is a quick driver on his day but ‘his days’ seem to be too rare at the moment for his position at Renault to be secure.

Räikkönen, after another mediocre qualifying drove a solid race to finish 3rd. In his usual matter-of-fact way he summed up his weekend afterwards as another average few days, “I mean we have the speed in the race but if I can’t get the qualifying right we are going to end up every race in the same situation like here and in the last race, so we need to sort it out.

“If we can be in the front, then we can fight for wins but in this position when we are just following people, then we cannot use the speed. The guys did a good job but we just need to fix a few problems and for sure we can be back in the hunt for wins.”

So a great day for Kovalainen and McLaren as they are now only 11 points behind Ferrari in the Constructor’s Championship, but whether the Finn was the driver of the day is perhaps best summed up by a question posed on the Formula 1 website.

When asked who produced the best performance during the race, the public responded with 40% saying Timo Glock, 50% Felipe Massa and only 10% Heikki Kovalainen.

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